Mexican-American Girl Goes East Part 3: The Cousins

It’s The People That Matter:

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

Mother in Law Dance

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

Brown Skin and White Skin

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

The Hostess

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

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

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

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

Meeting the Cousins

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

The Frenchies

Dorthy and Jacques girls on Mt. Manadnock

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

I Wanted to Run and Hide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cousin Jane

Jonathan and his cousins

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

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

Homemade Ice Cream Tradition

Cousin Jane & her daughter, cousin Debbie

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

Daniella helping with the cleanup after the ice cream was cranked

Offenses Will Come

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

Conclusion: Different People can thrive together.

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

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

Enduring Love

A Love Story

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

Lasting Friendship

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

Golden Anniversary Celebration!

Childhood

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

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

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

Love At First Sight                                           

Love happened so suddenly for Lynnda.

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

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

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

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

Newlyweds

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

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

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

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

West Pac

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

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

Broken Trust

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

Sunny San Diego… and Rock Bottom                     

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

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

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

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

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


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

Epilogue

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

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

Pregnancy

Having My Babies


Mothering is an incredible journey that sometimes begins with pregnancy.

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

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

No Diet needed, Right!


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

Getting Older


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

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

Delivery & Postpartum


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

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

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

I Flirted with him again

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

The American Dream


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

Symptoms:


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

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

Again…. I was too old!


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

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


A Special Date


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

Now they too would have to adjust to this change.

Weight Gained Well


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

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

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.