“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.
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.
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.