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.

Mexican American Girl Goes East Part 2

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

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

The Mysterious New Englanders

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

Mi Suegra

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

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

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

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

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

Bens Parents & his brother Jeremy

New Hampshire

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

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

History

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

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

Heritage

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

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

Walking Through the Manse

The Foyer

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

Laban Ainsworth and his wife Mary in the Parlor

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

The Prophets chamber/ modern day middle children quarters 😉

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

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

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

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

The Nursery

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

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

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

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

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