Family, Inspiration, Parenting, Strong Women

The Pope and My Mother

old 1950 Mercury car
1950 Mercury

I’m not a Catholic anymore, but like millions of people, I watched Pope Francis’ visit to Washington D.C and the other parts of America.

Since the day he became Pope, I admired his Christian demeanor and his actions above rhetoric. His compassion for the homeless, the children, and immigrants reminded me of a lesson my mother taught my siblings and I a long time ago.

Those were the days of welfare commodities, those big silver containers of oily peanut butter, Spam, powdered milk and eggs. Mom was a divorcee, a single parent with four kids who went to night school to get her diploma after her full-time job.

An asphalt parking lot separated the housing projects, the apartment buildings where we lived. The lot served as a playground for roller skating, a game of tag, or kickball between cars. 

Amid the old Chevy’s, work trucks, and cars on their last legs, sat a hulking tank of a car, decades old, early 1950’s Mercury. Rimless, faded paint, and worn tires made it look ready for the junk yard. The car had a larger front end than a behind with a huge dashboard full of newspapers and junk, blankets in the rear seat.

We found out a man lived in the car. White stubble dotted his chin and neck against the mahogany of his skin color. He appeared overweight since he wore layers of clothes. A black jacket with sweaters over shirts, blue overalls, red bandanas in his pocket. Skimpy mittens stretched over large hands to ward off the cold. He wore a Charlie Chaplin type hat.

The round man who matched his heavy set car slept in a parking lot of cars that left at dawn for the packing houses, dairy, or vegetable fields. Sometimes he used someone’s water hose to douse his head and face. Drying himself with his bandana.

Sometimes he got drunk on cheap wine, telling us he was from the south, never naming the state or maybe we didn’t ask. There was no work, his jalopy broke down near our apartments and he pushed it into the lot, living there ever since.

When he got drunk he’d reach into his pockets, pull out pennies and nickels and throw them into the air. Kids dove for the coins, it was like bolo, being at a Catholic baptismal when the baby’s godfather threw coins on the church steps to celebrate the event.

One morning he came to our back door, hat in hand, asking my mom if she had some spare bread, water, maybe a sandwich?

We watched her from the kitchen table, making a sandwich with some of our fried Spam. She found a mason jar and filled it with iced tea. He glanced from her to us, to his scuffed brown boots and back again, staring at the concrete.

He took his sandwich and tea with many thanks, a big smile, saying “God bless you,” several times. My mom nodded. When she shut the door one of us said something about the wino and why did she give him some of our food. She corrected us saying he was down on his luck, and he needed help. She grew up during the great depression and knew what hunger felt like and we were Catholics, it was our duty to help other people.

After that, mostly during payday, Mom would make him refried bean burritos, kept hot by wrapping them in aluminum foil. She filled the mason jar with tea and send us out to the parking lot to give to the man. The other neighbors occasionally fed him too, bringing him something they picked from the orchards or field. One day we went outside to play and his car was gone. 

I imagined he found a job, lived a better life, but I don’t know what happened to the homeless man. What I do remember is the compassion my mother showed to someone who was poorer than we were, reminding us we had a duty to help others.

Pope Francis quote on mercy and compassion
Pope Francis on Compassion

 

Chingonas, Encouragement, Latino culture, Sandra Cisneros, Strong Women, Wisdom, Writing

The Wisdom of Sandra Cisneros

I read an article about the author, writer, poet Sandra Cisneros turning 60 years young. To celebrate, she dressed up as a cake-A. Cake-and celebrated in her new town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

This is why I call her a chingona. Strong, fearless, badass (in a good way).

“I have never felt younger or happier – now I can take care of me,” she says. “It’s a good time.”

She had a few things to say about life at sixty. This is part of a list she composed the day after her birthday, which began with “This is what I know…”

Channel of Light-Love.

When I let go of these distractions, then I write and live from a place of forgiveness, generosity, compassion, and humility.

Generosity  and Selflessness
Generosity and Selflessness

Err on the side of generosity.

Divine Providence
Divine Providence

When in doubt, sleep on it. Ask and you’ll get an answer.

Do the thing you fear most.
Do the thing you fear most.

 

Trust what comes from intuition; doubt what comes from my brain.

On love and life.
On love and life.

And you’re probably wondering how did she dress up as a cake? Well, here’s the photo:

Sandra Cisneros as her own birthday cake. Piñata skirt by Eva and Jorge Rios, photo by Tracy Boyer
Sandra Cisneros as her own birthday cake. Piñata skirt by Eva and Jorge Rios, photo by Tracy Boyer

We marched down the street like a parade to the jardin, the town center. A row of brilliant mariachis dressed all in white and gold serenaded me on my arrival with “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional birthday song.

Like I said, buen chingona.

Art, Chingonas, Strong Women

Art and Community

Heart of the Sea by Ray Ferrer

 

While reading a favorite blogger’s post “Emotion on Canvas,” this image caught my attention. Truthfully, all of Ray Ferrer’s artwork catches my attention.

The majesty of the ship, shrouded in the indigo shadows of night and ocean, seemed ominous. The words in the January 26th post were more forbidding:

Hi Friends and Fans of Ray! This is his wife, Rhian Ferrer….
Tuesday morning I found Ray in bed having a seizure (he has never had one before) I brought him to the hospital and he is stable but has a massive baseball sized tumor in/on his brain.  He will be undergoing surgeries, radiation and chemo therapy in the upcoming months.

This young artist and his wife are now in for the fight of their lives. But fighters they are, as evidenced by Rhian’s post, yesterday:

As Ray deals with the hard news of a baseball sized brain tumor, I, his wife, am adding some of his works for public availability / purchase to offset some of the expenses and costs of his costly procedures.

Ray and his wife have their artwork on Etsy. This is the great gift, I bought for my daughter’s birthday, from Rhian’s site:

Frida Kahlo by Rhian Ferrer
Frida Kahlo by Rhian Ferrer

Go and check out Ray Ferrer’s site. They are so generous that even when they need all the funds they can get, Ray is discounting his art. Use coupon code ART50 for half off. 

His wife set up a GoFundMe site. She is the epitome of a strong woman, una buen chingona. (Loosely translated as a badass, strong woman.)

Writers, poets, artists and those who love the arts are a community. Prayers, healing energy, and strength to this couple and their family.

I hope you visit the Ferrer’s artist pages and make a purchase.

Books, Chingonas, Inspiration, poetry, Strong Women, Writing

Michele Serros- Author, Poet, Friend

Michele Serros, Mrs. Antonio Magaña, author, poet, friend.
Michele Serros, Mrs. Antonio Magaña, author, poet, friend.

 

My friend died two days ago.

Cancer.

I knew she had it for several months.

Pinche cancer.

I really thought she’d survive.

Damn it.

She married the love of her life, a short three years ago. He was by her side when she left this world.

My heart holds a special spot for Michele Serros, or as she liked to hear, “Mrs. Antonio Magaña.”

A confusion of feelings surround death.

Why? Why her? Why didn’t prayers work?

I see her smile, lively eyes, texts at odd hours,

her words expressing identity, small towns, and individuality

a literary landmark

stories like my life and unlike my life

resonate with scenes only she could paint

Why?

She found love, at a vegan restaurant,

with a Berkeley chicano, a mexican, from her home town,

from her own high school, the same alma mater, so long ago

ecstatic with love, a new family

sharing her life.

That’s the way she was, loving, giving, living

daring to say the unsaid,

with wit and unique style,

inspired to write by Judy Blume.

A Medium Brown girl,

A Taco Belle,

Mucha Michele,

who wrote outside of ‘barrios, borders, and bodegas,’

defining herself and the question of identity

to a mess of other men and women

boys and girls

high schoolers to old schoolers

on what is mexicano, chicano, americano.

A writer of handwritten notes,

handcrafted cards of

glitter and glue,

inspired,

memorable,

unique,

like her.

 

Michele was the first writer I knew, personally, and from my home town. I attended her readings back in the late 90’s. Her writing inspired me to think that I could be a writer. When I first met her, we clicked. She had that kind of personality-she clicked with everyone.

A giver of advice, affection, and friendship, Michele was a humble person who stayed grounded and a strong woman who was soft on the outside, tough on the inside. A chingona.

She was a long distance member of the writing group to which I belong, sometimes sending us articles to review.

I often felt inadequate, a published author asking me for feedback? But that was the way she was, as real as real can get.

An excerpt from her book, “Chicana Falsa: And Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard,” struck me, long ago. Her mother died, from cancer, and Michele wrote the obituary. When she described her mother as an artist, someone questioned it, “it isn’t like she sold anything.”

Definitions always played a big part of my life: a true Mexican versus a fake Mexican…a true artist versus a wannabe. Nonetheless, my mama would have been crushed knowing she left this earth not remembered as an artist. It was her fear and lack of confidence that kept her art stuck on an easel, hidden away in the corner of our family’s garage…it was her death that gave me the courage to finally share some of my own poems and stories. The purpose? to make someone happy, inspired…I just couldn’t bear the thought of questioning what my own obituary would say. 1994

There is no question that Michele was an artist, who made millions of readers happy, who inspired thousands of Latinas, Latinos, and others who rarely read anything that resonated with their lives. Her books are here.

She had been working on a new novel, An Unmarried Mexican, a title she borrowed from one of her favorite books and movie, An Unmarried Woman.

As you could imagine, medical expenses soared, especially for a self employed person. Give Forward has a campaign to assist Michele’s family. The fund is halfway to its goal.

To read more about this wonderful person, see “An Unexpected Heirloom,” at Huffington Post and this article in the Los Angeles Times.

Rest in love, Michele.

Siempre.

Family, Grief, Latino family tradition, Memoir, Mothers, poetry, Strong Women, Travel

Hurricane Mom – Memoir, Part 3

Poem to Mother by Sharon Doubiago
Poem to Mother by Sharon Doubiago

 

Day’s flutter pass like wind blown pages of a book, occasionally landing on a chapter of happiness or sorrow.

Mom’s children leave. Each daughter marries. The hours spent on them are now hours gained to contemplate middle age, not that anyone would guess she was in her mid-life, nor would she correct them.

Grandchildren come into the world as her oldest siblings depart. Men of integrity, courage, and tradition. Orphan men who provided for siblings survived the Great Depression, and wars. Men who married young sweethearts, raised families, and weathered changing times.

The winds of life blow with the ferocity only death can bring. Mom’s brothers died soon after retirement, ravaged by cancer, the affliction of her parents. Their departure like uprooted trees in the landscape of her life.

Her career becomes her greatest pleasure, counseling the unemployed, connecting people with goals, encouraging youth, instilling hope. Evenings filled with meetings, groups of various acronyms, with one purpose: equality. Now there is a community pool, educational centers, and non-profit organizations serving people.

The pages keep turning. There is no slowdown in mid-life. Mom worked until 67, left after a mass shooting at her state office left co-workers dead, injured. Left her with post-traumatic syndrome. She thought about going back to college, for her Master’s degree, but serves on the Grand Jury instead.

Wanderlust struck. So much life, so much to live for. Egypt, Jordan, places we can no longer visit, were first on the agenda. Spain, Portugal, Canada, France, England, Mexico, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, and half of the United States. Places visited in books of her youth or on TV.

She rescues working daughters, son, and walks grandkids to school, makes them snacks, watches them grow. Her home is open to her children when troubles strike. None of us ever go it alone.

Mom’s life temporarily shuts down when her youngest sister died, the one she protected, the one who helped her through every pothole in the journey. Cancer. Again. A light went out, brightness dimmed. The absence of phone calls, trips to casinos, shopping, laughing with her sister leave Mom depressed for two years.

Her eyesight dims like her joy. A prognosis of legal blindness curtails her driving, her independence and link to distant friends and extended family. Worse, it’s difficult to read.

Now family reunions take place in her dreams, between recurring nightmares. Pain fades, aches remain, good times are remembered, wistful visits to previous chapters of life.

The first great-grandchild is born, many grand nieces/nephews, celebrations of sacraments, birthdays, milestones. Tortillas, turkey, tamales, everything celebrated with food and family, traditions kept alive.

And the pages turn.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Click here for part 1 and 2 of “Hurricane Mom.”