Halloween in Imperial Valley

Halloween always creeps up on me and it has always been a sticky tricky day for me. When I was a little girl in Imperial Valley, I had to do what I could to make it fun. Then as an adult I tried to ignore the day as much as possible, like my ama tried.  Imposible! kids don’t let you ignore it. One of the biggest candy hoarding days of the year, parents need to recognize, verdad que si? 

Planning Halloween 

As a little girl, it was the one holiday that I rallied for as far as dressing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was not trying to be a princess or any silly girly character. But the unwritten and unspoken rule was that to trick or treat you had to be in costume. I would start working on my mom and sisters a few days ahead. I needed three things to make my day a success. Primero, I needed permission and a chaperone or partner to go out and knock on doors for candy. Luego, I needed money for the yearly carnival and finally, I needed a costume. Halloween was up to me, my ama didn’t highlight the day in any way shape or form. She kind of dreaded the day, because all the kids in the barrio knew she had her tiendita, and they expected some great candy from her store. Halloween almost always meant bankruptcy for her negocio.

The week before Halloween the kids were talking about what they were gonna dress up as, or what costumes their mom had bought them. I was always embarrassed that I wasn’t getting a cool costume so every year I said I wasn’t dressing up. Every year I said it was dumb and every year I didn’t mean it. Y cada ano I’d give into the pull of trick or treating. 

Now that I think about it, my ama  always enjoyed my silly chicanadas that I called costumes. I would jimmy rig a costume mostly out of my apas clothes and get into my sister’s makeup. Que one year a baby, another year a hobo, a fat man, a farmer. Basically the same idea always with a different name.

Photo by Daisy Anderson on Pexels.com

12 Year Old Transition

In small towns I think growing up and getting to that serious behavior that a 12 year old should have, takes a little longer. I was not serious about growing up and morphing into a teenager. I didn’t care much about being cool, I couldn’t start thinking of makeup, gracias a Dios! Wearing Makeup was taboo for us younger girls.Silly boys weren’t noticing me yet. Pero, I was real serious about getting lots of candy. 

One particular year, I had secured permission and a partner to trick or treat, my sister Patty was gonna keep an eye on me. I always had to work extra hard on begging and pleading with Patty. She hated taking care of me, she was already in that cool teenage age and walking clear across town to trick or treat was not cool!  I promised to give her a lot of candy and quien sabe what else I promised, but in the end I prevailed upon her. 


DIY Costumes

All I had left to create was my costume for my night of fun and candy.  I had the same old options so I think I decided on a combo costume of an old fat hobo man, muy original verdad? Being giddy with excitement I decided to go extra on the fat and stuffed my pants and shirt, bien exagerada, I could barely move. I was ready, with my big bag on hand, we left. The getting to the carnival part is a fuzzy memory, I’m guessing that somebody gave us a ride there because I can’t imagine Patty agreeing to all that work. Anyway, we were at the carnival for a short time since my pocket book was very light. It didn’t matter to me anyway, I was anxious to trick or treat a lot of kids already all over town, I didn’t want to miss out. 

To maximize on trick or treating candy you have to have a lot of energy and a good plan. Patty wasn’t interested in the plan I had mapped out in my head. She gave me one option. Leaving the school grounds and walking past the middle school and the elementary school, all connected, then turning left would land me on the West side. Going further, past the Circle K then turning right going several blocks further got me to the Rich side of town. Guess what Patty was pushing for? She was getting crabby and I was getting anxious, especially since I was pretty slow with my fat man costume. The padding kept creeping down my leg, almost tripping me. I kept having to re-stuff myself and hold on to my backside to keep the pillow from falling out. 

El Cucuy

But God had mercy on me and we got to several houses that gave lots of candy before she headed us toward home. I milked it as much as I could knocking on doors as we made our way home. I was whiny and grunting and she was so mad that I had tricked her into doing this, we were both pretty tired by the time we reached the railroad tracks. Suddenly our senses were very alert and we had to put off our tired feelings, and watch out for danger, of the El Cucuy kind. We were on Mainstreet, it was way too dark to take the shortcut. Huge semi trucks occasionally passed by and we so appreciated the bright lights those trucks flashed, we stayed dangerously close to the pavement, hugging it. I, the “fat man” was behind Patty and every time I heard crackling, or scraping sounds, I was sure El Cucuy was behind me, I couldn’t turn around, it would be my demise, so I quietly whined, hating my sissy lala emotions.  I’m not the hugging type, but that night I was ready to pounce on my sister for support. Talk about a Halloween nightmare on Mainstreet, hijole! Crossing the tracks and walking that long dark road just before we saw the houses of the barrio was maybe a 10 minute walk but my stuffing and the darkness made it the longest walk ever. Suddenly, I could appreciate why my ama banned us from being out at night. Halloween was one of the few exempted days and I wondered why that day was ok? We walked fast as I was trying to keep my belly intact. 

It wasn’t too late in the night, but those railroad tracks and the empty lots made it the perfect scene in a scary movie, I had imagined it all in those few minutes. Such relief flooded us when we entered  the safety of our barrio. Kids were still out and about and Patty loosened up. I took advantage and knocked on a couple more doors in my hood. All was well that Halloween. Pero que susto!

Booty

We got home exhausted. I tossed my hefty candy bag onto the table, happy with my loot. Oh how sweet home was. I plopped myself down on the chair in the dining room, I was coming undone. So as I was pulling the stuffing out of me my ama was laughing at the image I created.

Ama: Como te fue?

Me: Ama, fue el día más feliz de mi vida!

My mother let out a gleeful carcajada.. Her way of laughing started from the bottom of her belly and rolled out past her mouth. I loved to make her laugh, it was always so contagious. She had  quite a laugh out loud moment.

 Counting all my worldly experiences of all my 12 years of living, I had declared, this had been the happiest day of my entire existence. I had already forgotten the pain in the butt it had been to walk. El Cucuy didn’t come for me, the tracks and all my fears were forgotten. 

LOL


I was pretty proud of myself whenever she told the story of my “happiest day of my life”. I’m so happy to have that treasure in my vault. The contagious laughter has carried on through her grandson Jonathan, everytime he has that LOL gut roaring laughter I remember my feisty ama.

What is your favorite trick or treating memory?

Mis Quince Años 

Feliz Cumpleaños – Happy Quince

This will be another post on birthdays, inspired by a birthday celebration this week. That first day of your new year should be highlighted with hopeful wishes and if possible splashed with happy events. I’ve got quite a few birthday celebrations and shout outs for October on my calendar and of course, mi cumpleanos is this month too. I always love the happy birthdays I receive all day long. My dear friend’s daughter will be 15. Wow! Los años vuelvan, they pass so fast you miss the details. That whole birth story is a miracle in itself! Pero, I’ll leave it for another post. I do remember when she called to tell me she was in labor. After an agonizing attempt at labor, she had to have a C-section, then her little girl was placed into her arms. Before we knew it, we were talking about her fifteenth birthday! Quince anos! hijole. Of course, quince, triggers images of quinceañera traditions.

For those readers who do not know what a quinceanera is, I’ll give you the Rosie understanding. Basically, it’s fiesta that embarks a 15 year old latina to womanhood; a rite of passage.  It was predominantly a Mexican tradition that spread across Latin America. Although it is very likely that mesoamerica culture influenced these rites, the arrival of the Spaniards brought in the Catholic tradition. This milestone unites family far and wide and for the 15 year old chica who hasn’t experienced much grownup socializing, she is presented to society and will lead the way on her big day. In my case, as I flashback to my big day, I was dragging my feet. 

A Quinceañera looks a lot like a wedding day celebration, when Ben saw my quince album he was shocked to see me looking like a bride. It dawned on me that it is the precursor to a young woman’s wedding day. Creanme! It truly does provide that intense level of stress in preparations.

How far a family takes a Quince will depend probably on the pocketbook and the Joneses. 

Check List

Here’s a minimal list (don’t read that as one word, because Quinceañeras are probably not for minimalists) of some of the traditions seen in a  Quinceañeras.

  • A gown for la quinceañera. (I couldn’t, wouldn’t wear a gown, that was my sisters and mothers first battle. My heart was in the volleyball, basketball courts and in the baseball field, there was no place for a dress in my life, much less a gown! My dress had to be simple, easy to walk in, easy breath in. If it was possible to be comfortable in a dress, I had to have that dress! It wasn’t like I was getting married anytime soon, acuerdense, in my book, marriage was for the blind)
  • A Tiara and bouquet and all the nice accessories. (Thankfully I was only required to wear a flower in my hair. I did have to hold on to a bouquet, it was so awkward staring into my bouquet during pictures trying to look soft, serene and grown up.)
  • You need a church for the mass. This is the formal or serious portion of the rite of passage. A ceremony that would involve prayers of gratitude and commitment to living a moral life. (In my small town there was only one catholic church, so there was no searching needed just booking a date, this might have been the least stressful portion of preparing)
  • You must obtain a hall for the fiesta following the mass for the rest of the celebration.
  • A court traditionally requires 14 damas and their chambelanes, this could be equivalent to bridesmaids and groomsmen in a wedding. The court is dressed elegantly to accent the quinceañera in her procession. (Do you know how difficult it is to find friends to fill these positions? Thank God, I wore my hair short in those days because I would have pulled it all out just choosing a style of dress, forget about the color. Then, after all that drama, the parents decided to pull their kid out, the expense on their formal dresses was too much. I ran around asking good friends, then friends, then acquaintances. It got so desperate that I was ready to ask strangers to help me. Honestly, in the end, ya ni se, I don’t know how many kids actually accompanied me that day)
  • You need a valtz, this is one of those Spanglish words that evolve from simple mispronunciation. The word is waltz. (Things I remember about the valtz is just trying to coordinate practices, not easy when everyone plays sports and practices after school. Then the other thing is the dread of dancing, last time I had participated in a formal choreographed dance was my 4th grade square dance!)
  • A Madrina y Padrino are called upon. These godparents are chosen from the close friends or family that are invested in your family. They help with the hardwork and with some costs. (In my case, my big brother  and his wife were the designated godparents. It’s  tricky because, how weird is it to call your own brother and sister-inlaw nino o nina? How about addressing them by usted, when they had been tu all my life.)
(left to right: My cuñada Mary, my big brother Angel and 15 year old me)
  • The dinner: These meals can get really elaborate. Proper place settings with the charger, then the plate and each side has salad and dinner fork, knife and spoon, topped with a nice linen napkin. (For the Zepedas, bring on the birria,with no stiff formalities, just good meat con arroz y frijoles and of course tortillas)
  • You must have cake. Like everything else in this celebration,  Cakes for Quinceneras are wonderful. (By the end of mi Quincenera I was ready to have my piece of cake and eat it.)
  • You must be a grateful quincenera! Asi es, everybody is working hard for your special day (putting on a gratitude attitude would have been a huge blessing for my ama)

My limited list is based on my experience. When I look at my photo album, I realize it was a simple 1980s presentation. Pero, not so easy to do for my hardworking parents. I wish I would have had a better attitude about my quinceanera. My older sisters were into it, happy to help our ama while I was a sulky 14 year old, niña chiquiada! I was a spoiled little girl, not willing to wear that beautiful big gown, they had dreamed of wearing. Hijole! Thank God they got to wear their beautiful big white wedding gowns.

En Conclusion:

I started this post by boasting about how much I love my birthday celebrations and mostly I have enjoyed all the attention. I do regret not being more grateful for all the investment and effort my parents gave to my birthday party at 15 years old. Here’s a resolution. I’ll keep my eyes and heart on Jesus and when I get to heaven and see my parents and sisters I’ll tell them thank you and I might even hug them 😊 (I’m one of those rare Latinas that is awkward about hugging). Meanwhile I’ll ask my sis who is here and tangible, to accept my love and gratitude. She always celebrates my birthdays and now after 40 years I can see clearly and appreciate the labor of love.

What memory stands out in your quinceañera? Or what new traditions exist for today’s quinceañera?

I am a Writer

I probably spent way too much time just trying to come up with a catchy title for this post. Hijole!  This post feels like a desperate plea to get approval or accreditation. Who is gonna give me that final stamp of approval? If this feels like an explanation as to why I’m even here, it is. I need to remember, quizás mi propia voz, my own loud voice needs to tell me to get to writing!.

Voices In My Head

The many opinionated voices inside my head make me lose my way. Esperate! No estoy loca, or maybe I am just a little crazy. You know those sneaky mockers question why am I here, in this blog? Doubting Thomas (not my Thomas 😆) truly questions: Que fregados estas haciendo?! Deveras, sometimes it’s the loudest voice screaming: What the heck are you doing? Really? You think you belong here in Writers land?

Some days my voice is really soft, if you know me, that’s pretty incredible to believe, ya se. It whispers to those loud intimidating voices. “I want to write” Que?! They laugh at me and some days those snickers push me into a corner and I won’t write. Pero, gracias a Dios I don’t stay there long, because I want to write. 

Me gusta escribir. Sometimes it’s a lot of work, pero I like it anyway. When I was in university so long ago my english T.A said “you’re a good writer” Deveras? Was a good writer supposed to put some of her dirty laundry on paper? Especially on papers that were graded? Still, I allowed myself some flattery in that comment, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. 

Then, years later, a very important person in my life asked me to write a letter of recommendation where I described my relationship with the person requesting the letter. When I was done and the letter was submitted, that person said “You’re a good writer” Pues ya sabras, it was like yeast in my brain. The idea grew, was I a good writer? If that person thought so, then it must be, verdad? Now it was more that a good feeling inside and it was more than therapy.

My Writing Plan

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels.com

In a different post, I describe my writing as a therapeutic relief, and it is. Mapping situations out with some embellishment, helps me work things out. But all of a sudden, when I got inspired to  write a short story or a skit, I began to do it as if someone else would one day read it. Yes, I neatly, or not so neatly filed  it in my different folders, almost ready to be read by other eyes. I totally enjoy just getting the scenes out of my head and onto paper, quisas someone would enjoy reading them? That yeast was really growing, imaginate! I was bold enough to create my first blog. Asi es, choosethenarrowpath.blogspot.com, was born. I did this toda solita. All alone in the blogging world I began to learn a lot about the hard work of writing, but the desire to share wasn’t quenched despite my lack of skills in the tech world. The lack of readers did slow me down on that platform, but my folders kept growing. 

As the idea of sharing my writing grew, another one did too. The fact that I had never finished my degree bothered me now. Going back to college and finishing my degree, or at least improving my writing skills seemed doable now. I had been way too busy and focused on raising my children and teaching them to walk on the narrow path while juggling life. Besides I had absolutely no time, energy or money for my schooling. Luego, Thomas, my last child, entered high school and I had time again. Did abuelas go to college? 

Back to School

I was glad for the opportunity and  I shyly shared with Ben, my family and dear friends my dream to be a published writer. Going back to school would boost my confidence and sharpen my pencil. It was the weirdest, oddest feeling. Walking back into the college culture, I felt like I was walking back into the 80s, back to UCSD.  A 50 something year old grandmother feeling those butterflies, those awkward moments of not knowing anyone. Inside I was 18 again, but thankfully, God kept me grounded as I stayed focused on the academics and I loved the stimulation that came with learning. Pero, it was short lived. Ya se, the roller coaster of life. My apa needed me. As a full-time caregiver I didn’t have time again, and I chided myself “tonta.” That was silly, of course I was too old and too busy for schooling again. I was disappointed, but my writing didn’t stop.

 My collection of stories grew, especially since my apa was unloading all his memories. I worked on my historical fiction short stories and I hung on to my blog. As dad grew weaker my writing experiences grew further apart, for a long while my journal was the only book I wrote in.

As my apas last chapter in life came to a close, I grew frantic with writing. Como pues? How could he just leave? Was tercera edad, 96 years of living reason enough to close a chapter? I hadn’t gotten my collection of his stories in rough draft order. How would I get the stories out if he left? 

In the midst of a busy emotionally packed season of caregiving, the idea for a different blog came up. My daughter and I brainstormed about a title, and presentation. It would be here that I would bring my experiences, my fathers y todo lo demas, all things pertaining to Rosalba. I was finding my voice. What was my voice anyway, besides loud that is? Daniella, is a visionary, and she said, “Mom you just keep writing, don’t worry about things.” For me it’s a good plan 😉.

Man! It felt good to write like I talk. In my other blog, I write like I think. I hope that makes sense. I have a million questions on the most important person of my life; Jesus, and there I ponder on “the deeper” stuff. Daniella describes it as reflective or thoughtful. “My diary in the corner of the internet”. My besty often wonders “what must it be like in your brain” She says it’s constantly tracking! Anyway, all that to say, I found my voice and it was comfortable.

With all the emotion that came in those last days of dad’s passing, also came a need to write, a renewed desire to write, a desperate clinging. I wrote and Daniella handled the rest. We’re a good team, she’s alot like her daddy, muy paciente. ☺

In conclusion,

Today, with things a bit more settled, I’m back in school and on the write path. This is the beginning, but just getting on this path was a journey in itself. Hijole! 

I imagine that everyone who has a dream or passion jumps on the  hope train and has to travel sometime before they arrive at their destination.

I Want to Publish My Dads Stories

I have shared my dream and hope to write and publish a collection of my fathers stories. My sister and I began our caregiving for dad more than 15 years ago, it was quite a journey that ended just last December. I now have a decade and a half of experiences tucked into my journal, where I tend to process everything. A journal is a very inexpensive therapist and a patient listener. 

As I moved along in my caregiving experiences I realized that my apa was telling his life stories and experiences, hijole! I am thankful that I started taking notes.

I had to have a pen, paper or any available writing tool and surface to record his stories. The most random activities or situations provoked dad’s early memories and I had to be quick with the draw of my pen. Sometimes, I was quick enough to open up my notes on my phone, but other times, napkins, newspaper pieces, scraps of packaging or backs of cartons, asi es, I began to capture his story. Ya se, you’re probably wondering why I just didn’t video him. I did try a few times, but I’m terrible with my phone and it’s camera. Grabbing a pen was quicker.

As life would have it, my apas life, se fue gastando poco a poco. As dad got weaker we got busier with his needs. It was too hard to remember to write notes, I had to focus on the present with him. We had to talk about current things so he wouldn’t forget his children or brothers. He had too many nietos y bis nietos to even try to stick them into his memory. I had to lay aside my yellow folder where I collected my notes. I didn’t realize that those current events would soon also be stories to share.

Closing A Chapter

In those last days as I watched my father close the chapters of his life, I was frantically writing posts for my blog. It was therapeutic, quizas a desperate attempt to hold onto him here on earth. What in the world was I gonna do without my dad? It was rough to turn to the last page of our time with dad. I had a lot of time to plan this moment, it wasn’t supposed to happen asi nomas. Really, I don’t know what I hoped for or wanted to see in this last page. 

Since my dad’s passing I’ve kept writing, but his stories had remained in my files barely opened. My yellow folder sat tucked away in my desk drawer. 

I have plenty of reasons, excusas, to explain my paralysis in writing the “collection of my dads stories” book. One big one was the lack of information. Many of his memories lack description or have gaps. Could his accounts, his memories be considered a story if they lacked detail? I mean, he did give me all the information he considered vital. So I’ve sat at my desk, many days just twiddling my thumbs, wondering how to proceed.

Renewed Vision

Out of nowhere, mi prima shared some youtube videos of the history of my apas childhood towns! La Mina del Amparo. It was right there on the world wide web! Pero como? She saved the day, the book, and maybe even the writer.

Esperate, I had researched El Amparo and did have some info already, it was all buried in my files, like the treasures in the minas of old. Something revived in me and I had my vision again. Pues entonces que hice? Unfortunately some things come to us almost too late at times, but I am thankful for whatever I can get. I made plans to go visit with 2 of my apas siblings.

 My prima, who is one of the daughters of one of my dad’s younger sisters, helped me make arrangements for a day trip to see her mom, my Tia Chepina (Josefina). 

It was time to see dads brother and sister, I hadn’t seen them since before dad passed. I was on a mission to get more information and get a link into my family history. Anything and all things would be written down. I pulled out my yellow folder and opened up my files. I had a lot of gaps to fill. I got organized, hay si, muy professional, I wrote down all my questions. I called my sis hoping she would join me, I needed her back up or support, and she jumped on board . Did I tell you I can always count on my big sis?

One of my dad’s younger brothers, Jesus (Tio Chuy), lives here in San Diego, so I picked him up and we drove to Los Angeles.  Mira nomas!, everytime my sis and I looked over at tio Chuy, we saw our apa, unable to describe what happened there in our gut. 

A Sea of Emotions

It was day packed full with emotion. My father was the oldest of 9 children, 7 boys and 2 girls. He was 6 years older than this brother and 16 years older than his hermanita. Tia said that there was 2 years between each child and Tio sadly pointed out that there were only 4 siblings left.

Tia Chepina cried so much at the loss of her 2 oldest brothers who died within months of each other. She had been unable to see them or attend their funerals, covid pestilence marred her final goodbyes. In those last days with my apa, I called her so she could at least speak to him.

It was five days before he passed, and his birthday. He stepped into his 96th year and she was wonderfully amazed at his longevity. 

Apa: (speaking very loudly) Bueno!?

Tia Chepina: (speaking just as loud) Manuel! Hola hermano, como estas? Feliz cumpleaños? (Tia wanted to make sure he would hear that clear resounding happy birthday wish 🥰)

Apa: (speaking just as loud) Bueno!? No se oye. (His last few years the phone always confused him so he was unable hear it clearly)

A few days later, marque su número, easy to dial when you don’t have to look up a number. I hoped hearing his sister’s voice would spur him on in his new year. She cried and expressed her love for him, he wasn’t responding anymore, but her words did not fall to the ground. My dads sister lavishly gives us the love she had for him. 

Now that they are in la tercera edad, my tia is 80 now, they’ve given up their main house and live in a cozy loft upstairs for just her and her husband, disculpa, mi tio Mundo. When we arrived she was busy making caldo de res, imaginate! Que sabroso! I will always put up with L.A. traffic for her cooking. We shared a simple, wonderful meal and I was overwhelmed. While it was sweet, I felt my fathers absence. I rolled my tortilla and gazed across the table to my Tio Chuy, apas little brother. He head bent down, he focused on eating his caldo. Did I mention he is 89 years old, a strong man! Zepeda genes are strong, I’m picturing dad sitting straight up, proving his agility at 95 still. 

Some Missing Links

I came away with some missing puzzle pieces. How my parents met, this was a gold nugget! That’s for another post.

 I got a very small glimpse of my amas mother and I was left thirsty for more. She too had a large family. 

I came away with a better view  of when dad came to America. That time line of his early adult days trying to “find himself” como dicen los gringos,  I loved my tias description of seeing my father for the first time again since being in America. 

Tia: Llego Manuel con su pantalón de mezclilla. Yo y Consuelo no podíamos dejar de mirarlo. Usaba esos pantalones Americanos. She was getting her first eye full of the famous Levi Strauss jeans and couldn’t stop staring at him.

Me: Levi’s? Con botas y sombrero? He had to have been also wearing his cowboy boots and hat verdad?

Tia: Si. Tan guapo que se veía mi hermano. Creo que nos trajo unas muñecas.
With a sigh she admired her handsome big brother and remembered as an after thought that he brought them dolls del Norte.

Tio: Si, todos se fijaban con esos pantalones Americanos, eran muy diferentes. Tio was impressed by those jeans too!

Tia: Manuel siempre fue muy guapo. (She was making sure we all knew it wasn’t just the pants that made him so guapo! 🙂

Oh my goodness, my heart pitter pattered at the idea of her seeing her big brother so handsome looking like a cowboy, my brothers Arturo and Hector look alot like him. Of course Marina and I looked over at each other. Claro que si sabemos how good looking he was, some nurse was always shocked at his age because he looked so good. Imaginate, if she would have seen him in his youth, olvidate!

I must say that while I did ask muchas preguntas and they were absolutely in their glory remembering their youth, I left with plenty of questions  still unanswered, and many new questions. Each new puzzle piece fills in a piece of my dads history and reveals more still to uncover. I’m not sure if I’ll get much more answers, pero we were all happy to have spent the day together. My sis and I cling to whatever we can of our father. I’ve made plans with my prima to do this trip again.

Holding on to My Dad’s Prayer

These past few weeks have been trying times. Sickness hovers over our lives trying to scare us into a corner of not living but existing. Hard times and bad news, make us desperate por tener un momento de tranquilidad. As we hold our breath not knowing what to expect, tears wash out and my heart aches for those loved ones I will not see again until eternity. Not knowing the appointed time, the wait feels endless. 

 I will not lie and say I’ve sat and “waited” for the day I see my ama again, she’s been gone for over 30 years, but I have longed through the years for that mother/daughter relationship & connection. I have a sister in Christ, my  friend who has five beautiful daughters, and oh, I can tell those girls have connected with their momma. Me acuerdo, when I was a new homemaker, “building” my own home. I was barely a few weeks on the journey, I was given a chance to call my ama. I was having a cooking crisis and she rescued me, the stroke she had (a post for another time) didn’t hinder her from coming to my aid.

In her cooking stilo, como todas las mexicanas she set me straight: 

Me: “Ama, ¿cuáles son los chiles que se usan para la carne con chile?”

Ama: “Pues ¿cuales son los que tienes? “

I had forgotten those cooking lessons with my ama! The main lesson was work with what you have, but make it work! I wonder if I’ll be able to share with her my mothering experience with my one daughter? Aguanten me por favor, Un poco culeca. Mi ama would see my daughter and fall in love with her immediately.

Y mis hermanas, Patty and Lupe, se adelantaron! They rushed ahead of me and Marina almost 13 years ago and beat us to heavens gates. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t angry. I had quite a few things to teach my “older” sisters and they me. In the middle of my busy life, while we 4 sisters were enjoying and sharing the episodes of life,  they finished  their race within 3 months of each other. In shock I had to say goodbye for now. Pero sabes, death always feels like that, when you expect it, and while you wait for your loved one to pass, you’re still shocked by it, when you don’t expect it, it knocks you down and takes your breath away.

My apa, no tenia prisa, gracias a Dios , almost took him a century to walk this road on earth. Geographically he was in very small places, almost insignificant, but he broke up much fallow ground and planted many seeds of experience and left quite a legacy of children and grandchildren to carry his name on. Eso! Don Manuel!

 He has only just gone home 8 months ago and the void of his departure esta muy tierno aun. In our home our backroom is still “Tatas room”

I will say that I’ve occupied myself with a goal, a hope or God’s plan to see them again.

My Dad’s Prayer of Gratitude

This long season of pestilence has caused me to examine life.  What are the things that I’m grateful for? The big things and the minute details of my life that I tend to take for granted sometimes, like my daily bread and the very air I breathe that God gives. It was a solidifying reminder to finds my dads prayer.

For as long as  I could remember my apa prayed this prayer at meal times. I can picture him now at our table, ready and waiting to see if he would be called upon to pray. 

“Gracias te damos Senor por estos alimentos que no nos hacen falta.  También  Señor te pedimos por todos aquellos que no tienen alimentos. Ayúdalos y dales la mano, no los desampares. Perdónanos nuestros pecados , pero  siempre que se haga tu santa voluntad. Amén”

Sometimes a line or two was switched up, but it had the same meaning:  

“Gracias te damos Senor por estos alimentos que no nos pones en la mesa.  También  Señor te pedimos por todos aquellos que no tienen alimentos. Ayúdalos y dales la mano, no los desampares. Perdóna nuestros ofensas, pero  siempre que se haga tu santa voluntad. Amén”

 As if someone switched on the lights,  I have truly paid close attention to my apas prayer and realized how profound it truly was. Too many times we throw our prayers out to God without any real conviction, especially at mealtimes, were hungry and we’ve been waiting for that good food so were in a hurry. Hijole! Imaginate, as God sits down to eat with us and hears our “Thank you Jesus, bless this food” my fork halfway to my mouth already, I say “amen”. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a good morning in my prayer already  that I am careless when I thank God for his provision. Whatever the reason, prayer at mealtimes in my life has been lackadaisical. Once in a while, I whisper in my mind, I really am grateful Lord, y si estoy agradecida! despite my mouthful.  My apas prayer has reminded me to be grateful for my life, for the blessings and most importantly grateful for the Blesser.  

Aguanta otro ratito while I unpack his prayer. 

“Estos alimentos que no nos hacen falta”

Thankful for his provision. These days as many fight for their lives, the very air we breathe is a gift from God. ALL our basic needs are remembered in this simple line.

También  Señor te pedimos por todos aquellos que no tienen alimentos. Ayúdalos y dales la mano, no los desampares”

Thankful that we can approach the very throne of God for our needs and our loved ones. They’re too weak, too tired, too much in pain to ask for themselves, but we can stand in the gap for them. A thoughtful prayer that remembers those that are struggling and asks God to also help them in their time of need. Orita mismo, I can think of several friends, loved ones, and friends of friends that are in desperate need.

Perdóna nuestros ofensas”

Thankful that God, the creator of heaven and earth graciously forgives our trespasses. I find it interesting that this line for forgiveness is after asking for the basic needs for ourselves and others. Asking forgiveness of our daily trespasses, my apa knew that even while our needs are endless so is God’s  comfort and grace. A prayer that humbly acknowledges our sinful state that without God in our lives we would be wretched and lost. 

I’m so glad that finally my heart has grabbed ahold of this prayer and I agree with Dad in it and say yes and amen!

 Today let these words  provoke you into true thanksgiving.

Life Lessons While Raising Boys

A Strong Latina Woman

My boys always tease me and my sister Marina about being tough, strong latina ladies and maybe we are. I mean, I have shared with them stories of growing up and how my big sisters and myself had to face, “the giant”.  Dicen que, we are always ready to “throw down” to defend our home, kids, each other and our rights. There is some truth to their playful bantering. They love to share the stories of my “fight for rights”, always exaggerando by adding the perfect action words. They make me laugh out loud! Porque soy latina, a dash of chile does make some of the episodes of life spicier. They have witnessed a few… Ok, more than a few. It’s a tricky balance, stand your ground while standing in ‘Corem Deo’ osea, ‘in the presence of God’ 

Hopefully I’ve taught my kids by example, and preferably a good one. As they see my “strong latina” roots, my prayer is always that they would also see the grafting of God into his family.

It has been assigned to me the task of showing, NOT just telling them how a christian should behave through stress and fatigue. Hijole! Here’s one episode of a day in the life of the Greenes with they’re Mexican American born again ama. I fumbled, but I think I recovered.  Of course, when my sons retell the story, they add a lot of salsa to the story to spice it up… Here’s my version: 

It was time to take my boys for their monthly haircut, by the time a month went by, they were looking quite mechudos!  They liked going to Sals barber shop, at age 12 Emery was beginning to care about his appearance and this barber cut his hair to his liking. I liked Sals because it was very close, affordable and convenient, until this particular day. 

As usual, I was in a hurry, homeschooling had ended later than I’d hoped and I had to get dinner going, I was hoping to squeeze in 2 haircuts. The shop was busy, everybody wanted a haircut on the same day! Every chair was full. My boys only wanted Dennis to cut their hair, he was chistoso, but he tended to take too long. Heavy sigh, they had to get in line for their cut. Although it was going to interrupt my things, I decided we could wait… a little while.  After signing in, Dennis informed me with just a pinch of impatience in his voice, that ALL the customers were waiting for him to cut their hair, it didn’t matter that 2 other barbers were available, he was the star barber. Then, he proceeded to inform me that he must first take his break. I looked over at the patiently waiting customers, showing no concern that Dennis was going to take his break. No, it wouldn’t do. I didn’t have that much time to sit around. I said to my sons “Let’s go” and turned to leave but they dragged their feet behind me. This is the part of the story that the boys like to tell, the drama.

Dennis followed me out with a comb and scissors in his hand and pointing to me he said “I need a break too!” Really?! I stopped and turned around to face him. He seemed a little taken back, but stood his ground gripping his comb and scissors. My almost teen, Emery, was looking like he wished he could delete himself from the scene.  I said “Take your break! I’m not stopping you. I don’t have time for your break!” (Emery would add that I was pointing my finger in his face and menacingly walking toward him) I turned and stomped off expecting the boys to be right behind me. Emery was embarrassed  and he sheepishly said to Dennis “Sorry.” Que?! I was the mistreated customer! I had nothing to apologize for! I almost turned around and accused Dennis of turning my own son against me.

I drove home, the boys felt my indignation, they went straight to their room when we got home, almost as if they had gotten in trouble. Why shouldn’t I be angry? I wasn’t asking for a freebee, my impatience wasn’t toward him at first, or was it? I was a regular customer, couldn’t he have put me at the front of the line? De repente! I stopped in my tracks, All those indignant thoughts  smashed up against the conviction I felt. My countenance changed. Pero, it wasn’t my fault, how was I being a terrible example to my sons? Didn’t they have to see that other people couldn’t walk all over me? Right here, picture my youngest; Thomas, saying, in his loud voice like his ama  “Yea, my mom was ready to take that barber down!” 

Maybe I should have slowed down enough to consider the situation? He was pretty busy, and still had a line of customers, he probably did need a break. I should have nicely said “I’ll come by tomorrow instead, what’s a good time?” Heavy sigh. I braced myself, sabes, it’s hard for me to say I’m sorry, I call those “expensive” words to give. Hijole, now I had to tell my kids I was wr…wro…wrong, whew! I went and apologized to them first and told them that I was going to apologize to Sal too.  Both Thomas’ light brown brows and Emerys dark ones shot up in surprise. I added that it was not the way to talk to people or the way I wanted to be treated. Talk about eating crow! Or choking on sweet humble pie. I mean, no big deal to just never go back to that shop right? Wrong! I wanted them to know God’s right way of handling situations. I do have to say I’m glad they weren’t with me as I swallowed that piece of pie.

Dennis saw me as I pulled up and he seemed ready for me. I took a deep breath and walked the few steps to his shop, it felt like the march of death to self! He came out to meet me, the shop was still full of customers. We face one another like the old cowboy westerns when a duel was imminent. He stood his ground, waiting for me to draw first. I immediately dispelled his wariness. “I’m just here to apologize for the way I behaved earlier” and to his credit, except for a lift of his eyebrows he didn’t react. He said, shoulders relaxing, “No problem, you can bring your boys back, I’ll cut their hair.” I said “Thank you” and tried to walk away with grace in my step while  in my very humbled state. 

Afterwards, cuando estaba sola and I told my journal the whole scene, I was glad that I did it. I could tell that Dennis was glad to still have a customer. My boys were pleased with me, they already knew how hard it is to admit you’re wrong, then, to see  their strong latina ama allow God to show a better way is priceless.

In the Greene family when episodes happen and we can laugh about them because we’ve survived them, they always turn into novelas

I wonder if this post evoked your own past novela scenes and lessons learned in life.

A Gift on Fathers Day

Fathers Day is tomorrow, it has been creeping up and almost catching me unawares.

As I’m sitting here pondering my dad and the dads I know, I’m leaning toward writing about a dad and his girl/s. I wish you could see my son with his 3 girly girls. He’s a tough daddy, a busy guy, but not too busy to take his little ladies on a date. I’ve got a kind hearted nephew who patiently chases after his tough tiny little dynamite Rosalie with her little sister in his arms. I’m not sure what amazes me more, his consistent patience or her endless energy.

Watching my Benjamin and the one little princess who quietly tamed the males in her home and her hardnose mama has been intriguing and sometimes frustrating, afterall I’m the queen of my home…Verdad que si? 

Hats off to Dads

 I’m so grateful for fathers who put their hands to the plow. Providing, praying, playing, platicando and just plain participating in the lives of their children 

From what I can tell, dads have an interesting dilemma in their hands. They’ve got to be generous, gentle, protective and  they’ve got to be tougher, smarter and faster than anyone else’s dad, hands down! For the record, my apa was.

The “solito” is a Zepeda family tradition

The Value of Words

My dad wasn’t a man of too many words. He said what he needed to say and rarely did he repeat himself. He didn’t pull out useless degrading words to accuse us with, but on the other hand, words of endearment for us were not heard from him. That was my norm, it was ok, until I became my Benjamins. I didn’t realize how much I truly did yearn for words of endearment and words of approval, quizás un poco exagerada with my need for them. 

As an adult, words are my commodity. Bad words and name calling are worthless, so I don’t carry them in my vault, except maybe to call myself a mensa, not good, I’m sure God doesn’t want to hear me calling myself a dummy. Good words of appreciation are valuable to me and I make sure I use them generously as needed. Now, words of endearment are like costly jewels, I do have a wealth of them in my heart and my mind, but it costs me a lot to hand them out. Esperate, it’s not because I don’t want to, I’m just afraid they’ll get thrown or lost in a bin of multitudes of words.  I didn’t realize how much I truly did yearn for words of endearment and words of approval, yet it’s when I don’t get them from my loves that I realize I need them, me entiendes? My Benjamin shows me everyday that he loves me by his actions. His willingness to care for me and our kids, his patience to help, ves? But when he looks at me and tells me, “I love you Rosie” Hijole! That cold blooded Englishman steals my heart again and again.

Learning to Appreciate

 I’m very thankful for my apa. In his old age and in my “mature” years, I’ve been able to look past the days of trouble and appreciate the earthly father God gave me.

For too long I saw his terrible shortcomings and focused on things that I didn’t get from my apa. Now that my apa is gone, now that I’m not too busy taking care of him, I can look back and see what he did give me and I appreciate him.

 I know now that I would have loved to hear these words from my apa “Si hija, te aprecio mucho” It was a bit awkward to even write it. Pero, I’ve also learned that his part in my life demonstrated his love and care and I’ve chosen to embrace the love he offered and put it on like a comfortable mantle.

Now I can look back into my experiences with him and see his love for me. Mira, I’ll show you 🙂

Middle School rite of passage

Middle school was a hard season, hay si! Picture every middle schooler in America feeling my extreme pain right now. Let me fill you in,  I was desperately and hopelessly in love with a boy who didn’t even know I existed since 5th grade. 3 años! Then, ALL my friends we’re all grown up, they were real teens, I hated when one of my friends said “Oh my god! I’m gonna die, I started my period today” and another said, “Oh I know, I was so bloated last week, all I wanted to eat was limon and chile” I would roll my eyes, so jealous for those terrible pains. Ya se, ya se, there had to be something wrong with me. I was probably the only 13 year old and eighth grade girl in the whole world that didn’t have a period. It was so humiliating when the girls would look at me and ask me with their eyes if it had come and immediately their eyes would pity me. Sometimes we would discuss the whole matter, describing their first cycle, telling me what to expect and what to do. I didn’t want to hear it. 

And so it was that I suffered like this well into the school year. Now that I think of it, my poor ama! 4 feisty lil latinas to raise. Patty & I gave up watching for the possible symptoms. 

One morning as I dressed for school I fed my moodiness thoughts about how terrible life was treating me. My red polyester dress pants matched my red angry mood. Argh! And that day, the pants were quite apretaditos. I wanted a reason to skip school, but no, what if today would be the day the love of my life noticed me? I walked to school lost in my touchy thoughts. It turned out to be another long hot unnoticed day. 

After lunch, we were back in our homeroom classroom. I could hear my dad saying “Para acabarla de amolar”! And to make matters worse, we were having a test. Hot sweaty, sticky, pero I finished my test and got up to turn it in. When I walked back, my friend whispered that I had sat in something, my pants were wet. I turned around and rushed to the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom. I was ready to die! Why in the world hadn’t I noticed? What did I sit in? Ya saben right? My long awaited visitor showed up. Wow! How could I even welcome her with this mess in my hands? I couldn’t go back to the class, I needed to get home? But how? Everyone would know.

 I rushed to the nurses office and told her my terrible dilemma. No catching her breath in an “Oh my” She asked how I felt and started trying to figure out how to get a hold of my apa. Que?! Oh no. He worked for the city, he was busy. They just needed to find my big sis Marina. She would take care of this. Worst case scenario was that since I was feeling fine I could walk home alone, she could lend me a sweater from the lost and found to wrap around my waist. I sat there feeling quite miserable, knowing dad wasn’t gonna come, then he walked in. My apa looked at the nurse and thanked her and didn’t ask her any questions. He looked angry, but then again we Zepedas always look angry. I tried not to look at him, I just got up and walked out with him and hopped into his truck. I was worried he would see my stained pants. We had a 5 minute drive to the house, the longest drive de mi vida! He finally asked “Que paso?” and looked over at me. This very brown girl turned dark pink with humiliation! I didn’t know how to tell him, by this point in my life I was a liar and never had any problem making things up. But the dark pink face told another story. “Se mojo el pantalon” Like my pants walked over to a puddle and got wet all on their own. He knew, and he didn’t look angry anymore. That was it. He dropped me off at home and had to get back to work, his break was short.  I was relieved, he knew and accepted my story. I was happy, I was an official girl teen, pimples and feminine napkins and everything else! 

My ama was surprised, then worried to see me. The “not talking about your period or any femine issues” taboo talk is probably for another conversation, even now I can hear her say “de esas cosas no se hablan”. Somehow like we “women” do, we communicated with our eyes and she provided what I needed for this very important passage. 

I never forgot this moment with my apa, but only these days have I been able to grasp the covering of love my apa gave me that school day, in this small detail, which was HUMUNGOUS for me, with very few words he participated in this growing up passage of my life. 

The Gift of Healing

Sabes, he has given me, given us, my siblings too, some more invaluable words and a view of what his heart was experiencing as he transitioned into the very difficult  tercera edad. 

Very slowly I’ve been gleaning still through his belongings and his paperwork and to my delight I discovered some of his journal pages. Refreshing, like our San Diego breeze. 

His life turned upside down at 80, otra vez, I’ll have to tell you in a different conversation about his 80th year. It seems that he tried to cope with the difficulties through journaling. He wrote on his 81 birthday “This year was very hard for me because of the things that happened to my body…Thank God that he helped me so much. Also, I’m very grateful with all my children who all gave me their support and help” 

Can you feel what this dramatic latina felt when she read those words of approval and appreciation she longed for? I am shouting on the mountain tops, telling the whole world, my apa wrote, bien clarito, about his appreciation for us.

My apa has given me a valuable gift of words this fathers day, written in his own script. 

Feliz Dia de los Padres!!

Happy fathers day to all fathers and men who step in the gap to fill those fatherly needs. A personal hats off to daddys who give a part of themselves to their little girls, press on, don’t let their dramatics intimidate you, hopefully and thankfully we grow up to appreciate our apas.

Mexican-American Girl Goes East Part 3: The Cousins

It’s The People That Matter:

I’ve really enjoyed myself as I’ve taken this trip down memory lane to New England. Pero ya se que, I have done very little justice to the beautiful New England scenes. My eyes are mostly captured when something is familiar. Quisas, that sounds narrow, and I’m working on expanding my vision. So it happens that when a breathtaking scene grabs me, I always want to insert one of us into the scene. I want to memorialize it that way, but Ben probably considers it a photobomb! He sees the beauty of nature or historic sites and captures pictures all along a trip. People matter to me, when I look back at a memory, it’s hardly about the landscape and the climate. In the early days when Bens family was just Bens family, I was nervous about every aspect of relating. Comprendes? Now that they are our family, asi es, this Mexican American is a true Greene today.

Mother in Law Dance

Meeting my mother in law was  súper overwhelming, most every young wife will agree, that across the board it can be intimidating. My head was already filled with worries that I was not going to meet her standards. Can I insert right here, I am a mother of three boys, now men. mis hijos are guapos y trabajadores! Can another woman see to all their needs and wants? Hijole! Madre Cuervo! I heard my ama share this little tale more than once. You can imagine my fears, verdad? What will she think of me? Que va decir de mi? Maybe she had another plan for my Benjamin? Anyway you get the picture right? I have no idea what my suegra was thinking of me because she was very New Englandish, polite and reserved. Recently I picked up a book called “The Mother Inlaw Dance”. Check out the subtitle “Can Two Women Love the Same Man and Still Get Along” It was a good read, Heartfelt stories that described both sides of the relationship.

Brown Skin and White Skin

Now top all those worries with anxiety about my being different from Ben. On the day Ben went to ask my parents for my hand in marriage, my apa looked at Ben as he put our arms next to each other and asked “Do you see her color?”  Being in New England for the first time, I truly felt my fathers concerns. Could Ben take care of me and make me feel safe? Would his cousins see beyond my skin color? Would I see past the white? 

The Hostess

My mother in-law Nancy getting ready for the family meal.

Settling in and taking in all the personal history the old Manse held was unreal. De veras, some of his family were very much a part of American history in the making. Imaginate? Ancestors from the Mayflower! Once here in the New World, they were considered immigrants! That knowledge should have comforted me as the first house guests arrived. 

To keep things in order, during family meeting weekend, any family member not in residence has to “reserve” their room with the hostess as needed. Nancy was a fine hostess, situating us, the cousins and organizing the potluck lunch, in her quiet demeanor.

I didn’t realize that it would be my turn to hostess one day.

Meeting the Cousins

Those cousins that lived in town walked over to the Manse to greet and meet Nancy’s new daughter in law, at least that’s how I felt, yet I feel my friend again saying “Esa, it’s not all about you” But I was anxious, should I have changed out of my shorts and calmed my wild hair down. That humidity was doing a number on my hair. Should I look a little more presentable to meet more of Ben’s family? 

The Frenchies

Dorthy and Jacques girls on Mt. Manadnock

 The Teddy Greenes from down the road came by to say hello and talk about the family meal for the meeting. Cousin Teddy was intimidating, in the New England way. He was very tall, lanky, serious and quiet. Except for meeting him I didn’t really share words with him. Mira nomas! Los Greenes have a French branch in the family. Ben had always teased that his family was already multicultural, now, I was meeting Frenchies. Quien sabe if cousin Dorothy is 2nd cousin, or a cousin once removed? She married a Frenchman and remained in France.

I Wanted to Run and Hide

Very friendly primos, but I was being a “ranchera” that’s what we call someone who’s too timid and gives off a rude vibe, I’m really tempted to blame it on cousin Teddy 😑. Dorothy’s husband, Jacque, introduced himself, thick accent and all, that helped calm my anxious nerves. Still the differences felt like huge chasms, not just my Mexican, but the economic status. I wanted to run and hide in the Cannonball room (remember the rooms have names), but that was scary too! 

 The cousins from out of town started arriving, first was Banky and his wife Sue. Banky was Nancy’s 1st cousin, we call it “primos/hermanos.” Ya se, something about latinos that we intensify life with such intimacy, can you get closer than a cousin/brother?. Cousin Bank was friendly and a little forward, which added to my nervios. 

When small talk ensued, he told me about his career as a school principal. Andale! That’s why I was uncomfortable. Mr. Hinkle, our basketball coach turned principal, would roam the school grounds to see who he would bust! Not a settling first impression. Then he disclosed that he was a minister. Mas nervios! I was saying things like “I don’t do religion anymore, I have a personal relationship with Jesus” Hijole! 

 Banky was curious about my upbringing. I was guarded. Why did he ask if I spoke spanish? Pues si, I am Mexican. I forgot that not all Mexican Americans spoke spanish, that it all depended on location, preferences and convictions. He did inform me that he dealt with spanish speaking students; Puerto Ricans and Newyorkicans, but in my eyes that’s a whole different language.

I clicked with his wife Sue a bit easier when she pointed out that she too was an “out-law” in the family. She shared her initial reactions to life in the Manse and discreetly? Or quietly and calmly encouraged me to talk about myself, Hay si, like that is ever difficult.

It was Bank and Sue’s long time tradition to spend several days in Jaffrey in the Manse during family meeting days. They had their daily routine and planned their various dinner dates and forums to attend. When they talked about going to a forum that first summer, I didn’t let on that I didn’t know what a forum was, it sounded so technical, so clinical. Una junta? Just a meeting?! A place where people hear views and opinions on a specific topic. In my world, we met at the dinner table, and the loudest voice interjected his/her ideas and the platica proceeded through the meal. 

Cousin Jane

Jonathan and his cousins

On Saturday morning, the day of the family meeting, I met Cousin Jane. She was a little bit different. Like, she veered off my New Englander compass somewhat. Yes, she was a little severe. I learned pretty quickly that she took her heritage, her projects, her jobs and her views quite seriously. She voiced her opinions with some feisty tones sometimes. Cousin Jane was a woman with goals. From what I can tell, when she took on a cause, like women’s rights, she gave herself to it. It did take me a minute to recognize that she wasn’t necessarily bossy, but her hands were in the masa 😉. As she chatted, she filled me in on the Torrey relatives, her brother Fred and his family. She asked questions, wanting to know what my plans were or even what I had accomplished thus far. Hijole! I wanted to react defensively, especially since I had done a quick inventory on my accomplishment and knew I had nothing great to share, at least not what I thought she wanted to hear. Instead, I smiled and told her about myself, no fluff added, porque, there was none.

Cousin Jane was not a typical Torrey, don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t loud, but she spoke her mind. My bestie could easily pass as a New Englander, she’s got a quiet voice, a calm demeanor and when she listens to you, she also studies you, both ears and eyes are paying attention. Sometimes that makes me want to squirm. This is how I would describe the Torrey side of Ben’s family. Comprendes? 

Homemade Ice Cream Tradition

Cousin Jane & her daughter, cousin Debbie

Cousin Jane was in charge of the wonderful sweet tradition of making and sharing homemade ice cream on family meeting day. She brought her prepared fresh peach mixture, her recipe, rock salt and ice. The antique hand crank  ice cream maker was at the Manse ready for use. She recruited all the kids, teens, and toddlers. She used any willing person that wasn’t in the actual meeting. A little kid stood on the lid to secure it while a big kid cranked the handle, spinning and freezing the ice cream. Good old fashioned hard work for sure. Traditions were important to Jane and even with something like ice cream, it seemed that she did not minimize the experience or change the patterns. 

Daniella helping with the cleanup after the ice cream was cranked

Offenses Will Come

How do you publicly speak about first impressions and not offend? My typical latina self had several reactions at my first family meeting. Some things were strange to me. I tended to misinterpret certain mannerisms. My biggest hurdle has been the quietness and the lack of emotion or reactions to situations, even after almost 33 years I can find myself offended with my flaco for not feeling enough. Asi es, coming from an emotional familia and culture I sometimes still forget that lack of outward emotion doesn’t mean lack of feeling. In my world, the way we tend to control all other emotions is with outward stone faced anger. That will show a person to stay away and keep me from talking too much. Imaginate! Bens had to field that bomb plenty of times. The thing that keeps both of us grounded is that we are anchored in Christ, otherwise ni se sabe!

Conclusion: Different People can thrive together.

Today, there are many mixed marriages, but over 30 years ago, I really thought I was the only Mexican in New England, and we were the only couple with this formula; Mexican American + New England American, I was not alone and for sure in America we were not that unique. It didn’t stop me from feeling like my sailor on the high seas, bien solita en el  mar. 

I know now that with a willing heart couples, families can grow and prosper no matter the different stations of life.

Se Vende! Clinging to What’s Left Of The House I Grew Up In

The house on 511 E. Delta street is for sale. My house! (Or my apas house.)  It’s been empty for almost 2 years and looking very abandoned. When I moved my apa to our house here in San Diego, I had gotten wind of the house in Calipatria going up for sale but I was too busy taking care of him to go back and see for myself.

I thought I had disconnected from that old house when my apa remarried and the house itself was no longer mi amas house. But you know, we hang on tight to things, as if we’re gonna take them with us, into our future and or our eternity. I’ve struggled with the fact that it is no longer Don Manuels house and of course the memories came flooding in as I finally looked at the old worn house. Memories like a quilt, bits and pieces fastened together by the intricate stitches of life that is worn and faded with the passing years.

Not Your Typical Open House

I was very little when the house was built. We were living in the projects on Brown street on the East side of Calipatria when brand spanking new houses were erected on Delta street. They were different, bigger than the ones the other side of the street. Three new houses, with big backyards, well big according to my little perspective. 

My ama crossed the alley and went to see the houses. No open house event, she just walked right into the 4-bedroom, 2 bathroom house. The middle house was much larger than our project home. Imagine, one bathroom had a tub and one did not. Hijole! I could play longer in the bathtub and leave the other bathroom open for someone else. A win win situation. Meanwhile, my sis says that some of the kids played in our house like it was just an old abandoned ugly house, she didn’t like it.

Ama walked through the rooms, opening doors, looking over it all with a dislike. “No me gusta” she decided and walked home, in agreement with Marina. 

Our Large and Ever Growing Family

The small duplex we lived in the projects was pretty crowded, Apa, Ama, and 8 kids ranging from 6 to 20 years old. I shared a room with my sister Patty, I don’t know where everyone else was settled, but I didn’t feel tight at all. I imagine that my ama was squeezed for air. 

One day, my oldest brother left home to get married. It was a lone decision between the two young lovers, no elaborate wedding plans or guests to consider. They ventured to Northern Ca. to start their life together.

The new couple was not quite prepared to face life, as young lovers usually aren’t. The weight of life pressed down on them, my brothers wife; Mary was heavy with child. He figured it was best for them to be near family as she neared birthing. They settled into a house in the next town of Brawley, Ca. but when the baby was born they came back to our house. My ama was relieved to have her son home again.

The New Mother In Law

We were all in awe when the new baby came home, all kinds of feelings. My ama was just barely finished with diapers and toddlers and suddenly she was an abuela! Isn’t it amazing how God fills your reservoir as your family grows? We can love with an overwhelming love. This new baby had captured our hearts.

During the day we kids were at school and then in afternoons we were hard at play so ama was able to adjust to mother in law status. Now that I consider it, my mother with her first daughter in law reminds me of me and my daughter in law. Quiet, shy, soft spoken daughter in laws who would have to learn quickly the ways of a loud family.

La Cuarentena

Everyone settled in as well as possible and life went on as usual for all of us kids. My sister in law Mary was recovering from her delivery and under my mothers care she was going to experience the full cuarentena! 40 days to recover, to rest, to learn her baby, and learn the Zepedas!

My ama made her atoles to increase her breastmilk. A thick hot comfort drink, made  from masa flavored with canela and piloncillo. I can imagine that she was making sure Mary was eating properly, with calditos de pollo. Chicken soup was a remedy for most of the ailments we encountered. Of course it was very likely that mi ama was taking the baby every chance she got. I never practiced the cuarentena as a young mom, probably because I didn’t have my ama to watch over me and make sure I’d be still enough during those 40 days.

Ama would send us off to school and get busy taking care of Mary and the baby between housework and cooking and laundry.

(No se desesperen, I haven’t gotten distracted in my story telling, this is about how the house on Delta street became home to us.)

One day, once we were all sent off, Mary and baby were resting and ama was busy with everything, focusing on the pile of laundry. The laundry room was next to the kitchen. A small room with washer, sink and water heater. On laundry days, she would be in and out because she needed to hang the laundry out to dry. In her going in and out and leaning over the tub to do some extra washing her dress got wet. The laundry had her so busy that she didn’t pay much attention to the water heater’s struggles and noises! After checking on Mary and baby she went back to her laundry. The water heater had burst into a small fire and Ama was blocked from going through the house to get Mary and the baby. Ama used to tell us that her wet dress probably kept the flames off her! She cried out “se esta quemando la casa, llama a los bomberos” Mary had heard all commotion and went to call the fire dept. Then she turns to see her suegra walking out the back door! Imagine that sinking feeling. Mary had to remind her of the baby in the back room. Mi ama went around to the front door to get the baby out to safety. The fire spread very quickly but was contained to the front of the rooms. Thankfully nobody was hurt.

We had been delayed at school because of the news of the fire so when got home the excitement had died down, but not the curiosity. The vecinos were all around. Our home in the Projects burned along with most everything in it. Marina says the house had the strong stench of burn. It was exciting to me. This only happened in the movies and my 7 year old mind wanted to see and touch! I didn’t see anything burning, I wasn’t even near the fire. No se vale! Cheated out of a time of glorious danger and drama. So close but so far. Mary reminded me that our T.V. survived the ordeal! Partially melted but still working!

When the fire was put out, my parents didn’t know what they were going to do with us. Neighbors reached out to help and we all were distributed to different homes for the night or maybe a few nights, just until it was safe to breath in there again. I’m not sure who determined that it was safe to go back in, but my parents and older siblings did.

Three of us went with Mary, baby and my big brother Angel. Needless to point out that my sister in law didn’t get her 40 days of rest. In fact she had her newborn and 3 pesky little in laws to take care of. It was no small task because my lil brother Chicha was a travieso! There was nothing that he wouldn’t try even in their little one bedroom apartment. Having the newborn there definitely kept us fascinated. When he cried we would blow in his face and he would catch his breath. My little mind was amazed at how I was able to do that, how did I have so much power? Mary was feeling motherhood in full force! 

Me and my brothers playing in the driveway

Epilogue:

I don’t know how many days passed, but when we returned back to the barrio, we went right past the projects on Brown street and made a right turn on to Delta street. It was that house!

The community stepped in to help by donating household items, the football team bought us a brand new fridge! We were given clothing, like a mountain of donations! As we got back on our feet. my ama was so grateful I don’t remember her complaining about the house.

It is where they raised the rest of us kids until we were married or off to boot camp or school.

As the country song says, it is the house that built me.

40 years La Casa de la familia Zepeda

La Tiendita on Delta St

Our house on 511 E. Delta St. became the go to spot for Mexican candy and other goodies. Before and after school kids would knock on the door to get their supply. It wasn’t an official store, but mi ama ran it like one. She tended it and kept our tiendita running for many years. 

It all started because my 13 year old entrepreneurial self needed money.

Middle School Graduation

Middle school ended with the big show of our 8th grade graduation ceremony. Once again I was subjected to wear a dress. On graduation day our chairs had been arranged on the football field, and we were seated in alphabetical order, the Zepedas are always the last ones. Like the high school graduates, our names were going to be broadcasted on the PA system and we would walk up to get our diploma front and center for everyone to cheer. In 8th grade a person feels real grown up, since they are the oldest amongst all the kids, graduating seals the state of coolness. My big brother Arturo had decided to take me and his sister in law who also graduated out to dinner. It was a big evening for me, I had never gone out to dinner, bien muy muy at a fancy restaurant (at least I thought it was fancy). Then he was going to drive us to the graduation party and hang out. He couldn’t necessarily admit he was keeping an eye on us. As soon as I was able to get out of the big baby blue poofy dress and pull my hair back to control the hairdo, I relaxed and enjoyed my very grown up experiences. 

Rosalba Flores Zepeda

Preparing for High School

Graduation now meant that I needed to get serious about life. High School was around the corner. What were the rules there? Suddenly I was “on my own.” At the Freshmen orientation, I was going to pick my own class schedule. So if I didn’t want math I didn’t have to have it, yet. If I wanted to play volleyball, or any sport, I would have to try out, hijole! The older girls were also trying out or returning to the team. I would get assigned a locker in the gym and on campus. I needed to be ready!

I needed money like the older kids who always seemed to have it. I wasn’t old enough to get a real job and make money. In the summer en el tiempo de la uva, I couldn’t go with mi ama and sisters to pick grapes. I had to stay home to do the cooking for my dad, with no pay of course. What could I do? I planned on making the most out of my high school years, but when school started there were going to be a lot of expenses most likely beyond my amas pocket book.

Opportunity

In my little town of Calipatria, there was no park across the tracks on the East side, but there were a couple of open lots. One was huge, it became our legitimate park a few years later, and I’ll boast a little to tell you that my apa was instrumental in getting us Hernandez Park in our lil ole Eastside. The other lot was private property not yet sold on our street. Our side of Delta street had only three houses on it so it was perfect for our baseball games.

The kids in the barrio would gather for a game of baseball. A few older teens, middle schoolers and little kids came to play.  We’d divide ourselves up according to skill and age and we played hard. We took our games seriously, and developed our skill in these skirmishes. I was just an ok player, not at all like my sister Marina. She loved baseball. I knew I wouldn’t be missed if I was on the bench and here’s where I hatched my money making scheme. Why would I sit around when I could be making money?

Calipatria Hornets was our school softball team.

I took my plan to my ama because I needed an investor. I planned to sell lemonade and cookies at the game. Pero, esperate. I knew nothing about bougie homemade baked goods. En mi casa the oven was used to store the casuelas and comal! Everyone loved cookies, and nobody knew the difference in quality. In fact, we thought that if food was packaged and straight from the store it was obviously better. It was a great plan, if only mi ama would lend me money for my business venture. 

My mom always had a stash of money! Somehow bam! After her ranting about not having any money and needing some herself she would bust out with her dolares. I never accepted it when she claimed not to have any money. I knew that she didn’t have money for all the things we asked for, but she was a true business woman, era bien trucha, turning over and examining our requests. Having raised 4 children with one income in the very expensive city of San Diego, Ca. I now understand her frugality. 

Learning the Business

The lemonade and cookie stand was going to cost more than just a couple of packs of cookies. She pointed out the other things I would need, but I was excited and promised to follow through. She gave me the money so I could prepare for the big day. Although things were changing for me and I was stepping into the more serious side of life I still took advantage of all the other afternoons I could play ball. Playing ball wasn’t just for the little kids, it was a serious thing and because of the hot sunny days, I knew my lemonade was going to bring me that needed money.

I was excited on my big business day. Good old fashion baseball in the empty lot before the many fear of germs or regulators. It wasn’t a snack bar, it was just me and my lemonade and cookies. The kids playing hard in field would return after each ending for lemonade. The little kids watching ran home for money to buy my sweet goods. I sold out that first day.
My ama was impressed. When she asked me what I would do with my profits, I said that my plan was to spend it slowly, thinking that was the shrewd way to do it. I knew I needed money, but I hadn’t realized that money isn’t a one time need. She proposed that I invest my money into another market: Mexican candy, and keep on selling. I was convinced and ready to stock my store.

Saturday’s in Mexicali

Weekly grocery shopping was a big event for my ama, it was a day which she shared with all of us kids.  On Saturdays, Apa would take the family across the border to Mexicali for the day. Mom did her shopping, the boys got their haircuts, and there were all sorts of things on the to-do list.
Sometimes we would eat gusgerias, junk food, that included treats covered in chile y limon, from the carts in the streets. Coctel de camaron (I still can’t stomach shrimp), churritos with plenty of chile, and Tamarindo! A sweet and sour fruit that grows in pods. It has a large dark brown seed covered in a brown sticky pulp and that is encased in a dry easy to break light brown shell. When explained like that it does not sound tasty, but I love that tangy fruit. I always ate too much and made my tongue raw. Much of the Mexican candy I chose to sell is made from tamarindo. Perhaps my favorite treat was the mango on a stick, peppered with chile, limon y sal. My taste buds are getting excited just thinking about it. 

Some Saturdays we would get comida china. Chinese food in Mexicali is delicious but different from what I’ve had in San Diego, I really wish I could describe it and do it justice.  Other times we would stop at a hamburger stand in Calexico, and have a big, good old fashioned hamburger with french fries. It was a real treat for us, because we never ate hamburgers at home. Our wants were endless, and maybe here’s when mom would pull out her stash of cash. 

Inventory for Dulceria Rosalba

There was a certain colonia my dad drove to for the candy. It had a whole street blocked off like a swap meet. Every kind of vendor set up shop, that’s where my mom did her shopping. Vegetables, carnes, tortillas, bolillos, quesos, aguas frescas and of course, dulces. The air was mixed with all the scents of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and it would take a minute for our nostrils to adjust to the sour smell. With so many vendors vying for our business, all of a sudden our spanish would be all mangled around our tongue, but mi ama knew exactly how to handle them all.

Since it was my investment, she let me pick the candy after all, I new what would sell. We bought pulpas de tamarindo and powdered chamoy. We got paletas con saladitos, saladitos, those little salted plums are delicious in a sweet orange. I stocked up on rollitos and churritos. This was the start of our tiendita. I must say that it was quite a trial not to eat up my inventory!

In the barrio everyone loved Mexican candy and my business took off very quickly. It helped my sales that I was taking candy in my backpack to sell at school. You would think that with money coming in so quickly and steadily I would have kept my business up.

It got tedious and pretty soon mom was doing all the work. I was done with my tiendita and I told her I was shutting down. She tried to get me to continue, but I was too busy with my sports and besides I was getting too cool to be seen selling my paletas con saladito and pulpas

Dona Chuy’s Tiendita

My mom was not ready to give up the venture. She put out a small table in our already small dining room and set up her array of assorted candy. Her inventory was much bigger and she even branched out and sold ice cream cones. Dona Chuy was now the unofficial spot for candy for the whole barrio. When kids were short on coins, she allowed them to ‘owe’ for the next time and soon she had to have her libretita to keep track of borrowers. No interest was charged, of course, she did it only to keep kids happy and her store running.

My siblings and I had an unspoken agreement with ama. Business boomed after school and when we were home we had to get up and answer the door for a customer and attend to them. Occasionally we’d get a free candy or ice cream cone. 

This little business went on for years. When my mom passed away, dad kept it going. The kids in the neighborhood all knew dad (Don Manuel) because of the candy store. My own kids would always come prepared with change so they could buy candy from Tata when we went to visit. Of course he never charged them and of course they were only too glad to take the blessing.

After a long battle with dementia, my apa has now passed on. The little tiendita has been closed for many years, but it lives on in the memories of countless kids who grew up in our barrio. When my sister and I were arranging his burial and choosing his plot in Brawley, CA the young man who was pointing out plots to us said, “Wait? Are you talking about Don Manuel from Delta street in Calipatria? I used to go buy candy all the time at his house.”

another story for another time, where I again had to wear a dress.