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.”

 

Family, Latino culture, Mothers, Strong Women, Wisdom

Hurricane Mother – Part 2

 

SuperMom Logo by Jose Rios, Flickr.com
SuperMom Logo by Jose RIos, Flickr.com

 

Last week I wrote about gathering the puzzle pieces of my mother’s first 25 years of life. This made me think about how often we don’t know the stories that our loved one’s carry.

The tragedies, lessons, and life skills my mom learned in the first part of her life set the stage for her next 25 years.

I’m filled with mixed feelings about writing this portion of her life. I wasn’t an observer during this time, I was living this part with her, as a child and a teenager. At that time, I mainly thought of what I and my siblings were going through, as a result, of her choices.

Mom was gone from morning until late at night. We saw her on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and the weekend. Babysitters came and went, some pretty nice, some not.

The nicest one we called Sugar, she didn’t speak English except for the words to the song “Sugar, Sugar.” The meanest babysitter roared instructions. Mom had a cancelled class and caught the woman chasing my brother with a belt. She threw her out on the street.

Although Mom barely reaches five feet and was petite, she knew how to fight like a bantamweight boxer, a skill she learned sparring with her older brother. This was also a survival skill we saw displayed a couple of times when defending her children from drug addicts or an irate neighbor (that’s another story).

 

More Puzzle Pieces 

A new life meshes into her own. The stigma is great-“Unwed Mother.” Her baby girl passes off as little sister.

Years after the Korean War ends, the town is still surrounded by military bases. Everything changes when the USO women came to the neighborhood.

“Come to the dance. Free food, good music, appreciative servicemen…” “Sounds fun, what’s the harm, oh, come on,” said among giggles of the single young women.

A gaggle of men, handsome in Air Force uniforms, swarmed the newcomers. One sat behind mom, content to talk, unaware that his soft blue eyes, blond hair, and Kentucky accent mesmerized her into silence.

Her beauty brought him into the barrio, had him speaking Spanish. They married. He adopted two year old little sister/daughter. An anomaly of a couple, even in California.

Three more children, all in a row. Almost a big “Leave It To Beaver” family until alcohol, fear and anger tore them apart. She told him to leave. A regret to this day, even beyond his death. The good recalled with much more frequency than the bad.

Back to stifling packing houses, a heavy apron, aching back, wet wrinkled hands from sorting vegetables. Worked ten hours in silence, not allowed to turn her head left or right, the rules you know. Plenty of time to think of the future: a secretary, a police officer, a social worker.

Bus across the tracks to adult ed to get her high school diploma. The drive to want more accompanied the three-mile walk back, at ten p.m., three nights a week.  At thirty-two years old, she graduated and decided to  attend community college.

Ridicule, jokes, shaming comments from neighbors and relatives. “Who does she think she is, what kind of mother isn’t home for her kids after school, leaving them in the evening, sin vergüenza…” She carried books of knowledge along with her guilt through dark nights on the city bus.

In the early morning she knelt before the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the staircase niche. In the evening, a votive to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Weekends at Mass.

Government canned food, powdered milk, the kindness of her siblings fed her family. She pawned her wedding ring when the cupboards were empty. Hunger was the only thing that almost broke her.

Every summer for eight years she sent her children to her brother and his wife, angels to the rescue, so she could go back to the packing houses, save money, remove the cross tattoo on her hand, send her kids to Catholic school.

At forty, she graduated from community college, found her first office job, but still wanted more.

Commuting to a university filled her with hope for a future alongside the fear of what was happening at home, her children now teenagers living in the barrio where success stories are few and far between. We moved across the tracks. Strict rules, education, education, education, drummed into our ears.

Strikes, boycotts, Si Se Puede, self-determination. A community activist, volunteer, doer. Doors opened, scholarships bestowed, a donated car from a women’s group. No time for romance, no time for breathing.

Baby daughter left to college after Mom graduated with two Bachelor’s of Arts degrees, at forty-five.

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Inspiration, life lessons, Strong Women, Wisdom

8 Life Lessons from Women Writers

On Character by Joan Didion, photo by Buzzfeed
On Character by Joan Didion, photo by Buzzfeed

 

Joan Didion looks way cool in that Corvette. Reminds me of me, back in the late 70’s, in my blue metal flaked Chevy Malibu. But back to the life lessons.

In my section of the Southern California coast the marine mist appears in the early evening and grays over the landscape. This becomes a perfect time for reflecting on the day and writing in my journal.

Today I cleaned out one bookshelf and selected 25 books to donate to the library. The first 10 books were an easy choice, the last 15 much harder. A short task took a few hours. Any reader knows how you can get lost in a book, even if you’ve read it before.

I flipped through pages, reread paragraphs, remembered characters, and debated whether the book made it into the donation box. Many times I pulled a book out and put it back on the shelf.

At the end of the book donation I wrote down a few life lessons that made their way into my heart again.

One of the books was from Joan Didion. Here are seven more life lessons from other women writers:

 

1. Kindness can be a lifesaver.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop…Naomi S. Nye

2. Always be true to yourself.

“When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are…” Sandra Cisneros

3-Heal your wounds. You have more strength, more resilience, and more inner wisdom than you think you do. You’ll get through it, survive and thrive. 

 

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise…” Maya Angelou

4–Leave the past in the past.

“Remember the past, but don’t get lost back there. Celebrate the blessings of the past in the present, but remember to live today. Today is built on the past and tomorrow is evolving from both the past and the present. The future? Quien sabe? (who knows)” Denise Chavez

5-Age is a number and an attitude.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan

 

6. Solitude can be valuable. It’s all in your perspective.

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up. ~Pearl Buck

 

7. You can begin again.

Joyce Meyer
Joyce Meyer

Only one of the books that contain the above quotes made it into the donation box. Can you guess which one? Where do you find your life lessons?