“A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” -Tenneva Jordan
I ran across this quote recently and immediately thought of my mom. There had to have been hundreds of times that I know that this wonderful woman did without so that her “hijitos” could have that extra slice of pie, or piece of bread, or even a bowl of beans because all of a sudden “she wasn’t hungry. ” When my mom was raising my brother and I by herself, which she did from the time I was about a year and half old till the time I was just short of 11 years old, I can remember seeing her wearing ratty, old clothing to make sure that Art and I had decent clothes to use to go to church and school. On her meager nurses aid salary she saved and saved to make sure we had an awesome Christmas, with little or nothing to show for herself. Even after she married my dad and became a respiratory therapist she scrimped and saved to make sure that we had all those little goodies that we all wanted (my dad included). Sacrifice for others was part of who she was.
As a young naive child I asked her if it was ok to tell a lie. Of course she told me that it wasn’t. My next comment caught her off guard when I asked her why she lied about being hungry when I could hear her stomach grumble at the dinner table. “Just wait, mi hijito, when you have children you will understand.” Now some 50 years later I fully understand.
What made this wonderful woman so special to me and to her family? I recently asked several of my family members to write something about her so that my granddaughter Chloe would know something about her. I am amazed at the different things that everyone remembered about her. She was described as “special”, “loving”, “strong”, “independent”, and “selfless” among many things. Thinking about what made her special to me is hard because of the many influences she has had on my life.
One of my earliest memories was watching my mom work her crossword puzzles. By the time I was in high school she could fill those things out like she was filling out an application. Her explanation to me was that it helped her learn English. My mom did not have a lot of education but she had an awesome vocabulary. She never graduated high school, but was the first of her group of Respiratory Therapists to get certified – even before the ones that had received their Associates Degree as an RT. She worked her way up from being a nurses aide to being one of the first RT’s certified in El Paso. Needless to say, education was an important focus in my life, and I received a lot of encouragement and support for my educational endeavors.
I have a memory of walking to the park with her and my brother and being stopped by the Border Patrol. They wanted to know what she was doing with these little white boys. They would not believe that we were her boys, they assumed she was the maid taking care of some lady’s kids. This continued for a long time, so much so that we hated to see that uniform at any time, even years after my mom had become an American citizen. My mom came to the US to work. She spoke English well enough to cross the border and convince them that she was an American. Ironically, she started by working as a maid and taking care of a lady’s kids.
To this day I cringe when I hear the word “wetback”. My mom, although she came across illegally, contributed more to this country with her hard work, patriotism, and attitude than a hell of a lot of “citizens.” She taught me to stand with my hand over my heart during the pledge of allegiance and national anthem. She taught me to make sure I voted, regardless of how small the election happened to be. My mom taught me that it was better to work extra hours or extra jobs than to rely on getting handouts from the government.
She also taught me to be comfortable with being who I was. Another word I hate is “gringo.” Having spent so much time with my grandparents in Juarez I was constantly taunted by the kids in the neighborhood with that phrase. For the Mexican part of my family I was the little white boy, to my father’s family I was the little Mexican kid. I had a hard time identifying where I belonged. My mom told me that I was special and that I should not let anyone categorize me.
My wife tells me that I have to learn to say no, that I try to be helpful so often that people take advantage of me. This certainly came from my mom. She was a giving person almost to a fault. But you know, I don’t see this as a weakness. It is a reflection of the loving giving spirit that my mom nurtured in me.
My mom loved my girls a lot. She often reminded me of the conversations we had when she explained to me how being a parent would change my life. I wish she had been around to see them marry, to see them graduate from college, to see them fulfill their goals and dreams. As crazy as I am about my granddaughter, my mom would have been even crazier about her.
A lot of things go into making me the person that I am. My faith, my life experiences, and the influences of others around me certainly helped cobble together the pieces of my life. The parts of me that others may consider special, however, I am certain came from this wonderful woman.
On January 28th the 10th anniversary of my mom’s passing came and went. I started writing this days before that anniversary. It is now February 12th. Writing down my thoughts is normally not a problem, but this time I really struggled. There is nothing I can write that will do my mom’s memory justice. All I can say is that I miss the love in her voice, the calming influence in my life, and that special smile she always had for me. All I can say is I miss you mom.