Family, Latino culture, Mothers, Strong Women

Ghosts past and present

Not the spirit Mom saw but close enough. Photo by pixaby.com

 

My mother’s seeing ghosts again.

She hasn’t seen one in over 75 years. So why are they visiting now? And not one but two of them?

These are the questions I’m asking myself as she tells me about the spirits floating in her room, at the foot of her bed, for the past three nights.

On the first night, the spirit is a woman dressed in a flowing white dress. Mom can see the figure is feminine, but she has her face turned to the side, so only her profile is seen. Mom flips the bedcovers over her eyes and begins to pray.

The next night the woman in white appears again. She’s staring at something to the right of the bedroom wall. There’s a figure in a black cloak, hood and all. Mom can’t see a face. She pinches herself to find out if she’s having a nightmare. Nope. She hides under her blankets and prays for them to go away.

“Geez, Mom how did you see all that? You’re legally blind,” I ask.

“I don’t know but I saw them,” she says. “What do you think it means?”

Of course, I don’t want to say the words out loud: ‘it’s the grim reaper.’ Who wants to give their mom that news?

Instead, I suggest she ask them who they are or what do they want or tell them to scram. Mom appears to be thinking about that suggestion, “Hmmm.”

I offer to bring over some sage to burn at the entrance to her room; to ward off evil spirits.

Mom scrunches her lips. “Do you know Becca saw a ghost in my room years ago?”

I can’t remember that but I think my sister used sage for the entire house a few years back.

On the third night, the spirits come again. This time both are side by side in front of her closet doors. The one in the black cloak moves away towards her dresser on the adjoining wall. This time Mom shuffles out of her bed turns on the light, and they disappear.

What to make of these apparitions?

After the questions about whether she was dreaming or not, what did she eat for dinner, and all those questions meant to have her doubt what she saw, she says:

“I know what ghosts look like.”

She’s right.

She’s seen the ghost of her father come to her at a migrant camp when she was eleven years old or so. He appeared, dressed in his work clothes, standing at her feet while she slept on a blanket on the dirt, next to her best friend, Sally. They reported the sighting to her friend’s father.

Sally’s dad said not to be afraid, seeing her dad was a good thing, he was only visiting her at the same camp he used to work at when he was alive. Mom accepted that idea.

Four years later, Mom was ironing in the kitchen and heard her dead mother’s voice call her name. The hanging light bulb above the ironing board swayed. Her mother called for her again.

“I was so scared, I ran out to the porch and wouldn’t go back inside.”

Her friend reassured her that her mother was looking out for her and not to be afraid.

The reassurances about visiting spirits is not unusual in the Mexican culture which has centuries of Mayan and Aztec beliefs about the supernatural world. After all, Day of the Dead celebrates and invites spirits of the departed.

I’ve never seen La Llorona but I’ve heard her wailing.

Ghosts are nothing to fear unless it’s the infamous La Llorona or the Cucuy (because we know what they’re coming for and it’s not pretty).

After the two spirits depart, on the third night, Mom decides to use her holy water from Lourdes. She tells me she sprinkled some drops from the bottle to her doorway, on her closet doors, her dresser and her bed.

Gathering the holy water of Lourdes, France

I can’t believe she still has the holy water since it’s been twenty years since she visited Lourdes, France.

“I’m not ready to go.” She huffs like those spirits better get a grip. Yup, she’s a chingona like that.

There must not be an expiration date for the holy water because Mom hasn’t seen any spirits for a couple of weeks now.

 

 

" Strenght, Inspiration, Latino culture, Mothers, Strong Women

An Emerging Battlecry, A Powerful Memory

Woman in a dress climbing rock
Nevertheless, She Persisted. Photo by Dylan Siebel, Garden of the Gods, CO, unsplash.com

Senator McConnell employed a seldom-used rule on Senator Elizabeth Warren last week, but in the end, his words unleashed a new battle cry for thousands if not millions of women.

His attempt to quiet her angered people to the point where his quote trended on Twitter and became a business enterprise of tee-shirts, cups, and demonstration signs.

He may have shut her up for the moment, but not in the long run.

This emerging battle cry pokes at tender memories of times when people attempted to shut us (women) up.

For me, the words, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” took me back to my childhood.

In the kitchen sat my uncle, the older brother to my mom. The thud of a Coors beer can hit the metal table. Something pissed him off. My aunt shooed us into the living room.

“What do you mean, school?”

Mom told him she signed up for night school to get her diploma.

“Mothers take care of their kids, they stay home. We live two hours away, who’s gonna watch them? Not strangers.”

His wife didn’t work outside the home. She took care of us during the summers, when Mom worked two jobs. Mom was divorced, four kids under nine years old.

Usually, my uncle was a loving brother, a responsible man who financially helped us whenever he could. My aunt always there with a burrito, glass of milk and a joke to make us laugh.

Mom gave him the details about night school, classes from seven to ten at night, four days a week. She had a babysitter for us, a neighbor. She could get her high school diploma in a year if she worked hard, and she promised she would.

“You don’t need a diploma to work the packing house.”

I could see her enthusiasm wane, her smile faded. She picked at her fingernails. Mom turned into a little girl before my eyes. I wanted to tell my uncle Mom worked hard, she stood for eight to ten hours, her hands sorting vegetables in a cold factory. Her plastic apron stunk, even after she washed it late at night. But he knew that already.

“I don’t want to work in the fields or a factory for the rest of my life. I want an education.”

My uncle made decent money working construction, they had a house, a car. We lived in the projects, no car and had to eat powdered eggs and have Spam for dinner.

“I can get a better job with a high school diploma, go to community college …”

His fist hit the table. “Ay, sí, college. What the hell are you thinking?”

Mom shrunk into her chair.

“You don’t even have a car,” he said.

“I’ll take the bus, like we do now,” Mom’s voice grew stronger.”Or walk.”

This scene persisted after my uncle and aunt left. A neighbor, a man who encouraged his sons to go to college, acted like my uncle when he heard Mom attended night school.

She received her diploma a year later. After that, she went to on to community college. My uncle bought her a beat up used car, but it got her to the next city to attend night classes.

Mom graduated with her A.A degree the same year I graduated from eighth grade. She scrimped and saved, sought out every scholarship, and applied for better jobs. Four years later, working full time, she earned two Bachelor of Science degrees from a Cal State University.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

 

Mexican traditions, Mother's Day, Mothers

11 Things My Mom Taught Me Without Knowing

 

Lincoln quote on mothers

The other day I saw a contest, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. For a chance to win a free pass, one could enter a 500-word essay on the topic, “What my mother taught me.” The deadline was within a couple of days, so I passed on the opportunity, but the topic stirred my thoughts.

I began to think about my first generation mother an orphan of Mexican parents who came to the U.S during the Mexican Revolution. She taught me a lifetime of lessons, many which she probably isn’t aware of.

So, in tribute to Mother’s Day and my mom, I have a few items to mention. Some of which you might find unusual, but in many Mexican households, not so uncommon.

My mom taught me to:

  1. Appreciate Mariachi music, the old classics, where buried pain could be unleashed in the drama of the song. She also taught me how to give a ‘grito,‘ a shout to punctuate the parts of the song that called for emphasis or which resonated with the listener.
  2. Value hard work. As young teens, all of us picked walnuts, tomatoes, or strawberries on weekends to earn money to survive. We heard many a story about her picking cotton until her arms and fingers bled, the scorching vineyards and lettuce fields. The moral of the story: You do what you got to do. She survived and we would too.
  3. Value education unless you want to live your life in the fields. This is almost a direct quote we heard many times. Mom was in her 40’s, a single parent of four kids, who worked full time and went to college at night during the late 60’s. By the early 70’s she earned two Bachelor’s degrees.
  4. Cook basic Mexican food and be creative with the welfare commodities. We learned how to make a guisado, beans de olla, tortillas (even though mine looked like the map of Texas), and nopales. We also made Spam and powdered eggs with chile, Mac and cheese, and grits.
  5. Use nature’s and grocery store remedies. For a cold, use Vapor Rub and put your socks on. For a tummy ache, use the Yerba Buena that grew under our front yard faucet. For nausea, drink 7Up. For a flu, use all three and bury yourself under the blankets.
  6. Duck, dive, and discipline. Mom had a baseball arm and threw her chancla (house slipper) when she’d had it with us. I swear that thing seemed like a magic boomerang. She didn’t spank us, at least not me and my sisters, but that threat of a nalgada kept us in line. Sometimes. All she had to do was flip her chancla off and we’d start running. Same thing as hearing her say, “Where’s my belt?” although she didn’t have one.
  7. Exercise starts at home. Mom won dance contests as a young woman. Trophies, cash money, and during WW II, she won a pig. Chicharrones for days! She still dances between her TV shows for exercise and cares for 30+ rose trees, fruit trees, and numerous potted plants.
  8. Self-defense. Mom was her older brothers sparring partner as a kid. I’ve seen her fight, many years ago and in self-defense, and she’s good. She often shadow boxed with us as kids. I do it with my own. It’s play boxing, never to draw blood, except this one time when my sisters jumped me for a jelly donut (true story).
  9. The value of family. As children, we regularly visited extended family, spending holidays and Sundays together. Now all my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side have passed on. Only she remains. My cousins and their children are still in her life.
  10. The enjoyment of books. I often remember her stories of reading up in her Elm tree in front of her house. After she was orphaned she’d spend hours away from her aunt and uncle, sitting on a tree branch reading a library book. Books filled our home early in our life. My first introduction to feminism, politics, Mexican and Chicano History came from her college texts.
  11. Faith. Growing up, I regularly saw my mom pray. We had a small altar under our staircase in our home. Glowing votives, saints, the works. She believed things would turn out, even when everything around us didn’t seem to be working out.

Happy Mother’s Day! Now, what did your mother teach you?

 

Blogging, Family, Female Offenders, Mothers, Parenting, Parenting our Parents, Travel

Travels with Mom

 

Gingko tree in autumn-flickr
Gingko tree in autumn-flickr

I arrived back to Oxnard, California from Denver yesterday evening from a visit with my daughter. Rain fell the night before, puddling the deck with water. My mother and I stood outside in the cool morning breeze to smell rain and touch the droplets pooled on the banister. California is in a drought and it’s been several months since we’ve had any rain.

The trip provided a look into the fall season with the brilliant yellow Gingko tree leaves, golden hues of Aspen’s and the russet blazes on other trees. I have no idea what kind of trees they are since I was born and raised on the coast.

Traveling with my elderly mom (she would hate that I used that word for her) also provided a look into our coming season. The child is now the mom and the elderly mom is like a child. Before anyone feels miffed about this description, it was said by my mother.

Mom can no longer see, walk, hear or smell very well anymore. She uses a cane and needs a wheelchair at the airport. She hates that she burns tortillas on the stove and can’t see or hear the television unless she sits within a few inches of it and has it on 45 volume.

Her decline in abilities has been in the last three years and for the last two years she’s been saying “This is my last trip, I’m becoming a burden.” 

The inability to do everything for herself is foreign to her, being such an independent woman all her life, and something she struggles against. (I talk about this part of her life here.)

The two things she misses the most? Driving and reading. The freedom to travel anywhere she wants whenever she wants. She is keeping up with progress of the Google Self-Driving Car. I can’t bear to tell her that the commercial sale of these cars is still about five years out. 

Google Self Driving Car

But with the reading loss, Mom is still able to read large print, albeit slowly, with her thick glasses that hurt her nose if she reads more than 30 minutes.

Before we left to Denver, Mom implored me to give her my manuscript to read (Strong Women Grow Here which is about an immigrant teenaged girl in prison). Mom used that “I might not be around to see it published.” Sad, but true.

Given that Mom is legally blind, 12 font on paper is not an option. But, I did figure out how to place the manuscript on my Kindle Fire and enlarge the font so she could see the print.

She read every available minute. Hearing her laugh, or frown, or say, “Ay, that Jester,” (the antagonist) touched me to the heart. We had conversations about prison life for female offenders, effects of abuse, faith and people’s ability to change.

“You have to get this published. It’s important, people will really like the story,” she said.

I love that she is my cheerleader. 

The above led to Mom’s musings about technological changes and how these do not favor the elderly except for her Jitterbug, which she can operate half the time. “They should think about the old people, we want to know what’s going on.”

She’s still waiting to find a computer she can use, because “No one prints photos on paper anymore. They put everything on that ‘Facepage.'” (She calls FaceBook everything but it’s correct name).

“And I want to read your blogging thing. I hear you write poems, is that true?”

So, I’ll see what I can do to find her an easy to use computer with a large lettered keyboard, so she can visit ‘facepage’ and my ‘blogging thing,’ because now her travels will be through a computer screen and her memory.