A Love Story

All this wedding activity stirred me up for a love story. I went back and pulled up a story I pieced together a few years ago from the fragment pieces of information that my apa and ama had shared through the years. One day as I was feeling muy romantica I asked my father “How did you meet my Ama?” He dropped this into my brain and heart:

En la Fiesta del Señor, le ofrecí una flor ye ella la acepto, y alli empezo” I melted with anxious desire to know more. When you offered that flower, who was she with? What’s La Fiesta Del Señor? What was she wearing? Y muchas mas preguntas, details that a girl needs to have. This story is grounded in facts but does have plenty of embellishments to tie it all in.  I can only imagine the hardship they experienced trying to make ends meet and the pain my ama suffered when dad came to America leaving her and the baby. I filled in the gaps to write their story.

Promesas

Maria ran inside breathless and Angel came zooming in behind her, bending down she lifted him up, Ugh! He was getting so big, nuzzling him, while she looked over at her husband’s picture on the small table she whispered “He’s coming home baby, Apa viene a casa.” She missed him so much, but Angel wasn’t affected by her news, he didn’t know the man in the picture. It was another reality that pointed to their “separate lives” marriage. She studied his handsome face and lean body, standing tall in his Levi Strauss  jeans and cowboy hat, looking tan Americano. It seemed like an eternity since he had left, worrying that he wouldn’t come back. She had spent too many days angry with her husband for leaving, but today, despite her fears, and his obvious change, she embraced the yearning she felt for him and allowed herself to remember how wonderful his full lips felt on her. She hugged her toddler tight, and whispered “you’re going to love your Apa” trying to stop the memory of the day he had left. 

***

“No llores”. He hated her tears.

 “Chuy, We talked about this. I need to feed my family and I need money to do that. I must go. En el otro lado, I’ll make lots of money and then come home quickly, before you know it!” 

 “Por favor no te vayas. Think of your hijo” Maria clung to him, hoping that duty to his son would keep him home with her.

“I’m not leaving you like that! Comprendeme, I need to go? My mother will help you with the baby” He pulled her close.

“You don’t have to leave Manuel, I will work”

 He stiffened at her words and pulled her away from him.

 “You work too hard, too long, too much. Look at you, you’re pale, you’re too thin, and the dark circles under your eyes accuse me. What kind of a man am I to allow this?

“Oh, I see.” She hugged herself trying to hide her unattractiveness from him.

“I should have left a long time ago, then I would already be back with plenty of dólares to sustain us. I’ll send money, I promise you will not have to work so hard.” 

“No Manuel, don’t leave. I promise to take better care of myself. You’ll have better eyes for me, please don’t leave. I don’t care if everyone else is living like this. I hate seeing families separate! Wives are forgotten while husbands go off to chase dolares  and who knows what else!”

“I’ll return quickly, te lo prometo” He reached for her but she turned and ran to the bathroom. His promise of a quick return pierced her while she vomited her breakfast and crumbled to the floor, holding her abdomen. Their family was growing and he was leaving. Receiving a letter meant his prolonged stay, yet not receiving a letter provoked such worry in her. What if he got ill? What if he decided not to come home?

***

Querida Chuy,

I hope you and Angel are well. I am now situated in a small room in Mexicali, Baja California, tomorrow I will look for more work on the other side, the gringos are always looking for strong help so it has been easy to get work and make money. There is plenty of work, I’ll be able to make a lot of money. Hace mucho calor! The heat is almost unbearable, pero me aguanto!  knowing that you and Angel need me I will endure this inferno. The money I’ve sent should cover all the household expenses for a while.  Como esta mi hijo? Tell him that I love him, saludos a tu familia. 

Que Dios te bendiga, te lo desea

Manuel

***

At first she had been too angry to tell him about the pregnancy. After the morning sickness had passed, she was well and so was their son. Life didn’t change much for Angel, he had quickly adopted her oldest brother; Chino as his dad and life was peachy for him. Gracias a Dios that she had him to fill her days. The baby safely grew in her womb and she yearned for her husband. She reminded herself often “He said he would come back” Maybe, telling him about the second baby would prompt him to return quickly and be with her when her time came. She wrote him a letter hoping it would arrive quickly, there wasn’t much time. 

 Her  heart was broken when she went into labor, she received a letter and more money to sustain them comfortably, but no mention of the baby. Alone she welcomed their second son and called him Arturo.

***

Eventually a letter did reach him in the Sierra Nevada mountains. His patron needed a sheep herder and he needed to keep working. A numbingly cold and lonely job, just him, the horse, Kazam the dog and the sheep in the cold outdoors. The patron had brought supplies and mail, he was ready for news from home. A letter from his wife and mother, good news he hoped. Que?! “Manuel estoy embarazada” Maria wrote that she was pregnant, But his mother had said in her letter “El niño y Chuy are just fine but come as soon as you’re able” Un hijo?! 

***

 “Apa, Apa” Angel clapped his chubby hands “Tío, mi apa!” Angels enthusiasm brought her back, “No, baby, your uncle is not your daddy. Your daddy is coming back from El Norte very soon, maybe today you’ll meet him again” she pressed on her breast as they filled with milk, “He’s coming back! And you and your baby brother will have apa home!” Angel laughed as she twirled him around, “Our family will be together again, everyone will see that we were not abandoned. She stopped abruptly in front of her broken mirror “Wow! I’ve changed so much too”  

She put her son down and touched her head, so much of her hair had fallen out during her pregnancy. Her body was still flabby from her labor and delivery. her skin pale from lack of sleep, she wondered what Manuel would think of her now. She pulled on her face, peering into the mirror piece “ aayy! que fea estoy. Ugly!” She accused the image just as Arturo wailed for his lunch, her hands flew to her breast, she winced at how hard they got if she waited too long to nurse the baby. She hesitated, looking again into her broken mirror, if Manuel walked in right now, he would notice her full rounded breast, maybe that wasn’t so bad. Beauty would have to wait again, her boys were hungry. The baby wailed demanding to be nursed and Angel pulled on her skirt, asking for a taco, he too was hungry. Manuel was coming soon and she had to do something about herself, she said to the mirror piece ”I’ll be back and maybe you’ll help me see the areas I can work on.” She ran to get a tortilla for Angel and then picked up her screaming baby. While the baby gurgled at her breast she sighed ready to end this separation and the anxiety it produced. 

She remembered her mother in-laws inability to understand her. It didn’t matter that young wives and their babies were being abandoned at epidemic proportions, while young husbands imagined streets paved with dolares. Did Manuels mother think her anxieties were unfounded? Dona Rosario was confident that her son would be loyal to his family and return as soon as he was able.  It was Marias job to care for the boys and make a nice home for them with his money. She hated when Maria wasted money, and the mirror had been a waste. 

 “Why do you need a mirror Maria? You need to be wise with the money my son sends you.” “Pero, Doña Rosario, how am I supposed to keep myself beautiful for your son if I can’t see what I look like? “No buts Maria, don’t waste money, you need to worry more about Angel and the baby that will be here soon” “No señora I need it so that if Manuel returns I will have maintained myself” She was careful all the way home, then Angel raced out to meet her and when the mirror slipped to the ground it broke in two pieces, with no time to regret it, she swooped her toddler up and took him inside so she could pick up her mirrors.

She looked into the mirror as she burped her baby, “Doña Rosario was right, Manuel is coming home and you, Mirror Mirror you really didn’t help, but you certainly taunted me every time you pointed out how unraveled I’ve been. She adjusted her dress and planted a kiss on Arturo’s cheek. 

She got busy with the meager meal, glad that soon they would eat more than frijoles,  she was tired of beans. She poured the last of the lard into the hot pan and waited for it to get hot then poured the beans into it. They sizzled then splattered, spitting on to her cheek, “Owww!” she hissed and turned to her mirror piece and it seemed to laugh at her with her red blotchy cheek.  She sighed and was glad when her toddler  took the plate of beans with such gusto, as if she had served him a steaming hot bowl of pozole, the hominy chicken soup was his favorite. She smiled and hoped that there would be enough tortillas to satisfy her growing boy. She knew Manuel had not left her to chase a dream, but to take care of them. When Manuel came they had too much business to attend to, her appearance shouldn’t matter now, but again she glanced in the mirror piece “Oh no! Now I’ll have a scar! She should get rid of that accusing glass! Tears of anxiety squeezed from her eyes as much as she was determined not to cry over such vanities. Worry marked her face as Angel ran to her and asked “Mama? Coco?” And reached up for her. “Si, Angel, just a little owie” she hugged him as a tear rolled down her face, Manuel was coming home, he promised.

Manuel walked in, quietly watching his wife and son. Angel looked up and snapped “NO! Swinging at the stranger as he clung to his mother. “Amor, que te pasa?” Maria looked up wondering what was wrong as her son’s anxiety accelerated “No, no!” Maria swung around and there stood her beautiful husband, he looked like a dark American under his cowboy hat, his blue jeans and boots.  She shrunk back anxious, noticing the American in him and his presence reminded her that she was quite undone. While Angel swung to protect his mother from the stranger she slowly took in how good he looked.  Manuel reached for the screaming toddler, murmuring his name. “Angel, Mi hijo” Angel screamed in terror “Amaaa!” Maria smiled, “Ya mi amor, ya. There There She said between tears, “Es tu papa” Manuel quickly closed the gap and embraced them both. There in his arms Maria let the tears of relief roll down her cheeks, slumping her shoulders, she allowed Manuel to take care of his family. 

Ama Heard Me Crying

I was having a quiet moment with my daughter, por supuesto que we were talking about very important matters, when her ears perked up, I could see in her face that she was making a calculation about something in her head. Then as I heard my grandbaby crying, her youngest son who’s not so baby, she put her attention back to our conversation. I had already put on my “Ama al rescate” cape. I was ready to rescue him. I said “Don’t you hear?” She calmly responded “yes, but I can tell he’s not hurt, they’ll work it out” A pos si! I’d forgotten that a mother can recognize and distinguish the different alarms her child sounds. And usually she knows when to run to him, or when he’s safe and he must figure it out. Hijole! I was all tangled up in my “rescue cape” Don’t get me wrong, I know moms (me) who have missed the cry for help or were too slow, but God helped us. Thankfully, in todays story, my Ama arrived to pull Fernando out of his mess!

The American Dream

Para mi familia, coming to “El Norte” was a slow process that began in Mexicali Baja California, a border city. This is where many other  immigrants began their pursuit of the “American Dream. My apa worked across the border and my ama probably worked harder at taking care of their growing family. They went to live in a colonia where housing and plumbing wasn’t very personal and definitely not cozy. The need for housing intensified as people were arriving. One “solution” to the growing population and daily needs was to build shared outhouses in the colonia. Everything in my sheltered inexperienced mind is grappling with the idea of leaving my house to use the bathroom. Pero pues, I’m trying to understand the logic behind this solucion. Gracias a Dios, that children are different. They’re resilient, they see most things as adventures.

Un dia, while my ama was busy, the kids were out playing. Fernando was out in the colonia playing ball with his friends, he doesn’t remember if he was playing soccer, but he was hard at play. Y de repente! That’s how it is with latinos, every story has an “all of a sudden!” element. They all noticed the BIG hole in the ground and curiosity got a hold of them. After having raised three boys myself, I can attest to the fact that boys like to take curiosity to another level! After some speculation they concluded that the ollo was for the new outhouse that was coming soon. They peered into it, they sized it up and one another and put out the challenge. “Who can get out of the ollo?” They all decided they could easily, no problem. Right here, I’ll embellish Fernandos story, because he doesn’t remember, and I have faced 3 little boys who ALWAYS did everything better and faster. Is it possible that Chapparro was too eager to top all the other boys? Por supuesto que si! And before he knew it, they were all daring him to prove it. He faced that hole and the dare, I can only imagine how much time he took ruminating about the act of the big jump. For sure the voices of his friends echoed in his mind. “You can’t do it” “Tienes miedo” and then, he was in the hole. When he looked up, his friends were gone and he was stuck. A hole that was all of a sudden an insurmountable height, maybe five feet high, he was about 3 ft high himself. Panic struck him as he realized that he couldn’t get out, forever trapped in the newly dug outhouse hole. It took him no time at all to sound his alarm. “Ama! Ama!” No response. Panic gripped him and his voice went up a notch “Ama! Ama!” and the tears gushed as he cried “Amaaa! Amaaa!” The ollo was closing in on him as he screamed for ama. And then she was there, relief flooded him. 

The Board of Education

When he was out of the hole, his relief lasted a moment because he had to face ama and answer the questions. “Porque hiciste eso?” She would never understand his need to prove himself, but he would have to learn quickly that he must stay away from dangerous scenarios. And for that short quick lesson the ‘board of education’ was needed. Fernando says that one of his grade school teachers referred to the paddle for disciplining like this. Ya se, this is a sensitive topic, so I’m just sharing facts, ama spanked him as needed, y pues all of her children felt the “board of education” as needed. She didn’t beat or abuse him, she loved him. The lesson of not following the crowd, or listening to the voices of foolishness would be ongoing lessons that everyone faces.

Gracias a Dios that my ama learned how to discern those different cries we let out as we experienced life and came to our rescue, aid or encouragement as needed. It’s pretty special to watch a mom in action when her child cries out. I have a beautiful friend who sometimes will hear her kids cry and doesn’t follow the crowd of moms who sometimes apapachan, you know hover and immediately pull their child out of their distress, without giving him/her a chance to work things out and learn their own boundaries and establish them. This fiesty latina, will hear and recognize their need and choose not to be anxious for them. 

Whether or not a mother hovers about and runs to every cry, or picks and chooses which cry is a genuine emergency, the main thing is that a mother hears her child’s cries. 

How To Handle A Bully

I have three older sisters, all feisty fiery Latina’s!  Can’t say when I’ll see two of them again, so meanwhile, My sis Marina and I try to celebrate their birthday with sweet memories of them. I’ve told you about Marina and Patty, ahora, I’m celebrating Lupe, her birthday was this past week. 

Perhaps every little sister has that admiration glint in their eye for their hermana mayor, o no? My big sister was like the female version of the Godfather. De veras, just check out her name María Guadalupe Zepeda Sánchez. I Can hear my son Jonathan saying “Tía Lupe was a G” and I would agree with him. 

She was Passionate but in control (usually) Deep down inside she wanted to display outward affection but she held herself back, except of course when a fat little baby was near her and she couldn’t resist the rosy chubby cheeks, or the tiny rolls on the baby’s thighs. Only then would you hear that wonderful baby talk that my ama practiced and passed  down to us. Those catch phrases that are still heard around some Zepeda circles :D. “Que cosa tan fina!” o “Cosita fina” and of course the mumbo jumbo phrases, sweet nothings and kisses. With Lupe, after the infant stage was gone, you just had to know she loved you by her other actions.

From the heart of a little sister, I knew how to see and feel her love. Lupe allowed me into her heart and shared her life with me; the good, the bad and the ugly. Lupe loved my family. She knew how to win my angry little first born. Not having a girl of her own, she indulged mine with those girly frilles that I had no clue about. She knew just how to tantalize my finicky middle child with the right foods . She was smitten by my guerito, Thomas, always looking for ways to spoil him. And even my flaco, she enjoyed cooking for him, and he especially enjoyed her perfectly round soft tortillas and her nopalitos, we’ve never tasted a better cactus salad than my big sisters. 

One more of the ways she showed her love was in her “stand with you” position she took with family. My sister was a passionate and loyal latina. She loved her family and defended us when necessary or had us defend ourselves, but she was there for us.

My older brother just recently shared with me another story from the archives of Mexicali. The lesson he had to teach Lupe about facing the bully.

My apa hated to know we were being bullied, but I think he disliked even more the idea we were not pushing a bully back, or defending ourselves. He strongly believed that we had to send that message that we were not going to be walked on. Sometimes it just took a brave look into the eyes of the bully and other times it took more. I believe that we all learned that lesson at some point in our lives. Here’s a quick look at how Angel taught Lupe how to handle a bully.

Life was simple in those days, kids played outside in the yard or on the street, the most important thing in a little girl’s life in the colonia was play. Until it was not. Lupe was enjoying her liberty until Big Bully Girl came out. Then, she’d take from Lupe whatever she had or she’d shove, hit or hurt her. Lupe would run and hide, usually wailing to ama. Angel got wind of this “situation” He himself was now a street savvy neighborhood kid. He knew it had to change. 

One day, he happened to be home, outdoors with the kids when Big Bully Girl came out, and Lupe immediately ran to hide behind Angel. It was one of those moments: defend his little sister or teach her to defend herself. But why defend yourself when your big brother is there? In the flowery language he uses, he told me how he resolved her problem.  He told his little sister that she better quit hiding, go face that girl and show her she could not push her around. He didn’t say “tell her you’re not scared of her” What he did threaten was that if she didn’t face that girl immediately, she would have to deal with him! Lupe was more afraid of that consequence of course. When Lupe stopped hiding, Big Bully Girl was surprised when Lupe pushed back! Lesson learned, mission accomplished! Lupe never feared that bully again, in fact Angel said that he did feel sorry for the bully after that. 

Apa and 3 of his 4 girls. (That’s me in the frilly dress)

Por favor, I do realize that bullying can get way more serious than standing up to a bossy mean selfish kid. Bullying can turn ugly and dangerous. Family support is critical, but if you can’t talk to a family member there are places that will help a person in need. 

Por supuesto que, life brought on many difficulties and hurts for my big sis, many times she had no choice but to face them. When she had to fight for her rightful place she did with fierce strength, when she had to let things go, though it was a battle, though her heart ached she did so, fighting always to keep her head up. When she couldn’t defend herself, God showed himself strong.

There was a gap of 7 years between Lupe and I, but in our latter years as wives and mothers we enjoyed a wonderful friendship. She gave me a place of honor by making me her friend. In one sense I can’t wait to catch up with her in heaven one day and hear her morning greeting again. “Good morning sunshine”.

Las Aventuras de Angel 

 

“Back in my days” we were raised to respect our older siblings, I had 6 older siblings that I had to give that allegiance to. Pero, sometimes things got fuzzy, lines got crossed with my sister Patty, since we were only 2 years apart we were friends mostly, until I would tick her off for one reason or another and she’d have to check me. I didn’t mess with my big brother Angel. He grew up having to face many of the issues of the 60s and 70s. He didn’t expect others to solve things for him, and he didn’t shrink in fear. When language was an issue, when skin color was a barrier, he handled his affairs In a matter of fact way. And so it was when he saw the girl he wanted to marry. He saw studious, quiet and very petite Mary at school one day and was smitten, but that’s not anything my cool and collected big brother could ever outright admit. Y asi fue, Mary, now his wife of 50 years, said that Angel told himself “That girl, she’s gonna be my wife” And before long she was. He learned how to defend himself while maintaining his head high and obtaining his goals. 

By the time I was out of my toddler years he was an adult and I looked at him with a sense of awe in my eyes and always I hoped for his attention and his ‘like’. I’ll admit that even now, ahora de vieja! I still have that hope in me. 

In the past year and a half since our father died, Angel and Mary have had their trials. Ben and I went to visit them one weekend in Calipatria, it was a bittersweet weekend. Mary has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and like it always is, familia rallies together. It was a hard blow for my big brother and his family. Mary has a big family also and her siblings rallied around her, while my sis Marina and I offered the only help we could think of, our time, labor and whatever knowledge we had gained from taking care of our apa.  

Storytelling

Ben put his handyman skills to good use, but after one one project was excused for more important things. Something about my quiet husband drew my stoic older brother out of his shock. He began sharing some of his many adventures from his truck driving career with Mary. Remembering the places they drove to and the people they met along the way refreshed my brother. I was busy with my project, organizing and decluttering and so I missed a lot of these stories. Angel uses colorful language when he talks, and always has a hidden smile when he gives a punch line. It’s very enjoyable to listen to him, and it very much reminds me of when I watched and listened to my apa tell his stories. Somewhere in his story telling his memories shifted and he began talking about some of the youthful adventures he experienced while living in Mexicali. I was glad to be done with the ‘work’, I needed to hear some of these stories, I had been asking for some time for more of our family history. Mary and I sat down with Ben and Angel at the kitchen table to listen to the stories about the Zepedas before my days.

Before we could sit down though, we couldn’t be at the table without our cafecito y pan dulce. The stories came flowing out, a wealth of experiences. 

De Jalisco A Baja California

When dad decided it was time to leave Jalisco and take his wife and two small boys to El Norte, he brought them right to the border of Mexicali, Baja California. It was a three day journey by train. Upon arriving they met another family from back home. Immediately they connected and became fast friends. My father was immediately working across the border so their new friends helped my mother as she adjusted to a whole new life.

As if resettling and two busy little boys wasn’t enough on her plate, through the years, my parents were fruitful, four more kids during the Mexicali years and that wasn’t the end. Her busyness made Angel’s adventures possible. He was quite savvy in the colonia and she needed his quickness. It was a win-win situation. He explored every calle, every empty lot, looked into different businesses and stands, he studied his new location. All the while as he made his connections, he was completing the errands assigned to him. 

By the time my big brother was around 12 years old he had learned a few things about making money, no opportunity was wasted. Angel took a newspaper route, then, with that money earned, he’d  run over to the magazine stand and buy the popular magazines from the doña and resell them. When he couldn’t sell his magazine, he’d rent it for a reasonable price to a willing reader. 

On top of all his business, and son duties, he also had school to attend. He and his little brother, my other big brother, are two peas in a pod when they’re together. They went to school with the nuns, and they ran a tight ship, but even there Angel learned to manage, only occasionally did he get busted for a travesura. One he told me of wasn’t exactly his fault but his indirect contribution didn’t help his defense.

In his ‘travels’ through la colonia Loma Linda, Angel found or purchased different useful items, like purchasing upholstery needles from a shop along his path. He used these needles to make darts, a crucial tool for a blooming adolescent boy, verdad?  He inserted the needles into tender twigs from tree branches and secured them tightly with string. Then to bring the needed flight to the dart he created cardboard feathers and soon he was ready to beat any boy at a dart throwing game. 

One day, his lil brother found another use for the needles. The bicycles lined up at school felt the poke of that upholstery needed. Every tire stood flat and the trail of guilt led right to Angel. The nuns were not too happy with the Zepeda boys that day. Lesson learned, he’d have to be more careful with his supplies. With each experience Angel was learning quite a bit from the streets and my apa was getting worried, Angel was becoming notorious in the colonia

En conclusíon

These recent months have been quite difficult for Angel and Mary, but they have amazed me with how they have persevered, they know that it is God who carries them.  Mary is gracious in  her surrender to the One who gave her life in the first place. With much dignity she takes care of her “stinker” as she has always called her husband because of his notorious teasing ways. 
I have always enjoyed hearing our family stories. Talking to my brother recently felt like a secret room that was discovered. He talked about my ama’s family and about the years in Mexicali and of course a favorite of mine is love stories, and I’ve learned about him and Mary’s love story. A wealth of information that spilled from the archives of his memory and Mary’s too. I’m looking forward to more stories and I’m thanking God for my big brother Angel and my cuñada Mary.

Crossing The International Border

I’ve been having alot of conversations with my cuñada Maria. She’s married to my oldest brother Angél.  We’ve been talking about everything from childhood, to cooking, to travesuras, those daring exploits my lil brother Hector did and scared my ama half to death. We’ve also talked about our experiences in Mexicali. Quizas, I’m also thinking of Mexicali since I’ll be visiting the border city of Calexico, Ca. soon.  

Chinese Food In Mexicali

Mexicali, in Baja California Mexico was the last stop just before my apa brought his family to California in the U.S. My parents lived there for a few years and they grew accustomed to it. When dad brought his family to live in America, they still crossed the border into Mexico almost every weekend to do some of their business and socializing. My ama preferred to do her shopping there. She was able to converse and haggle about prices, while we hit the street vendors and looked over the goodies they sold. My apa enjoyed the cocteles de camarón, I loved the mango on a stick with chile y limon, and we all loved the candy, but my ama loved la comida China. 

Asi es, Mexicali has a large Chinese population, which probably grew larger when the railroads were completed and the irrigation system project established. My mother looked forward to our Saturdays in Mexicali, but sitting down to eat Chinese food with her family was an especially wonderful treat for her, not to mention that we loved it too. The chop suey, the red carnitas, the egg patties and the fortune cookies still linger in my memory. Pero, once in a while when we had to hurry to get to the linea to cross the border we did stop for a delicious hamburguesa in Calexico, Ca. These hamburgers were traditionally American, embellished just perfectly, with tomate, lechuga and pickles, then topped with a jalapeno chile to make them a great Spanglish burger served with fat papas fritas that we covered in catsup! It was another favorite. 

The Vendors En La Linea

Ok, back to my memory. One Saturday we had to get back home quickly. There was no time for treats that day. The line moved along slowly. We avoided eye contact with the kids and moms asking for money, we didn’t know what to do about them, but we loved the vendors who displayed their artesenias, there was always something new in their beautiful crafted work, but our ama was rarely impressed. We were not supposed to look at them either because if we stared too long the vendor would come running to our window. We loved it and did it on purpose, without fail it just got us scolded. 

Our family was mixed as far as immigration. Dad, mom and my older siblings had to show their resident alien cards, green cards, but my lil brother and I just had to say “American born” and the officer would ask us where we were born and a few questions in English and let us through. Easy peasy! Except for one day. That particular day, the officer asked to see our birth certificates. My mother emptied her purse and didn’t find the documents. Dad tried to explain the certificates were at home and simply apologized for the mistake. Nope! Not acceptable. A secundaria, to secondary where a full investigation would take place. First we had to get out of the car for the vehicle inspection. The officer talked to my father and through an interpreter to my mother.  No amount of explanations, apologies or other proof of residency changed the verdict. The bottom line was that he would have to prove that their last two kids were American born. So dad left us there at the border and he took the rest of my siblings home. Our family separated to find the needed documents. I was always a big chicken when I felt tension, my lil brother was busy looking at everything and my ama wasn’t too happy about the whole deal. Those couple of hours were pretty long, I never wanted to be stuck in secundaria again! 

Los “American Born”

Imaginate my flashback! Boy does history repeat itself! Thirty years later,  we had our two youngest boys; with us at the international border, this time in Tijuana, Mexico. Emery was about 7 and Thomas was about 2 years old. Hijole! We had rushed out of the house, I barely remembered to grab my “birth certificate” wallet and we went to Mexico. It was a late night as we returned home, the line was not horrific, we inched through it in just about an hour and half. By the time we reached the officer it was late. The boys were knocked out and I wasn’t ready with the documents, strike 1! Then I couldn’t find the birth certificates, I had accidentally grabbed the pouch that carried their immunizations. Strike 2! I explained, my husband explained, he peered in at the boys, they were knocked out, he could not stir them awake, strike 3! Off to secondary. Before they had us get out of the vehicle I tried shaking the boys awake, then the officer tried again. This time, Emery, the oldest of the two groaned, the officer asked “what’s your name? But Emery just moaned. Oh no! I snapped “Emery, wake up!” He asked again. This time Emery whined and said “I don’t know” Oh my gosh! He was delirious, y ahora?! Meanwhile Thomas just moaned. Ben was frantically calling friends so they could go to the house and get the birth certificates. Then, the officer asked, do you have a family picture? You all would think, Of course every mother has a family picture in her wallet, verdad? Bad mother! Bad mother! SMH is how the officer looked at me. Then the heavens opened up and Ben found a family picture in his paint splattered wallet. There we were the happy Greene’s. By this time almost another hour had passed and they hadn’t gotten us out of our vehicle yet so the officer scolded us about our carelessness and explained that many children are stolen and drugged to get them across the border, he had to be sure that they were truly ours, by now Emery was waking up and answering questions. What a scary moment. What an ugly reality of that kind of danger. 

The Things I Learned in Secundaria

I can only finish this post with a reminder of a few things I find important:

Don’t leave home and go into another country without your documents!

Be ready to show them when you’re asked.

Carry a family photo. 😀

And be grateful to the God of the universe! He always makes a legitimate way to help his children.

The Picture that Ben carried in his wallet

Middle School Life

The Middle School Volcano:

Miriam Webster defines volcano with these words “a vent in the crust of the earth or another planet or a moon from which usually molten or hot rock and steam issue” and  “something of explosively violent potential”  Doesn’t that sound like the Middle School experience? Verdad que si? Just ask any 6th, 7th or 8th grader, they’ll tell you how hard it is, IF you can get them out of their sullen state. My middle school initiation was perhaps the worst ever! A 6th grader is supposed to be the top dog in elementary school. You know, the ones everyone looks up to. I was ready for my time to shine in that place. 

Leaders of the Middle School

Back in the ancient days of the 70s, in my little town of Calipatria, the classroom announcements for the new school year was a huge deal. It was both an exciting and nerve racking time, I mean our happiness rested on who was gonna be our teacher and if my current best friend would sit in the desk next to us. 

The hot scorching desert sun could not stop us from that mile-long walk across the tracks. We rushed past the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat, the Bank of America, the Circle K, park and library. Our sun scorched skin simply soaked in more sun. We had to know what our future held. This was an exciting time for me and my sister Patty, she was gonna be in 8th grade, imaginate! Even though I would barely see her around I was so proud of her, 8th grade, wow! Y pues, I was sorta following in her steps, 6th grade, a big kid in the elementary level, I needed this promotion.

Z is for Last in Line

Zepedas were ALWAYS at the bottom of the list. Last in line, y porque? Totally not fair! But it was so. My eyes automatically went to the bottom of the lists for our names. Pattys homeroom teacher was Mr. Carter. Hijole! That’s the one she didn’t want, she said he was mean. I wondered what a homeroom was? 

Imaginate my dismay when I did not see my name in either 6th grade classes. Maybe I flunked? Que verguenza to do 5th grade again? No que muy Honor Roll student, what would my friends say about me? And my apa, oh no…

Then, I saw a whole new class was posted, my name, Rosalba Zepeda was found at the bottom of that list. A hybrid class with both 6 and 7th graders. Que? A mixed class? Porque? Mrs. Lara was gonna be my new teacher. She was kinda different because she had married Mr. Lara and he was Mexican-American. She was white! I had never seen that! I didn’t even know that was allowed. Mrs. Lara was new to our school and a new wife and new to a mixed classroom.  Was the school  experimenting with us? Was there no place for people with Z names or new teachers who dared step out of the box? 

The walk home was long and hot, I was burning up. My friends didn’t know what to think, they all had their names on the 6th grade roster. Patty was too angry about her homeroom teacher to feel bad for me because I was gonna be in that weird hybrid class.

My Middle School Hybrid Class

When September rolled around, I was tense. My classroom was out in a bungalow separate from the middle schoolers and also separate from the elementary kids. I felt like we were deserted, I wonder if Mrs. Lara felt the same? Was my class a 6th grade class or a 7th grade class? I had decided I was going to take my ‘big kid’ roll anyway, those 7th graders weren’t going to boss me around. I entered the class room looking confident, but feeling nervous. I picked my desk in front of the class. I didn’t want to test the 7th grade cool kids, besides I still had an honor roll reputation to uphold. It was going to be a long year. Here’s are the things that are bookmarked in my memory for that mixed year:

  • I sat on my desktop and broke it!! Asi es, right in the front row for all to see, just before Mrs. Lara had called the class to quiet down, I was confidently sitting on my desktop table when all of a sudden, crack! I went down a notch. I managed to jump off as everyone laughed but the humiliation almost killed me. Mrs. Lara didn’t laugh.
  • During recess, I made a stand to keep my victory in the game of Caracol and paid dearly for it. The 7th grader leader decided I wasn’t worth her acquaintance so everyone else followed her lead. I was marked as the target the entire hybrid 6th grade year. When girls decide to be mean, hijole! Cuidate!. Needless to say, it was a lonely year. Mrs. Lara saw the separation, and was on my side.
  • This bookmark will probably be red flagged. It happened like this. One day during PE our class got to participate in a softball game with the mighty 8th graders. That meant I was gonna be with Patty! Yes! Those rare moments in school when you get to be close to one of your big sisters and feel real safe and secure. Softball wasn’t Patty’s strength, but some of her other peers, like the catcher was a superstar. Patty was feeling her disdain every time she went to the plate. Her class was losing. She was sick and tired of the “trash talk” She walked to plate and positioned herself to bat. The catcher cried out “She’s no batter” She gripped that bat, ready to kill that ball. Strike! And she tensed, poised. “Strike Two!” the catcher taunted as she swung and missed. Her lips thinned and began to get dark purple. That was always a sign to me that I had gone past the point of no return and she was gonna kick my butt! To top it off my enemies laughed and taunted her and me. I held my breath. The catcher pricked her one last time “she’s no batter, strike three!” Patty didn’t even look at the ball being pitched, she swung and struck out. Without missing a beat, she threw her bat down. She turned around and confronted the catcher, throwing her to the ground making her face her taunting words, the volcano had exploded, the pressure of 8th spewed out. We all ran to the plate and surrounded the girls, the chatter and provoking challenges “Don’t let her get away with that” were smothered as the teachers put a quick end to the fight. Mr. Carter easily lifted both girls and walked them to the principal’s office. Somehow some pressure had been lifted off me. I looked at my arch enemy and dared her with my eyes to mess with me again. It would be a giant I would eventually have to face in middle school, pero, for the moment, I felt invincible, that was my big sister, I dared anyone to mess with her.

En Conclusion:

Those experiences shape us as adults. It’s not “just” puberty. We experience that humiliation that helps keep our heads from getting too big later in life. We learn how to empathize and notice when someone isn’t being treated fairly or when someone feels left out because we’ve been there before. And when we look that bully in the eye and make a stand, we learn that we can over come anything.

Middle School is not an easy time, I’m sure everyone has their stories of fear and rejection. If you’ve got a child in middle school, remember those days and use them to help your kid make it and maybe even thrive.

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.