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

I’m going to tell you about my New England connection, si pues, this Mexican-American has a few stories and an array of emotions as I discovered Bens gringo world. Nowadays it’s nothing new to find one of mi gente on the East Coast, but back in the mid 80s when I started the brown Mrs. Greene journey I really felt all alone. 

Mixing cultures and social economic lives did add to my conundrum. Hay si, muy gringa, with my big english words verdad?

So I’ll have to go back to the time before the fireworks display of our engagement. 

Having been in San Diego Ca. only a year and a half, the melting pot of cultures intimidated me. My upbringing, with the unspoken but obvious boundaries made me shun gringos. White guys didn’t notice me, I certainly wasn’t going to notice them. Period. 

An Interracial Relationship

You can imagine the incredible turmoil and betrayal I experienced when I noticed my Benjamin! A White guy from New England!? Not even a tanned Californian! Of course I rejected the idea for a season and moved on… and went back…and moved on…but eventually the fireworks burst out the wonderful colorful display of our young love and promise. A hopeful new beginning like God’s promise through the rainbow, a much needed display that sealed the deal.

Jesus People Wedding

Benjamin Walter Greene and I were married in a “Jesus People wedding”. I looked around for a definition of our kind of ceremony and couldn’t find one, so instead of google defining or describing our wedding I will. Our wedding ceremony centered around Jesus instead of the bride. Right in the middle of our Sunday morning worship service the bride comes in. No grand procession of walking the aisle. Doesn’t that sound just right for me? If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll note that I’m a simple girl. A simple wedding was just my stilo but for some brides, or mother of the brides, it’s a huge deal! Hijole

We heard the good news of the Gospel, pledged our hearts and lives to our marriage covenant with a resounding I do. We broke bread with our families, sweet and simple, the honeymoon awaited us. Then, we stepped into the twilight zone of our mixed marriage, well mostly I travelled by myself because for some reason Ben was not tripping! 

Our First Year of Marriage

It was a first year full of fireworks, mourning and hormones, asi es, explosive! My ama had just passed in May, I learned I was pregnant in June and we were scheduled to fly out to the East Coast in July. My life was already upside down and I was going clear across the country to the other coast, Pacific to Atlantic! A whole new world. 

Ben was excited! He couldn’t wait to show me his childhood home and life. As the weeks drew closer he showed me again pictures of his family home in Connecticut, a house his architect father had designed. However, for the Greene/Torrey Family, the real treasure is the family estate home, which is called the Manse. Yes, the houses have names! Manse means the residence of a minister. 

Ben told this little desert girl with barely any roots in America that his family traced back ancestors to England and the Mayflower! Que hiba pensar? So many levels of OMGs!

I accused Ben calling him an Aristocrat! A cold blooded Englishman! My son Emery would say white privilege! Rico! Y yo? No wonder mi apa was very nervous about us marrying. Of course, this is what was causing my nausea. Ben needed to go alone on his voyage to see his family.

Facing My Fears

Everything I had feared was gonna happen to me now! How could Ben make me go? How could Ben leave me all alone? How could Ben even think of going at all? Wasn’t he supposed to leave his family and cleave to me, his wife? I didn’t think I could survive being surrounded by only English speaking people, who would I turn to? 

The East Coast

July came and we boarded our flight to New York City. If I was gonna go so far away I had to have someone familiar so we visited friends in NYC. I thought the Big Apple was for the rich and famous or for the peliculas, no movie, it was the real deal. This Mexican American played tourist in the big city, even if it was only a few days. We visited the Statue of Liberty, The Twin Towers and experienced New York pizza. We wanted to walk the streets of Spanish Harlem but didn’t feel confident enough, I guess my small town barrio experience wasn’t gonna cut it. The New York Ricans were the spanish speakers, sort of. I barely understood them and they said I spoke spanish like I was singing! Three days passed like the whirlwind and before we knew it  we were on a train for  Connecticut. Que aventura verdad? I didn’t realize that the adventure was going to slow down to a complete stop. Life in my husbands world was calm, very calm. It made my heart race, crazy huh?

Staten Island Ferry

A Quiet Vacation

Just getting out of the city quieted everything down, except for my thoughts. Bens mom met us at the train station, a quiet reunion and ride home. I was the only one who felt awkward, I’m glad I was in the backseat because I would have been awkwardly fishing for conversation topics. Right here is a good place to tell you that apart from coming from different worlds, Ben and I are complete opposites. I’m a talker, I’m noisy, I’m busy, I’m loud…he’s not. Wow! It was going to be a silent two weeks.

New England is beautiful. Man! I’m terrible about these types of details, I hope I can hang on to your attention here. Greenery, tall trees, lakes. Aver, see if this helps you see how I saw things. We drove down the narrow roads with tall trees on each side and looking far into the distance you almost felt like the trees were going to close you into a tunnel. Bien bonito, like in the movies. compare that to the dry desert view of the Imperial Valley 

Mosquitos

In the big city, with all the pollution and noise the mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but as soon as I stepped out of Nancys car, they welcomed my fresh blood. Ben says it’s that spicy latina blood that I bring from the West. 

The Architect and the Artist

Ben’s dad had designed the house in an H shape. Muy interesante. The tall pillars of the H were the main rooms and bedrooms. The horizontal pillar of the H had the bathrooms and laundry room. I haven’t lost you have I? One of the openings of the H was where the front door was, while the back deck covered the other opening of the H. The deck had been built with a tree planted in center for shade, eventually. It was quite serene, until my eye caught a little gargoyle propped over the roof’s edge. Although it was an artistic touch, it bothered me. Maybe el cucuy was supposed to keep Ben and his brothers in check?

Ben on the left and his brother Sam when the tree shade was barely growing

Right in the front yard was an old rusty tractor as decor. Where I’m from esos tractores were child’s play for us. Pero, on the East Coast antiques are a big deal. The house stood tall and serene in its natural wood. The living room and dining room had large wall size windows that overlooked a large field and pond.  It was truly a Good Housekeeping magazine scene. My mother in law was a multi talented artist and her home displayed her artistic hand.

Bens Childhood Home in Connecticut

This was all so new to me, I felt like I was in a museum and Ben was enjoying giving me a tour of his house. Things that were commonplace to him, were amazing to me. Like a windy staircase, como los ricos, that went down to the basement. Basement? Only in some of the books I read.

More large windows. Imaginate, in the bathroom! They could easily be peeked into from the dining room with it’s wall size windows. How in the world was I going to shower? Thankfully, my husband shared the secret for a comfortable shower time. Run your hot water, steam the windows then you could relax. I’m a bit indecisive on where I should include the fact that the bathroom door slid into the wall, they didn’t really secure shut. Pero Pues, I got through my first few days in New England without too much verguenza, thankfully, everytime I showered the windows stayed completely steamed and covered.

I’ll have to do a part two post on my first New England experience since I haven’t even described my Manse experience, you know the Greene/Torrey Estate house in New Hampshire? Es que, there’s so much reaction in this first visit. So many things we take for granted, like chile!  A meal without chile, Asi es! No chile whatsoever, not even tabasco sauce. Hijole! All you salsa and chile addicts are feeling me right now huh? This was only the beginning to my cultural shocks in the kitchen that I would experience.

My experiences would be considered “A first world problem” but as silly as it was, I had a lot of adjusting to do, I think it might be called assimilating? Chale! Nope, I would have to make some Mexican American contributions to my new family.

Next time I’ll take you to the Manse in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

The Manse in Jaffrey NH

I would love to hear about your culture shocks or adjustments as you encountered other countries or cultures, even here in America.