Family, Latino Family Traditions, Strong Women

Remembering Mama

      A couple of years ago my mom began telling us more stories about her mother or maybe I started listening more carefully. Her mother died when she was twelve, six years after her father died. Her stories are all I know of my grandmother except for one picture. Its a photo of a tall thin man in a dark suit and hat standing next to a short pleasantly plump woman who looks very young. She is holding an infant and a toddler is standing at her side. This is one of the stories she tells.

     My mother was fourteen when my father kidnapped her from her father’s hacienda in Siloa, Guanajuato. It was planned, they had to run away because my grandfather didn’t want his daughter marrying a ranch hand. They came to Pomona during the Mexican revolution of 1912. Six children later (you know one of your uncles died) and at the age of thirty my mother became a widow. 

     The kids in our neighborhood came to our house regularly. That was because my mother was different from all the other mothers in my neighborhood. Sometimes Adela and I were in the front yard drawing a hopscotch on the sidewalk or jumping rope and mama would come outside and join us in our games. She was like a big kid jumping up and down on the sidewalk. After she played with us, everyone would gather on the porch, surrounding her while she told us fairy tales or animal stories. None of the other mothers played with us or told us tales. She was a fun mom.
     Mama never wore her apron except when she was cooking.  When we went to the market she wore her nice dress. She carefully combed her wavy black hair. Her dark brown eyes had long, long black lashes and her defined eyebrows stood out against her light peach colored skin.  She liked to comb her hair in different styles.  One time when she was trying to put the front of her hair in curls, like the comic strip girl, “Tillie the Toiler,” she burned her forehead with the hot iron.  But she didn’t give up.  She tried again and curled her hair into little ringlets on her forehead, pulling one down to cover the burn.  
     She took us to a lot of places.  On the 16th of September, we walked downtown to hear the political speeches and the Grito de Dolores.  Every week we went to the Pomona City Library. We never turned our books in late or damaged them; she taught us to be careful with books.  Once a month we all went to the movie theater in downtown Los Angeles, where they showed Mexican movies in Spanish. She liked the movies.  

     Mama was also curious about a lot of things. She liked to know what was going on in the world so every day she heard “Despertador” (Wake Up) on the radio.  Once a week we got the Herald Examiner in English.  I read the newspaper to her while she worked in the kitchen. 

     Sometimes Mama would take us to the Protestant church services besides the Catholic Mass. In the summertime she sent us to Bible Vacation School with Reverend Crawford.  Every day the Reverend and his wife picked us all up and took us to their church school.  I still remember some of the songs we sang.

      On laundry days Mama made pancakes.  She was the only mother in the neighborhood that made pancakes. On other days we had thick oatmeal and warm homemade bread or steaming hot beans and freshly made tortillas.  One of the neighborhood boys, Loreto, came over every laundry day.  He loved her pancakes. Laundry day took hours. Mama loaded the big pot onto the bricks in our backyard and lit the fire. Then Concha and I helped her scrub clothes in our washtubs.  Our tubs were filled with cool water and soap; we would scrub them on our metal washboards. When the water, in the big pot, boiled Mama added our clothes, one by one, stirring them in with a big stick.  While the clothes boiled we  emptied our washtubs and filled them up with more water.  Mama would use her big stick to pick clothes out of the boiling water and drop them into our washtubs. When they cooled down, Concha and I  picked them up and wrung them out, squeezing and twisting the water out. Then we would pile the clothes into the laundry basket. The next day was ironing day.  She took the clothes down, ironed and folded them.  She even ironed the pillowcases.  Mama was very neat and clean.

     After Papa died, Mama began working in a sewing factory.  Catarino and Eluterio were twelve and thirteen years old but they worked to help the family. Concha was ten and took care of me and Adela.  We took care of the house, the chickens and the rabbits.  

     Mama still played hopscotch and jump rope with us when she wasn’t busy.  She still welcomed the neighborhood kids and told us stories on the porch of our house and she continued to make pancakes on laundry day until she died a few days after her thirty eighth birthday in 1940.  

     I hope you share stories about your mother with your children today, and that they listen, and I wish you a lovely Mother’s Day.  Be well. 

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