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An Epilogue of a Eulogy

The Last Page:

So today, it seems like I really turned the last page of Dad in my present. Is it possible to lose a parent at 55 and feel orphaned? I know, that’s weird, coming from a grandmother of 7. Losing dad seemed to unravel each of us (myself and my siblings). Who will keep us connected now? 

In order to stay away from the “should haves” (You know how it is when you look back at something, the “I should haves,” and the, “Porque no lo hice asi mejor? torment”) I’ve been on memory lane, any little thing will trigger a memory, and I’m choosing to bask in the good ones.

A memorial service is a big trigger. We celebrated my dad’s life surrounded by family; my flesh and blood and God’s family.

How do you sum up almost 100 years?

As I prepared for the memorial, I had to figure out what I would stand up and say. I think it’s the unspoken rule that Eulogies must be short and concise. Maybe because people can’t sit for too long, a service over an hour will make people fidgety and they start checking their phones.

I could tell everyone about the bloody grass cutting accident dad had, drama always keeps you listening huh? Ok, I’ll tell you this much. Dad was moving along cutting the grass, I was outside (my favorite place to be, outdoors) the loud noise of the lawn mower chugging along, when all of a sudden! (someone onced teased me, saying that Mexican Americans use the dramatic “all of a sudden!” a lot, when telling their stories, it fits right here) there’s a bang! And a clunk! The machine died, and there’s a wire clear through my dad’s ankle! Yikes! Then, Dad pulled it out, ARGH! with one yank (yes, if you’re grimacing, you should be, it was nasty) blood gushed out like crazy! Then Comadre Chala, who was also outside working on her plants came running, saw the mess and went and brought coffee grounds to stop the bleeding! (I know, leave it to the comadres to come up with the crazy remedies.)

Maybe I would have time to squeeze in some trivia and tell everyone that my dad ran for mayor in our little city of Calipatria! He might have won, not being a politician he wasn’t quite saavy, he was short on campaign funds, regardless,he was a well respected person in the community.

I pulled out memories to share with anyone that would listen, memories are at the tip of my tongue, but, in this moment I had to do it in 5-7 minutes. Which memory would tell the most about my dad? His strength, his good looks, his swag that could easily reveal a twinkle in his eye and a half smile.

The Eulogy

When I stood up to speak, I wondered out loud, how do you sum up almost one hundred years of living in a few minutes? Not possible. I wanted everyone to know what a strong man my dad was. They had to hear about the “conejos” that bounced up down inside mi apas bicep? He enjoyed watching our eyes get wide with excitement as we saw his muscles flexing. I wanted them to picture his vigor and sharp stance in his Levi jeans, cowboy boots and hat. I wanted everyone to feel the weight of his life experiences and be amazed at his perseverance.

In those short moments as I spoke, the memory of El Cocoy came forward, like he always did for dad, that victory was unforgettable. El Cocoy was the boy from his childhood, I told everyone why dad remembered him so well, then I forgot to circle back as the eulogy went on. I didn’t tell the story! How did I neglect dad’s favorite story? This story represented one of his strongest convictions.

El Cocoy, The Bully Who Pushed Dad To Stand

El Cocoy was the school bully. He was older and bigger and he was king of the school yard. You know the script, what he wanted he got. In that little mining town with those little boys the most he got was a marble or a taco, but for these little boys it was everything, and they couldn’t stop this punk from pushing them around. Dad was scared of him too, he had lost plenty of tacos and a marble or two to this stinking bully. When my dad told the story, he was like a little kid describing an insurmountable foe, his eyebrows coming together as he frowned at the memory. 

One day as the time for break was approaching, Senorita Marcelina (Dad said this teacher was a corajuda, yikes! He didn’t mess with her) assigned clean up of the pizarron to el Cocoy and released the other kids for their break. El Cocoy said “Que me ayude Zepeda” But dad was gone. He had jumped on an opportunity to enjoy the break without Cocoy taking something from him or threatening him, let Cocoy do the work, lazy bum! 

There he was enjoying his break, in perfect position to win a marble. Aiming, when all of a sudden, someone shoved him from behind and he went sprawling to the ground. (Dad usually positioned himself, arms pulled back, to mimic the hard shove he got that day)  He was mad. That’s too mild. He saw red, and without skipping a beat he stood up swinging. The boys were in a tangled mess, punching and grabbing at each other. Dad saw red again, this time for real, he saw blood and that fueled him on. (He never did clarify if his nose or Cocoys nose was bleeding) He went at Cocoy with ferocious strength. The kids in the yard were cheering and yelling until someone said, “Hay viene la maestra” and everyone dispersed. Senorita Marcelina grabbed each boy to separate them and sent them to the creek to wash up and get to class. At the creek dad eyed Cocoy, Cocoy eyed him. Dad said they were like dogs, with the hair on their necks raised, they almost growled, ready to pounce with any sudden move. They made it back to class and dad never again had trouble with El Cocoy.

That story seared a lesson into his brain that he passed on to us. He didn’t want us going around looking for fights, but he also didn’t want us cowering because of fear. He wanted us to fight for what was rightfully ours. Our position, reputation and our peace. 

What Will Hold Us Together Now?

When my mom passed  away 30 years ago the ties that held my family together loosened, now it seems as if they have almost come undone.

The day dad passed, I was right there in his room early in the morning, I didn’t know what else to do, I was losing my grip on family, crying, groaning from the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t fix my family and dad was leaving! 

Thankfully, God’s not easily offended, he put himself right there in the midst of us and  handled my complaint. I was tired and he comforted me as I groaned in sorrow. Then, I felt pressed to make a pact with my dad about my siblings. I was torn and weary, I didn’t want to work so hard  for relationship, I wanted to hide behind the wall of pride. But, I went to his bedside, and as I heard dad struggling to breath, the oxygen failed to give him what he needed.

With Jesus as our witness I told my dad between sobs that I loved my siblings, that I did need them, it was so hard to tell them to their face though and I needed strength that was way beyond my capability. I told my dad not to worry, I promised him that I would never give up. Promising to love, pray and reach out to my siblings just as my ama would want, then dad went home to rest that afternoon.

Cafecito Con Mi Ama – Memories of My Mother

Slow down and smell the coffee:

Coffee is a big deal these days. It can almost lose its lustre as everyone seems to need their coffee break at their special coffee place, with their special coffee concoction. An extra shot of this or that and of course grande is not big enough anymore. I too participate in that all American tradition of imbibing coffee with my amigas o mi hija or someone I love. I think that the whole of the coffee experience is best enjoyed with a loved one.

Cafe de la Olla is not as potent as todays espresso coffees:

Somewhere in my experiences is a sweet little memory of having my first cup of coffee con mi Ama. As a conscientious American I squirm a little when I see little children taking sips of coffee from their parents cup; I mean little tots even! (My “I already raised 4 kids” know it all attitude raises it’s ugly head, do these parents not realize that coffee sips can increase their levels, of everything)  I was little but not so little! And, my coffee was not expresso laced.

Canela captures your senses

One late afternoon I came home tired from a hard day of play. (These were the days before computers, and video games, when it was hard to get kids to get inside!) I thought I was getting home right smack in the middle of moms novelas, so I figured I would slide by quietly and unnoticed. (I just heard everyone catch their breath at my nerve! Or bravery? Really, it was more like foolishness. Who in their right mind messes with Novela Time?) As I opened the front door a whiff of canela captured my nostrils, mom was sitting at the kitchen table, with her cafecito. Oh Oh…

“Donde estabas? Y tu suera?” 

“Jugando. We were at the park playing, I didn’t need my sweater. Se acabo la novela?”  

“Si” 

El Cafecito:

She sat there stirring her coffee, nice and creamy with a nice blended aroma. I wanted to try it, I didn’t remember her coffee smelling this good before. I sat and stared at her until she offered me some.

“Quieres?”

“Cafe? Esta bueno?”

She told me it was her “special blend” and had me get my own coffee cup out of the cupboard. Wow! A special blend. On the stove was a small pot with boiling water and cinnamon sticks. (BTW, cinnamon sticks were essential in my amas kitchen, they brought comfort in more ways than in foods)

 “Be careful, don’t spill it and pour some into your cup, not full.” (Remember, instructions from your Mexican mom are gonna be like this; no kind of measurements) 

I poured my cinnamon water, not carefully, but messily and slowly walked over to the table with my steaming cup of cinnamon tea. 

“Echale una cucharadita de cafe, no mucho”

So I stuck a teaspoon into the instant coffee; Nescafe, but just before I dumped the heaping teaspoon into the steaming tea, she calmly grabbed it and poured some coffee grounds back before letting me mix it. I stirred it and watched it. I had expected that  it was gonna look creamy like hers did. 

“Ama, porque esta negro?” 

“Le falta la leche de clavel”

She reached back to the counter and poured some evaporated milk; Carnation brand into my cup, it was thick and creamy as it filled my cup. I was ready to sip like she had, but again she stopped me.

“Tambien le falta la azucar sino va estar amargo”

Ugh! I didn’t want bitter coffee, I wanted the sweet blended drink she was having. 

“Yum”

Coffee time with someone you love:

Then, she really floored me and shared some Dona Maria cookies, we usually cleared out the cupboards immediately when sweets were present, an easy task when she still had 6 kids at home. This was her secret stash. As I was dipping my galleta into my cafecito she said,

“Hoy fue el fin de la novela” 

No wonder! The grand finale of her novela had just closed and I could live on! I had never been in danger of the novela wrath. She was having her coffee break before starting dinner. Somehow my busy little self stopped to recognize that this was a rare moment; a break for mom and coffee with her special milk which I got to be a part of. And, it was all topped off with her recap of her novela as we sipped our coffee. I was hooked!

Cafe con mi Ama, a rare, sweet, treasured treat!

Seasons of Life – The Next Chapter of Motherhood

One Life Transition at a Time

I am pro marriage. I’m pro marrying at a young age. You know, where a young man can experience life with the wife of his youth. We married young (sort of, though not as young as our kids).
Having a good marriage, a good husband and beautiful kids, I should have leaped at the chance to see my own children experience marriage like us, in God’s path. I did not. When love came courting our two adult kids I wanted to pull our welcome mat inside. Maybe because I was still adjusting to parenting adult children. Maybe because I loved our crazy, cozy family of six, (my goodness! I was barely adjusting to my first born being “Mr. Independent” Isn’t there a rule in life that says “one life transition at a time”?). I was afraid of the unknown, that fear is a part of life and you face it, right? But the rejection I perceived, that was a different demon. Love’s sweet song came and it screamed at me.

I would be forgotten

This winter marks ten years of our children marrying and starting their own families, apart from me. (My daughter would say “Not ten mom. I’ve been married nine years”). Pero, I’m counting the year before, when they made a choice for their life partner and marriage. Facing the reality that my two older children were gonna leave me and embrace another family was wrenching! (I was so emotional, some would say que exagerada! but the loss I felt was no exaggeration) I ached at the thought that when they married into “the other family” I would be forgotten, an afterthought. Listen, I want you to feel me here, please. My son (our first born) was getting married at the end of January 2012 and then the following week my daughter (our only daughter) would marry.

Two Weddings, Two Bridal Showers and Two Rehearsal Dinners

The public display of engagements rocked my world as they declared their love and commitment. I entered into work and planning mode. The details of both weddings overwhelmed me in one sense but kept me from melting down in another. Two weddings, two bridal showers, two rehearsal dinners. I pressed in.

A problem with the venue? Sorted out. A problem finding the most beautiful dress in San Diego? Mission accomplished! A mix up with the invitations? Fixed. Favors? Agreed upon. Feeding the 200 guests? No problem. An issue with the mother of the groom? (wait! that was me) An issue with the mother of the bride? (Also me). As the wedding mines exploded (Man, issues came up even throughout the wedding day!), we navigated through the rubble and put on two simple (HA! not in my eyes) and sweet weddings with two beautiful brides and dashing grooms.

Then life stopped moving, both my kids were gone. The whirlwind had settled and we were left with the guests, their noisy congratulations and the clean up. While I was unraveling I couldn’t see my Benjamin’s sad heart (Which is usually hard to do with quiet, in control people anyway) until I heard it.

Who Gives This Woman to be Married…

My husband, Steady Eddie (I call him a cold blooded Englishman, because he seems so unmoved and unemotional most times ) was giving his only daughter away to another man. I had teased him through the years of raising our daughter about him loving another girl. She was the apple of his eye and I saw how much he cherished her.
Ben tried to prepare himself for the part of the ceremony of “who gives this woman to be married to this man”. He searched for a song that would declare his heart and found the country song “I loved her first”. This is how he was going to give her to her new love. He would publicly declare his love and release her. (What?! such a public display of emotion) I wondered if he would go through with it.

On that February morning I saw just how difficult this give away was for him. When our pastor asked, “Who gives this woman (que woman! our little girl!) to be married to this man?”

I Loved Her First

Ben stood up and walked to the front of the pulpit and before all guests he sang . My unemotional husbands voice cracked as he quietly sang “I loved her first, I held her first, and a place in my heart will always be hers…” and it seemed like everyone in the room ached with him. I had been so busy trying to survive, that I never looked over at Daniella’s daddy until he gave her away.

When it was all over, we entered another stage of our lives and we moved toward adjusting to the quietness of our home. Now, I could see that we all (my two little boys felt her absence as well) were feeling a void. I wrote this as I relived my Benjamins part in his daughter’s ceremony:

Bens Little Love

Ben wanted a daughter; so sweet and soft.

Ben held his breath, he hoped and he prayed.

He peered at his baby, a wee little girl.

Immediately a new kind of love forged between

father and daughter as he held her first.

His eyes bright with awe as he looked at this bundle

Sweet little mouth, tiny little hands, wispy strands of hair

She wanted momma, and he patiently waited

She wanted up and he anxiously lifted her

She wanted more and he graciously gave it.

What a pleasure it was to give to his daughter

She took all that he gave

Our sweet handmaid had eyes only for him

Then one day, she grew up and loved another

He loved her so much, he must step out of the way

She still was his princess, always his princess

Ben’s Princess Remains…

After a decade, the three beautiful little grand-princesses prancing around us have brought joy to us for sure, but it is quite evident that Ben’s princess remains in her place within his heart. By the way, she’s giving back now. Three beautiful grandsons (I know I should describe them as handsome, but to Ama, they’re also beautiful!)

Wedding Bells and the Introduction to the Hall of In-Laws

I was a very little girl when I first heard the term sister in-law. I wasn’t sure what exactly that meant. Somehow when my brother got a wife, I would get another sister, and the law was going to be involved.

I wondered if she was going to give me the same bossy big sister  attitude that my other three sisters already enforced? “Rosie, bring me some water.” “Rosie, subele al la tele. I can’t hear it” Rosie this, Rosie do that. (How many big sisters could a 8 year old handle anyway?)

Just as I was wrapping my head around the idea, I was informed that I was to be a flower girl in the wedding. Ugh! A flower girl! What was that? It didn’t sound good, sounded like a sissy-lala girly mess and I wasn’t going to have a choice in the matter! Yikes! This in-law thing was heavy.

Bridezilla

My soon to be sister…inlaw….was uptight, I wondered what life was going to be like with her in the family. Of course I didn’t know then, what I know now and that is, almost every soon to be wife goes through with another ceremony known as the Bridezilla metamorphosis. I did, my bestie/maid of honour will confirm it without hesitation. My own sweet sweet daughter scared me at one point, but I’d never admit that. (She was a beautiful Bride but ‘Zilla’ affected her quiet nature.)

Pretty can be painful

The day before the wedding, all the girls in the wedding party were giddy with excitement as they were primped and prettied. I was miserable and uncooperative. Cual fue mi pecado, that I should have to endure such silliness? Then it was my turn, everyone was excited to see how the hairdresser would transform my thick wiry long hair (BTW, long hair was my moms rule) into a beautiful hairdo.

I was mad, my lips stuck out, my eyebrows knitted together and I squirmed with every pull of my hair.  She gave me gum, which helped distract me as she pulled and separated strands of my hair and rolled them in the curlers. If my chewing annoyed her, she didn’t show it, but of course my big sisters warned me when I would pull the gum out and stretch it as thin as I could, then pop it back into my mouth. I chewed that piece of gum all day long, took it out to eat then back again.  At one point in the busy day my almost sister in-law warned me about not going to bed with the gum in my mouth. I kept getting in trouble every time I itched my head because of the curlers in my hair.

Everyone was busy, I was tired, so I was sent to bed to get me out of their hair. The gum was forgotten as I fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up with gum stuck on the curlers through my hair! Everyone panicked and I was rushed to the hairdresser. (I can almost hear the siren of their distress). They all watched in suspense as she carefully clipped the gum out of my hair and released my hair from the curlers and pronounced in victory, I would still be a pretty little  flower girl. ARGH! I felt like I needed another gum.

Walking down the aisle

I walked down the aisle, in my white poofy dress and big hairdo, tossing flower petals to the ground. I heard a lady say, “Que bonita esta!” (I was very self controlled with a pasted smile and no rolling of the eyes- I mean, how could I not be with my big sisters watching me) the bride was behind me, stepping on my petals, radiant and beautiful. As I tossed rose petals to the ground I walked into in-law-ness and it seemed kind of bleak to me. 

Sister in-law

What else would this sister-in-law make me do? Relatives by marriage were to be handled with special care and somehow I already knew it. So I practiced the new role to a fault, saying the wrong things, not understanding the family connection and pretty much dismissing it, I had too many people bossing me around already and I only had one little brother to boss and he wasn’t letting me.

Becoming the In-law

Then at 22 it was my turn to become an outlaw. That’s what my husband’s family call the relatives who connect through marriage. I felt especially outlawed since I thought, that they thought, I was way out there from different land.  A Mexican-American from the West Coast who met their son in his Pentecostal church! (How much more convoluted could this get?)

In-law, Outlaw, Gringo-law?

I was kind of used to in-law-ness from a little sister perspective, now I was facing brother-in-laws who were gringos and I was the first brown Greene. They were nice, polite and quiet. (hmmm why was that?) My bottom line, they were sangrones. Stuck up, keeping me at arms length was their way of letting me know my place.

I can see my bestie, throwing her hands up in frustration at my interpretations and all I can say today is that, that I was wr…wrong.. But those kind of thoughts are real, they will can take you for a roller coaster ride if you let them, unfortunately, I did go on that ride a few times and after 32 years of being Mrs. Greene I still get that invitation for that nasty ride sometimes. 

Could our worlds come together?

The daughter in-law role was especially scary for me. Just thinking of it made me awkward and nervous. Of course I was on a one track mind, she knows I’m Mexican! (You can take this Mexican out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of this Mexican)

Soon after we got engaged my mother in-law introduced herself in a letter, since I wouldn’t meet her until the day before the wedding. Through her letter she welcomed me into her family. I’m sure she did this to put me at ease, to break the ice maybe, but instead it added to my anxieties about having a mother in-law that was another color, another economic status and she was so cool and calm. Scary.

In her letter she said she looked forward to meeting and knowing me; I was to be her first daughter! What?! I couldn’t be another mothers daughter!  

What’s in a name?

How was I supposed to address her? She wasn’t my mother, or my peer, and she certainly was not my friend. (Was that even allowed anyway?)

In my world, my sister-in-law simply called my Mom, Suegra, or by her nickname Dona Chuy, short for Maria de Jesus. Can you picture me calling my quiet poised white mother in-law suegra? Or worse, greeting her with, “Hello mother-in-law.” After we were married I avoided calling her anything, in fact I just avoided her! I was super thankful that she lived clear across the country. I did ask my husband what he thought I should call her and he suggested I ask her, as if it was easy (he didn’t know I was practicing social distancing). She graciously said to me “You can call me mom, or Nancy, whatever you’re most comfortable with.”

Well, I was most comfortable with not addressing her at all! 

She is clothed in strength and dignity

She was quiet, and serious looking. Quiet people tend to make me a bit nervous and I end up talking too much. (Which is crazy or providential because my husband, my daughter, my daughter inlaw and my bestie are quiet, calm people. Thankfully, God arranged enough crazy and loud friends in my life to keep me in reality.) Of course I analyzed her quiet nature through my brown shades and also judged her as sangrona, imagining her to be stern and not wanting anything to do with the likes of me. My mother in-law was gracious and kind to me. She had once been a new daughter in-law and was now navigating through her own new mother in-law role.

I was the new Mrs.Greene who was too careful and worked too hard at being a mature wife.  I was hoping that I looked pretty and poised next to her son. I practiced what my Ama had taught me, and took care of my husband, serving him first. Inside I felt like a lost little Mexican girl amongst all the white folks, all 4 of them. My mother in-law graciously let me find my place in my new family.

Nancy, is what I settled with. I wasn’t comfortable, but it felt better than anything else. I eventually learned that my mother in-laws’ mannerisms were, just that, her mannerisms, and not a judgment against me or about me, (as my dear friend would say, “it’s not always about you Esa!”) What she gave her son, she gave also to me.  At Christmas she gave me gifts just as thoughtfully as she gave to her son. Then soon after, she thoughtfully gave to our kids, her grandkids and reward.

In the few short years of our relationship  she wrote me letters and sent birthday cards. In her non-intrusive way she demonstrated her care and her confidence in us. My mother taught me how to make tortillas and my mother in-law taught me how to bake bread. 

Nancy was a Martha Stewart before Martha Stewart, very creative and artistic. I’m grateful that our children got those genes. I still have the lovely painting she made just for me when I was just a wee little bride; Posies for Rosie.

Posies for Rosie by Nancy Greene 1988

Crowned a Mother in-law

Now I am a mother-in-law. I can almost walk back into my mother-in-law’s shoes and clearly read the caution signs she must have seen. What a minefield this relationship can be and seeing all the explosives doesn’t make it easier. Once I had questioned every move or look from my mother-in-law and now, I’m aware of every tone I use and every look I give.

My personality is outspoken, when needed, I can be aggressive, and a momma bear. My daughter in-law is quiet, sometimes timid and soft spoken, she has an air of sweetness about her that adds to her natural beauty. I look past her timidity and see how graceful she can be and am not at all surprised at how very much my son loves her. 

I wanted to embrace my daughter in-law and welcome the newest Mrs. Greene into the family but I truly felt that I would suffocate her, (hugging is something I already do very awkwardly). I didn’t want to scare her, anymore than she already was. I had been in her shoes, so I didn’t do much at all, except smile in my gruff Zepeda way, because I needed her to know I wasn’t angry, I just looked it sometimes.

God seems to always connect me with opposites. My daughter in-law and I have come a long way, as we’ve worked out our relationship, we’ve discovered that our vastly different personalities and generation gap can still manage to produce good family ties and wonderful friendship. 

I thank God always for these incredible opportunities and connections in the in-law world.

The Anticipation and Right of Passage of Becoming a Grandmother

(Or an Ama)

Rewards:

You all know what a reward is right? Something given to recognize your service, your effort or achievement. (Just in case, I’ll clarify that in this particular writing, I’m talking about a positive reward, not like a judgement, “like you get what you had coming”) I think deep down inside we all want to be rewarded for our efforts sometimes. Well, I know I do.

Have you ever known you’re getting a reward? Maybe a gift? You mentally plan your reaction, you practice the words you’ll say in gratitude. And, has it happened that you didn’t get it after all?? Or, maybe you had to wait longer for it. Oh the shock and disappointment.

Expectation

It happened to me. I was even given a date as to when to expect this gift. I considered it my recompense for all I’d “suffered” in the previous season. (I’m not inspired to write about that previous season yet.) 

Gracias, muchas gracias

My head exploded as I waited in anticipation for my reward. It would be another lane in my race to the finish, oh, but it gave me adrenaline, Andale pues, echale ganas! I was getting revved up for this. Of course I wasn’t sure how I should prepare, but I was excited for this. I tried not to hover over the gift givers. I tried not to track them, or over react to their actions. I wanted to appreciate them as they were gonna give so grand a gift.

A January Surprise

As I patiently waited for the appointed date, my husband surprised me with the great news that we would take a quick trip to our Prescott bible conference. (a six day span and six hour drive) Yay! A much needed time. Wait!? We couldn’t leave. Yes we could. Maybe we shouldn’t, yet there was plenty of time, it was twelve days before my appointed time. I consulted and reconsulted with Ben and anyone who would listen, I assured myself that everything would go as planned. How could it not?

Smooth Sailing

I love it when things go as planned. I had all my packing done on time and we were on the road as scheduled (It was a good sign) We arrived in Prescott having seen the beautiful cap of white shimmering snow on the mountain top excited for our winter conference, January 7-11, I was ready to hear from God :D. We went to the opening service that night and we knew it was gonna be incredible and for a moment I forgot about my gift back home.

Early morning call

I was enjoying peaceful sleep when my phone buzzed; 6am. My son was calling to tell me that they were on the way to the hospital. What?! It wasn’t time. What could be wrong? First babies didn’t arrive early, besides I wasn’t even there. I wasn’t even there! Ben was awake, which was good because I needed to go home, he needed to take me. I was supposed to be there. It wouldn’t take me long to throw everything in the suitcase now. Ben was groggy, but he was awake and he clearly told me we weren’t leaving. I had to leave. Didn’t he care? My first grandchild was perhaps already on the way, and I was in the mountains of Arizona!! I would get a flight, I needed a ride to phoenix. I wanted to be present, why couldn’t he understand? Why wasn’t Jonathan calling me back? Maybe it was a false alarm, that was certainly possible. He called me, they were keeping her, she was in active labor and I wasn’t there.What could I do? How quickly could I get home? 

DON’T TELL ANYONE!

I was worried (especially since I wasn’t there) but Jonathan put a restriction on me, (What? Kids don’t restrict parents!) he didn’t want me to tell anyone yet. I didn’t listen, I called my dear friend and asked her to pray. Then, I called my big sister. She said “Do you want me to go for you?” (That’s how she is you know, always looking out for me) Ben’s calm nature always calms me in my most difficult moments and it did this time also.

Labor and Delivery

The entire day, my first born was pretty good about calling me and letting me know the progress, my reward was coming down that birthing canal while I heard the preaching, but I was intently listening to the buzzing of my phone. When we returned in the evening, he called while I was praying (very distracted in that prayer meeting I must confess, a one track prayer that night) He suggested I find someone with an iphone so I could see this historical Greene moment at least via Facetime (He wanted me there too, I should be there! How could this be happening?) 

I found my friend and she released her iphone to me, and I saw my son’s face on the day he was to become a daddy; beautiful excitement, anticipation and some anxiousness on his handsome face. Then he turned the phone to my laboring daughter inlaw (so sweet, in that difficult painful moment, she was politely greeting me 😀 ) Denise’s face grimaced as she said she needed to push and I heard her mommas voice in the background. It was good, she should be there. My son turned the phone back to him explaining that he would show me as soon as the baby came out. He was hoping for a boy, I still didn’t know if I wanted a grandson or granddaughter, I don’t think that mattered too much, this baby was coming and we would know soon enough. Push. Rest. Push, this went on for a while, then, all the way from my location in the Prescott Conference tent I heard the commotion (I was kind of, sort of there) and saw my first grandchild. That beautiful little baby was a part of me? Oh Yes! She opened a whole new chapter in my life. She crowned me Ama :D. It was only the second night of the conference but I was ready to go home again. I needed to claim my reward.

Epilogue

Can there be epilogues in blog posts? Because this story has one. See, of course I didn’t go home, I impatiently waited for the conference to conclude and did manage to glean God’s blessing from it. When Friday came around I was excited. I would be ready really early Saturday so we could head home. As the day progressed I was feeling a cold was coming on. By the time we rolled into San Diego Saturday afternoon, the cold had come along for the ride and a sore throat with it. We went to see our first granddaughter.By this point, five days later, everyone but one loyal friend had held her before me/us (She told me she was going to wait for me to hold her first, I loved her more for that sacrifice :D) Now I watched as my husband held our sweet baby. How could I begrudge him, he had been anxious for this moment too. I gave my daughter in law the gifts I bought (shopping for my nieta had helped me as I waited to see her, great therapy). I knew I needed to wait a few more days to hold her and snuggle her, and smell her sweet breath and kiss her tiny toes. 

Maricella Sierra Greene born January 8, 2013. Rosalba Z. Greene aka Ama 😀 eventually held her reward before January was snuffed out into the past.

Mi Apa – Manuel Zepeda Solano

Don Manuel

My dad went home on a Sunday afternoon; December 20th at 2:15 (He asked everyday when he would go home). He had just turned the corner into his 96 birthday. I don’t think a short post can uncover much about the life of a 96 year old man, so this is only a snippet of his journey here on earth.

Manuel, my apa, was born just after the Mexican Revolution (The Mexican Revolution! Pancho Villa?! Wow! I was super intrigued to know that his grandfather and father had been in and around the fringes of that dangerous era.) The Revolution had brought government changes and economic changes for some, but in the end, El Pobre remained poor and struggling. In those days Mexico was bursting with riches in precious metals; gold and silver and he always said “Los Americanos supieron como sacarlo” because the Americans had the money and knowledge to invest in those gold mines. In the Central Mexican hills and valleys of Jalisco through the quick response and hustle of the Americans, a mining town was birthed; El Mineral del Amparo. (My dad always said “los gringos”, I discovered that it was the description of all the whites; European and American who lived and worked in the town). He would share his stories with me during our visits and when he splashed history facts I always went home to research them. One day, as he began to tell me another story, I mentioned how impressed I was about his knowledge of history, I thought I was being generous by telling him that his facts were right, according to Google. With a twinkle in his eye and not a little indignation, he laughed and said “You’re double checking my facts on my history?” Yikes!)

My grandfather brought his new wife to El Amparo and here they started their life together, The Mining Company was his way of surviving outside of working in an hacienda. My dad was the first of nine children. (Since most Mexican families were this large, it’s not something to wow over,) As I heard some stories, I have been amazed at the resilience of man. My abuelo worked hard in the mines and my abuela was very resourceful helping ends meet in the home. Tortillas and frijoles, essentials in every Mexican home.

El Amparo

Dad shared many stories and descriptions of his childhood in this little mining town. Here it is hidden in the valleys, obscure, yet not without culture. He told me of the cinemas and theatres,  the large mercado, the mill for grinding maiz, Don Lucios ice cream shop and, the taxi driver (really, it sounded more like Uber, before Uber :D) See the town had to be outfitted for the Americans that lived there and the working Mexicans mostly enjoyed it from afar, but every once in a while with a centavo or two my dad would go right smack in the middle of the town square and partake. There in the center of it all, the boys would enjoy a game of canicas, a time to gamble their marbles.  Whenever he described it, it was always with a bit of pride that he too had experienced the rich culture of society; he went to the cinema a time or two and he saw the theatre from afar.

Wandering

My Dad wanted to see more of the world. He visited his grandfather who ran a huerta and learned about planting and harvesting. For a season he wandered trying to find his place in the world, picking up various farming skills along the way. Then, he heard the call for el Norte and responded immediately. Baja California was the bridge that brought him into Los Estados Unidos de America.

Familia

Dad went back home to Jalisco and got married, had two boys and went back to Baja, (Wow! What happened to the love story right? That’s for another post) where he spent a few years living in Mexicali and working across the border. It was probably a good transition time for mom, besides, she was busy having babies! During this time their family grew from four to eight (They were a fruitful couple, and they weren’t done because two more would come, pero, on the other side :D)

Settling Down

He landed in the Imperial Valley and stayed for the next seventy years! He connected with men, patrones that gave him learning opportunities. He learned about agriculture and intricate details of the irrigation system for watering the fields and he also learned about horses and machinery. He earned his way most of his life this way. He worked for the city of Calipatria, he was a night watchman for a cattle company, he had lots of work experience. (You can imagine my reaction when the young man trying to get details on his death certificate said can we write that he was a “farm hand”. All that wealth of experience reduced to that?!) My dad’s favorite experiences were with horses and sheep. One of those patrones hired him to herd sheep in the mountains of Utah. Although it was a lonely job, he loved the whole vaquero swag. His companion in those months out in the cold Sierra mountains was a sheep dog named Cazam. He had already started sporting the cowboy hat and Levi jeans but this season seemed to legitimize his stilo and honestly, it suited him well, my apa was a handsome fellow.

Manuel Zepeda Solano

Celebrate with Pozole

What is Pozole?

As simple as it is, Pozole is our go to festive food. If you live in border cities, or states, like California with a high population of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, you will be surrounded, entrenched in Mexican food. With the popular meals like tacos, burritos and the comfort foods of Mexican traditions; like tamales and pozole. Let me make it clear, pozole is a highly celebrated holiday tradition. Pozole for Christmas, pozole on birthdays, and pozole to ring in the New Year!

Is it a soup?

What is pozole? I hate to call it a soup, but Wikipedia and a few others sources called it soup or a stew?!! I feel that judgment from all of those people who put pozole high on their list of  special occasion foods. How could I even write it? There’s more. Out there in the world wide web, I saw it described as a Mexican corn soup (Oh My Goodness! SMH)

(I remember, my son’s teacher warned him about where he got his info, and every time I search I can almost feel her disapproval at my source. Maybe I’ll just stick to my wealth of experience as I write about pozole)

Un Caldo

Pozole is made with either pork, chicken or beef (My friend Inez taught me her recipe that combined all three meats, I do enjoy that three meat pozole, but traditionally most people stick to one meat per pot).

I’m looking around me, a little worried that someone’s gonna catch me as I write, because I have to succumb to that description of pozole, caldo (is that better than the English version; soup?) What would you call pork and grano, that’s the hominy, simmering in a dry California chile sauce and meat broth, sprinkled with spices? It is not a thick sauce, it’s soupy. (Yea, that’s why I’m settling with the soup description) It is another one of those humble meals that goes a long way, our families tend to be big and Mexicans love to feed everybody! 

Tamales y Pozole

Many of our feasts are tamales and pozole (has a nice ring huh? I can almost hear my sons coming up with a little jingle. “Tamales y pozole, tamales y pozole, and a happy new year!) Pozole has a nice aroma as it’s cooking and the sauce, which is a soup apparently, has a nice spicy flavor, garlic and cumin enhance the flavor.  

Still, it must be garnished properly for the full effect. A nice bowl of steaming pozole topped with finely chopped cabbage and cilantro, diced onion and sliced ravanos; something about the after bite that radishes add to the pozole makes them a nice garnish. Sprinkle on some limon y sal, pass the tortillas, y “Entrale!”

Then go back for seconds, mi Ama would have it no other way.

Flash Back to New Years Eve 33 Years Ago

December 31, 1987

 Ride the Inspiration Wave

I have this nagging feeling as I write these posts. Why? Because my daughter Daniella (also known as my Techy girl) said that I just need to write as I am inspired! Well, that has thrown me off my track! I wanted to set this whole thing up in a chronological order and that was supposed to show you how my life evolved into a Greene lifestyle.

Guess what? Today’s date: New Year’s Eve has inspired me, which means, I’m fast forwarding and skipping for now, all those important chapters. (Who knows, I might get inspired to tell you all about my move to San Diego 36 years ago, when I discovered there were other brown people, and they were not called Mexicans!) But, for now I am stirred to tell you about the day I said yes to my gringo 😊.

Dating

He was a sailor and out to sea often, and I was working 2 jobs. We struggled, shuffling our schedule around to make dates and spend time together. One New Year’s Eve, after dating my Benjamin for about 6 months, (I cannot leave out the detail that we had known each other for 2 years and had already dated, broken up and gotten back together. His gringo-ness scared me, but this time I dated him already knowing I was ready for more.)

On New Years Eve, 1987, I was looking forward to a nice dinner and just some quality time with him. He was taking me to a fancy restaurant (another detail: when we dated the first time around, he had to teach me all about utensil etiquette, I mean, why would I need two different kinds of forks? And why did he put his cloth napkin on his lap, what was it for anyway?).

I wanted to look pretty, beautiful was too high a target for my simple self, but my roomie helped me put together a classy look. I wanted him to see me shine! I wanted him to know I loved him; I was just too scared to admit it.

He picked me up in his 1963 Econoline van and we went to Sea Port Village. It was a beautiful night. He took me to an expensive Seafood restaurant were I ordered chicken. I followed his lead to make sure I did not make any etiquette bloopers in that fancy restaurant.

Benjamin is a quiet guy. I am not quiet, and I certainly wasn’t that night. I was chatting away, catching him up on all of the news he had missed while he was out to sea, (the important stuff, you know, like who was dating who). He seemed so nervous. I picked up on it and then I felt awkward. All of a sudden, he said, “Let’s go walk” I was thrown off, but agreed.

He was jittery and I was getting sullen, wondering why he was behaving weird. The night was failing. As we walked along the boardwalk the fireworks started and I allowed myself to enjoy them. I was hoping that maybe we would have a romantic moment. I turned to smile at Ben, and he wasn’t next to me, so I had to turn completely around, looking for him.

Right there, so public an act, my quiet Benjamin was on one knee with a ring box in his hand. My hands went to my face in shock as he said, “Rosie, will you marry me?”

No wonder those fireworks were so beautiful that night. The night another wonderful chapter in my life opened. 

Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

A Well Balanced Tamal

Wrapping up 2020 with another tamal post. ‘Tis the season is it not?

How Much Masa is enough?

Recently my focus on tamales has heightened since it’s Christmas time. One of the great debates about tamales is the masa to filling ratio. While tasty masa is important to the overall quality of a tamal, too much of it can drown out the flavor and spices of the filling. I find myself in a quandary; do I acknowledge the reasonable argument that equal portions lends to a well rounded tamal experience, or do I stay loyal to the tradition of my Ama: Tasty chubby tamales with a savory filling.

California Tamales

I grew up eating my mothers “big fat” tamales that had to be tied at each end to keep them together. Huge tamales with a thick layer of masa filled with chicken cooked in anaheim chiles and strong spices of comino and pepper seasonings. They were embellished with a carrot and potato stick, a sprig of cilantro, a jalapeno strip and of course a green olive embedded somewhere in it. (Try tying one of those Fattys with the wet corn husk ties, my fingers just got stiff with the memory)  l’m not sure if it’s a California, or a Baja California thing. I think it was more like a metamorphosis, as my mother settled first in Mexicali, Baja California from Jalisco Mexico. Then, after thirteen years and four more kids the family came across to the Imperial Co. California. However it happened, so long as the masa was tasty, I didn’t mind the huge tamales, especially the next day and mi ama would fry those tamales in oil and let them simmer until they got a little crunchy. She’d serve the crispy tamal with fried eggs and refried beans. I would top them with her salsa or maybe some jalapenos. This might not sound too healthy, but my taste buds are swelling with delight and my mind swarms with the images of my sweet mama serving her family on Christmas morning.  

A Different Tamal

You can imagine the stiffness I felt as my cunada, an “out-law” (as my husband’s family likes to call all of us in-laws) schooled me on the technique of a thinner layer of masa . She gently informed me that people actually preferred a skinny tamal! “The trick was just enough masa so as to not overpower the delicious meat filling.” 

Of course, in my struggle for loyalty to tradition, and to my mother, I resisted the idea for a time. Could people who made skinny tamales be trusted? Were they not cheating the tamal lover out of the tasty masa? Or worse! Maybe, they didn’t want to bother with making nice, smooth masa?. 

Masa to filling ratio is “just enough tasty masa” to be able to stand alone if it happens to face those taste buds first. Along with the fact that most tamal lovers want to cut into a tamal and see it filled with their delicious filling.

Tradition lives on!!!

I’ve accepted the technique of spreading the right amount of masa and recognize it as a legit method. I appreciate the lesson from my cunada, a true tamalera, who has expanded my horizons as far as making tamales goes. However, my loyalty to mi Ama is fixed. Tradition bids me to also make my tamales gorditos with flavorful masa that has good texture filled with a delicious savory chicken; estilo mi ama. 

As they get eaten, I am glad that my mom’s tamales live on.

Tamale Conversations With My Dad

Good Memories are essential

One beautiful sunny San Diego afternoon, I took Dad out to get his vitamin D; sunshine and fresh air. My apa is 96 years old and suffers from dementia  and needs full time care. This day he was enjoying the birds and the garden. Right there, in the midst of the birds and the butterflies,  all of a sudden, it hit me that I knew nothing about my father’s tamal experiences!

(Ya se, Ya se! I know you’re wondering why tamales are so important. Well because, tamales have become quite relevant to me lately as I’ve discovered “purchasing tamales” I feel your SMH disbelief, for this Mexican American girl, but I’ve become acquainted with Texas Lone Star Tamales, and I’ve tasted and enjoyed the luxury of eating delicious tamales that I didn’t labor over.)

 I had to know something about mi apas tamal experiences. How was that possible? Maiz, masa, tortillas, these were an important part of my dad’s daily life. I’m sure there had to be a tamal story in all those memories.

Traigan los tamales!

I threw the tamal conversation out, pushing dad to unwrap those memories.  

“Apa do you like tamales? Did your mother; mi abuela Rosario, make them?” 

Of course, I knew she had to make tamales, I felt silly to even ask.

 Dad drew his eyes away from the chirping birds to answer the obvious. 

“Yes I do, and she did.” 

He turned his head back to the singing of the birds, I could tell tamales didn’t start up the engine of his memory train, he needed another boost.

“Apa, what was it like?” 

He looked at me like I was from Mars. Didn’t little boys or young men pay attention to the details of making tamales? (Probably not) Weren‘t tamales a big deal in his world? Of course they were! Maiz was an essential necessity for survival still, 1930s in Mexico was exceptionally difficult for raising a large family. (Maybe he just forgot the conversation?)

“You know, what was it like when your mom made tamales? Did you help?”

 “I don’t really know. I remember she was busy. When she made them, she was up and down, kind of everywhere. Look! Those look like crows, chattering away, busy trying to get their meal. Do you hear them?” 

Now what? That was it? If that was the whole tamal story it was pretty bland. What exactly went with all of the busyness he saw during tamal making? Where were all the details? I kept envisioning my own memories, my mother leaning over the olla filled with masa, a huge pot that she was almost too short to stand over. Stirring and kneading as she prepared it. Did the smell of cooking meats fill his mother’s cooking area? 

Tamales Blancos

“Mmmm, what kind of tamales did she make?”

Dad stared at the birds with regret, sad as he remembered his ama.

 “Pork. Well, I don’t really know, maybe chicken, yes there had to be chicken. Definitely she made pork though.”

Now we both listened to the singing of the birds getting lost in those tamal moments.

 “You’re probably right, but maybe she  made chicken tamales like my mom did. Which ones did you like best?”

Now, he seemed to be rebooting those long term memories, evoking those images of his mother making and serving tamales.

Tamales Blancos (Does that mean gringo tamales?)

“ Well, I’m sure they were all very good. But the ones I remember clearly are those tamales blancos for sure. 

Yes! I struck gold! Oooh, my abuela had her own special tamales.

“Oh yea? White tamales. They didn’t have any kind of chile sauce huh? 

My father’s usually serious face lit up with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.

 “That’s right. No sauce. No meat. Just the masa, (Wow! What would those “masa to filling” ratio police say to that?!) kneaded and prepared with a perfect amount of salt!”

What?! These were mi abuelas special tamales? These are the ones he remembered most?

“White tamales; plain salted masa salted wrapped in the corn husk. Why did she do that?”

The smile remained on his face as he explained.

  “Those were the ones mi ama made for us kids, a lot of mouths to feed.”

With nine children to feed and wanting to be hospitable to her vecinos she had to stretch the wealth, Ah! my abuelas tamales blancos, were a practical meal that kept everyone fed.

“ Did you like them?” 

Dad looked around and lowered his voice.

 “Not really, but I made the most of it. After all, that was what was offered. She would have us line up to get our meal; in this case our tamal, and we’d go off to eat it”

I was kind of feeling sorry for him, imagining that I probably wouldn’t have eaten them.

  “Doesn’t sound too exciting to eat a cooked ball of masa.” 

“She served them with coffee. (There it is again, coffee for the kids, yikes!) It was the only way I could get it down.”

“Wow dad! So you never had the meat tamales she made?”

Dad’s eyes sparked with mischief and his eyebrows danced as he remembered those tamales. 

“I did. A la desquidada, on the sly, when she wasn’t looking I’d snatch a meat one. It was easy since there were eight other kids distracting her for a tamal. Those were the good tamales. Si, they were pork and I didn’t need coffee.”

Manuel Zepeda (December 1924 – December 2020)

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV