Enduring Love

A Love Story

Just reading the words ‘love story’ gets you kind of warm and fuzzy inside, verdad que si? I love to hear about the sweet connection of two young lovers.

Lasting Friendship

I met Lynnda in church. I was a new wife and a soon to be mother whom God saw fit to link to his new child. She had walked in from the hail of self destruction. After 20 years, her marriage had derailed. In a way, grew up together together. Joe and Lynda helped Ben and I through the transition out of military life, we helped them take the baby steps towards Gods word and healthy family life. There a beautiful friendship formed.
With their permission, I want to share a glimpse of their incredible journey. The story of a strong and seasoned couple who stayed in the battle and fought for their love. For better or worse, for rich or poor, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. 

Golden Anniversary Celebration!

Childhood

Joe and Lynda were two kids in a sea of dysfunction. Alcohol, drunkenness, promiscuity and somewhere was an unseen God that they knew of but hadn’t experienced. All around them, young people took their personal freedom into boundless levels. They witnessed their peers delving into drugs, alchohol and sex, perhaps the unseen God kept them from it all?

Lynndas mother was caught in the vicious cycle of addiction. Her children went to live with their grandmother. It was a crowded home where she saw and experienced the pain of addiction all around her. Yet, it was in this home where she received love and protection from her grandmother and her tias. When Lynnda shares her childhood memories, it’s never with anger or bitterness for not having her mother around. Her stories are always confident accounts of a grandmother who loved her and her siblings. She always has a twinkle in her eyes when she tells of her tia’s protection. “I was tia Linda’s favorite,” she says. It would later be God’s providence that Lynnda would one day care for her elderly tia Tencha and help her through that difficult passage from life to death.

Joe had a huge family. They lived in the projects until his parents were able to purchase a two-bedroom house, not far from Lynndas grandmothers home. In this house they raised their thirteen children. As I write this I can feel the walls closing in around me!

Love At First Sight                                           

Love happened so suddenly for Lynnda.

Education in itself held no kind special pleasure for my friend, though she did enjoy social studies. What happened and who it happened with was very interesting to her. She also enjoyed the time spent between and after classes😁. Joe passed her one day between classes, he smiled with his eyes. That lingering look sealed their fate! Somehow she knew that he would be her husband one day.

This next part is perhaps my favorite part of their young love story. On the school bus, Joe came bumping down the aisle of the bus and stopped at her seat. He looked at Lynnda and blurted out to another girl that was chasing him “She” pointing to Lynnda, “is my girlfriend!” Lynnda covered her surprise and graciously snuggled up to the proposition. From that day on, she was Joe’s girl and they were inseparable.

Woven into their puppy love were the struggles and tragedies at home that they did not know how to cope with. What was Lynnda supposed to do when her only sister chose to walk in their mother’s shoes? While, at Joe’s house, the lack of privacy in the two-bedroom house seemed to suffocate him. They ignored what they saw in their homelife and focused on what they felt, each other. It was what it was.

Lynnda focused on Joe, Joe focused on Lynnda. School days were mundane. She dropped out and together they got him through his high school with a diploma.  

Newlyweds

With diploma in hand, he immediately went to look for work. A job in a hotel as a dishwasher, equipped him for the next step. What was the next step? He took Lynnda to the courthouse. They weren’t sure about anything but each other, so they were married. As husband and wife, they could finally consummate their desire that burst at the seams.   

But there would be no honeymoon. Reality slapped them in the face, dissolving their puppy love. The newlyweds went to live with her grandmother. Ten people living in the small three-bedroom house, something Joe cringed at. No car, not enough money, and no privacy, their existence became a battlefield! The drama of extended family, fueled their own discontent.

They were sure that moving would give them peace, but it eluded them.

While Joe washed dishes at the hotel, he convinced himself that joining the Army would solve his marital problems that seemed to be suffocating him. He went to the recruiting office to take the test to join the Army but failed; twice. Then, the recruiter enticed him with Navy life and presented him with a different test that he was sure to pass. Joe grabbed it, his ticket out of town and the break he and Lynnda so desperately needed. Before he knew it, he was off to boot camp and Lynnda went back to her grandmother’s house, pregnant and alone.

West Pac

With three hundred other sailors, Joe set sail on the destroyer ship called the U.S.S. Tattnall. The Mediterranean deployment consisted of four ships that were present in the high seas to protect the carriers. Six months at sea were long and lonely for the young sailor, he ached for his wife and solid ground. When the ship entered port Joe and his buddy wandered eagerly into the city. They took in the foreign sights and smells, the fast language stirred their curiosity, while the sensual women in their craft pulled them with their eyes and into the night they lingered.

 The West Pac behind them, Joe sought his wife. Their long separation had re-ignited their youthful lust for one another, their baby in her womb did not hamper their enthusiasm. 

Broken Trust

A dark cloud loomed over Lynnda as Joe’s buddy carelessly spoke about the things they experienced overseas and Lynndas innocent joy went out into the night. She imploded. He had betrayed their love. Why? Was this expected of all sailors? Every detail that Joes friend blurted out burned into her mind. She calculated his violations. Anger steered her course. They were plunged into a downward spiral that continued for almost two decades leaving them bound in rejection, bitterness, and regret.                                                                                                        

Sunny San Diego… and Rock Bottom                     

Military life had landed them in beautiful San Diego.  They now had three kids and they brought along the baggage of violations, financial woes, west pac separations, and unending heartbreak. Their marriage was a carcass ravaged by their own ignorant decisions, yet she never spoke of divorce. 

Joe pointed his finger at Lynnda and was ready to give up but she stubbornly clung to the dry scattered bones of her marriage and life. Was it possible to love and hate so much? Joe was numb, nineteen years of their foolishness had depleted him of any hope so he was walking away. 

Lynnda was desperate for relief and answers. She sought solace with her friend who always offered the same solution: alcohol and men. She knew that was no solution but she went anyway. As she drove across the city, the bright lights of the Coronado bridge called out to her. Loneliness and despair squeezed her as she heard death call her. “Look, you can stand up there and you won’t fall”. Going to Coronado Island would bring peace and the bridge was so inviting. The closer she got the stronger the voice was; “There’s a ledge, you can stand on it and you won’t fall” again the voice lured her, “Stand on the ledge, you won’t fall.” She would go to the bridge. “Yes, go, stand on the ledge, it’s safe enough…but, if you do fall, you’ll be ok”. OK!? She sneered as the bright lights of the bridge twinkled. She did not want to be ok! She wanted to be done, like Joe was! She drove on crying and babbling passing the bridge. In her despair she argued with God, justifying this solution, but he was silent. The silence only grounded her desire and decision to end it all. 

Then, in all his mystery and splendor God silently took the wheel. Lynnda knew not how or why she drove on past one exit, and then the next, until she was parked in front of the small storefront Christian church her co-worker attended. Why was she there? Arise, and go down to the Potters House and there I will cause thee to hear my words. It wasn’t truly a church, nor was it Sunday. Lynnda heard words of hope and restoration. Could completely destroyed lives be restored? She opened her heart to the Gospel message, good news that promised to heal the hurt and pain of the past 20 years. With one simple act of humility, a prayer of repentance she was a new woman.  The burdens lifted, not necessarily gone, but now they were in able hands.

There was much debri to be cleaned up, especially since they would sail on in military life. This time, the long separation of Desert Storm would be maneuvered with God at the helm. Their marriage was rescued as Joe saw his new woman changing before his eyes. God created “a path in the wilderness and a stream in the desert.” 


If you or someone you love is dealing with suicidal thoughts, please don’t suffer in silence. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Epilogue

Thirty years have passed since that fateful night Lynnda passed the Coronado Bridge. I have incredible respect and appreciation for my friends, especially since I considered military life an impossible task to survive and thrive in. I cringe at separations, even the short ones. Life alone without my Orejon… 

Love isn’t always pretty or sweet but in God’s hands, Joe & Lynndas love story has endured and blessed God himself for more than fifty years. 

Easter – Dia De Las Pascuas

Spring is in the air, and with it Easter. I love Easter Time, the traditions, activities with my grandkids and most of all the sacrifice and resurrection that it represents.

Easter Memories 

I started this post thinking that I did not have too many memories from childhood connected to Easter, but I do indeed! I don’t recall a crescendo of traditions that culminated on Resurrection day and I didn’t experience the  Easter baskets, egg hunts, the Easter bunny or ham dinners. Chale, not  in my world. We experienced fish on Fridays and rosary on a weekday evening, mass on Easter Sunday and sometimes communion.

I wonder if Easter didn’t rank high in the SEO of my memory because of all the ridiculous frilly dresses and white buckled shoes? Of course, they had an accessory hat and sometimes a little white purse. My little girl self rolls her eyes at those visuals. 

Hamburgers 

En mi Rancho, my limited world recognized the season as cuaresma. Lent was always such a sacrifice. For me, it meant no meat on Fridays! Me oyes? Every Friday for six weeks we had to say no to meat. Of course at school the cafeteria would always serve hamburgers! Hijole! That was brutal, a whole bunch of Mexican Americans who rarely enjoyed a burger, had to sacrifice their rare opportunity. Every week, I resolved to not eat meat. Every week I dreaded the temptation. My cafeteria burger, calling me, the skinny patty modestly covered in buns.  

“Just eat it, all the other kids are” said the diablito on my shoulder.

“No, don’t do it. You must resist” said the angelito on the other side.

Sometimes I would give in because it seemed like all these good Catholic kids were ignoring the edict to abstain from meat. They seemed to remember the fast only after they’d bite into their hamburger. “Hay! Se me olvido!” Pausing long enough to regret their forgetfulness. Then proceeded with caution as they finished what they started. Ya ni modo. Oh well, it’s what I said a few times too, praying that my ama wouldn’t ask me anything. 

Fish on Fridays

Then, I would walk home after a hard day of basketball practice. I was hangry. Fish smell is what I’d walk into. Ugh! Thank God for arroz y frijoles. Can’t go wrong with a bean burrito. Mom would either make tortas de camaron, little shrimp patties in a red chile sauce or fish soup. I have a vague memory of pescado frito also, but what isn’t vague is the strong smell of fish that invaded the house and pounced me on Friday afternoons.

Rituals

During Lent season, we recited the rosary. Mi ama always interrupted our Carol Burnett show and called us to the room for rosary time. Marina usually responded first, always without any grumbling. Then ama would begin to summon us: PATRICIA! ROSALBA! MANUEL! Usually I responded after a couple of calls. My sister Patty, always held out til the threats began and my lil brother always had to get the manaso before he obeyed. In the room we had to kneel and be ready to respond according to the order of the beads. It never failed that my brother would do something to bring about a deeper need for penitence. He would have to kneel with a bean under each knee. We attempted to put on a solemn face as we watched him work hard at not putting his weight on those beans. Rolling our eyes in self righteous disapproval we repeated the prayers.

Easter Egg Hunt

On Easter Sunday we would go to the 10:30 mass, sometimes they’d have an Easter egg hunt, but I don’t recall ever participating. I do have this vivid image of the little girls in the barrio all frilly in their Easter dresses and me looking out from our kitchen window, almost as if I were hiding lest I picked up their sissy lala frilly germs!

Capirotada

There was not a big meal at home waiting. But, mi ama did serve Capirotada at Easter. It might be one of the traditional Easter marks of a Mexican home. The image of mom working on this very humble dessert is clear and beautiful. In my young mind it was kind of weird, but I always enjoyed it when she served it. Capirotada was what mom brought to the table as her tribute, from her own mothers traditions.

I went on a google search to see what others said about it. I asked my sister in law Sandra if she even knew what it was. I asked another sister in law; Mary, if her mom made capirotada. She knew what and how my mother made it! I was glad and mi ama would have been so happy to hear that her daughter in law cherished that memory. 

Easter Dessert

Capirotada has been compared to bread pudding, but my mothers capirotada was nothing like what I’ve seen. During my hunt for capirotada on the world wide web I did learn that it is a very old tradition with original religious significance. It is definitely a peculiar combination of ingredients; piloncillo, canela, clavo. The sugar, cinnamon and cloves are boiled together to make the syrup that covers the layers of the other ingredients. Corn tortillas, bolillos, peanuts, ciruelas, cheese. Day old toasted bread, pitted prunes and a white cheese which did not have a very strong flavor. Hijole! I’m glad that this isn’t a food blog, porque pues, me sacan a patadas! I’d be booted from my own blog.

It was a sweet and salty flavor that mingled nicely. I liked it, and I was so grateful that my sister inlaw brought me home to Delta street last weekend. When she offered me some capirotada and in my heart I hugged her and loved her more.

That was my Easter experience as a little girl. When I stepped into adulthood my multicultural lifestyle converted all those traditions. Easter Sunday is a glorious celebration, where I can lift up my voice, use those inherited vocal chords that my ama left me and sing at the top of my lungs; He has risen! Just imagine my victory as I sat in our Easter Sunday service before covid and shared in the beautiful ritual of communion with my apa.

Easter As Mom

As a young mother I was peer pressured into the Easter baskets. “Rosie did you buy or make your kids Easter baskets?” Que? In a panicked state every year since I became a mother I put together baskets and chased the community egg hunts, frazzled until just very recently.
Their tia Sandra introduced them to the egg coloring tradition and I happily sat out for that activity. Those dreaded frilly dresses were back with a vengeance. They mocked me as I shopped through the racks of pompous dresses that my little girl loved wearing. Now my three granddaughters are very regal in their princess dresses.  

Thankfully, Easter Sunday is a celebration that I am resolute about through the year. I am so very grateful for all that Jesus has done for the world and more specifically for me and my familia.
Have a wonderful beautiful Easter celebration

It’s Caesar Chaves Day! Si Se Puede!

Happy Caesar Chavez Day! Go on, enjoy the colorful display of foods, fruits and vegetables on Americas’ table.

March marks the beginning of Springtime. A time to plant, but also a time to harvest. How fitting it is to commemorate Caesar Chavez, a hero to the migrant workers around the United States! 

This definitely strikes a chord with me since I myself have picked and packed grapes from the vineyards of Coachella Valley.

Caesar Chavez and his family survived the Great Depression though not without great loss. He dropped out of school to work in the fields and help the family. I have great appreciation and admiration for his service in our U.S. military. It was the only time he left his work in the fields. His first hand experience with the sweat and toil equipped him for the fight to improve the lives of farm workers in America.  

“To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us be men.” Caesar Chavez

www.MexicanAmericangirl.com

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.

Sister Love

Perhaps a more prominent topic is sister rivalry, but this post is about how my sisters and I have expressed love one to another.

Outward Displays of Affection

Growing up in my familia, expressing love with words or outward displays of affection was maybe a bit awkward, ok, it was very awkward. Maybe because we thought you had to be tough looking, or maybe we thought that tenderness was for sissy lalas, at least I definitely thought like this. I believe a common fear has been rejection or ridicule, too many times I let it rule my actions.  It’s only now in hindsight that I can see the incredible displays of love I received. 

I wish I knew what went on in my mothers mind after we outgrew the toddler mark. I wonder if I’m like her in this? Puede ser..

Hugs and Kisses

When my babies are little and chubby and mostly sweet looking, I want to hug them and kiss them often. Kiss their chubby cheeks, nibble their tiny fingers and soak in their scent. For no reason at all I’ll swoop them up and kiss them. I do this now to my grandbabies. There are plenty of times when I want to hug and love on my now adult children, but I haven’t figured how to do it without being awkward.

That’s how my ama was. I remember vividly how enthralled she was with her grandkids. My first nephew Miguel arrived when I was 6 years old. First grade, way past the apapachar stage. My ama seemed to drown him with kisses and squeezes, and that crazy baby talk we do, you know, the gibberish. “Que cosa fina!” and from there it descended to “kikirique, kernitos, amorcito…” 

I did not want to be cuddled and kissed and so she didn’t do that for me anymore. She figured out how to display her love of us through her acts of kindness. Even by worrying so much for us, we felt her love.  Her ways were transferred to us kids. Ingrained in us was the very real weight of taking care of one another, cuida a tu hermana was drilled into us.

Family is always there to back you up. There is a basic overall coverage of love and protection and support comes under the umbrella of apa and ama right? Then in all the details of our lives there’s the fingerprints of a sibling backing you up, one way or another. Any bully, adversary or trial I faced my big sister was there to back me up. 

Just the Facts

This account will be from the archives of a 11 year old who didn’t pay too much attention to non personal facts, like exactly where we started in Brawley or how much was paid per mile, but hopefully you can picture us children walking through the heat in Imperial Valley. 

A Walkathon

Our Primary, Middle School and High School would gather into one large assembly to promote the March of Dimes. We kids were all challenged to give our strength and energy to promote the fight against birth defects. I wish I could tell you how excited I was to help others or how motivated I was by compassion. Socializing was my motivation. Coming from the small town of Calipatria any and every event was a big deal. Almost every kid would sign up to do the 20 mile walk-athon from Brawley Ca. to the Imperial Co. Fairgrounds.

I signed up with all my friends. The officials supplied us with sponsor sheets and it was our responsibility to gather sponsors that would donate according to the miles we walked. We had a few weeks to get as many sponsors as we could. It was a challenge since the town was so small. We raced to every person we knew to get sponsorship. I walked our neighborhood and crossed the tracks into town soliciting for the Walk-athon. I filled up my page, going around talking to adults and older teens, I think all that walking should have counted toward those 20 miles. 

The Big Day

On the big day we were bussed into Brawley, given instructions about keeping a steady pace and staying off the road. We were especially warned about not going near the canals. Although they do not look dangerous, they are, so much so that in our area Dippy Duck was a popular hero. They explained that we’d have checkpoints every few miles. 

GunHo

Finally, before the starting gun set off, we were told that If we ran out of gas along the way and got too tired to keep on walking, designated trucks would be roaming the street every so often to pick up the weary walkers.

And off we went, walking, chattering and just giddy with energy. I was with my friends, on my own. My older sisters were behind me, in much more control of themselves, in a cool teenage way. They were with their group of friends walking slower, bien suave. You know 10 miles in a car is a quick drive; bam! 10-15 minutes and you’re there. Maybe that’s how we kids thought it would go, after all we’d never walked the distance before. As the morning wore on and the sun burned hotter, my little click of friends began to  disperse, and before I knew it, I was walking alone. The thrill was gone. I don’t know how far my sister Patty lasted, but her person was not very tolerant of any unnecessary discomfort. The way she had figured things, The walk was supposed to be a pleasant socializing time with friends, away from the barrio and our parents. 

Quitting

When Pattys legs began to hurt and her bladder filled, no amount of compassion for the cause could be conjured up in her to keep her walking. The November sun beat down hard and on the first sight of the truck, she and her friends waved it down and hopped onto the back. In those days (wow! That sounds so ancient right?) it was not illegal to ride openly in the truck bed. Before the 10 miles were up, it was full of kids who leisurely waved at the kids who were trekking on. Watching the truck pass by was a pretty dismal feeling. It seemed so unfair that I alone was walking, feeling miserable, hot and tired. Where was my reward? It didn’t matter that I had chosen to keep going.

Perseverance

Patty and her friends were up on that truck back in comfort. My big sis Marina was still walking, alone. I don’t remember how I caught up to her, maybe she caught up to me? However it happened I was so relieved and I think she was proud of me, I hadn’t quit. We were trying to keep up a steady pace, or I should say she was keeping us moving. We got our cards marked at every checkpoint, I lingered as much as possible while avoiding the portapotty. 

The Underdog

We made it to the fairgrounds in Imperial. I was so happy to be done. I made it all the way. But after we rested, we needed to get back on the road and go back. I do not know how we stirred ourselves to get going again or why? Maybe we were considering the children that couldn’t walk? I kind of think that Marina was, she has always had a special place in her heart for handicapped kids. She always looks out for the underdog. She would finish the walk and watch me at the same time, it’s how my ama had taught us.  

More Perseverance

There we were well into the second 10 miles, stopping along the way as I whined and I dragged my feet, like I was the only one feeling the ache in my legs. I felt like even the trucks had forgotten all of us! Where was the glory in not quitting? I didn’t want to walk anymore! Why was it so important anyway? Then she offered to carry me.

Sister Sacrifice

Yes, Like a typical bratty little sister, I jumped at the chance. There is a five year difference between us and I don’t know how much of a size difference there could have been between an 11 year old and a 16 year old. I wasn’t that little kindergartner she could just pick up anymore. Plus I’ve always been “big boned”. That didn’t stop her from carrying me on her back, despite her own fatigue. I jumped on her back and wrapped my legs around her. She held me up by holding my thighs. I was tired and as we moved along I leaned on her, kind of laid on her. I slid down and pulled on her neck as I hung on to her. We weren’t getting very far because every so often she was stopping to push me back up. 

Blow To The Head

In one of those stops she pushed me and somehow I went flying back and landed on my back, whacking my head on the street! Hijole! I’m glad I don’t remember the pain of that! Because I was such a chillona, I’m sure I cried loudly. After checking for blood and bumps, assuring I was ok, she made me start walking again. I had no choice, we were gonna finish. I’m glad I don’t remember any more details of those last few miles because when my apa picked us up from the school we could barely move.

Tough Love

Such a plain story right? But I cherish it, a token of sibling love. One of the many times my sister showed me tough love and helped me to finish a task. She showed me tender love, enough to sacrifice her comfort so I could have relief. I don’t believe I’ve ever thanked my big sister for trying to carry me to  the finish line. 

Thank God for big sisters!

Sure we had sibling fighting, sometimes when my ama wasn’t around it got out of control. But there’s something about our sibling love that brings comfort to me. I know that I can count on my sis and bros when counting matters. 

How is it that you show your sister or brother love? 

The Mourning Process

Mourning has seven stages. The mourning process is a difficult passage that requires time and grace. Mourning will take you to sweet memories and then cast you into darkness. You plan your day, it’s going to be a good one. Then one thing, anything, will trigger a memory. If you’re all alone you’ll find yourself crumbled up in a heap of tears. I’ve walked this road three other times and I still don’t know what stage I’m in today.

Triggers

This afternoon at the grocery store I saw a man walking with his elderly father. A frail old man who was being led by his son (at least that’s what I imagine). The son impatiently prodded him from behind to make his father walk faster. The viejito took those tiny steps as quickly as he could. I held my breath as I watched him, ready to run and catch him if he fell. Every step, every movement was a victory for him. I was happy and I was sad for him.

Once upon a time that son was being led by his father. We never think that it’ll happen to us. My dad was too strong to have his body weakened by age. His back was not supposed to give out at eighty years old!

I Don’t Want To Get Old

Once, when I was fifteen I overheard him say, “I don’t want to live to be an old man.” My snotty teenage self thought, “Dad you’re already an old man!” He was fifty-five, didn’t he realize that was more than half-way to one hundred?! Yikes! That’s my age now.

My father hated the humiliation of a weakened body. I hated it too! Every time I lifted his arms to dress him, his skin hung on him, I was sorry for him, I did not like that either. I realize now that I was already mourning.

La Tercera Edad

The english word for a person over 65 is “senior”. My apa was a newlywed for the second time at his senior age of 65! In spanish, it’s called la tercera edad. Think about it. We carry a baby into the third trimester and at the end of that tercer tremestre that baby passes that birth canal and takes his first breath, a very difficult passage. La tercera edad is like that. Not everyone gets to live on that stage and my dad didn’t even want to be on it. Many times he murmured his frustration that he was done living. I got to the point that I would say “Dad, you need to bring that complaint to God” 

Dementia

As difficult as that stage was, I thank God so much that he gave us these years. Despite the cloud of dementia we managed to get through the  difficult conversations and confront past violations. We faced that terrible pride looking kind of haughty as we took it on.  It has destroyed relationships and deceived us into a corner of fear and rejection. Many times we were able to push the dementia aside and make sweet memories. Of course the many years of  “no relationship” wants to accuse me at times.  I do find myself wondering if my apa loved me. He didn’t say those actual words to me, and when I finally said them to him I’m not sure if he heard me. 

His tercera edad affected us so much. I cringed every time my big sister called him “daddy”. It made her so vulnerable. We couldn’t be vulnerable, we had to be strong as we  helped him get through that dark and scary valley. When we were little and the  earthquakes would wake us up at night we would run to my apa and amas bed. There in their bed he would protect us. 

Caregiving

Toward the end of last year,  I grumbled a lot about the constant repeated conversation  “AAYY!” I’d go down the hallway, no longer running because I knew the routine. “Que Paso Apa?” He thought I left him again. It was wearing me down. “Cuando nos vamos a la casa?” “You are home Dad.” He knew he wasn’t home. “Donde esta Lupe?” “Your wife died Dad.”

Why didn’t he ever ask for Chuy? My mom was forgotten to him and it hurt so much to know it. I cried many times over, so conflicted with emotions. I was angry that he did know what he was saying! I mourned my shut up life. I felt guilty that I felt so much, what a selfish daughter I was!  I was exhausted. 

Final Stages

Then, he turned ninety-six. By this point in his life, his last month he was spending all his days in bed. He was shocked to know he was so old and when he said again for the millionth and one time “ya estoy listo para el arrastre” My usual response was “Well only God knows when you’ll be ready to be buried Dad” But this time, he was. It’s what we were expecting, yet it was so shockingly unexpected. We were barely able to warn our brothers. 

Just like that! In a few days, he breathed his last breath and was gone. My nephews drove up from the Valley and missed him by fifteen minutes. He could no longer wait for them.

Death

Suddenly, his cluttered room with all his equipment and endless supplies was empty of him. He couldn’t be gone! Wasn’t it supposed to be dramatic? Shouldn’t my sister and brother have seen that last breath leave his body? How could he slip quietly away, I wasn’t even in the room. He never listened. I had specifically told him that morning “Apa, por favor. I want to be right here with you when you leave.”

Packing It All Up

Hospice took his bed and oxygen tank. Any supplies that they lent us were swept away. My sis and I kept ourselves busy with clearing things out. But now, all the little things that are left fill his room and it feels like he’s there again. I have to finish up his room. I have to move forward. Things are going back to normal, whatever that is. Business as usual.

I got busy with emptying out my fathers room. My plan was to just get rid of everything my sis didn’t take. It should have been easy to do. Bag it up and designate donations or trash. 

I didn’t realize I was avoiding the chore. I didn’t know I was deeply missing my apa. I mean, my goodness I am now able to leave my house. I can sleep through the night. I am not anxious, nor is my dad. It was the final stage; la tercera edad and he so graciously and quietly crossed the finish line. You know, he was like that always, quiet smiles when he was happy, quiet firm stares when he had to take care of business. He never had to raise his voice at us. My ama on the other hand, let’s put it this way, I was blessed with her vocal chords.

Mourning

My dads keys. The keys to the house I grew up in.

It’s over now. His room is almost empty. I picked up his keys and I went to toss them in the trash. As they dropped into the can I remembered the arguments we would have about him needing his keys. His car and house keys. Wait! It was my house too! The keys to the house on 511 E. Delta street were still on the ring. I had so much to clear out and keys were stopping me?!

Every episode, any little thing that provokes me I share it with my big sis. I miss her too. When dad left, her week long monthly visits to my house ended. Mourning kind of piles up. So with my apa gone, I miss my ama more than ever. With my ama gone I miss my sisters. 

In mourning as you heal, you always water that memory garden, sometimes it is with your tears.

Some Advice

Back to where I left the viejito and his son . I wanted to judge that son and criticize his impatience, then I remembered my recent journey. Trips to the grocery store were a burden to me, but for dad they were his delight. Dementia affected his memory but not his sharp mind. He paid attention to details when we were on the road. He loved to watch all the interesting people almost as much as he enjoyed watching and hearing the birds. I wish I could have told that son to enjoy his apa, because even though you know that last passage is coming, it still catches you off guard.

Mourning comes and goes like the ocean waves. Hope is very key, while they cannot come back to us, I can live my life so that I can go to my apa, ama and my sisters. 

Have you lost a loved one? How are you coping with life?

A Growing Family

This is the harrowing tale of growing a family with Ben and becoming a mother for the first time. Looking back with 20/20 vision, I can laugh and reminisce, but as any woman knows, the emotions are powerful when you’re going through them. 

Newlywed Life

My husband and I knew it was smart to wait to have children. The marriage counseling strongly encouraged it for us. We agreed and chose to wait, an unsigned agreement.

I truly was enjoying that newlywed life. I was enjoying the control I had of my kitchen. I could arrange things the way I wanted in my house, my way. Well, pretty much my way, Ben did have opinions and suggestions that were different from mine, but we were newlyweds and the honeymoon was glowing. I did stress about the cultural differences, Pues como no? Si es gringo. He had described his mothers homemade bread, are you kidding me?! Veggies from the garden?! I would have to expand my horizons, anything for my Benjamin Walter. I was getting to know my quiet Orejon and he was getting past the shock and learning his feisty Latina.

Baby Fever

As we were adjusting to the many changes that marriage and circumstances brought I got bit by the baby fever bug. It looked so beautiful and fun to be pregnant. I yearned to have a baby very early in our married life. I never considered that that meant becoming a mother. What happened to the agreement? My Cold Blooded Englishman was staying on course, no baby in his radar. He focused on adjusting to his new duty station which he hated! The drive home, crossing the Coronado bridge with it’s beautiful scenic view wasn’t so pleasant. Sailors were supposed to be out on the high seas not on shore duty.

Him having shore duty gave me peace. I wasn’t worried about him leaving for WestPac and six month separations, I just was not cut out for that kind of pressure. Ben missed the ship and going home to a new wife with baby fever confounded him. Every time the baby topic came up, he had a headache! Everything that was glorious and sweet in our new life was now splattered with moods of every type . Was the honeymoon over? Where had the simple joy of sharing our little home gone? 

I was tired and a big cry baby. I missed my cycle, had another negative pregnancy test and still, I went to the doctor. I knew I wasn’t pregnant, yet I wanted a doctor to look me in the eyes and take me out of my misery but confirming that deep dark fear. Maybe I would NEVER have a baby! He looked me in the eye and told me I wasn’t pregnant and sent me home. I cried. I wanted a baby, and Ben didn’t know what to do with me. 

Tested Positive

As sure as I was, that I was destined to never have a baby, my heart fluttered when I missed yet another cycle. One, two, then three days. No period. No pink spot. I went to the doctor, again. Another negative test! What excruciating disappointment. This time, the doctor said, “We’ll do a blood test.” 

I walked out of that office officially pregnant.

Do I Look Pregnant?

I rushed home elated. I went straight to the mirror. Did I look pregnant?  Maybe I could see my baby from a side view. I leaned back like I’d seen pregnant women do, yes, that was my baby. I was pregnant. I couldn’t wait to tell the world, but first I had to tell Ben 😀 He barely unlocked the front door and I was jumping all over him excited with my news. Guess how Ben reacted? Yup. Steady Eddy, He smiled, enjoying that I was all over him. He was quietly relieved, maybe this explained the out of control mood swings. “Do I look pregnant?” I arched my back a little. 

I completely enjoyed my pregnancy. I was outrageously huge but lovin it all, until I went into overtime. My first due date was Jan 29th, then the doctor told me that the measurements were indicating that the baby would come somewhere in early to mid February instead. 

 I waited and waited and waited. During a weekly visit the doctor announced, “this is going to be a big one.” Maybe that’s why everyone was telling me how big I was. “Big As A House” someone at church said to me. I cried, at this point, 2  weeks past that midway, I was leaving my smile at home. I just wanted my baby. Why would God put me through such long suffering?

Was my baby cute? I really hoped and prayed he looked like his daddy, because he was cute. Oh when would I sleep and breathe again? It really is that dramatic. I didn’t need a sonogram to know I was having a boy. I figured that’s the way it should be; a boy comes first.

Forty-Two Weeks Gestation +

On my last visit near the three week overdue mark he said “If it doesn’t come by the weekend, I’ll do a stress test on the baby and decide from there” No need to describe my disappointment. Then he said “Oh and if you drop the plug, don’t worry, just pick it up” Having never dropped a mucus plug I was confused but forced a smile.

To appease and distract me, Ben said we would go to the Navy Exchange to pick up my layaway. Getting my baby things did bring some sort of comfort. Ben parked and got the big stuff out of the trunk while I maneuvered my 50lbs of extra weight out of our little Volkswagen Fox. I was excited to finish setting up my baby’s room. 

I waddled heavily up to the gate, my hands were clutching my baby gear. I used my right foot to push the gate open. As it was coming toward me I tried to pull my foot out. It got stuck, I quickly tried again but it wouldn’t budge. All this happened in a matter of seconds but just imagine the slow motion button being pressed here. My foot was stuck in the gate and I lost my balance. I was falling but I didn’t want to drop my baby’s things. With one foot one the ground and one in the gate, not willing to let go and use my hands. I twisted around (even as I write this, I’m wondering how in the world did I end up bouncing on my butt and twisting my ankle?) sitting on my backside completely humiliated and baby items scattered on the grass with me. It all happened so fast that Ben could only watch me bounce. You would think that my labor would be provoked. Baby was quite content to stay put. After I caught my breath, I tried to get up but I couldn’t. Ben grabbed my hands to lift me and I yelped. I wish I could tell you that he scooped me up into his arms to carry me inside but it wasn’t pretty. We had to strategize a plan to get me in the house. We managed to stand me up, then as we faced each other and I wrapped my hands around his neck while he held up my hefty thigh. One dramatic hop after another we walked the endless walkway to our apartment. By this point my ankle was quite swollen and I was squirming in pain. After a call to my doctor, we had to hop back to the car to get to the hospital. Then we ping-ponged back and forth between hospitals because we were military with Champus insurance, meaning that the military hospital didn’t have my medical records. Finally it was settled, the military hospital would attend me, but they did not know what to do with me. 

At forty-two and a half weeks pregnant, they could not take x rays. The frustration and anxiety levels surpassed my pain. They couldn’t know if my foot was sprained or if it was a broken ankle. Would I need a cast or a surgery? Between the ER doctor and my doctor they decided to send me home with a temporary cast. The baby must be delivered on Monday before they could care for my leg and ankle. What did I hear? What important information did I walk away with? 

The baby is coming on Monday!! 

Labor and Delivery (and all with a broken leg)

Early Monday morning Ben managed to get me into the car with my new crutches, which wasn’t as difficult. It was the longest ride of my life, and the baby? He was comfy cozy in the womb. I quickly became a patient of interest in the labor and delivery ward. I mean, how many forty-three weeks pregnant ladies were going in with a broken leg? Too bad I couldn’t enjoy my moment of fame. My leg hurt. 

I was beginning to feel somewhat nervous. What if he just didn’t want to come? Then what? I was strapped to a monitor and we all watched the baby. It was pretty difficult to make him out since he took up most of the space in the womb. He was fine and didn’t seem at all anxious to meet me. 

Next, I would have to be induced. Yes! Yes! Induce me. Wait what exactly did that mean? The nurse explained the simple steps that would provoke my labor process. It didn’t sound painful. My body and my baby just were not excited about labor and delivery and I quickly discovered that maybe I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. After I was checked, (yeow!) my cervix was lined with gel medication to help with dilation. After quite some time, my body and baby were still not in sync. Time to strip the membranes. Ijole! 

By early afternoon the doctor said, “It’s going to be long.” I still hadn’t dilated. I was exhausted, contractions had no pattern. I wanted to move but I couldn’t. Why hadn’t someone explained contractions to me? Even if my mom would have been around, she wouldn’t have, those were things only adults talked about. Something had to be wrong, why was the pain so intense? Was this normal?  Yet it was just the beginning, my pain hadn’t even truly begun. 

Ben was right there by my side. Holding my hand. Not holding my hand. Praying, he was praying quietly. It didn’t take long for the doctor to suggest I take pain meds. Ben was just as desperate for me to take something. The doctor said “maybe you have extra pain because of your leg” I jumped at that reasoning! Ben was so relieved. By 5 pm I had dilated to 1 and now my baby was in distress. What did that mean? The doctor explained that his heart rate was dropping and rising with contractions. But what did that mean? It could be very dangerous and harmful if oxygen wasn’t getting to his brain. With this, the decision was made for a C-section

I was scared. What was going to happen? I was wheeled to the surgery room and prepped. Ben was prepped also. He walked into the surgery room wearing blue paper coveralls and shower cap, looking so serious that I thought he was another doctor. The doctor said to us as he measured me, “This isn’t a baby, it’s an elephant!” More morphin was administered and I was high. As I chatted away, my husband saw his first baby delivered in a bloody way! They cut me open, and the doctor reached in to get my insides out of the way to reach our fat baby. There on top of me laid my guts as they maneuvered the baby safely out. Thankfully I wasn’t too high, I saw my baby and was amazed. By the end of the night me and my baby boy were quite the celebrities. Everyone wanted to know how it was that I broke my leg and everyone in Sharp Hospital wanted to see the big 10lbs 11oz baby. 

I went home with a cast and a wheelchair for the next six weeks, but I had my baby…

I was a mother! His mother.  

Migrant Work in the Valleys

HIstory in the Making

As I’ve written this account of my work experience, just a teenager needing to contribute to the family economy, I realize now that I was living through a time that made history. Wow! I wish now that I would have paid more attention. Migrant workers all over the State were standing up for their rights, linking arms with Caesar Chavez! Meanwhile this teenie bopper was worried about how ugly our work clothes were!

Migrant Workers

One fourth of the economy in the Imperial Valley depends on its agriculture. It is a hub for trabajadores del fil, my dad worked in the out in the fields most of his life, yet I don’t consider him a migrant worker because he planted himself in the Imperial Valley and gave his youth and strength in that land. Honestly, not until I started looking back into my life did I wonder about the category the Zepedas fit into. Were we immigrants? Permanent residents? Americans? Just last night my son Emery said “When you talk about your experiences, I’ve imagined you like that.” A migrant family.  According to the definition, a migrant worker migrates. My parents uprooted from Jalisco to Baja California, then one more and final time to the Imperial Valley in California. 

Sometimes migrant workers wait for harvest season or work from one crop to another. My apa prepared the soil where the crops would live, using the big carapillas. My grandsons will be excited to know this fact about their Tata. My apa was also a regador, irrigating the crops and in due season when the harvest was ready the piscadores were there. Thankfully some of the picks of Imperial Valleys bounty always made it on our table. Someone always gave us lechuga, melon, cebolla y sandia

Money from the Sugar Beet

Then, there were the train cars filled with sugar beets, which contribute significantly to the Valleys economy. They passed slowly along the tracks near our neighborhood, the Eastside. Many times they crawled by at such a pace that when we walked home from school we would jump onto the cable that connected the cars (I just discovered that those are called a coupling) to cross the tracks and get home. The sugar beet train was making its way to the sugar plant in Brawley, CA. Man! Those beets sure did smell when they were getting processed into sugar, but they provided work for plenty of families.

Beef

Another money making smell in the Valley is cattle. Driving along the freeway, we’ll get whiffs of the alfalfa, the earthy smells of growing produce. But, get down into the towns, pass through Brawley and the outskirts of Calipat and you’ll be hit with the pungent smell of the feedlots. The hot desert sun burning into the herd of cows and the dry air stirring the air, filling it with cow dung aromas. Ugh! We hated that smell, it burned into our nostrils, then my dad got hired in one of these feedlots. It became a smell that I learned to tolerate. Dad even got us an office cleaning job there. Every Saturday we had to go to that feedlot where the air was thick with cow manure smell. My sisters and I had to clean off layers of dust that gathered everywhere in that office. Once we would start cleaning the air mingled with the foamy window cleaner, then it was a mixture of dust, dung and cleanser, and that mixture seared our noses. I was just a helper, I didn’t get a paycheck for this work, it was my family contribution.    

Teenagers and Work

Calipatria is a small town, there wasn’t too much work for a teenager to find. The 2 grocery stores were set, jobs for teenage stockers were filled already. Circle K couldn’t hire minors and the gas station was owned by the Rivas family. A large family that needed no extra help, so the choices left were the fields at harvest time.

The GrapeVines

I started working the summer of my 14th year. Like, get a paycheck job. I had nagged my ama into letting me work with her and my older sisters. My first summer as a migrant worker in Coachella Valley picking grapes. A memorable experience that I was confident I could handle despite my mothers concerns and warnings.

Our day began just before 4am. For my ama it began at 2am. She would prepare our lunch. Listen, I’m not talking about the individual little lunchbox with a sandwich, chips and a pastelito. I’m talking about serious food that went into a huge Mexican shopping bag. She would prepare and cook the meat and while that simmered she made tortillas for burritos, more than one for each of us, there were 3 of us kids and herself. She filled two thermos, one with coffee and the other one with avena. (Wow! As I’m writing this account I’m realizing that my mother, a grandmother by this point, was out there working piscando uvas! She was tougher than my silly teenage mind realized)

The Outfit Matters

Getting dressed for the day was tricky because it was nice and cool in the wee hours of the morning, but it was summer time, 100 degrees on cool days! We had to be sure not to over dress, but also make sure our skin was covered, especially our face. We didn’t know anything about sunscreen, our protection was long sleeves, a handkerchief for our head and one for our face. 

By the time the work truck pulled up she had us somewhat awake, we were dressed and had our first dose of avena. I think every Mexican momma religiously believes that oatmeal in a porridge style gives extraordinary power to the body. Doña Elena, the owner and driver of the camper truck didn’t let us waste time. She was a tough militant looking lady whose mannerisms commanded our quick response. Andale! Andale!  We quickly hopped into the back camper. It was lined with wooden benches all around, a nice tight fit. She went up Delta street and picked up other workers. There were probably 12 of us in the back and 3 in the cab. We had to be on route 111 at least by 4:30am since it was an hour and ½ drive. The road dipped up and down, moving the avena around our pansas. Eventually we were lulled to sleep. No exagero, some of us teens would fall asleep and our bodies were like pendulums swinging back and forth, stopping only when we banged against another body. Just imagine the adults catching a teen on the left and another on the right, and sometimes pushing one up and back against the wall to keep him/her from falling forward. We rode on like this right into the grape field.

Unloading was another spectacle. Teen after teen jumping off that truck, followed by the  slower moving adults. It seemed endless. Families grouped together while the loner joined a family. Each group had its piscadores and one empacador. We were paid per box, besides our minimum wage, most likely a result of the huelgas of Caesar Chavez. You know, I have a vague recollection of having to stop work and join a peaceful protest that was taking place on the grape farmers property. What mattered to me was that we got off early in a typical teenage attitude!

Ok, back to work. Our time was limited because of the heat and our speed was critical. More cajas de uvas meant more money. My mom did not mess around, she was a little in size but fast and focused. She would walk right under those grapevines without ducking and bust out pails full of grape clusters 3 or 4 at a time, which one of us kids would have to carry out of the row and bring the packer. I’m not sure how I got to be the designated packer, but I then had to arrange the clusters of grapes nicely in the crate.  The counter came by to approve my box and add it to our count. A sweet memory is seeing my ama come out from under those vines looking like a racoon, covered in dust from the vines, looking furious if she saw us working slower than her. I’ll say it again, my ama was tough!  I don’t remember how many boxes we completed in the 3 hours before the 15 minute break. I can visualize the rows of maybe 6 stacked 4 boxes high. My sister Marina thinks it could have been more!  

 At break time, the sun had reached us, the 9 oclock break didn’t come quick enough. We didn’t actually have time to rest, just enough time to devour the tacos, drink lots of water, and run to the porta potty. By the end of our day the heat would just about consume us. Hot dirty work that is not for the faint hearted. At noon we were packing up and climbing into the truck for home. 

Now the ride home took an evil twist. The stench of our sweaty dusty bodies with no air conditioning back there to relieve us.  With so much cold water in us, the up and down movement turned our stomachs. Argh! The sweaty armpit smell that most likely came from us teens choked us and we audibly gagged.  The adults remained the same as in the morning, straight as a board, eyes wide open, watching out for us. 

Working out there in the vineyards was hard, but somehow our youthful hearts manage  to laugh and tease one another and flirt with boys. While I wasn’t paying too much attention my heart and mind recorded the necessary scenes so that I could eventually appreciate my hardworking momma and be amazed that she could get our hormone crazy teenage selves  to obey her and work hard too.

Maria de Jesus Flores Zepeda

Culture, Diversity and Coming of Age

Imperial Valley

Today I’m all about the melting pot, total give away with a name like Rosalba Greene right? But when I was growing up, in the California desert valley I didn’t know anything about it. In my small community, we had very little diversity. 

I come from the Imperial Valley, way down at the bottom of California, right at the edge of Mexico. If you cross the line you’re in Baja. Lots of Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans to pick from in El Valle Imperial. Small towns scattered throughout the region made social interactions comfortable. 

It’s what I was used to, surrounded by mi gente mostly, speaking our rapid sounding Spanish dialect.  Of course with the small elite group of whites; los Patrones who controlled the economy mostly through agriculture; we mostly spoke Spanglish, the official unofficial language.

California State Route 111 or as we called it, “El Ciento Once“, was the main route that led to the important cities. and it went right through The City of Calipatria, where the tallest flagpole in America stands. It has a reputation of being  bien chiquita, the warning was don’t blink or you’ll miss it! A “city” with a small population of almost 8,000.

The sembradores, piscadores, regadores and patrones drove the economy with agriculture and farming. How such a dry desert place produces such wealth in vegetable crops is incredible, although it didn’t really matter much to me then, I now realize it was our bread and butter. My Apa supported our family working as a regador, one English translation is irrigation technician. I guess it can be quite technical, once my dad was explaining how it was that he irrigated a field, or maybe it was how not to irrigate a field? Too little water will dry a crop, too much will drown the crop. Just the right measurement is needed, but when he used technical measurements he lost me.

Social and Economic divides

We sectioned off the city, not literally but within and gravitated to our comfort culture. It was like this, the East side across the tracks, where we lived. The West Side, where the town square rested, a good mile away from the tracks. Then there was the rich side where the whites lived. People of the same ethnic group with similar experiences, grouping together so naturally. This description is from almost 40 years ago, quizas ya cambio, maybe Valley folks are all mingled and mixed now.

Social life consisted of after school sports and the Friday night high school football game. Our special occasions included the perpetual quinceañeras on Saturday nights. I can only imagine what the rich white kids experienced. Horses, 4H club and other expensive hobbies. I really don’t know the kind of socializing that took place over there, my husband the Cold Blooded Englishman tells me he played tennis and went sailing (bien muy muy).

We all, Mexicans, Americans and Mexican-Americans crossed cultures and economic status on the 4th of July. We agreed that our fireworks displays were the best. Homecoming games were times of rallying together and getting that CIF championship! You know what’s crazy? All of a sudden, We were all cozy around each other, we all were one team, the Calipatria Hornets! I can hear the cheerleaders chanting “We are the Hornets, mighty mighty Hornets!” Then we all drifted back to our comfort cultures. 

Trophy Memories

It’s been nice remembering my days in Calipatria. Days when I shined as a volleyball player and walked the high school grounds with such confidence. I considered myself (though perhaps nobody else did) a good point guard in basketball, of course that was on the J.V. team as a junior! (the oldest player on the team). The sports banquets were always a bit awkward, but I loved that spotlight, especially when I won a trophy. Then, as my Senior year came to an end, and I was having to consider my future, I definitely never imagined that I would be anywhere else in the world.

Culture shock

I came to San Diego because I was accepted into UCSD, Third College. Pero como fue possible?! (My Puerto Rican friends would say, “Que fue?”) I was just as shocked! Submitting an application had been a last minute idea suggested by my volley coach; Miss George. I didn’t expect my immediate future to change so quickly, so completely through one application. I figured I would go to IVC– our community college and ease into adult life. When the letter arrived in the mail announcing this opportunity, it was time to tell my parents about it. 

Before I could settle down and enjoy my last summer as a kid, I found myself in San Diego, on campus with masses of students from all over the world! Summer Bridge was the program that helps students transition from kid school to hardball school, by the end of 4 weeks I should have crossed the bridge with experience and confidence. 

There I was, with my non-English speaking ama and my apa, refusing to speak his heavily accented English. We were completely disoriented on orientation day. That whole afternoon was a blur. I can now imagine what my poor mother must have felt as she said goodbye, leaving me all alone to face adulthood, with all those different people.

College Life

 One of the ice breakers we Mexican Americans use is Spanglish. Somehow it eases things up when talking to a new acquaintance to bust out your Spanglish, that is, if they speak Spanish. You can imagine what a relief it was for me to see other fellow Mexicans walking about the campus during orientation. As soon as I got close enough to one girl, I said “Estoy bien lost! Man! Ni se lo que estoy haciendo?!” She turned to look at me and said, “What?” She had no idea what I had said. I was on my own. Later, I found out that this girl was Mexican-American! Where did she leave her Spanglish? 

I was shell shocked that first year of college. I shared an apartment with 3 other girls, and wow! Talk about diversity. My bedroom would become my sanctuary when I wasn’t in classes. Allison, my roommate was this super confident black American girl, who was enjoying her independence. I don’t think I ever learned much about her except that she was always spending the night with her boyfriend, was that even legal? The other two girls were my housemates. Hilary, was from Northern California. A rich white girl, always chillin’ on a high with her boyfriend. It got to the point that literally they would do days just hitting that bong, barely going to classes, yet somehow passing exams with A’s! I was awkward with them, now it wasn’t only the white and brown difference, it was their relaxation methods that weirded me out. Don’t get me wrong, Hilary was nice, but what she offered, I did not want.

Julia, my other housemate was also from Northern California. She was a hippie type, very natural, didn’t like perfumes, or make up or deodorant. She was the most approachable even spoke Spanish, but because I wasn’t in that comfort cultural zone I avoided her too. Little did I know that one day I would be related to someone a lot like her; my brother in-law Jeremy.

Life was hard and school was just too much to cope with to even realize that I had no social life. In lil’ ole Calipat high, I was accepted. Nobody was unaccepting me, if anything, all the other Freshmen were just like me, adjusting. In high school I was cool, I was fun and crazy, but college life and the big city was way out of my league. I did manage to acquire a friend,  a legit Mexican-American. Her Spanish was better than mine and she was studious. Two awkward Mexicans in a multicultural sea of students. Margarita was smart and focused on why she was there, while I was wondering why I was there in the first place! Fatigue, depression and loneliness washed over me.

I survived that first year, but just barely. My grades were mediocre, It wasn’t until the end of the school year that I realized that all the free time I had between classes and labs was meant for studying, not The Guiding Light soap opera!. 

Staying in San Diego

I was glad when it was over, I was done with the whole experience, midterms and finals for sure! My brain was was exhausted. I was ready for my break. I needed to catch up with my sis Patty, and my valley friends before facing the reality of adulting. But, once again, an application determined my future. I had applied and was hired for a job at the Science and Engineering Library on campus, starting immediately. In this setting I would really face the diversity of cultures and generations. (I didn’t even know that students could be old!) I had to face it, accept and maybe embrace it. We would see, but first I would catch a quick weekend at home

More Change

One short summer weekend, that turned my life upside down and inside out again! My mother fretted and she looked at my sister Patty. Otra vez! She was getting blamed. My other siblings wondered what the heck I was doing. I was a different girl, hold on, same lil Mexican-American chick, but I re-entered San Diego a whole new person from the inside. Some would say “I got religion” Maybe I did. This is what I know, I discovered true friendship. 

Jesus Culture

Wow! A friend who transcended culture, age, gender, mindsets, habits. No pretending, no holding back, he loved me, just the way I was! Immediately I trusted him. No fear of backstabbing, or rejection. No worries that he’d be embarrassed of me, or that I was bothering him. He actually sought to be my friend, he wasn’t too busy. He was that friend that totally influenced every part of me and my life. Now with this new influencer in my life I was challenged to look outside my comfortable culture and accept and offer friendship outside of it. While I was open to it, it was a bit awkward. I was glad that in fact He encouraged me to mix and mingle my Mexican-American culture with his Jesus culture, and beyond! He spoke Spanglish.

I can’t wait to tell about the incredible diversity I’ve enjoyed in my relationships, starting with my marriage. Friends that I would have never chosen or been afraid to approach were arranged into my life beautifully.

Pregnancy

Having My Babies


Mothering is an incredible journey that sometimes begins with pregnancy.

My own experience was wonderful each time, until of course I reached the last month of gestation. I almost wrote indigestion and that would have made perfect sense. Four pregnancies, and no kind of complications that I didn’t bring on myself; like when I was 3 weeks overdue with the first one and broke my leg, but that story is for another time.

My pregnancies we’re fairly easy. I experienced a little bit of queasiness but that got taken care of with food. My biggest problem was too much weight gain. My ribs would hurt the last trimester because of my fat little babies kicking my ribs too hard. Gordos! My first born weighed in at 10 lbs 11 oz. He takes pride in his title of “biggest baby”. My next two were just over 9 lbs., my ribs are hurting again just talking about it. Once my my babies arrived, things settled down and so did the extra weight. That “baby weight” found a place on my hips, thighs, stomach and backside and moved in!

No Diet needed, Right!


Some ladies can have a baby and get right back into their jeans, not me. Not me, I have to wear the stretchy pants​ (you gotta read it with a Nacho Libre accent) for a while, and then a longer while, until eventually I have to face reality. A d, a die, a diet! A diet!… diet. After each pregnancy I had to be intentional about taking off the weight, wrestle my flesh to the ground and get it under control. Not an easy task, some of you might feel me right here.

Getting Older


We were feeling the weight of the world, finances ran dry, Ben’s mom passed and he was quietly, and unemotionally feeling his loss. I felt sorry for him and didn’t know how to help him. I was actually relieved that at 31 I hadn’t gotten pregnant again, despite my willingness. I was fine with the pair, my boy and girl. My son was going to kindergarten, and I decided to try a part time job. I put my little girl into good hands, though someone else’s. I needed this, I wanted this change, it was good for me.

Ben was busy working again and handling his mothers estate, I couldn’t tell if he was coping alright, this was the stage in our marriage when he decided to let his hair grow and grow, definitely not the Benjamin I thought I knew, but he was busy. Jonathan was adjusting to school, Daniella was enjoying her time with the sitter and I was trying to adjust to being away from my kids. I wondered if my baby was preferring “her” to me. Right here, during these alone days, my third baby came into the family.

Delivery & Postpartum


Since I was 31, Doctors had marked me as “older” and high risk, offering every test out there to make sure my baby was o.k. He was.

After two C-section births I insisted on the full experience of labor and delivery against the advice of my doctor. It was long and hard, and after 2 hours of pushing, our son decided to arrive. (Yikes!) To this day he arrives when he’s good and ready. The recovery was not at all like all my friends had described, a quick and easy bounce back.

For a season, life was squeezing me tight. I had my 2nd grader, my soon to be kindergartener and my newborn demanding my attention, and postpartum was coming for me! I was trying hard not to fall into depression or feel sorry for myself as I took care of my children, cleaned my house, did the laundry, folded and sometimes put it away, worked on homework, prepared meals and ignored my overweight self. By the grace of God I survived that season and somehow miraculously have some sweet and bittersweet memories tucked away during those days.

I Flirted with him again

It took a few years, but finally, at 35, with a semi-organized life, I was thin. (calmate! I’m talking about my interpretation of thin I am after all ‘big boned’) I fit into my average size pants, even a little loose and I was comfortable in the “smaller” size, I was breathing easy and I was wearing jeans that didn’t have to stretch. I was feeling pretty good. I was confident and flirting with my Flaco again, batting the eyes, walking close enough for him to reach. At this point in our lives, we decided that Emery, or Benjamin Emery would be our last baby, after all, we were older now.

The American Dream


We had bought our house, settled in and focused on raising our three kids. Doesn’t that sound like a good cozy life? Two good looking dogs, la Ginger, y el Sarge. The American dream Life was moving along smoothly, I was feeling skinny (remember, my version) my kids were getting along, the baby, (almost 5) was growing fast, the following year he’d be in kinder and I was not even getting baby fever, great! How much sweeter could life get living in ​Americas finest city? ​Except for a cold in the summer that just wouldn’t leave me things were wonderful.

Symptoms:


The weather was cooling and I was feeling it, stuffy nose, headaches and fatigue. I was barely gett​i​ng things done, wanting to sleep in the middle of the day. I just couldn’t shake the tired off me, as I moved less, my skinny was leaving. I was pulling out my stretchy pants again.
For my birthday my sister Lupe had invited me to Georgia to visit her son who would be graduating from boot camp. I wasn’t too excited about going. I was dragging and did not have comfortable or nice clothes for a trip. But I went, despite the flu bug (Here’s my symptoms, mira: tiredness, hunger every couple of hours or nausea and weight gain. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on t.v.)

My big sister finally caught on, when the trip was coming to an end, she said “I think you’re pregnant” Of course I laughed, Impossible! “Que? Te operaste?” No, I didn’t get my tubes tied! I was just not pregnant. I explained to her that we were done having kids. She said “haste la prueba.” 35 was way too old! I didn’t need a pregnancy test.

Again…. I was too old!


As fast as I could, I bought a test. I sat on the pot not believing that stupid test! It was wrong. I was nauseous. I needed food. The rest of that day I processed this. How could I be pregnant? (How could I not??) What was I going to do? I was way too old to have another baby. It didn’t matter that my mother was 41 when she had me. But Emery was almost in school! How would I ever get the weight off? (In my defense, just remember that hormones throw you all over the place in thoughts, feelings and emotions)

I told Ben we were having another baby. He was just as surprised as me. I know, I know, We shouldn’t have been so surprised… but we truly thought that the San Diego Greenes (as we’ve been dubbed by the New Hampshire Greenes) were to be a family of 5. You know how it is, the last child is always spoiled, except that now he wasn’t the last.


A Special Date


Once I got the idea wrapped around my brain, pregnant! A baby! We were ready to tell our 3 older kids, Emery was now an older sibling, yikes! We tried to make it special, took them out for an ice cream because we had a surprise for them and had them guess. They truly were pretty settled with a family of 5. Jonathan thought we were getting a t.v. while Daniella hoped her tio Jerm (that’s Bens brother) was coming back to visit and Emery was happy with his ice cream.

Now they too would have to adjust to this change.

Weight Gained Well


I laid out a plan for this pregnancy, I couldn’t gain over 50 lbs this time and the doctor agreed. With a nutritionist alongside me, I only gained 22 lbs. A skinny pregnancy for me. One of my dear friends says “Rosie, ni sabia que estabas embarazada, hasta que te vi la pansa!” Wow! She couldn’t tell I was pregnant until I turned to face her and she saw my belly, I felt pretty good. When that last week came around, big belly or not, I was done. I wanted to move on and thankfully this baby came on time and with ease just like he was supposed to, he was my little one; only 8 1⁄2 lbs. I almost got back into my jeans and was feeling alright.

My lil guero (as my sis in law calls him) Thomas Walter now completed us.