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.

 

Family, Latino culture, Stories, Strong Women

An Expert Interview About Mom’s Amazing Oranges

a bowl of oranges
Oranges

Most Sundays I visit my mother. When you spend time with your parents or elders you never know what story they’re going to share.

Mom came into the kitchen from the backyard holding what I thought was a grapefruit.

“From my tree,” her smile and voice triumphant.

She opened her hands and a boulder of an orange rolled onto the kitchen table where I sat reading her Sunday newspaper.

“That’s huge.” My awe not only resulted from the size of the fruit but the fact my mom has a dwarf orange tree making its size more incredible.

The scent of sweetness and tang sprang into the space around us.

“This is a 220,” she said, smiling with every flick of the peel. “At the packing house, we sorted 220’s from 200’s, 210’s.”

“I’m guessing that’s the weight?” I asked.

“Don’t know, but the 220’s were the best of the best. We wrapped them in Sunkist tissue paper before we put them into a special box, all nice.”

vintage citrus label Princess Call Ranch
Sunkist Oranges-Princess label. Creative Commons.

“Like those Harry and David fruit boxes?”

She continued peeling, clearly not hearing my question. Not only is she legally blind, but she has significant hearing loss, not that anyone can really tell of either impairment since she’s so vivacious.

“Ufff, the conveyor belts filled the warehouse, running above us, on the sides, everywhere. There were the regular oranges, the unblemished ones for supermarkets, not a spot on them, and the perfect ones for shipping. And the not so pretty ones for juice.”

I wondered if the beauty of the perfect oranges became a horror at the end of an eight or ten-hour shift where she stood the entire time. Did they still appear beautiful after a thousand oranges rolled by on the conveyor belt?

citrus packing house, 1940's
1940’s photo of interior of citrus packing house-Creative Commons

“Most all the women in the neighborhood worked there. Lots of chisme (gossip) and jokes, the time passed.”

My memory flashed to a summer job I had during college. I worked the graveyard shift in a similar packing house in Oxnard, California sorting strawberries. The women were not so talkative during the night shift.

The conveyor belt rolled at a quick pace while I snatched bruised or overripe berries off the belt and plopped them into the running stream of water alongside the pulleys. The best were shipped to Japan, the worst sent to be made into jelly.

The frigid air reeked of earth and berries, the cold keeping us awake at three in the morning. At the end of the shift, the berries looked like hordes of crawling red spiders.

I finished the strawberry season but that was the last time I worked in a packing house. Mom and her sisters worked in several fruit and chile packing houses for years: Sunkist, S & W, DelMonte.

She often came home, lugging her plastic apron and gloves to wash, reeking of California green chiles, berries, or fruit oil depending on the season. How did she do it? I’m sure she’d say, “You do what you got to do, as long as it’s honest.”

“Now, let’s see if this 220 is sweet,” Mom said. She sectioned the orange with her fingers, piece by piece, working her fingers down the crevices, picking off the white residue of webbing.

She offered me a wedge before she bit into her own piece. Her eyes fluttered with delight. “Ah, a good one.”

My own piece dripped with sweetness. I smiled, not only for the piece of orange but for my mom’s story and opportunity to visit her past.

 

 

Family, Inspiration, Latino culture, Strong Women, Wisdom, Writing

Top 5 Posts of 2015 – An Authentic Cultural Experience

Top 5 #blog posts of 2015, blog posts
Happy New Year 2015

 

Are you excited for what’s ahead in 2016? I am.

The year 2015 had its up’s and downs. I think of the ‘downs’ as learning opportunities and the ‘up’s’ as blessings.

WordPress and Grammarly sent me year-end reports which reminded me of my writing during the past year. Their graphic reports were very cool with stats and all that, but I’m not going to post the whole thing.

Let’s just say my blog posts surpassed my 2014 stats in views and followers, a plus in my book.

Surprisingly, all of the most read posts had to do with aspects of my identity: Mexican culture, food, drink, home remedies, and the term “Chingona.” Interesting.

WordPress said,

If your blog was a concert at Sydney Opera House it would take 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see…representing 106 countries...with most referring traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Buzzfeed…

The referring traffic was a big surprise and means I need to keep up with my 20 Pinterest boards.

As for Grammarly, which corrects your grammar, I still hold the title of Comma Queen meaning I put commas everywhere but the right places far too often.

Now on to the “Top 5 Posts”:

  1. Five Important Ingredients for Tamales : The making of pre-Christmas tamales is a tradition where our family gets together to work towards a common goal, namely to make dozens of tamales for a communal feast. By the time New Year’s Day rolls around we are ‘tamaled’ out. Red tamales are filled with roasted pork simmered in red chile sauce and the ‘green’ ones are filled with jack cheese, strips of California green chile, and homemade salsa.
Christmas food, tamales, red chile tamales, green chile tamales, Mexican tamales
Red and Green Tamales. http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

2. The Importance of Cultural Traditions: the title says it all. If we lose our culture we lose part of ourselves.

3. How to Be a Chingona in Ten Easy Steps: The steps are according to the wisdom of Sandra Cisneros, one of my favorite writers. We can all aspire to be chingonas. I love this image of Sandra Cisneros profile as an Adelita, a soldier in the Mexican Revolution. An Adelita is symbolic of the woman warrior.

quote on being a Chingona by Sandra CIsneros, woman, inspirational quote, women quote
Chingona- Sandra Cisneros quote. Quotesgram.com

4. Champurrado-Mexican Comfort Drink: this is a drink I make every Christmas since my mother ‘retired,’ from making a similar drink ten years ago. When she stopped making the drink, due to her limited eyesight, I was bestowed with carrying on a tradition. I make a vegan version for my sons and their friends.

5. Latino Home Remedies for a Cold: Back in the day, the standard issue for Mexican households was Vicks VaporRub, 7 Up, honey, Manzanilla (Chamomile) tea for cramps, Yerba Buena (Mint) tea for stomach aches, and caldo de pollo (homemade chicken soup) for flu or colds.

So there you have it, the top five posts in 2015.

I hope 2016 is a blessing to all of you and yours. Peace, love, and joy.