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.