Deja, te platico about my Empty Nest experience, in case I haven’t already. Wikipedia describes it as “a feeling of grief and loneliness” When my first born was “muy hombrecito” and it was time for him to move at 19 years old, my heart felt like something was torn out of it. Que feo! That brick in my heart was heavy. I cried silently and wore death on my countenance, hijole! It hurt so much. Then just as soon as I had recovered, que pasa? Both of my young adult children choose to get married, one right after the other, a week apart. I still had two more boys at home, shouldn’t I have been too busy to feel that Empty Nest Syndrome so intensely? It was muy dramatico, In a very latina fashion. Now another son is married and moved out and the youngest is grown and spreading his wings. Pero gracias a Dios, I have overcome and adjusted.
Those things I dreaded have been conquered!
Benefits of and Empty Nest
A quiet house- it took a minute to get used to it, the chatter at the dinner table I do miss at times, but a quiet house can be so restful.
No worries about a babysitter- We come and go, not a bit anxious about how the kids are doing. Well maybe a little bit for Thomas still, but he doesn’t need a babysitter anymore.
Housework is cut in half! Or less, it’s easier to keep it up.
Going out on a date is so much easier-now. just about finding a free night or making a slot in our busy schedule. I do wonder how it is that we continue to be so busy with no kids filling our schedule?
And last but definitely not least is that after 34 years of marriage and 4 raising kids, we want to be friends and enjoy one another’s company. We are relearning each other and enjoying this phase while at same time totally enjoying our adult kids and our grandkids.
We, Ama and Apa have embraced the Empty Nesters life. Kids and grandkids visit then go home. Every few days we gear up because our Empty Nest gets full of adult children and grandchildren and sometimes Ben and I feel like we’ve gone through the “drain & spin” cycle of our washer. During those visits, I’ve got 3 hats on; mom, ama and hostess! It gets crazy to maneuver through the chatter and make sense of all that’s going on. When we recover with a moment of silence, sometimes lasting up to four days, we wonder where everyone is at why haven’t they come over?
Yesterday the grandkids visited us. It was very exciting. Each one of my nietas came loaded with a backpack and large drinking water bottle. Mari, the oldest, was also carrying a grocery bag full of goodies. While they were diligently distributing their hugs, first Ama then Apa, I asked “Wow! Are you moving in?” Nope! They were just visiting, but they came prepared because at amas house there are no toys anymore and they weren’t sure if I was gonna have enough food for their little army. A disclaimer is needed, I am always prepared or quickly get prepared when it comes to offering food, I wouldn’t be a true latina otherwise! As for their backpack full of things to do, asi es! I got rid of the toybox! Although they constantly leave some of their toy accessories behind. Our quiet house exploded in noise and activity. “Ama what are we going to eat? Ama look what I can do! Ama what are we going to do? Let me tell you the funny thing that happened to us.” Uriah the baby woke up cranky and hungry. Ama and Apa had barely fastened on seatbelts! We’d been out of town for a couple weeks, so it was a whirlwind evening. I missed them and the good conversation I get with my daughter in law. Thomas, our last one still at home, who is not too adjusted to our quiet house, was loving the chaos.
Gracias a Dios that I have the best of both worlds. I love being Ama and I love quiet days, with some conversation and alone time with my flaco.
Oh happy day! February 2nd is National Optimist Day. A person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future is an Optimist. They can see good things even in bad situations. Today I’m celebrating optimism and Optimistic people.
Optimists practice good habits. Fijate:
They are grateful, even on bad days. (When I give bad days too much emotion I reach for the obvious and thank God for his provision. I’ve been practicing a gratitude journal for a few years, ever since I read the book called The Gratitude Diaries . Two rules for myself- Todos los dias, recognize two things that I’m grateful for and write it down. It keeps me mindful of Gods daily blessings, especially on the “not so optimistic” days)
They give to others: time, money, work. (We’ve all been given talents to use. I do some of my giving through cooking & serving food)
They are interested in others (I love to talk, and when I talk with my sister, siempre, we talk over each other, but we also enjoy hearing what good things others have to share)
They surround themselves with upbeat positive people (I love my family and my extended church family, we are a “well rounded bunch” as God is growing us)
They Don’t listen to Naysayers (I have to turn them off or I get dragged through anxiety)
They forgive others (Jesus helps me here, he holds my hand, leading me through his example)
They smile. (I grin mostly, but it’s hard to tell with my strong latina woman seriousness. Does that count?)
Optimists choose to be optimistic consistently. They show their good side almost always and even in times of crisis, they choose to believe that “this too will pass”
Those 7 habits are good goals to aim at. Y pues as a Christian the Holy Spirit is working in my heart. I can be grateful, giving, concerned, positive, forgiving and smiling.When pessimism comes around and wants to sit at my table I have to be intentional and push it off. Asi es, on those bad days I must do like the Optimist and look beyond the situation, control my thoughts and move forward, especially because I know where my hope lies.
My Optimistic friends:
I surround myself with optimistic visionary people that I love and respect. They are an anchor in my life. They always come with victory in their steps. Here’s just 2 examples, like the younger generation says “they are goals!” Two couples that absolutely shine in life.
Mike and Inez: She’s mi fielamiga, and he got to make her his wife. Inez is one of those people that seemed unreal to me. My first encounter with her was unbelievable, there I was ready to make her feel welcomed and loved at church because that’s what you do when new people come to your church. Inez made me feel quite loved and welcomed! I walked away thinking “This girl can’t be real! She’s too sweet.” Hijole! Con mucha pena, I must admit that I was already a Christian, pero God knew I needed some good influencers in my life to get me on the optimist track.
Inez is friendly, outrageously generous, a good listener, compassionate, honest and loyal. She makes me feel wanted and special. When Mike, her husband came along he swooped her off her feet, now together, as one, they fuel each other’s optimism. They are “pioneering” a church, the vision of our fellowship. I am eternally grateful for the pioneer who brought the gospel to my life. Pioneering comes with much sacrifice, Pero you wouldn’t know it seeing the constant smile on their faces.
Misael and Elma, one of my favorite couples. They are people magnets, drawing people to themselves, making it look so easy to be happy all the time.
Misael is always smiling, de veras. His smile isn’t necessarily contagious, because by now I’d be smiling regularly, verdad? Pero, Misa, as we all call him, definitely affects you with his smile, it’s a friendly smile that starts at his eyes. Then there’s Elma, his wife. A spicy, hot tamale Mexican woman! She is always laughing and making you laugh with her wisecracks. She really is never uptight about things. She works with what she has, flows with the punches or punches right back, with a grin of course. They truly enjoy life and invite you into their joy, they make room for people in their lives, practicing those habits of the optimist. Recently they answered the call as missionaries, back into their homeland! Having been raised in the good ole U.S.A. they do miss the comforts and liberties they had here, but with joy they left it. De veras. Y ahora, they are having the time of their lives as God enlarges their borders.
Have a happy day, make time to thank the optimist in your life, they really do know how to do life well. Gracias a Dios for the optimists in the world that know how to lighten the load of a heavy day, y que Dios los bendiga.
I was going to get deep into the meaning of war, the purpose of war, the conquests of war, y the losses of war. Pero it was too much. Sufficient to say that war is ugly and costly, but needed at times to keep order and dominion. November 11, Veterans Day is our time to honor those who served our nation loyally. The liberty and prosperity we experience is due partly to our veterans. Thank you for your service.
Ben and I will celebrate Veterans Day. I thank God for my veteran sailor who served in the United States Navy. I am privileged to have brothers and nephews who also served in our military.
I have a great deal of respect for military families who endure hard separations, constant relocations and wartime assignments. My respect to young men and women who experience war before they experience living. Also, much admiration goes out to parents who endure as their children are away and many times in danger.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord shine his face upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
My flaco, Ben, sent this letter out to his veteran friends today. It was written by his grandfather Norman Torrey, who was there on Armistice Day when WW1 was finally over.
All this wedding activity stirred me up for a love story. I went back and pulled up a story I pieced together a few years ago from the fragment pieces of information that my apa and ama had shared through the years. One day as I was feeling muy romantica I asked my father “How did you meet my Ama?” He dropped this into my brain and heart:
“En la Fiesta del Señor, le ofrecí una flor ye ella la acepto, y alli empezo” I melted with anxious desire to know more. When you offered that flower, who was she with? What’s La Fiesta Del Señor? What was she wearing? Y muchas mas preguntas, details that a girl needs to have. This story is grounded in facts but does have plenty of embellishments to tie it all in. I can only imagine the hardship they experienced trying to make ends meet and the pain my ama suffered when dad came to America leaving her and the baby. I filled in the gaps to write their story.
Maria ran inside breathless and Angel came zooming in behind her, bending down she lifted him up, Ugh! He was getting so big, nuzzling him, while she looked over at her husband’s picture on the small table she whispered “He’s coming home baby, Apa viene a casa.” She missed him so much, but Angel wasn’t affected by her news, he didn’t know the man in the picture. It was another reality that pointed to their “separate lives” marriage. She studied his handsome face and lean body, standing tall in his Levi Strauss jeans and cowboy hat, looking tan Americano. It seemed like an eternity since he had left, worrying that he wouldn’t come back. She had spent too many days angry with her husband for leaving, but today, despite her fears, and his obvious change, she embraced the yearning she felt for him and allowed herself to remember how wonderful his full lips felt on her. She hugged her toddler tight, and whispered “you’re going to love your Apa” trying to stop the memory of the day he had left.
“No llores”. He hated her tears.
“Chuy, We talked about this. I need to feed my family and I need money to do that. I must go. En el otro lado, I’ll make lots of money and then come home quickly, before you know it!”
“Por favor no te vayas. Think of your hijo” Maria clung to him, hoping that duty to his son would keep him home with her.
“I’m not leaving you like that! Comprendeme, I need to go? My mother will help you with the baby” He pulled her close.
“You don’t have to leave Manuel, I will work”
He stiffened at her words and pulled her away from him.
“You work too hard, too long, too much. Look at you, you’re pale, you’re too thin, and the dark circles under your eyes accuse me. What kind of a man am I to allow this?
“Oh, I see.” She hugged herself trying to hide her unattractiveness from him.
“I should have left a long time ago, then I would already be back with plenty of dólares to sustain us. I’ll send money, I promise you will not have to work so hard.”
“No Manuel, don’t leave. I promise to take better care of myself. You’ll have better eyes for me, please don’t leave. I don’t care if everyone else is living like this. I hate seeing families separate! Wives are forgotten while husbands go off to chase dolares and who knows what else!”
“I’ll return quickly, te lo prometo” He reached for her but she turned and ran to the bathroom. His promise of a quick return pierced her while she vomited her breakfast and crumbled to the floor, holding her abdomen. Their family was growing and he was leaving. Receiving a letter meant his prolonged stay, yet not receiving a letter provoked such worry in her. What if he got ill? What if he decided not to come home?
I hope you and Angel are well. I am now situated in a small room in Mexicali, Baja California, tomorrow I will look for more work on the other side, the gringos are always looking for strong help so it has been easy to get work and make money. There is plenty of work, I’ll be able to make a lot of money. Hace mucho calor! The heat is almost unbearable, pero me aguanto! knowing that you and Angel need me I will endure this inferno. The money I’ve sent should cover all the household expenses for a while. Como esta mi hijo? Tell him that I love him, saludos a tu familia.
Que Dios te bendiga, te lo desea
At first she had been too angry to tell him about the pregnancy. After the morning sickness had passed, she was well and so was their son. Life didn’t change much for Angel, he had quickly adopted her oldest brother; Chino as his dad and life was peachy for him. Gracias a Dios that she had him to fill her days. The baby safely grew in her womb and she yearned for her husband. She reminded herself often “He said he would come back” Maybe, telling him about the second baby would prompt him to return quickly and be with her when her time came. She wrote him a letter hoping it would arrive quickly, there wasn’t much time.
Her heart was broken when she went into labor, she received a letter and more money to sustain them comfortably, but no mention of the baby. Alone she welcomed their second son and called him Arturo.
Eventually a letter did reach him in the Sierra Nevada mountains. His patron needed a sheep herder and he needed to keep working. A numbingly cold and lonely job, just him, the horse, Kazam the dog and the sheep in the cold outdoors. The patron had brought supplies and mail, he was ready for news from home. A letter from his wife and mother, good news he hoped. Que?! “Manuel estoy embarazada” Maria wrote that she was pregnant, But his mother had said in her letter “El niño y Chuy are just fine but come as soon as you’re able” Un hijo?!
“Apa, Apa” Angel clapped his chubby hands “Tío, mi apa!” Angels enthusiasm brought her back, “No, baby, your uncle is not your daddy. Your daddy is coming back from El Norte very soon, maybe today you’ll meet him again” she pressed on her breast as they filled with milk, “He’s coming back! And you and your baby brother will have apa home!” Angel laughed as she twirled him around, “Our family will be together again, everyone will see that we were not abandoned. She stopped abruptly in front of her broken mirror “Wow! I’ve changed so much too”
She put her son down and touched her head, so much of her hair had fallen out during her pregnancy. Her body was still flabby from her labor and delivery. her skin pale from lack of sleep, she wondered what Manuel would think of her now. She pulled on her face, peering into the mirror piece “ aayy! que fea estoy. Ugly!” She accused the image just as Arturo wailed for his lunch, her hands flew to her breast, she winced at how hard they got if she waited too long to nurse the baby. She hesitated, looking again into her broken mirror, if Manuel walked in right now, he would notice her full rounded breast, maybe that wasn’t so bad. Beauty would have to wait again, her boys were hungry. The baby wailed demanding to be nursed and Angel pulled on her skirt, asking for a taco, he too was hungry. Manuel was coming soon and she had to do something about herself, she said to the mirror piece ”I’ll be back and maybe you’ll help me see the areas I can work on.” She ran to get a tortilla for Angel and then picked up her screaming baby. While the baby gurgled at her breast she sighed ready to end this separation and the anxiety it produced.
She remembered her mother in-laws inability to understand her. It didn’t matter that young wives and their babies were being abandoned at epidemic proportions, while young husbands imagined streets paved with dolares. Did Manuels mother think her anxieties were unfounded? Dona Rosario was confident that her son would be loyal to his family and return as soon as he was able. It was Marias job to care for the boys and make a nice home for them with his money. She hated when Maria wasted money, and the mirror had been a waste.
“Why do you need a mirror Maria? You need to be wise with the money my son sends you.” “Pero, Doña Rosario, how am I supposed to keep myself beautiful for your son if I can’t see what I look like? “No buts Maria, don’t waste money, you need to worry more about Angel and the baby that will be here soon” “No señora I need it so that if Manuel returns I will have maintained myself” She was careful all the way home, then Angel raced out to meet her and when the mirror slipped to the ground it broke in two pieces, with no time to regret it, she swooped her toddler up and took him inside so she could pick up her mirrors.
She looked into the mirror as she burped her baby, “Doña Rosario was right, Manuel is coming home and you, Mirror Mirror you really didn’t help, but you certainly taunted me every time you pointed out how unraveled I’ve been. She adjusted her dress and planted a kiss on Arturo’s cheek.
She got busy with the meager meal, glad that soon they would eat more than frijoles, she was tired of beans. She poured the last of the lard into the hot pan and waited for it to get hot then poured the beans into it. They sizzled then splattered, spitting on to her cheek, “Owww!” she hissed and turned to her mirror piece and it seemed to laugh at her with her red blotchy cheek. She sighed and was glad when her toddler took the plate of beans with such gusto, as if she had served him a steaming hot bowl of pozole, the hominy chicken soup was his favorite. She smiled and hoped that there would be enough tortillas to satisfy her growing boy. She knew Manuel had not left her to chase a dream, but to take care of them. When Manuel came they had too much business to attend to, her appearance shouldn’t matter now, but again she glanced in the mirror piece “Oh no! Now I’ll have a scar! She should get rid of that accusing glass! Tears of anxiety squeezed from her eyes as much as she was determined not to cry over such vanities. Worry marked her face as Angel ran to her and asked “Mama? Coco?” And reached up for her. “Si, Angel, just a little owie” she hugged him as a tear rolled down her face, Manuel was coming home, he promised.
Manuel walked in, quietly watching his wife and son. Angel looked up and snapped “NO! Swinging at the stranger as he clung to his mother. “Amor, que te pasa?” Maria looked up wondering what was wrong as her son’s anxiety accelerated “No, no!” Maria swung around and there stood her beautiful husband, he looked like a dark American under his cowboy hat, his blue jeans and boots. She shrunk back anxious, noticing the American in him and his presence reminded her that she was quite undone. While Angel swung to protect his mother from the stranger she slowly took in how good he looked. Manuel reached for the screaming toddler, murmuring his name. “Angel, Mi hijo” Angel screamed in terror “Amaaa!” Maria smiled, “Ya mi amor, ya. There There” She said between tears, “Es tu papa” Manuel quickly closed the gap and embraced them both. There in his arms Maria let the tears of relief roll down her cheeks, slumping her shoulders, she allowed Manuel to take care of his family.
Dicen por hay que it’s “Best Friends” Day today. Well I definitely have a shout out for my BFFs today and hopefully often 😀
Having been made in the “image of God” I tend to desire and enjoy beautiful honest friendship. I started this post by “researching” on google what the “qualifications” of a friend are, que verguenza! After almost 38 years of relationship with the creator of friendship, my dear dear friend Jesus, who loves me unconditionally and forgives my indiscretions, gently pointed me to the original “friend manual”
*Be friendly🥰 (Prov 18:24)
*Practice all those disciplines that the flesh runs from: give love, ten pacencia, show kindness, rejoice always, don’t boast, don’t gloat, resist envy, se generosa with compliments :), give a helping hand, let your heart care for another, protect the reputation of others. You’ll find these instructions in the famous Love chapter of the bible in the New Testament (1Corinthians 13: 4-7)
*Appreciate and enjoy the time God gives you with your friend (Eph. 5:16)
My Own Observation on Friends:
Gracias a Dios. I have a wide range of friends.
Some are peers. Some are family and some used to be strangers from a different world. Some are young and Some are older 😏. Some are rough and tough! The mean mugging type, but beneath it is a loyal friend.
I love the gift of friendships God has given me, it has made a huge difference as I walk this journey called life.
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!
I have three older sisters, all feisty fiery Latina’s! Can’t say when I’ll see two of them again, so meanwhile, My sis Marina and I try to celebrate their birthday with sweet memories of them. I’ve told you about Marina and Patty, ahora, I’m celebrating Lupe, her birthday was this past week.
Perhaps every little sister has that admiration glint in their eye for their hermana mayor, o no? My big sister was like the female version of the Godfather. De veras, just check out her name María Guadalupe Zepeda Sánchez. I Can hear my son Jonathan saying “Tía Lupe was a G” and I would agree with him.
She was Passionate but in control (usually) Deep down inside she wanted to display outward affection but she held herself back, except of course when a fat little baby was near her and she couldn’t resist the rosy chubby cheeks, or the tiny rolls on the baby’s thighs. Only then would you hear that wonderful baby talk that my ama practiced and passed down to us. Those catch phrases that are still heard around some Zepeda circles :D. “Que cosa tan fina!” o “Cosita fina” and of course the mumbo jumbo phrases, sweet nothings and kisses. With Lupe, after the infant stage was gone, you just had to know she loved you by her other actions.
From the heart of a little sister, I knew how to see and feel her love. Lupe allowed me into her heart and shared her life with me; the good, the bad and the ugly. Lupe loved my family. She knew how to win my angry little first born. Not having a girl of her own, she indulged mine with those girly frilles that I had no clue about. She knew just how to tantalize my finicky middle child with the right foods . She was smitten by my guerito, Thomas, always looking for ways to spoil him. And even my flaco, she enjoyed cooking for him, and he especially enjoyed her perfectly round soft tortillas and her nopalitos, we’ve never tasted a better cactus salad than my big sisters.
One more of the ways she showed her love was in her “stand with you” position she took with family. My sister was a passionate and loyal latina. She loved her family and defended us when necessary or had us defend ourselves, but she was there for us.
My older brother just recently shared with me another story from the archives of Mexicali. The lesson he had to teach Lupe about facing the bully.
My apa hated to know we were being bullied, but I think he disliked even more the idea we were not pushing a bully back, or defending ourselves. He strongly believed that we had to send that message that we were not going to be walked on. Sometimes it just took a brave look into the eyes of the bully and other times it took more. I believe that we all learned that lesson at some point in our lives. Here’s a quick look at how Angel taught Lupe how to handle a bully.
Life was simple in those days, kids played outside in the yard or on the street, the most important thing in a little girl’s life in the colonia was play. Until it was not. Lupe was enjoying her liberty until Big Bully Girl came out. Then, she’d take from Lupe whatever she had or she’d shove, hit or hurt her. Lupe would run and hide, usually wailing to ama. Angel got wind of this “situation” He himself was now a street savvy neighborhood kid. He knew it had to change.
One day, he happened to be home, outdoors with the kids when Big Bully Girl came out, and Lupe immediately ran to hide behind Angel. It was one of those moments: defend his little sister or teach her to defend herself. But why defend yourself when your big brother is there? In the flowery language he uses, he told me how he resolved her problem. He told his little sister that she better quit hiding, go face that girl and show her she could not push her around. He didn’t say “tell her you’re not scared of her” What he did threaten was that if she didn’t face that girl immediately, she would have to deal with him! Lupe was more afraid of that consequence of course. When Lupe stopped hiding, Big Bully Girl was surprised when Lupe pushed back! Lesson learned, mission accomplished! Lupe never feared that bully again, in fact Angel said that he did feel sorry for the bully after that.
Por favor, I do realize that bullying can get way more serious than standing up to a bossy mean selfish kid. Bullying can turn ugly and dangerous. Family support is critical, but if you can’t talk to a family member there are places that will help a person in need.
Por supuesto que, life brought on many difficulties and hurts for my big sis, many times she had no choice but to face them. When she had to fight for her rightful place she did with fierce strength, when she had to let things go, though it was a battle, though her heart ached she did so, fighting always to keep her head up. When she couldn’t defend herself, God showed himself strong.
There was a gap of 7 years between Lupe and I, but in our latter years as wives and mothers we enjoyed a wonderful friendship. She gave me a place of honor by making me her friend. In one sense I can’t wait to catch up with her in heaven one day and hear her morning greeting again. “Good morning sunshine”.
“Back in my days” we were raised to respect our older siblings, I had 6 older siblings that I had to give that allegiance to. Pero, sometimes things got fuzzy, lines got crossed with my sister Patty, since we were only 2 years apart we were friends mostly, until I would tick her off for one reason or another and she’d have to check me. I didn’t mess with my big brother Angel. He grew up having to face many of the issues of the 60s and 70s. He didn’t expect others to solve things for him, and he didn’t shrink in fear. When language was an issue, when skin color was a barrier, he handled his affairs In a matter of fact way. And so it was when he saw the girl he wanted to marry. He saw studious, quiet and very petite Mary at school one day and was smitten, but that’s not anything my cool and collected big brother could ever outright admit. Y asi fue, Mary, now his wife of 50 years, said that Angel told himself “That girl, she’s gonna be my wife” And before long she was. He learned how to defend himself while maintaining his head high and obtaining his goals.
By the time I was out of my toddler years he was an adult and I looked at him with a sense of awe in my eyes and always I hoped for his attention and his ‘like’. I’ll admit that even now, ahora de vieja! I still have that hope in me.
In the past year and a half since our father died, Angel and Mary have had their trials. Ben and I went to visit them one weekend in Calipatria, it was a bittersweet weekend. Mary has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and like it always is, familia rallies together. It was a hard blow for my big brother and his family. Mary has a big family also and her siblings rallied around her, while my sis Marina and I offered the only help we could think of, our time, labor and whatever knowledge we had gained from taking care of our apa.
Ben put his handyman skills to good use, but after one one project was excused for more important things. Something about my quiet husband drew my stoic older brother out of his shock. He began sharing some of his many adventures from his truck driving career with Mary. Remembering the places they drove to and the people they met along the way refreshed my brother. I was busy with my project, organizing and decluttering and so I missed a lot of these stories. Angel uses colorful language when he talks, and always has a hidden smile when he gives a punch line. It’s very enjoyable to listen to him, and it very much reminds me of when I watched and listened to my apa tell his stories. Somewhere in his story telling his memories shifted and he began talking about some of the youthful adventures he experienced while living in Mexicali. I was glad to be done with the ‘work’, I needed to hear some of these stories, I had been asking for some time for more of our family history. Mary and I sat down with Ben and Angel at the kitchen table to listen to the stories about the Zepedas before my days.
Before we could sit down though, we couldn’t be at the table without our cafecito y pan dulce. The stories came flowing out, a wealth of experiences.
De Jalisco A Baja California
When dad decided it was time to leave Jalisco and take his wife and two small boys to El Norte, he brought them right to the border of Mexicali, Baja California. It was a three day journey by train. Upon arriving they met another family from back home. Immediately they connected and became fast friends. My father was immediately working across the border so their new friends helped my mother as she adjusted to a whole new life.
As if resettling and two busy little boys wasn’t enough on her plate, through the years, my parents were fruitful, four more kids during the Mexicali years and that wasn’t the end. Her busyness made Angel’s adventures possible. He was quite savvy in the colonia and she needed his quickness. It was a win-win situation. He explored every calle, every empty lot, looked into different businesses and stands, he studied his new location. All the while as he made his connections, he was completing the errands assigned to him.
By the time my big brother was around 12 years old he had learned a few things about making money, no opportunity was wasted. Angel took a newspaper route, then, with that money earned, he’d run over to the magazine stand and buy the popular magazines from the doña and resell them. When he couldn’t sell his magazine, he’d rent it for a reasonable price to a willing reader.
On top of all his business, and son duties, he also had school to attend. He and his little brother, my other big brother, are two peas in a pod when they’re together. They went to school with the nuns, and they ran a tight ship, but even there Angel learned to manage, only occasionally did he get busted for a travesura. One he told me of wasn’t exactly his fault but his indirect contribution didn’t help his defense.
In his ‘travels’ through la colonia Loma Linda, Angel found or purchased different useful items, like purchasing upholstery needles from a shop along his path. He used these needles to make darts, a crucial tool for a blooming adolescent boy, verdad? He inserted the needles into tender twigs from tree branches and secured them tightly with string. Then to bring the needed flight to the dart he created cardboard feathers and soon he was ready to beat any boy at a dart throwing game.
One day, his lil brother found another use for the needles. The bicycles lined up at school felt the poke of that upholstery needed. Every tire stood flat and the trail of guilt led right to Angel. The nuns were not too happy with the Zepeda boys that day. Lesson learned, he’d have to be more careful with his supplies. With each experience Angel was learning quite a bit from the streets and my apa was getting worried, Angel was becoming notorious in the colonia.
These recent months have been quite difficult for Angel and Mary, but they have amazed me with how they have persevered, they know that it is God who carries them. Mary is gracious in her surrender to the One who gave her life in the first place. With much dignity she takes care of her “stinker” as she has always called her husband because of his notorious teasing ways. I have always enjoyed hearing our family stories. Talking to my brother recently felt like a secret room that was discovered. He talked about my ama’s family and about the years in Mexicali and of course a favorite of mine is love stories, and I’ve learned about him and Mary’s love story. A wealth of information that spilled from the archives of his memory and Mary’s too. I’m looking forward to more stories and I’m thanking God for my big brother Angel and my cuñada Mary.
Today I write with heartfelt appreciation for the man Cesar Chavez, who in his own struggles and experiences worked hard to help himself and other migrant workers. In another post called Migrant Workers In The Valleys I give a small glimpse of my work day picking grapes in Coachella Valley. Here are some recommendations that come from memories lodged in the recesses of my 9th grade mind.
How To Dress Appropriately For A Hot Desert Day
Summer time in the Imperial Valley brings temperatures as high as 120° Fahrenheit. From the moment the dry hot burning sun rises around 6:30 am it would penetrate our skin and our heads. Asi es, I felt like it was frying us. When we went to work in the grapevines we covered up our skin and heads, otherwise the sun would make us ill. I don’t remember ever using sunscreen. I thought that because I’m brown I wouldn’t get sunburned. Ya se Ya se. Instead, we wore layers to protect our skin from the burning sun. It felt like a double whammy, since the layers made me perspire and others (not me) would sweat. Wet, smelly sweat came through the layers of protection. Por favor, don’t forget the deodorant. The ugly odor that hit me sitting in the back of that truck was offensive! Hijole! I to wanted to keep my paño over my face, but the suffocating heat was worse during that long ride home. Finally, having long hair, my mother always told me, “haste la trenza!” I always ignored her advice to wear the plain old braid, and someone always ended up braiding my dirty hair halfway through the day. My daughter said, “braids are cool today mom.”
Sometimes, even with our efforts to protect ourselves, the sun got to us. One day at work, late in the morning, when we were almost done for the day, a woman about my mothers age, fifty something, went down right in the middle of vines, with half a bucket of uvas. It seemed like it took the mayordomo and some of the other workers a long time to revive her. Hijole! The sun and heat knocked her out! But I never worried that my ama could be affected like that. I was a child, de veras, nothing could happen to my strong ama. Even when she’d come out from under the grapevines, face covered in dirt, and I could tell the extreme heat was burning her cheeks, I just knew she’d be ok.
Drinking The Right Amount Of Water:
Drinking water out in the hot fields was tricky. If you drank too much you could get sick, especially if it was nice and cool. Too much water would swoosh around in your belly slowing you down. Yet you shouldn’t neglect drinking it, waiting too long could also make you sick. We teenagers tended to want to be at the water jug too often. My ama seemed to know just how much we could handle and under her watchful eye we had just enough water to be useful.
We started our days in teams of 3 or 4 people, usually families. We got paid by the boxes that were packed and approved so a picker had to work hard and fast to get grapes over to the packer. Those serious adults who had bills waiting for them and families to feed, they knew how to work. Good pickers got their flow or rhythm and tried not to waste time by stopping. Imagine an aerobic workout. Stretch up to clip the cluster of grapes, bend down to carefully, but quickly place it in the bucket. Two or three steps to the next cluster, clip, drop, one, two, three, and repeat until the bucket is full. Fill two buckets, one for each hand, then briskly walk all the way down the long grape vine row and leave your buckets of grapes to the care of the packer. Just remembering that scorching sun makes me glad my ama rotated us sisters as packers. Picking grapes was hard on the body and packing them beautifully in the box could be hard on the ego, because if the mayordomo didn’t approve it, it had to be repacked, which also meant loss of precious time since we could safely only work until 11am before the sun turned up its heat.
As a little kid, I totally enjoyed life out in the desert, not much bothered me. I didn’t see life as hard, my apa and ama covered me and my siblings well. As a teen I only paid attention to the important stuff like playing sports. I was very much concerned about my ama getting my tennis shoes on time for volleyball season in the fall.
When I was dragged into the peaceful protest regarding the conditions of the grapevine workers, con mucha pena, I confess that I was only worried about how very tired, dirty, hot and ready to go home I felt. I didn’t care about negotiations, or break throughs, the dirt meshed with sweat and heat was not a fair opponent.
Ahora si, I can see that while I was distracted, history was being shaped and God did helped us. Thank God for men and women that are willing to stand up in the face of adversity and fight for a righteous cause as Cesar Chavez did.