Family, Fear, Grief, Inspiration, Latino culture, Love, Mothers, Parents, poetry

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.

 

 

 

Birthdays, Chingona, Death, Family, Parents, Strong Women

A Meaningful Life

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It’s my mother’s birthday. She’s on the other side of her early 80’s. 

Still a rebel with a cause. A chingona of the first degree, a strong woman.

Loves to eat, tell us stories, have a beer sometimes (only Corona), and laugh. 

We celebrated yesterday at a birthday barbeque in the backyard surrounded by four generations. 

Her favorite menu of carne asada, corn on the cob, chocolate cake with raspberries were among the spread. We forgot her diabetes for one meal. We didn’t want another tussle.


Amidst the talk of another year gone by, she begins counting grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, thirteen in total.  

“Look,” a friend said to mom, “look at all these fires you started.”

Mom leaned back, she looked pleased and nodded.

I heard her whisper, “Maybe my last year.” She’s been saying those words for the last several months. 

She reminds me that she’s glad I wrote down the stories of her childhood four years ago and gave them to my siblings and cousins. 

“It’s a good title, ‘Remembering before I Forget,’ she said, “because I’m really forgetting now.” And that reminds me that I have to revise the stories. Her cousin says that she recalled a few incidents incorrectly.  

She turns melancholy. It’s hard for her being the last sibling alive. We never had grandparents on her side of the family. She was orphaned at a young age. Remembering that she’s the last one alive is hard for me too. Sometimes I feel guilty we still have her and my cousins don’t have their moms and dads anymore. I think about how they feel when they see her.  

Mom looks to a near future of death, preparing for it by making all the arrangements and payments for her plot, selecting her songs, specifying the flowers, writing down her pall bearers (to include her granddaughters), giving me cards for the man who releases the doves. 

“And no crying, celebrate. I want Mariachi’s to play.”

Everytime I hear her say this I choke up. I’m gonna cry. I know it. And I don’t care. Many, many people will cry. And then I’ll remember all the funny stuff she says and does, all the while laughing. We’ll cry and later laugh, loud.  That’s a family thing, we laugh loudly.

We’ll remember her push for college, her feistiness, her marches for justice, persistence, her green thumb, her love of reading, her travels, her stories about her barrio. We’ll remember it all. 

But the time to cry isn’t now. 

We toast to her health and more birthdays to come.