Hurricane Mother – Part 2

 

SuperMom Logo by Jose Rios, Flickr.com

SuperMom Logo by Jose RIos, Flickr.com

 

Last week I wrote about gathering the puzzle pieces of my mother’s first 25 years of life. This made me think about how often we don’t know the stories that our loved one’s carry.

The tragedies, lessons, and life skills my mom learned in the first part of her life set the stage for her next 25 years.

I’m filled with mixed feelings about writing this portion of her life. I wasn’t an observer during this time, I was living this part with her, as a child and a teenager. At that time, I mainly thought of what I and my siblings were going through, as a result, of her choices.

Mom was gone from morning until late at night. We saw her on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and the weekend. Babysitters came and went, some pretty nice, some not.

The nicest one we called Sugar, she didn’t speak English except for the words to the song “Sugar, Sugar.” The meanest babysitter roared instructions. Mom had a cancelled class and caught the woman chasing my brother with a belt. She threw her out on the street.

Although Mom barely reaches five feet and was petite, she knew how to fight like a bantamweight boxer, a skill she learned sparring with her older brother. This was also a survival skill we saw displayed a couple of times when defending her children from drug addicts or an irate neighbor (that’s another story).

 

More Puzzle Pieces 

A new life meshes into her own. The stigma is great-“Unwed Mother.” Her baby girl passes off as little sister.

Years after the Korean War ends, the town is still surrounded by military bases. Everything changes when the USO women came to the neighborhood.

“Come to the dance. Free food, good music, appreciative servicemen…” “Sounds fun, what’s the harm, oh, come on,” said among giggles of the single young women.

A gaggle of men, handsome in Air Force uniforms, swarmed the newcomers. One sat behind mom, content to talk, unaware that his soft blue eyes, blond hair, and Kentucky accent mesmerized her into silence.

Her beauty brought him into the barrio, had him speaking Spanish. They married. He adopted two year old little sister/daughter. An anomaly of a couple, even in California.

Three more children, all in a row. Almost a big “Leave It To Beaver” family until alcohol, fear and anger tore them apart. She told him to leave. A regret to this day, even beyond his death. The good recalled with much more frequency than the bad.

Back to stifling packing houses, a heavy apron, aching back, wet wrinkled hands from sorting vegetables. Worked ten hours in silence, not allowed to turn her head left or right, the rules you know. Plenty of time to think of the future: a secretary, a police officer, a social worker.

Bus across the tracks to adult ed to get her high school diploma. The drive to want more accompanied the three-mile walk back, at ten p.m., three nights a week.  At thirty-two years old, she graduated and decided to  attend community college.

Ridicule, jokes, shaming comments from neighbors and relatives. “Who does she think she is, what kind of mother isn’t home for her kids after school, leaving them in the evening, sin vergüenza…” She carried books of knowledge along with her guilt through dark nights on the city bus.

In the early morning she knelt before the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the staircase niche. In the evening, a votive to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Weekends at Mass.

Government canned food, powdered milk, the kindness of her siblings fed her family. She pawned her wedding ring when the cupboards were empty. Hunger was the only thing that almost broke her.

Every summer for eight years she sent her children to her brother and his wife, angels to the rescue, so she could go back to the packing houses, save money, remove the cross tattoo on her hand, send her kids to Catholic school.

At forty, she graduated from community college, found her first office job, but still wanted more.

Commuting to a university filled her with hope for a future alongside the fear of what was happening at home, her children now teenagers living in the barrio where success stories are few and far between. We moved across the tracks. Strict rules, education, education, education, drummed into our ears.

Strikes, boycotts, Si Se Puede, self-determination. A community activist, volunteer, doer. Doors opened, scholarships bestowed, a donated car from a women’s group. No time for romance, no time for breathing.

Baby daughter left to college after Mom graduated with two Bachelor’s of Arts degrees, at forty-five.

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Mother

Maya Angelou Quote

Maya Angelou Quote

 

This quote aptly describes my mother. Now in her mid-eighties, my mom’s hurricane force has reduced to a small tornado, which is pretty impressive given that she is legally blind and uses a cane to help her walk longer distances.

The white blond streaks in her shoulder length hair, her youthful face, and laughter often have people guessing her age as 10-15 years younger. She doesn’t correct their error.

I’ve been gone for only a week and I’m missing her very much. This has me thinking about our conversations-a lot.

Mom divulges bits of her life at the most unexpected times, little puzzle pieces that drop onto the floor of our conversations while we’re cleaning a pantry or picking roses from her 45 bushes.

I’ve gathered up the first 25 years of her life and placed them in this verse:

 

Puzzle Pieces

The house on Newman St. was the center of mom’s universe, with
parents who demonstrated love, hard work, importance of family.
They made a circuit, planting, harvesting crops, from Pomona to Fresno, CA.
Labor camps of noisy dogs, clattering pans, drifting music and stories.
Happy amongst the aromas of hot tortillas, strong coffee, tired people.

Orphan, alone in a tree, peeking through branches at the house below,
hiding in books, neighbor’s houses, hopping trains into downtown.
An alcoholic uncle left to care for her and four siblings, in her parents home,
now a place filled with drunken men, screeches of profanity, groping hands.

Sisters and brothers bury their grief, help each other through the rocky terrain of life.
School is a refuge. A smart girl promoted two grades but drops out in 10th.
Her brothers grew up fast, strong, courageous enough to chase their drunken uncle away reclaim their home.

WWII emptied out the neighborhood of childhood friends and brother.
Young sisters go it alone with a fifteen-year-old brother/father, who works three jobs.
She will never forget.
At thirteen, she earns her own money from working in the packing houses,
one step up, now able to breath-just a bit-from stifling poverty.

She moves to another city, to find work, meets her first love, plans for marriage,
but is left with a child. A disgrace in those days, shame that sent her to L.A,
to one of those homes, lonely, dreary. Worse than the ones in the B movies on Turner Classic movies.
She cried for days, packed her suitcase and left, took the ridicule, pointing fingers, gossip.
Lived in a tiny trailer with her sister, in someone’s backyard. Had a baby girl. Found happy.

 

 

 

8 Life Lessons from Women Writers

On Character by Joan Didion, photo by Buzzfeed

On Character by Joan Didion, photo by Buzzfeed

 

Joan Didion looks way cool in that Corvette. Reminds me of me, back in the late 70’s, in my blue metal flaked Chevy Malibu. But back to the life lessons.

In my section of the Southern California coast the marine mist appears in the early evening and grays over the landscape. This becomes a perfect time for reflecting on the day and writing in my journal.

Today I cleaned out one bookshelf and selected 25 books to donate to the library. The first 10 books were an easy choice, the last 15 much harder. A short task took a few hours. Any reader knows how you can get lost in a book, even if you’ve read it before.

I flipped through pages, reread paragraphs, remembered characters, and debated whether the book made it into the donation box. Many times I pulled a book out and put it back on the shelf.

At the end of the book donation I wrote down a few life lessons that made their way into my heart again.

One of the books was from Joan Didion. Here are seven more life lessons from other women writers:

 

1. Kindness can be a lifesaver.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop…Naomi S. Nye

2. Always be true to yourself.

“When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are…” Sandra Cisneros

3-Heal your wounds. You have more strength, more resilience, and more inner wisdom than you think you do. You’ll get through it, survive and thrive. 

 

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise…” Maya Angelou

4–Leave the past in the past.

“Remember the past, but don’t get lost back there. Celebrate the blessings of the past in the present, but remember to live today. Today is built on the past and tomorrow is evolving from both the past and the present. The future? Quien sabe? (who knows)” Denise Chavez

5-Age is a number and an attitude.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan

 

6. Solitude can be valuable. It’s all in your perspective.

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up. ~Pearl Buck

 

7. You can begin again.

Joyce Meyer

Joyce Meyer

Only one of the books that contain the above quotes made it into the donation box. Can you guess which one? Where do you find your life lessons?

 

 

How Tears Lead Us Home

 

Crying can be good for you

Crying can be good for you

How do tears lead us home?

 

There is crying from sadness, grief, anger, frustration,

and sometimes there is crying for happy.

I imagine different rooms in a house, with appropriate decor (gray’s, brown’s, red’s), with soft blankets and big cushy pillows

where we can go to cry our eyes out.

But I’d gather most of us spend time stifling the times in which we want to cry.

I do that myself sometimes and end up feeling miserable, guilty, and congested.

Sometimes I feel dumb for even wanting to cry.

That is until I came across this blog post from Annie Lalla, which gave me much relief and a new philosophy.

Here are some excerpts (emphasis mine).  I encourage you to read the full post on her website-she’s awesome.

Crying is a secret sacred place, a place of solitude.

It’s not a space we navigate with much finesse; there are few maps on how to cry.

Many conflicting feelings arise around tears -fear of looking weak, of being too emotional, guilt for making others feel bad, relief at sharing pent-up thoughts, joy at being seen in our truth.

To cry is to render your heart naked, undefended & utterly exposed to the world. No wonder it is shrouded in so much terror, secrecy and shame.

Tears…your tears, are the way your body shows you what’s important to you. Holding them back is a form of self-deception and a withhold of your deepest truth. When I feel that familiar proto-tear sensation rising up in my throat, I know I always have a choice in that moment:

to cry or…to lie.

Every uncried tear is a lost epiphany, a missed lesson, a moment that failed at aliveness.

Each time you cry you release ancient tears from all the moments you didn’t let yourself cry in the past.

No tear is ever wasted, each one holds in it’s liquid infinity, 1o years worth of therapeutic salve.

Knowing this, I now look forward to opportunities to cry…once the portal is open, I let as many drops out as I can. The more I cry, the more alive I feel.

Tears teach us what we actually care about, they point at what matters the most, they take us back to a place of innocence & transparency.

Tears lead us home.

From a place of frustration, anger, or grief, we can release the tears inside, feel the pain, examine it, and do some self talk, without any guilt or shame.

Think of crying as part of self-care and good mental health.

This attitude sure beats stifling our feelings and tears and becoming congested, or overeating, over drinking, or being in denial.

Have a great weekend and I hope you remember that it’s healthy to release yourself with a good cry.

 

Stardust and Healing – Poem

 

https://www.flickr.com/x/t/0097009/photos/garlandcannon/4295147009/

Stardust- Valentine of the Universe by Jan

Stardust

 

In my dreams,

I traveled to the stars

through the black darkness,

to the heavens of the infinite,

 

gathering stardust

in outstretched arms,

bits of  future self, which

flowed over my heart.

 

Glowing embers

surrounded a dying organ,

encouraging, nurturing,

restoring love.

 

Warmth growing,

healing the self

bringing me back

to life.

 

 

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