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

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?