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A Gift on Fathers Day

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

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

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

Hats off to Dads

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

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

The “solito” is a Zepeda family tradition

The Value of Words

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

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

Learning to Appreciate

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

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

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

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

Middle School rite of passage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Healing

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

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

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

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

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

Feliz Dia de los Padres!!

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

My Last Pregnancy

The Children God Gave Us

My last baby is 19 this week. I suppose he’s not a baby anymore. My thoughts about him have provoked me to write this post. Does this mean that I must turn in my mothering card? Officially, he’s been an adult for already a year. Who decides such official classifications anyway? And what different children God gives us, verdad? Our kids have definite traces of their parents and sometimes that pleases me, and other times I cringe! I definitely play favorites with my children. My favorite firstborn, my favorite daughter, my favorite middle child and my favorite last baby. They truly are my favorites. 

When my babies, were not so baby anymore…

Wait on God

I’ve written about my pregnancies and about being muy vieja to have another baby. Pregnant at 36! Hijole! After Thomas I would never experience pregnancy again. I ached at the closing of that chapter of our lives. When I experienced baby fever, no amount of Tylenol could remedy that ill. When I felt the phantom baby kicks, regret would flood my spirit, I yearned to be pregnant again. It is one of those decisions, that if I could “do over” with Ben again, I would wait on God and his timing. When a young wife asks me about permanent birth control, she usually is tired and weary with little toddlers at her feet. I share my mourning time and encourage her to wait, time changes everything.

I do thank God often for the opportunity to carry my four children, and as for my last child, his arrival carried a lot of weight.

I was moving right along with living. More than 13 years of friendship with Jesus, 10 years of marriage, 3 kids, not just ordinary kids, mis hijos. Life was good and I said something along those lines to Ben as we celebrated our 10th anniversary. I remember feeling or noticing something sinister as those joyful words came out, ya se, dramatica! Pero, It’s true, something didn’t sit right as we entered our 2nd decade of life together.

Storms of Life

One day, as I was cleaning my house, I was hit with one of those trials in life that can rock your world. A time of tribulation and testing we’re coming my way. I was dumbfounded. Impossible, I thought, I’m a child of God. Deep pain couldn’t reach me, right? For this Southern California girl it was like a long, cold and harsh winter season, I declare in a muy exagerada fashion that I did not think I would survive the trials and tests of my life. Right here I’m feeling the chuckle of my dear friends who experienced life with me during these years. They knew God was right there with me. 

It took some time, but after many days, when the sun began to shine again, our hearts began healing. Oh what glorious moments I felt as the sun melted off the ice cold days.

Our small family of 5 was settling down. I was getting into my routine. My first last baby was gonna go to school in just another year, and I hung on to this last baby for as long as I could. Then, as I saw the end of busy toddler days I considered planning some projects in the house. I was busy with three young kids; 1 toddler,  2 school age. Lunches, school work, volunteering, housework, ministry, ocupadisma! 

Sorpresa

When I began to slow down and had to sleep in the middle of my day I chalked it up to my age. Then it was the changes in the weather.  Maybe a summer cold? Hormonas? By the time I faced reality, it was unreal! Pregnant at 36! A terrific time I had on that roller coaster of shock! Denial! No puede ser! I was so consumed by negative thoughts that I let them rob me of the wonder a momma feels when she knows a little life is growing in her womb. 

I was afraid. Afraid to be criticized for having too many kids. Quizas mi ama had felt that way? I was her eight baby. I was afraid that I was too old, should a woman my age be having a baby? I wonder if anyone told my ama that she was too old to be having a baby at 40, then another at 41? I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to get the weight off. I already had 3 pregnancies and gained 50 lbs each time, hijole! 

Getting weight off me has never been easy and I dreaded it. Somewhere out there I had heard that when women passed 35, losing weight was a losing battle! Now I’m hearing that same line for when we turn 50. Mentiras!

Worst of all, was the miedo I felt, an inexplicable dread that this 4th child at this stage of life would snatch away the peace that had just come to us. That was it! Nunca mas! No more babies, no more pregnancies. Although it wasn’t my decision alone, Ben was kind of in that same mindset; we were done.

Another Baby

There I was carrying our 4th baby and as the “woes” of 1st trimester dissipated, thankfully, so did the blues and by the time I entered the 2nd trimester, I was ready to share the news with our kids, then the rest of our world. We did get interesting and unexpected reactions. The kids were surprised, but it wasn’t a big deal to them. Someone said “What? Another baby? Si! Y gracias a Dios! It felt good to honestly be able to thank God for my baby. Someone else asked “How old are you?” Young enough to have a baby.

Every once in a while, the question was “is this your last baby?” The more we answered that question, the more we convinced ourselves that this was our last baby, but we dreaded the idea that we had to do something extra, something permanent to stop a pregnancy from ever happening for us again.  

Most people around us congratulated us. Asi es, felicidades! Our small family was growing.

Making final decisions

As our baby grew, I think we both enjoyed this gestation period. I was watchful of my eating and exercise and he made sure to move about in his cozy womb. Everything was on schedule, he was a good size. I was winding down, and the only thing left was names and a final decision on permanent birth control. 

We couldn’t agree on a girl’s name. I was leaning toward Adriana, he wasn’t leaning that way at all. He wanted a family name, his family. Nancy? Jane? Claro que no! All his kids had his name already! Thank goodness we quickly agreed on a boy’s name. A family name. 

There was that question again, “Will you be having more children Mrs Greene?” Should we? Could we? Would we? No, we wouldn’t, we would not have any more children. The decision was made. After labor, delivery and recovery we would do something more.

Labor was something from a textbook or maybe a fairytale. The kind of labor I would have wanted 3 times prior! Contractions began and progressed. I went to the hospital as labor intensified. My water broke, I fully dilated as my little boy worked his way down that birthing slide. I pushed about 15 minutes and woosh! Bienvenido amorcito

Face to Face

Thomas Walter Greene born 6/9/02 Sunday evening. 8 1/2 lbs

Oh my beautiful baby! What an absolutely incredible experience it is to meet your baby face to face for the first time. I had been talking to him for 6 months already, he already knew my commanding voice, now I was hearing his demands. 

Even with my 4th experience it was new and unique and beautiful. I bet my ama cried every time her new baby was placed in her arms, even the 8th and 9th ones.

Had I truly once regretted this baby? No! Oh God forgive me, thank you for giving me the privilege of carrying my baby, Gracias Señor por mi hijo! Our 4th baby’s arrival marked the restoration and blessing that flowed.

Thomas Walter Greene

His name is Thomas Walter. It represents family legacy. My primo Tomas, was my amas own beloved nephew, who himself was generous and kind. I loved the idea of this family name. On Bens side, his ancestor Thomas Rogers had been on the Mayflower ship to the New World and my flaco appreciated what that meant for him. Walter is my Benjamin’s middle name, which was his fathers name and his grandfathers. It means army ruler. Perfecto! Our son can be described as a gentle giant and a go-getter.

Thomas Walter Greene

Nineteen years later, Thomas Walter, our friendly, people person son has demonstrated what a grateful heart looks like.  With this child of mine, saying his complete name doesn’t mean he’s in trouble, it just has a warm ring to it. 

Thomas is always quick with a kind greeting and never stingy with his hugs. He truly is genuinely happy to see you, everyone else in our family needs a minute or a cup of coffee before we can be so friendly. 

When he knows there’s pain in your life, he wants to offer comfort. If there’s celebrating to do in your name, he’s ready to honor you. When he’s being celebrated, he absolutely loves it and knows how to appreciate it, graciously and joyfully. 

Our youngest child grew up trusting his siblings and loving them, he is a loyal little brother and works hard at winning over his nephews and nieces. I could go on for days but suffice to say, that from our last baby we all have gleaned so much.

The Promises of God

Looking back to those days of restoration I see the fingerprints of God as we stayed on course and trusted him. He sheltered us when the storms came, and he strengthened us as our family grew. 

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust…” Joel 2:25   

This was the promise from scripture that my pastor reminded me of one day at the altar as I prayed.

Mexican-American Girl Goes East Part 3: The Cousins

It’s The People That Matter:

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

Mother in Law Dance

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

Brown Skin and White Skin

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

The Hostess

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

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

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

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

Meeting the Cousins

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

The Frenchies

Dorthy and Jacques girls on Mt. Manadnock

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

I Wanted to Run and Hide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cousin Jane

Jonathan and his cousins

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

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

Homemade Ice Cream Tradition

Cousin Jane & her daughter, cousin Debbie

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

Daniella helping with the cleanup after the ice cream was cranked

Offenses Will Come

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

Conclusion: Different People can thrive together.

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

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

Remembering Mi Ama

Today marks 32 years that me and my siblings have walked this earth without our ama. Que dramatica! Everytime a memorial day comes out of the closet I think I must be sad and well, and I am. That’s when I have to choose not to be a chillona and I must make a conscious choice to turn my sadness into something better. I’m gonna text my sis in a while and remember with her our ama.

Mothering Techniques

I miss her, she is a feisty latina woman! She had to be, with 4 strapping boys that had plans of their own and 4 feisty latina daughters! If her command and tone didn’t get the job done, she pulled out her secret weapon: “Vas a ver! Cuando venga tu Padre” Yikes! We never wanted my apa to get involved. Just writing this makes me sit up straight. 

In her house the rule was “Aqui van hablar espanol” and we did… our version, el Spanglish.

She wanted us well versed in spanish for when we went to visit la familia en Guadalajara. Ama wanted to prove that we were indeed Mexicanos to the bone. In our opinion, we were the best spanish speakers in the barrio, but when we were in the colonias of Guadalajara…and the primos laughed at our spanish, we showed them. We loosened our tongue into english mode, accent and all, they didn’t know any better. Hay si, muy muy is what they judged us with. We weren’t trying to seem songrones, stuck up, acting like we were better. But hey! Who wants to be laughed at? For our ama we stayed in spanish mode as needed and I’m glad I did, because today I’m muy bilingue, by my own assessment of course.

Mexican American

My ama worried that we’d lose our spanish and Mexican but because of her we didn’t even here in America. She was happy to know that even with my gringo I wouldn’t take off my Mexican. 

Hijole! I do regret not appreciating her enough. But, I am comforted to know that as long as I “stay saved” Christianese for stay connected to Jesus, allowing him to cover me over my Mexican American Heritage I’ll see her again and I’ll talk to her in spanish and maybe in Gods heavenly language.

I love you mi Ama!

Mexican American Girl Goes East Part 2

Last week we travelled back East to my first visit into Ben’s world and quietly made it through Connecticut. Although it was culturally shocking to all my senses, I was glad that my husband was so eager to share his life with me. 

Gracias a Dios que I spent my introduction to the Greene family with just my mother in law and Ben at first. The rest of the cousins I’d meet at the Manse. Another tweak,  Ben called everyone except his brothers, cousins. Asi es, either first cousin Will or second cousin Bankcroft and so on. Muy diferente than our classifications of familia. In large Mexican families it can get complicated. You’ve got tios y tias, then come the cousins. So my brothers and sisters are my kids’ uncles and aunts and my first cousins are also their tios y tias, get it?. Maybe I shouldn’t stir that pot huh?

The Mysterious New Englanders

With so many new waters to tread, I wasn’t sure how well I handled it all, and my suegra? Well she was just like a New Englander, cool, calm and collected no matter what she thought of this spicy or feisty latina! Aqui, right here, in the beginning of this post, I’ll confess that even after almost 33 years of communion with my Benjamin, New Englanders remain a mystery to me. 

Mi Suegra

Maybe Nancy, y no me juzguen, it’s actually very appropriate to use her first name, she encouraged it, no disrespect intended. In spanish I would probably have called her Doña Nancy.

Anyway, maybe she just put herself in my shoes. A young pregnant wife, away from her comfort zone. I’m very much like my ama, if I feel it I show it, if I’m not feeling it, I show it more. Then drench my culture shock with pregnancy hormones, hijole!  I felt like Ben needed to school me or warn me about the “New Englander ways,” but he didn’t. Nancy was gracious and patient as I discovered this new world.

In the fews months of marriage I knew from pictures and Bens descriptions that he came from an “upper middle class”. Imaginate! I didn’t even know there was an upper and lower deck to the middle class, and to be fair to Ben, he never really thought of it or considered what “class” he was in. I mean the family pictures on the boat in the ocean was a natural occurrence to him.

Through the house in Connecticut, I saw that Ben’s family was comfortable with money, but it wasn’t like I imagined or saw in movies. Their money comforts were not necessarily in rich clothes or new cars or showy things. My suegra drove a small white honda accord, Nancy was no showy lady. 

The Greenes appreciated history, personal history. “Rich” things were items passed down through the generations. They were “rich” in talent and displayed it and yes, they were quite comfortable in their material possessions but they didn’t make a grand affair of their stuff. This helped me to relax…poquito.

Bens Parents & his brother Jeremy

New Hampshire

After a few days in quiet Connecticut I was glad to be on our way to New Hampshire, I needed some distraction and activity, nature was too noisy for me.  It was another beautiful drive of winding back roads lined with huge trees. Everytime Ben turned around to point out a childhood memory, he’d have to wake me up. I was ripping him off of his reminiscing delights with my first trimester, I was nodding off with every curve we took.

It was almost time to meet some more Greenes at the family meeting.  They came from everywhere to gather time every summer. We pulled up into a long driveway in front of the huge house. I had already been seeing the white wood siding and green shutter trimmed houses with lots and lots of windows along the way, but this one was different. The Manse was personal, it’s where the Greenes reconnect. Que suerte, the house was empty. Well maybe not luck, but God’s grace, as I needed time to absorb it all. 

History

Acuerdense, los Greenes, they go all the way back to England, before the New World. Pero, no se asusten, I’ll only go back a couple hundred years 😉.

In the late 1700s Laban Ainsworth, the family patriarch, travelled with his wife, on horseback from Woodstock, Ct. to Jaffrey, NH. There he established his ministry and parsonage as the new appointed minister of the small town. Sounds pretty straight forward verdad que si? According to history and family stories it was a very hard time, but when I’ve heard the accounts from any “even keel” Greene, it seemed like no kind of trial ruffled them. I’m trying to tell it just as a Greene, without drama. Pero, surviving scarlet fever, enduring the American Revolution and escaping your house burning down es bien dramatico!

Heritage

The Ainsworth Manse has remained in the family for 7 generations. The Greene name, that’s Green, with an “e” at the end, linked in when Ben’s great great grandfather, Admiral Theodore Phinney Greene married Señor Laban Ainsworths granddaughter. Mary Minot Ainsworth. From this point the lineage is easier to follow, mas o menos. Their son, Frederick William Greene inherited the Manse. In his lifetime, the early 1900s, he made additions and “modern day” changes as needed. Fijense, check this out, the family has worked hard to preserve the F.W. Greene estate and many of the items within. Remember I told you that antiques are a serious thing in New England? I need to plug in that the other family name is Torrey, which came in when the Torrey brothers married the Greene sisters. These were Ben’s grandparents. 

The Greenes/Torreys have managed to enjoy and maintain the Manse in the 21 century, while hanging on to its 19th and 20th century heritage. 

Walking Through the Manse

The Foyer

 Pasenle, welcome to the Manse. The original house has a large dining room with a fireplace, where the cooking was done, a cooking pot hung in there. Hijole, I am glad the family didn’t insist on that much antiquity. The music room, off to the side, opens to a long patio. A long picnic table is there for dining during the nice summer evenings. It’s encased with a window mesh screen to keep the mosquitos out, but they come anyway! The foyer, a long wide hall where the staircase and front door are, separates the parlor and library. I imagine visitors waited to be escorted to the parlor, or perhaps the library? I’ve read about these scenes in books by Grace Livingston Hill. In my world, visitors called out their greetings from the yard, “Buenos dias Doña Chuy!” Sometimes, the whole visit took place right outside in the yard.

Laban Ainsworth and his wife Mary in the Parlor

At the Manse, maybe a person was admitted into the foyer hung their heavy coat on the coat rack and waited on the settee. Asi es, pero I had only read about coat racks and settees. Upstairs, each of the 4 bedrooms all had a fireplace for those cold fall and winter nights. In New England people know what four seasons are. The Large bathroom had a deep clawfoot tub. Gracias a Dios, that Ben wouldn’t have to lug water to fill it. The window was small enough, and I wouldn’t have to steam up the bathrooms for privacy.

The Prophets chamber/ modern day middle children quarters 😉

Then Ben showed me the “L” part of the house, this held the additions and improvements of the early 1900s.  The L consisted of a kitchen, a bathroom, backstairs and a storage room. These are all part of a long and dark wide hallway. At the end of the hallway, there is the barn and a privy; an “indoor” outhouse, which I always avoid. 

Back hall of the L/modern day hide and seek arena

Upstairs, over the L are 5 more bedrooms, and a  bathroom and way at end of that upstairs hallway is another privy, this one was a 3-holer, Wacala! 

Did I mention that some of the rooms had names because of the people who originally used them or some other notable trait? The Cannon Ball room, The Nursery, The Prophets Chamber, The Boys room, The Canopy Room, Uncle Freddys Room (not at all scary for a California girl 😬). I used to wonder about that tradition, but now I find myself having names for the rooms in our home: Emerys Room, Citas Room, Tatas Room, The Office, the backroom…

The Nursery

The house scared me a little, ok, it scared me alot! It is creaky and dark and it has a deep earthy smell. The ancestors portraits hang on the wall and their eyes follow you when you pass by. Old pictures dan miedo! That first visit, I never went downstairs alone, I’ve grown accustomed to the old house now, but I do avoid those eyes still!

The Manse, in Jaffrey NH is our summer home. Bien huyuyui! We share it with the other branches of the family, dividing up the weeks of summer so that we can enjoy it personally. Every generation has added their modern day comforts, which for the next generation are considered “old fashion” as the years have passed. Horsehair mattresses, yup. Pot Belly stove, utensils and cooking ware from each century, of course the older the more valuable. The Greenes/Torreys believe in hands-on experiences so nothing is too valuable to deprive a family member from using it, eso si, con cuidado por favor.  After all these years, I must admit that I’ve still got so much to learn about Ben and our kids’ rich History. Getting to family meetings in the summer has definitely helped my Greene growth and appreciation. 

Little Ben holding a family tree, Ancestry.com has nothing on the Greene’s!

Its such a rare treasure to be able to pass on so much history to our kids. This perhaps planted the seed to research my own history. Years ago Dad and I were stuck in the hospital for days. Talking kept him calm, and the conversation turned to memories. I started writing down his stories. While it may not be as well documented and preserved, I’ve spent years picking my dads brain, documenting those memories and researching all I can. I now have my own treasure trove of history.

Next week I’ll tell you about the cousins and the family meeting.

Mexican-American Girl Goes East

I’m going to tell you about my New England connection, si pues, this Mexican-American has a few stories and an array of emotions as I discovered Bens gringo world. Nowadays it’s nothing new to find one of mi gente on the East Coast, but back in the mid 80s when I started the brown Mrs. Greene journey I really felt all alone. 

Mixing cultures and social economic lives did add to my conundrum. Hay si, muy gringa, with my big english words verdad?

So I’ll have to go back to the time before the fireworks display of our engagement. 

Having been in San Diego Ca. only a year and a half, the melting pot of cultures intimidated me. My upbringing, with the unspoken but obvious boundaries made me shun gringos. White guys didn’t notice me, I certainly wasn’t going to notice them. Period. 

An Interracial Relationship

You can imagine the incredible turmoil and betrayal I experienced when I noticed my Benjamin! A White guy from New England!? Not even a tanned Californian! Of course I rejected the idea for a season and moved on… and went back…and moved on…but eventually the fireworks burst out the wonderful colorful display of our young love and promise. A hopeful new beginning like God’s promise through the rainbow, a much needed display that sealed the deal.

Jesus People Wedding

Benjamin Walter Greene and I were married in a “Jesus People wedding”. I looked around for a definition of our kind of ceremony and couldn’t find one, so instead of google defining or describing our wedding I will. Our wedding ceremony centered around Jesus instead of the bride. Right in the middle of our Sunday morning worship service the bride comes in. No grand procession of walking the aisle. Doesn’t that sound just right for me? If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll note that I’m a simple girl. A simple wedding was just my stilo but for some brides, or mother of the brides, it’s a huge deal! Hijole

We heard the good news of the Gospel, pledged our hearts and lives to our marriage covenant with a resounding I do. We broke bread with our families, sweet and simple, the honeymoon awaited us. Then, we stepped into the twilight zone of our mixed marriage, well mostly I travelled by myself because for some reason Ben was not tripping! 

Our First Year of Marriage

It was a first year full of fireworks, mourning and hormones, asi es, explosive! My ama had just passed in May, I learned I was pregnant in June and we were scheduled to fly out to the East Coast in July. My life was already upside down and I was going clear across the country to the other coast, Pacific to Atlantic! A whole new world. 

Ben was excited! He couldn’t wait to show me his childhood home and life. As the weeks drew closer he showed me again pictures of his family home in Connecticut, a house his architect father had designed. However, for the Greene/Torrey Family, the real treasure is the family estate home, which is called the Manse. Yes, the houses have names! Manse means the residence of a minister. 

Ben told this little desert girl with barely any roots in America that his family traced back ancestors to England and the Mayflower! Que hiba pensar? So many levels of OMGs!

I accused Ben calling him an Aristocrat! A cold blooded Englishman! My son Emery would say white privilege! Rico! Y yo? No wonder mi apa was very nervous about us marrying. Of course, this is what was causing my nausea. Ben needed to go alone on his voyage to see his family.

Facing My Fears

Everything I had feared was gonna happen to me now! How could Ben make me go? How could Ben leave me all alone? How could Ben even think of going at all? Wasn’t he supposed to leave his family and cleave to me, his wife? I didn’t think I could survive being surrounded by only English speaking people, who would I turn to? 

The East Coast

July came and we boarded our flight to New York City. If I was gonna go so far away I had to have someone familiar so we visited friends in NYC. I thought the Big Apple was for the rich and famous or for the peliculas, no movie, it was the real deal. This Mexican American played tourist in the big city, even if it was only a few days. We visited the Statue of Liberty, The Twin Towers and experienced New York pizza. We wanted to walk the streets of Spanish Harlem but didn’t feel confident enough, I guess my small town barrio experience wasn’t gonna cut it. The New York Ricans were the spanish speakers, sort of. I barely understood them and they said I spoke spanish like I was singing! Three days passed like the whirlwind and before we knew it  we were on a train for  Connecticut. Que aventura verdad? I didn’t realize that the adventure was going to slow down to a complete stop. Life in my husbands world was calm, very calm. It made my heart race, crazy huh?

Staten Island Ferry

A Quiet Vacation

Just getting out of the city quieted everything down, except for my thoughts. Bens mom met us at the train station, a quiet reunion and ride home. I was the only one who felt awkward, I’m glad I was in the backseat because I would have been awkwardly fishing for conversation topics. Right here is a good place to tell you that apart from coming from different worlds, Ben and I are complete opposites. I’m a talker, I’m noisy, I’m busy, I’m loud…he’s not. Wow! It was going to be a silent two weeks.

New England is beautiful. Man! I’m terrible about these types of details, I hope I can hang on to your attention here. Greenery, tall trees, lakes. Aver, see if this helps you see how I saw things. We drove down the narrow roads with tall trees on each side and looking far into the distance you almost felt like the trees were going to close you into a tunnel. Bien bonito, like in the movies. compare that to the dry desert view of the Imperial Valley 

Mosquitos

In the big city, with all the pollution and noise the mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but as soon as I stepped out of Nancys car, they welcomed my fresh blood. Ben says it’s that spicy latina blood that I bring from the West. 

The Architect and the Artist

Ben’s dad had designed the house in an H shape. Muy interesante. The tall pillars of the H were the main rooms and bedrooms. The horizontal pillar of the H had the bathrooms and laundry room. I haven’t lost you have I? One of the openings of the H was where the front door was, while the back deck covered the other opening of the H. The deck had been built with a tree planted in center for shade, eventually. It was quite serene, until my eye caught a little gargoyle propped over the roof’s edge. Although it was an artistic touch, it bothered me. Maybe el cucuy was supposed to keep Ben and his brothers in check?

Ben on the left and his brother Sam when the tree shade was barely growing

Right in the front yard was an old rusty tractor as decor. Where I’m from esos tractores were child’s play for us. Pero, on the East Coast antiques are a big deal. The house stood tall and serene in its natural wood. The living room and dining room had large wall size windows that overlooked a large field and pond.  It was truly a Good Housekeeping magazine scene. My mother in law was a multi talented artist and her home displayed her artistic hand.

Bens Childhood Home in Connecticut

This was all so new to me, I felt like I was in a museum and Ben was enjoying giving me a tour of his house. Things that were commonplace to him, were amazing to me. Like a windy staircase, como los ricos, that went down to the basement. Basement? Only in some of the books I read.

More large windows. Imaginate, in the bathroom! They could easily be peeked into from the dining room with it’s wall size windows. How in the world was I going to shower? Thankfully, my husband shared the secret for a comfortable shower time. Run your hot water, steam the windows then you could relax. I’m a bit indecisive on where I should include the fact that the bathroom door slid into the wall, they didn’t really secure shut. Pero Pues, I got through my first few days in New England without too much verguenza, thankfully, everytime I showered the windows stayed completely steamed and covered.

I’ll have to do a part two post on my first New England experience since I haven’t even described my Manse experience, you know the Greene/Torrey Estate house in New Hampshire? Es que, there’s so much reaction in this first visit. So many things we take for granted, like chile!  A meal without chile, Asi es! No chile whatsoever, not even tabasco sauce. Hijole! All you salsa and chile addicts are feeling me right now huh? This was only the beginning to my cultural shocks in the kitchen that I would experience.

My experiences would be considered “A first world problem” but as silly as it was, I had a lot of adjusting to do, I think it might be called assimilating? Chale! Nope, I would have to make some Mexican American contributions to my new family.

Next time I’ll take you to the Manse in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

The Manse in Jaffrey NH

I would love to hear about your culture shocks or adjustments as you encountered other countries or cultures, even here in America.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Advice from Dear Ama

Feliz Dia de las Madres! I hope all you moms enjoy a beautiful day, or two. And for all you children, hear some nagging unsolicited advice from an ama of 31 years. If you’re able, give your momma that special attention, you’ll make her day grand. I tell you, life is but a vapor, appears for a little time. For you young amas, watch out for those stinking attitudes.

Don’t Be Too Busy

I was a busy daughter, probably since the moment I started walking and because of that my “me and mi ama” moments were few and short. I’m glad I have them though. I’m sitting here wondering, should I tell them about  her ways with us? Or should I share with them the quick episodes? Maybe I’ll do both.

My Ama Celebrated Us

With 8 kids to raise, a house to keep up, mom didn’t have time for all those other things, like birthday parties or honor roll or sports banquets.  Besides that, she didn’t speak English or Spanglish and she didn’t drive.

For our birthdays ama would cook our favorite dish and make sure we got our birthday wishes. 

When I got to the rough rocky stage of adolescence, I wore that stinky face attitude that could appreciate nothing! And I was always right.

When I was turning thirteen, I got it in my head that I should have a birthday party because that’s what was supposed to happen for a birthday to be legit. Honestly, I’m sure I didn’t necessarily ask for a party, the plan just started coming together. How hard could it be? I explained to my ama that it was just for people my age, you know los jovenes. Que vergüenza! If my parents were home! More embarrassing were her serious hospitable ways of cooking for the whole barrio! Besides, pozole wasn’t a very cool meal for a soon to be thirteen year old. Somehow I managed to provide potato chips, not tortilla chips and salsa, no it had to be papitas in barbecue flavor. Teenagers didn’t eat much anyway right? LOL! 

How do adolescents do that? How do they manage to make a parent feel stupid for doing the right thing? But they do. I’ve been on both sides of the situation. 

Interpreting the facial expressions of teens

There should be a translation card for the facial language that has been used by 12 year olds and teens throughout the ages. 

The rolling of the eyes: when you tell your teen to do something like be polite and greet ALL your tios and tias and be nice when they squeeze you in a hug and kiss. The indignant belittling stare: when your Ama says “Rosalba limpiaste tu cuarto?” What? Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to clean my room? The angry glare: when you hear “No puedes ir” the eyebrows knit together and you argue that you MUST go! I was one of those nasty lil 12 year olds that mastered that angry look (now i’m wishing I could tell my ama how sorry I am). There was also that blank or confused look: when pretending I didn’t hear the direct command. “Es que no oí” Lies! I’ve told you that  my ama could easily be heard 😁. And finally the “I’m about to cry look”: when I was busted “Ama es que no sabia que se hico tarde!” The rule was you get home before it’s dark outside, Before I snuck the tears were piling up outside in the dark, “Pero ama, I was too busy playing, I didn’t know it was night time!”

There’s more but you get the picture, Rosalba was always innocent, a victim of circumstance. Let’s get back to my almost thirteen year old party planning shenanigans. Mira,  I knew what my party needed, my ama and my big sisters would have to step aside.

The Birthday Party

I got the word out for my birthday party. I knew nothing about music but my older brothers did, so I had the record player ready. (Or maybe it was the 8-track player?) The chips y el Kool-aid were on the table, let the dancing begin. Although I was still very much a tomboy and a little kid at heart and mind, there was that awful adolescent voice stealing my kid fun with such ideas like “you’re not a little kid anymore, stop behaving like one” Hijole! I hated it, but I thought I had no choice but to get serious and practice what the older kids did, like dancing.

All of us wishing for the simple days of cake piñatas and candy. “Dale dale dale…” Shake out those dumb thoughts, what tragedy! Too old for pinatas and the wonderful dulces that gushed out when it was cracked open. No more freeze tag or escondidas, unheard of to have a thirteen year old playing hide and seek! I can only lift my hands and thank God that the adolescent rules allowed for sports organized or in the barrio

So the big day came for my birthday party. Were there decorations? Yup, just the essential streamer. To this day I have to be schooled on the importance of presentation 😁 but like my ama I can serve you a delicious feast.

The details are fuzzy now. De veras, I’m not omitting juicy party “tea”. The boys from the barrio came, and some boys from my class room. Obnoxious boys, but the one boy I hoped would come, didn’t. I never did directly invite him, I figured he would get the word of mouth invite. I was not gonna go chasing after a dumb boy, that’s not the way my big sister Lupe rolled.

There we sat, boys munching on chips, their only available food, helping them ignore the big step of asking a girl to dance. Meanwhile we girls sat on the couch scared to death that we wouldn’t get invited to dance or worse! That one of us would be the last girl to be asked. 

 For a while, my ama and apa were not seen. A strange thing because my parents were strict about us staying away from boys. Pero, now I know that while things were “safe” they made themselves scarce. When I was slow dancing with a boy shorter than me, imagínate! My other nickname was Shorty! I was kinda hovering over this boy, leaning heavily on him. It probably took every ounce of strength out of him to keep himself from being crushed! Hay si, “slow dancing, swaying to the music”. All of a sudden! There was my ama in the kitchen and my apa sitting at the dining room table! Que verguenza! sheesh, all my friends saw my parents watching us, pero tambien, what relief. We didn’t have to dance anymore and, more importantly,

She brought a birthday cake. Oh what a rest it is to have an ama who thinks of her children, even when they’re thoughtless! 

I do thank God so much that she never let my foolish adolescent attitudes affect her love or care of me or any of her kids. She was too busy to plan a “socially  acceptable” birthday party for 8 kids and a husband every year, but she always managed to fill in the details of our life with her love and ways.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are in the thick of the battle from changing diapers to fighting with teens, and to all the mothers whose babies have grown up and moved away, that’s where I’m at. To all the mothers whose babies are in heaven, and to all the mothers struggling with fertility. And to the mothers who have fulfilled that role for another mothers children. Feliz Dia De Las Madres, rejoice in the blessing of your inheritance momma.

Will you share with me a memory or your mother in the comments below? 

When my babies, were not so baby anymore…

It’s Almost Cinco De Mayo

A Cause to Celebrate 

In general los Mexicanos, y los Mexican Americans  are always down for  a good fiesta. We can lay out a beautiful scene and cook a delicious spread! Verdad? Con mi familia, we usually celebrated the main events like weddings, quinces, baptismals and Navidad and yes Accion de Gracias, can’t leave out Thanksgiving! After that, other federal or famous days went unnoticed with my familia, my apa  worked Monday- Saturday and sometimes on Sunday, all that to say that Cinco de Mayo did not stir up a fiesta around our house. Que si es un poco extraño, strange, because my apa loved to talk about the Mexican history, especially the Revolucion. You know, the Cinco de Mayo story is a great one and I think it should be a national holiday in Mexico, pero no lo es!

A Gringo Celebration?

Do you know why it’s such a happy occasion for us, the Americanos? Pues, I do now. Con mucha pena, as embarrassing as it is, I confess that I just barely uncovered a few of the details. Pero, con mucho gusto I pass along my few history findings on Cinco de Mayo in this short and sweet history lesson.

The Battle of Puebla that affected us

The Battle of Puebla is observed primarily in one city of Mexico called…. Puebla, where the pleito took place. Here in the United States, communities with large Mexican American populations celebrate with an almost Grito zest. However, it is not about Mexico’s independence, but rather, Mexico’s perseverance. The United States was indirectly affected because of Mexico’s small triumph. 

Mexico’s Struggle 

After it’s long and difficult fight for independence, Mexico struggled so much that it became financially bankrupt. Mexico’s presidente, Benito Juarez found a solution by stopping payments going out to their foriegn debtors, que facil verdad?  Nope! It wasn’t that easy, the Europeans wanted their dinero.  Three powers met to see how they would deal with those Mexicanos! Spain, the U K and France devised a plan to invade Mexico. They sent an intimidating military presence to bully the Mexicans into paying their debts. France led the campaign since it had greater aspirations through this attack. Napoleon III was looking to establish a stronghold in North America through Mexico! Esperate! it gets more intense. As soon as the other countries saw his grand scheme, se arrepintieron

 Napoleon Connects with the Southern States

Although Napoleon was now on his own, he was confident that he could easily take care of Mexico and accomplish a French stronghold. But listen, this was only part of the bronca, he had visions to dominate in North America!

 Napoleon had a close connection with our Southern States. He was aiding the Confederacy during the Civil War! Yes,  asi fue, Napoleon supplied them with weapons in exchange for cotton which France’s economy heavily relied on. Imaginate! Napoleon was busy trying to conquer the world while Abraham Lincoln was trying to bring about Emancipation and reuniting the divided nation. 

The Battle in Puebla aids the Civil War Cause

 Yendo al grano. The bottom line is that the battle in Puebla was a classic underdog victory story. My apa loved these kinds of stories! The French were a superior military force, while the Mexicans with their humble state of enlisted and volunteer army had more will and perseverance than might. The French went in confident and well armed,  the battle raged  from sunup to sundown, but neither General Zaragoza nor his men would back down. When the French General realized that more of his men were going down in the battle, he had no choice but to retreat, Victory!  As I write this historic event I can picture my apa telling me  accounts of the Revolucion de Mexico, his eyes always glistened proud when talked about Mexico’s battle for independence. He was an underdog advocate, he strongly believed that one must confront that bully no matter what!  He backed conviction up referring to his own victory against the Bully in his life. 

The victory in Puebla gave Mexico a surge of confidence as it forged on. Napoleon was stopped in his tracks for a moment. He was prevented from helping the Confederacy with relief supplies and weapons while the Union army was able to regroup and gain strength. Meanwhile, en El Norte, established Mexican Americans citizens that lived in free states were relieved for the reprieve because it would indirectly aid in the Civil war cause. The Union could march forward with its vision for Emancipation.

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

Sin duda! A good old fashion David vs Goliath victory. It was a cause for celebration. Those early fiestas included honorable mention of  General Ignacio Zaragosa who stood his ground and faced that bully! 

The story may have been forgotten but the fiesta goes on

Through the years the battle in Puebla or it’s historic significance has gotten buried, but in Mexican American communities, Cinco de Mayo is a continual celebration of Mexican culture. Traditions such as Mariachis, Ballet Folklorico and delicious Mexican food are celebrated around our states.

Que Sigue La Pachanga

 However you layout your menu for the day’s festivities make sure to include plenty of salsa and guacamole for all the unavoidable tortilla chips. After that, feasts range from tacos, chalupas, enchiladas and somewhere you’ll see some carne asada on the grill. Of course we cannot enter or leave a Cinco de Mayo feast without having a tamal, verdad? Y acuerdense  “Si se Puede”

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

My Sister, My Friend


Note from the editor(a.k.a. Daniella): This post is brought to you after a hard weekend full of prayer and a roller coaster of emotions. It was traumatic for my mother to write and for us to read and reread it over and over again during the editing process. If you are sensitive to topics like death, this post may be too vivid and triggering for you. As I told my mom, “The writing is good. A little too good.” I felt like I was in the hospital experiencing it all through my mothers eyes. It feels a little weird posting these stories in a blog format, but my mothers stories are finally being shared and I hope you enjoy taking this journey with us.

My Big Sister Patty

My sister Patty was older by two years, but our relationship didn’t sit on the hierarchy tier, or like my sister Marina likes to put it “the chain of command”. In case some of you don’t know it, or if it is a thing of the past, listening and respecting your older sibling is a way of life, at least it was with the Zepedas in Calipatria. However, Patty and I were peers, we shared our hearts alike, I didn’t consider her to be older, nor did she treat me like a little sister.

Since we were little girls, we shared a room and for a while a bed. More importantly we shared secrets and dreams. We coined our gibberish word “Kernitos” when our nephews came along and later definitely saw our own kids as little kernitos, so sweet and chubby. 

We had our demons and insecurities to fight about but we always came together to compare notes,  me echaba un ojo, we checked on one another. Oh! what a rest I had with this sister friend of mine. Middle school, boys and drama were such a pain and I was so glad to have her so close.

Middle School Love… and Heartbreak

During my season of boy craziness, I was “madly in love” with a boy since 5th grade, but he didn’t know I existed. My mind always conjured up wonderful tales on those rare occasions when he happened to look in my direction, I always told Patty that he had looked at me and we would plan a strategy on how to get him to keep looking my way. On that day, when he would finally notice me, I would be nonchalant, throw my hair back as if he were just like all the other boys who looked my way, insignificant.  

Patty knew how much I loved my boy and it bugged her. She didn’t think I was too plain or ugly, in fact she thought he was stupid to not notice me. she thought I needed to move on. I agreed, but I didn’t know how.

One day, she said in the taboo english mode “I have to tell you something”. Bad news. I imagined it was about her. Like the great sister and loyal friend she was, she said “vamos a tirar la basura”  Both of us, mi ama and I were shocked, that she was volunteering to throw out the trash. Our backyard was a short walk, enough for her to tell me her secret, she even carried the can! Hijole, it was gonna be serious. She didn’t waste time, it was always her way to put the bottom line first.

“Rosie I heard that someone else likes like him” 

I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised he was the cutest guy in our whole middle school, maybe even the world (rolling eyes), but it worried me.

I told her “He looked at me today.” We were walking back from our trash throwing and Patty put her arm around me. Maybe because I was almost taller or maybe because I could feel her pity I was uncomfortable. 

“She’s going after him, I saw them talking at the park today… He’s stupid anyway. If he likes her, he’s not worth it Rosalba.” She rarely called me that. I was feeling like the stupid one, and she was trying to help take that weight off me. 

The Path to Adulthood

Through the years our hearts entwined and she learned to read me like her favorite book. Our paths parted as we made life choices, but being on different roads didn’t separate us. We needed each other, and I’m thankful we continued in adulthood as when we were little girls; true friends.

We shared our lives, like sisters often do. Nothing was too sacred; boyfriends, friendships, marriage, or lifestyles. Our insecurities; too ugly, too fat, were a constant topic, you name it we talked about it!  When I got married she was with me, when I had each of my kids she was with me. Patty had a different response to each one of them, amazed at how very much she could love them like her own. 

A Girl For Patty

When Daniella was born, it was a time of crisis for Patty, her life was unraveling and for a moment it was difficult for her to notice my beautiful girl. When she settled down and as she picked up the pieces of her broken life, she looked at Daniella and pulled her so close. At the ripe old age of 30 she was feeling that perhaps she would never experience a child of her own. 

A Married Woman

She met her husband David and was married very quietly, inviting only family to their union. I had the honor of signing her marriage certificate. Things settled down to normal. Ya sabes, that unspoken order of things that are supposed to happen as we grow up, Patty and Dave bought a house. They had some nice things they enjoyed and life was good. Then in my older years (36) I had my last baby and my little guerito stirred up desires in her that she never thought she would have, she had been quite satisfied to enjoy my kids and splurge on Daniella. Suddenly, at 38, Patty wanted a baby of her own. 

That was crazy! I had dug deep into conversations with her asking if she wanted a baby, she always said no. It was probably for the best because Patty suffered from several ailments which caused a lot of pain and stiffness. Some days it was hard for her to even move.

I ached for her. I was beginning to avoid conversations about the baby and mothering. Then one day, as it was her habit when she had big news or bad news she called and said “ I have something to tell you”  Oh no…. “Rosie I’m pregnant!”

Can you feel the glee in her words? It was a miracle. We had concluded in our extensive diagnostic conversations that she probably couldn’t have babies! 

Pregnancy

We were off on the pregnancy journey. She was “extra” about everything, but so far it was an easy time, going in monthly for doctor appointments and different tests. In her 4th month appointment, when she was excited to be feeling the baby soon, the doctor measured her and noticed she was smaller than she should be. When he went to check the heartbeat, he couldn’t find it. She called me. “Rosie, they can’t find the heartbeat, I’m getting an ultrasound” Neither of us considered what could have happened. 

I went as soon as I could find a babysitter. What devastation, she had lost her baby weeks before and carried it for almost a month. Why hadn’t a problem been detected? She had to schedule a D&C procedure to remove the baby. Can I describe my feeling and reaction as none? Numb? She had questions and I had no answers. Why? What if? 

Hospitals have too many procedures and medical needs to address one woman as her world is caving in around her. When I saw her, we spoke with our eyes. She would have a couple of days to recover and then resume her regular living. What was that supposed to be like now? Patty’s body recovered faster than her spirit, but our God was faithful and Marina was there

Before long, Patty was pregnant again. She carried Andrew James to term and held him in her arms. (In another post, when I’m feeling inspired, perhaps I’ll share the dramatical story of her pregnancy, labor and delivery) 

El Amor de Una Madre

Patty was in love, just imagine! El amor de una madre. She wanted to do all that she could for him and as he grew she turmoiled over the weight of life as a new mom. It hit her hard one day when he began crawling, then walking, that it was getting very difficult to keep up with him, she almost couldn’t. 

Our Ever-present Weight loss Battle

She believed that much of her ailments would be controlled or dissipate if she would only take her excessive weight off. More importantly to her, she’d be able to enjoy all those things that little boys like to do. Weight loss was always a conversation we circled. The weight battle has always been in the forefront with the Zepedas. Through the years we had seen some victories and felt the heavy weight of defeat. 

As Andrew quickly grew she was talking more and more about doing something drastic; a gastric bypass. It made total sense to her, a quick kick start to a new life. I was vehemently opposed, cutting away a portion of her stomach wasn’t going to check her habits. We were both extreme in our arguments and fought about this for a year. She was moving forward hoping I would see her side because she needed my support. How could I support something I didn’t believe in?

Patty was well into the Bariatric program, having been assessed and taken classes and controlled her eating, everything was moving forward but I wasn’t onboard. Just as she had lost weight in this program to prepare for the surgery, she could keep taking off the weight and change her habits. It was our battle to fight! 

She Needed Me

For Andrews birthdays I always planned the partys with Patty’s pocket book. Her continuous pain and fatigue made things difficult and I was used to these occasions.  Everything was completed in her program and she just needed to set her date. One day, I’m there in Party City getting decorations and she calls me. “Rosie I have something to tell you” Really? I stopped. “Que paso?” 

“Why won’t you support me in this? I need your help, I’m tired of this pain and weight. It’s an opportunity to get better for Andrew. Rosie please” And to my constant regret, between theme choices for the party, I caved. I told my beautiful sister to go ahead with her plan. What did I need to do? I did just exactly what she needed, she just wanted to hear my words of approval. That was that.

The party went off with only a few glitches and the surgery was scheduled for August. 

Life Altering Weight-loss Surgery

It is a common surgery, and it was very popular in those days. She had friends that were grossly obese and suddenly very thin and seemingly without complications. I on the other hand had known a couple of ladies who were quickly gaining their weight back, besides all the diarrhea and vomiting they experienced. 

On the week of the surgery, Patty made all her arrangements. She went out and bought all the needed liquid vitamins for days ahead. Andrew would be with me and his dad. She went to a hotel to make sure she wasn’t late for the time of registration and preparation for the surgery early the next morning. It was one of those rare occasions that my blingy beautiful sister was undone. No make up, her hair in a ponytail. No dinner, just quiet solemn conversation on what to expect. The doctor had warned her that it would be difficult in the beginning with only a liquid diet. 

She came out of surgery fine, but recovery was slow, she stayed longer than the 3 days. She was weak, which they said was all normal. Then she went home to recover and adjust to her new way of living. Not Marina or Lupe or I; her sisters, were able to go home with her as she recovered. She was having a difficult time and she was immensely discouraged that hardly any weight had come off after two weeks of a broth and soft food diet. Her doctor wanted to see her, but in the meantime she decided to go out for a cup of soup, consuming only the broth. In the middle of her dinner she needed to throw up, she was very weak and slowly managed to make it to the bathroom. Throwing up  continued through the night, in the morning her husband drove her to E.R. She was admitted because she was dehydrated. She called and left me a message that she was in the hospital. She said she was fine just dehydrated. I gathered myself together and so did my sisters and we went up to see her. Things happened so quickly and severely it couldn’t be happening! 

It was Monday, she was coherent and things seemed ok. My older sisters went home to get organized and plan a strategy to be in the hospital with her and help her. As the hours passed she was becoming incoherent. Nurses came in to explain in medical terms the problems in her blood. Low platelet count, low white blood cell count. a blood transfusion was needed. My brain wasn’t registering, and in those days, before taking care of my apa, I allowed myself to be intimidated by the professionals and their medical terminology. But what was wrong with my sister? Why was this happening? Finally! A nurse said that she had an unknown infection that had compromised her blood or what had caused it. By Tuesday night she was completely incoherent and agitated despite her little strength she pulled on tubes, she tossed and tried to turn. The hours passed as I watched my sister fight for her life. Every once in a while I would run out to get a nurse, because something beeped or she pulled a tube, by this point she had so many tubes and she was on so much medication. Ativan was the drug used to calm her down, her heart rate was dangerously high.

Rare Blood Infection

I still wouldn’t believe she was in danger of losing her life, I simply could not register this. This happened to other people. By Wednesday blood transfusions were increasing as the unknown infection had finally been revealed. TTP, a rare blood infection that prevailed over her body. I was keeping ominously calm. “Yes” I texted my friend, “She is getting dialysis, her kidneys have failed, they called  it sepsis because the infection has spread to her organs. Please keep praying” I watched helplessly through the night as her blood pumped through the dialysis machines to clean it from the dangerous toxins that had invaded her. Patty had her eyes open but she wasn’t seeing me or anything physical, but she was afraid and anxious, she spoke incoherent words and mumbled. I updated my sisters. It was late Wednesday night, Marina was trying desperately to return but her own husband had gotten into an accident and needed her help also, my calm responses made her feel that we would get through this and Patty would be fine, and she would be back in the morning. 

A Dark Night

When dialysis was complete, we went back to her room. During a long dark night, my sister fought for her life, her blood being attacked by this infection that permeated her body. In the early hours of Thursday, Patty loudly grunted like she was choking as she arched her body, I screamed for the nurse, she came rushing, pushing me out of the doorway. The entire hospital sounded the Code Blue alarm. Several other staff ran in filling the room with equipment and roughly giving orders. They caught her. They brought Patty back and rushed to get her into ICU. As we rushed to the ICU area and into a room, where she was going to get intubated  the doctor told me I would have to step outside. No! I didn’t want to separate from her, but they couldn’t let me stay. I pleaded with them to call me back as soon as they were done. 

ICU

While I waited I called my Benjamin, I called my sister Marina and I called my bestie, all those conversations and they weren’t calling me back in! I asked to go in and I was told to wait. I now know that my sister had gotten transferred around shift changes, just before 7am and all those preliminaries of the day had to be squared away. When I asked to go back with my sister again, they allowed me. I found Patty with A tube down her throat to help her breath. Monitors for her heart, drip medications going into her and my sister oblivious to what was happening. The nurse encouraged me to talk to her, it might be possible that she would hear me and calm down. You see, even though she seemed to be sleeping her heart was bursting with work effort, despite the ativan medication. Soon her husband arrived, I couldn’t tell him anything, then a friend of hers came in. I encouraged her to talk to her and let her know she was there. Marina was on her way back, a two hour drive. All we could do was stare at her, I tried to speak words, to get her to recognize me, Rosie, I was there with her. Patty had barely been in ICU a couple of hours, nurses came and went. Another nurse came in to check her heart rate and it was dangerously high again. She went to give her more medication and I stopped her. “What are you giving her now?” The nurse glanced over at me, “Oh it’s ok, it’s just medicine to calm her, it’s ativan” “Wait, she just had some, it’s too soon.” But the nurse hadn’t stopped, she was following doctors orders as she emptied the syringe into the IV tube. “It’s ok the doctor ordered it.” She went around her bed and continued her routine check up. Within minutes, I watched her blood pressure drop rapidly and the nurse saw it too. The machine went off again, and her heart had stopped. Doctors came rushing in, my brother in law and I watched as they manually pumped her heart, it was keeping her heart going. The doctor looked at me and said “We’ve been working on her for 13 minutes, she’s not responding” “Don’t stop!” I yelled “You can’t stop!” The doctor looked at Dave and they stopped. They let her go. I couldn’t believe they stopped. They stopped, she was gone. All that were in that room cleared out, the doctor was no longer addressing me, I was out of control. I ran in to help Patty. I climbed on top of her, as much as I could, put my face on her face and now my voice and prayers were being heard. “God! Like you heard Elisha, hear me! Bring my sister back. Give her life here again. God please bring her back.” I climbed on her a couple of times, so sorry to be hurting her some more, I was desperate. Maybe I had prayed wrong? Maybe I should line myself to her eye to eye, nose to nose… “Bring her back”. I groaned for my sister, how did I let this happen? I sat there, weeping.  My sister Marina walked in, staring, frozen. Patty’s hair was a mess, who let that happen? She had to fix it.  Patty wouldn’t appreciate people seeing her like this. As the news got out to the family they came into that little ICU room. 

Epilogue:

Three days, before her hospitalization, Patty and I had discussed death and dying. I was always the practical one in these discussions and she was always worried about the details of these things. She was feeling very emotional that night. “How should we get buried? Who would take care of our kids? Promise me that you’ll always keep Andrew close to you and your kids. Should we let our husbands take care of the details of our burial?”

Before we ended the conversation we prayed and asked God to give us his salvation and peace.

Andrew and Thomas (our babies)

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

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

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

Not Your Typical Open House

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

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

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

Our Large and Ever Growing Family

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

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

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

The New Mother In Law

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

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

La Cuarentena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and my brothers playing in the driveway

Epilogue:

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

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

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

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

40 years La Casa de la familia Zepeda