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

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

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

Not Your Typical Open House

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

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

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

Our Large and Ever Growing Family

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

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

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

The New Mother In Law

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

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

La Cuarentena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and my brothers playing in the driveway

Epilogue:

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

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

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

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

40 years La Casa de la familia Zepeda

La Tiendita on Delta St

Our house on 511 E. Delta St. became the go to spot for Mexican candy and other goodies. Before and after school kids would knock on the door to get their supply. It wasn’t an official store, but mi ama ran it like one. She tended it and kept our tiendita running for many years. 

It all started because my 13 year old entrepreneurial self needed money.

Middle School Graduation

Middle school ended with the big show of our 8th grade graduation ceremony. Once again I was subjected to wear a dress. On graduation day our chairs had been arranged on the football field, and we were seated in alphabetical order, the Zepedas are always the last ones. Like the high school graduates, our names were going to be broadcasted on the PA system and we would walk up to get our diploma front and center for everyone to cheer. In 8th grade a person feels real grown up, since they are the oldest amongst all the kids, graduating seals the state of coolness. My big brother Arturo had decided to take me and his sister in law who also graduated out to dinner. It was a big evening for me, I had never gone out to dinner, bien muy muy at a fancy restaurant (at least I thought it was fancy). Then he was going to drive us to the graduation party and hang out. He couldn’t necessarily admit he was keeping an eye on us. As soon as I was able to get out of the big baby blue poofy dress and pull my hair back to control the hairdo, I relaxed and enjoyed my very grown up experiences. 

Rosalba Flores Zepeda

Preparing for High School

Graduation now meant that I needed to get serious about life. High School was around the corner. What were the rules there? Suddenly I was “on my own.” At the Freshmen orientation, I was going to pick my own class schedule. So if I didn’t want math I didn’t have to have it, yet. If I wanted to play volleyball, or any sport, I would have to try out, hijole! The older girls were also trying out or returning to the team. I would get assigned a locker in the gym and on campus. I needed to be ready!

I needed money like the older kids who always seemed to have it. I wasn’t old enough to get a real job and make money. In the summer en el tiempo de la uva, I couldn’t go with mi ama and sisters to pick grapes. I had to stay home to do the cooking for my dad, with no pay of course. What could I do? I planned on making the most out of my high school years, but when school started there were going to be a lot of expenses most likely beyond my amas pocket book.

Opportunity

In my little town of Calipatria, there was no park across the tracks on the East side, but there were a couple of open lots. One was huge, it became our legitimate park a few years later, and I’ll boast a little to tell you that my apa was instrumental in getting us Hernandez Park in our lil ole Eastside. The other lot was private property not yet sold on our street. Our side of Delta street had only three houses on it so it was perfect for our baseball games.

The kids in the barrio would gather for a game of baseball. A few older teens, middle schoolers and little kids came to play.  We’d divide ourselves up according to skill and age and we played hard. We took our games seriously, and developed our skill in these skirmishes. I was just an ok player, not at all like my sister Marina. She loved baseball. I knew I wouldn’t be missed if I was on the bench and here’s where I hatched my money making scheme. Why would I sit around when I could be making money?

Calipatria Hornets was our school softball team.

I took my plan to my ama because I needed an investor. I planned to sell lemonade and cookies at the game. Pero, esperate. I knew nothing about bougie homemade baked goods. En mi casa the oven was used to store the casuelas and comal! Everyone loved cookies, and nobody knew the difference in quality. In fact, we thought that if food was packaged and straight from the store it was obviously better. It was a great plan, if only mi ama would lend me money for my business venture. 

My mom always had a stash of money! Somehow bam! After her ranting about not having any money and needing some herself she would bust out with her dolares. I never accepted it when she claimed not to have any money. I knew that she didn’t have money for all the things we asked for, but she was a true business woman, era bien trucha, turning over and examining our requests. Having raised 4 children with one income in the very expensive city of San Diego, Ca. I now understand her frugality. 

Learning the Business

The lemonade and cookie stand was going to cost more than just a couple of packs of cookies. She pointed out the other things I would need, but I was excited and promised to follow through. She gave me the money so I could prepare for the big day. Although things were changing for me and I was stepping into the more serious side of life I still took advantage of all the other afternoons I could play ball. Playing ball wasn’t just for the little kids, it was a serious thing and because of the hot sunny days, I knew my lemonade was going to bring me that needed money.

I was excited on my big business day. Good old fashion baseball in the empty lot before the many fear of germs or regulators. It wasn’t a snack bar, it was just me and my lemonade and cookies. The kids playing hard in field would return after each ending for lemonade. The little kids watching ran home for money to buy my sweet goods. I sold out that first day.
My ama was impressed. When she asked me what I would do with my profits, I said that my plan was to spend it slowly, thinking that was the shrewd way to do it. I knew I needed money, but I hadn’t realized that money isn’t a one time need. She proposed that I invest my money into another market: Mexican candy, and keep on selling. I was convinced and ready to stock my store.

Saturday’s in Mexicali

Weekly grocery shopping was a big event for my ama, it was a day which she shared with all of us kids.  On Saturdays, Apa would take the family across the border to Mexicali for the day. Mom did her shopping, the boys got their haircuts, and there were all sorts of things on the to-do list.
Sometimes we would eat gusgerias, junk food, that included treats covered in chile y limon, from the carts in the streets. Coctel de camaron (I still can’t stomach shrimp), churritos with plenty of chile, and Tamarindo! A sweet and sour fruit that grows in pods. It has a large dark brown seed covered in a brown sticky pulp and that is encased in a dry easy to break light brown shell. When explained like that it does not sound tasty, but I love that tangy fruit. I always ate too much and made my tongue raw. Much of the Mexican candy I chose to sell is made from tamarindo. Perhaps my favorite treat was the mango on a stick, peppered with chile, limon y sal. My taste buds are getting excited just thinking about it. 

Some Saturdays we would get comida china. Chinese food in Mexicali is delicious but different from what I’ve had in San Diego, I really wish I could describe it and do it justice.  Other times we would stop at a hamburger stand in Calexico, and have a big, good old fashioned hamburger with french fries. It was a real treat for us, because we never ate hamburgers at home. Our wants were endless, and maybe here’s when mom would pull out her stash of cash. 

Inventory for Dulceria Rosalba

There was a certain colonia my dad drove to for the candy. It had a whole street blocked off like a swap meet. Every kind of vendor set up shop, that’s where my mom did her shopping. Vegetables, carnes, tortillas, bolillos, quesos, aguas frescas and of course, dulces. The air was mixed with all the scents of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and it would take a minute for our nostrils to adjust to the sour smell. With so many vendors vying for our business, all of a sudden our spanish would be all mangled around our tongue, but mi ama knew exactly how to handle them all.

Since it was my investment, she let me pick the candy after all, I new what would sell. We bought pulpas de tamarindo and powdered chamoy. We got paletas con saladitos, saladitos, those little salted plums are delicious in a sweet orange. I stocked up on rollitos and churritos. This was the start of our tiendita. I must say that it was quite a trial not to eat up my inventory!

In the barrio everyone loved Mexican candy and my business took off very quickly. It helped my sales that I was taking candy in my backpack to sell at school. You would think that with money coming in so quickly and steadily I would have kept my business up.

It got tedious and pretty soon mom was doing all the work. I was done with my tiendita and I told her I was shutting down. She tried to get me to continue, but I was too busy with my sports and besides I was getting too cool to be seen selling my paletas con saladito and pulpas

Dona Chuy’s Tiendita

My mom was not ready to give up the venture. She put out a small table in our already small dining room and set up her array of assorted candy. Her inventory was much bigger and she even branched out and sold ice cream cones. Dona Chuy was now the unofficial spot for candy for the whole barrio. When kids were short on coins, she allowed them to ‘owe’ for the next time and soon she had to have her libretita to keep track of borrowers. No interest was charged, of course, she did it only to keep kids happy and her store running.

My siblings and I had an unspoken agreement with ama. Business boomed after school and when we were home we had to get up and answer the door for a customer and attend to them. Occasionally we’d get a free candy or ice cream cone. 

This little business went on for years. When my mom passed away, dad kept it going. The kids in the neighborhood all knew dad (Don Manuel) because of the candy store. My own kids would always come prepared with change so they could buy candy from Tata when we went to visit. Of course he never charged them and of course they were only too glad to take the blessing.

After a long battle with dementia, my apa has now passed on. The little tiendita has been closed for many years, but it lives on in the memories of countless kids who grew up in our barrio. When my sister and I were arranging his burial and choosing his plot in Brawley, CA the young man who was pointing out plots to us said, “Wait? Are you talking about Don Manuel from Delta street in Calipatria? I used to go buy candy all the time at his house.”

another story for another time, where I again had to wear a dress.

Sister Love

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

Outward Displays of Affection

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

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

Hugs and Kisses

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

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

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

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

Just the Facts

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

A Walkathon

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

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

The Big Day

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

GunHo

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

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

Quitting

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

Perseverance

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

The Underdog

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

More Perseverance

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

Sister Sacrifice

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

Blow To The Head

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

Tough Love

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

Thank God for big sisters!

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

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