Category Archives: Nostalgia

90 Years Young

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She was born on June 22, 1926. Her father- Asuncion Espinoza came from a wealthy Mexican cattle ranching family. Her mother was named Librada. Her comfortable childhood was swept away from under her feet when her father decided to leave the family for another woman. He left them completely impoverished and desolate at a very troubled time in the world- the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution and the crisis of a depressed economy in both the U.S. and Mexico.

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Asuncion and Librada’s Wedding (early 1900’s)

Consuelo or “Abuelita Chelo” as we have all come to call her was the little girl who was abandoned along with her siblings and her mother Librada.  Abuelita Chelo is my grandmother and our family matriarch. She turned 90 years old this past week and on Sunday, we will celebrate her and her life. Abuelita never forgot how her life changed drastically from one day to the next when her father left the family and the extreme poverty that followed, living as a homeless family on the streets of Mexico, her and her siblings hustling to make money on the streets as shoe shiners and gum sellers- this childhood trauma followed her all the rest of her life and brought her tremendous sadness.

My grandmother is not the baking cookies type. Never was. Instead I remember her strength and fortitude. She taught me to work hard. Both her and Grandpa did. At age 11, my parents sent me on weekends to spend the night at their house so that I could help them sell at the swap meet. We’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning. The truck was on- rumbling low- coffee scents strong in the air and I’d be squeezed in between them in the front seat of the truck. It was still dark outside. We’d arrive at the swap meet, all of us like small ants in line formation in our trucks- all of us immigrants from other places (Mexico, China, Vietnam)- trying to scrape enough dollars and cents to feed our families.

My grandmother taught me how to talk to people- all kinds of people and she taught me how to sell just about anything to anybody. “You’ve got to call them in- like this Elizabeth, ask them what they need, how you might be able to help them, look for every angle- don’t give up. When you have some down time- organize things this way. Keep your eyes open for thieves- they act quick- look at hands and don’t get distracted.” She was also an unbelievably proud grandmother- to every friend that came by to say hello she would tell them- this is my granddaughter Elizabeth- daughter of Belia. She’d spoil me with doughnuts for breakfast, fresh cherries and plums and peaches during the summers and hamburgers for lunch. They were long days and she wanted to make sure I was well fed. I remember thinking that if you added up all the money she spent on me on food throughout the day- it would have been cheaper for her to hire someone else to help!

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As a small child, I would sit at this little wooden island in her kitchen and eat pomegranates. She’d cover my clothes with a huge apron and then I went to town- red juice spilling all over my hands and mouth- never enough- there were never enough pomegranate seeds. Reader’s Digest magazines and newspapers were always scattered around her house. There was always pan dulce in the pastry dish and coffee on the kitchen counter top. Somebody was always stopping by to visit. There was always another relative I had never met before who was the cousin of so and so and then they’d go on and on about how they remembered me when I was just a small baby.

I miss those days. They were the longest days in the world and the best. I just didn’t know it then.

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On Sunday- together with my parents, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews- all 150 of us- we will celebrate Abuelita Chelo and her 90 years, remember Abuelito Pedro. We will squeeze every single amount of life out of every minute of that day- we will eat, dance, sing, cry, remember and create new memories.

What a legacy she has created- one that is 90 years strong. Thank you Abuelita Chelo.

 

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Saying goodbye to Tia Chica

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My Tia Chica passed away last Thursday, in Mexico City. I wrote about her before in Tia Chica’s Empanadas. My sister Veronica delivered the news via text message to all us sisters. We didn’t have a lot of information about her passing but we knew that if we wanted to get a chance to pay our respects to her and see her one last time, we’d have to act quickly. In Mexico City, they do not embalm the bodies and so they bury them within 24 hours. In Tia Chica’s case it ended up being cremation but needless to say that she passed on Thursday and her rosario– viewing was an all night-vigil Thursday night and Friday morning.

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My two sisters- Nydia and Veronica along with my parents flew into Mexico City Friday. They arrived in the morning and I in the afternoon. The funeral was Friday afternoon and she was cremated Friday evening. I arrived in time to say goodbye and kiss her- glass between us- one final time. My sisters and I – we had an opportunity to thank her for all that she gave to us. We had told her before and we told her again. Still, the finality of death is shocking and we are left with knowing that we’ll never have her empanadas or cooking to nourish us, nor her sarcastic remarks, her biting humor to laugh at- everything and so much more that made her our Tia Chica.

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I am still overcome with so many emotions and since I had not visited Mexico City in 20 years and never with my parents as an adult it was a trip that I cannot yet put to words. There are so many family stories that were told to me that I had never heard and so much I never realized. That is for another post.

Look for an upcoming picture travel diary of 48 hours in Mexico City. It was an unforgettable experience that I cannot wait to share. Thank you for allowing me to share my Tia Chica.

A Rocking Chair

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A neighbor invited me over for coffee this morning. I walked into her home and found this little beauty in the corner. It brought back many warm childhood memories. I had not seen one in years. Growing up with my sisters and cousins – we would use the chair to build blanket forts and dream homes for our Barbies. Sometimes we turned it upside down and used it as a shield. And on occasion, we used it as a rocking chair. Imagine that.

 

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World

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It’s a dog eat dog world out there” she screamed and “I’m wearing milk-bone underwear!!

Last day of the quote challenge and I had so much fun remembering this quote and the time period that accompanied it. Please enjoy and Happy Sunday! Thank you to Faraday’s Challenge for inviting me to this challenge and now I challenge Mommy Lanes Adventures. 

Kate walked into the apartment and slammed the door, took her heavy backpack off and exhaled before telling us her story.

She’d been walking down Frat Row, passing the many fraternities with their unkempt grass lawns and disheveled front doors and shrubbery. She had stopped only because she happened to see a woman’s purse laying on the ground in front of her on the sidewalk and thought- someone’s lost their purse- let me see if there’s an ID inside so I can return it to the owner. But instead of finding an ID, what she found was a pile of what I truly hope was dog shit inside the purse. This was Berkeley after all and anything, I mean anything could have been possible. She screamed in disgust and flung the purse far away from her. By the time she arrived at our apartment on Dwight Way, she was boiling mad and fed up with how difficult and overwhelming college life seemed to be.

We were in our 3rd and 4th undergraduate college years at UC Berkeley living in a 4 bedroom flat that could have been the International House (I-House). All of us in one place for a short but critical period of our lives- having taken so many different journeys to get there.

Will- the aspiring attorney who liked adding kidney beans to his spaghetti sauce and spent his days debating philosophy at cafes and had grown up in the middle-class black suburbs of LA(yes, they exist).

Ben- the hard-core architect who loved building anything and photography. He hailed from Sacramento and dated a Catholic girl which would have been fine if he wasn’t Jewish. It led to some interesting late-night conversations.

Linda- my bestie who I met during freshman orientation days who on that day told me she was going to medical school and would be a doctor. Japanese-Mexican and another So-Cal girl, we bonded instantly. To this day, I don’t know how she did it, but the girl did not sleep and I would find her every night watching television all night always awake and studying biology, physics, the infamous o-chem class, in-between blue screens. She always cried if she pulled out anything less than a B in class. How was she going to get into medical school she wailed? I secretly thought, hmmm – maybe you should stop watching all that television. But I always kept my mouth shut. Who was I to judge?

And there was Kate of course. Kate hailed from the land of Encino, California and had worked her ass off at 2-year community college to get the coveted position of transfer student to UC Berkeley. But all Kate talked about was Dooney & Burke purses and her boyfriend Tim who she would surely marry right after graduation because their parents were life-long friends. Kate dreamt of getting out of college as quickly as possible so she could get on with the rest of her life. “I wish I could just wake up and be like 28 years old, married to Tim and pregnant with the first kid.” College life was not what she thought it would be so she dreamt of what she was sure were better days ahead.

I think about some of these characters sometimes. I wonder how life has worked out for them. If it turned out the way they thought it would. Read the rest of this entry

Our Little Birdie

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Our Little Birdie

11130450_10206639464845222_2686084857469796144_oOur dearest Amelia-

Exactly one year ago today we said goodbye to you Birdie. But you are here- we know that you are. In our dreams. You are the sky. You are the birds that fly in the sky- ever so gently and cautiously flittering from branch to branch. You were of this earth for 2 short years and yet you left a significant impact on every single person that came across your path. Did you know you left behind a legacy of strength and grace and pure love?

10395199_949849028373376_2119984740707218695_nYou were the 9th person in the world diagnosed with a rare metabolic disorder called Acyl-dehydrogenase 9 deficiency. No one could figure out what was wrong for so long. No doctor, no specialist, no surgeon, no one in the whole world. Your parents and family were puzzled. You had been born a perfectly healthy baby girl, yet within hours they realized something was not right.

Finally the diagnosis they had been waiting for came. It was the worst possible news that a parent could get- their worst nightmare- come to life.

1501539_10202158919047788_1876374137_oBut your parents, dear Amelia- well- you already know. They are two of the bravest, most courageous people I have ever known. It didn’t matter that the doctors couldn’t say exactly how long they could expect you to live. They didn’t focus on how much time you had left, never felt sorry for themselves, that they had been dealt a cruel hand. Instead, they praised and thanked God for you and focused on loving and inhaling you and living each precious moment that they were given with you.

1902801_10103306311801473_2013927511923141821_nThey loved you in a way that was beautiful to witness. Everyone did. For a brief moment in time you were always there. At the beach on a summer’s night- bundled up in your stroller- sitting on the sand next to us- around the bonfire. At birthday parties like the Frozen party- where you stole the limelight from the birthday girl. At every family gathering and holiday- always smiling- filled with an inner radiance and light.

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You never knew a life without shots, frequent hospital stays in and out of the emergency room, doctor’s visits, hooked up to your port- yet your soul seemed unencumbered. You emanated love and grace – not sorrow- not pain- not despair- not sadness. Instead, you knew love every single minute of your life- each one of us made sure of that and love you dearly we did- showering you with gifts, directing all of our attention to you, we’d pass you around from arm to arm and talk to you- “hello Mamas!” You learned to clap and wave and throw “besitos.” Read the rest of this entry

For Bunny

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FullSizeRenderHer nickname was Bunny. I met her as Burnetta Quaid. I was working at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Los Angeles and was tasked with increasing fundraising revenue by double digits with the signature Walk to Cure Diabetes program. Her email came at the perfect time- a fundraiser’s dream. We were climbing the walls- how were we going to increase revenue? Would we like to be Southern California Edison’s charity of choice for their employee giving program?

She worked out of the Hesperia office out in the middle of nowhere. My colleague and now dear friend Anna and I drove out to the local PF Chang’s to meet her for lunch. I was nervous- we couldn’t screw this up- this meant significant fundraising dollars for the organization. I was expecting someone different- more formal, with more ego and attitude. When you are in charge of employee giving programs for a large company and you have charities foaming at the mouth to get in, you get used to people asking you for everything and always saying no.

She was anything but. Dark, long hair. Rosy cheeks. Casual with jeans and a white knit shirt that read Southern California Edison. A beautiful smile and high energy. She had married an older man she met at Edison. He was retired. They lived in Apple Valley and enjoyed riding motorcycles. She was straight and to the point. “Listen, I need a charity who is going to be able to attend all 24 employee giving presentations over the next 4-5 months. They will be in places that are very remote and some will be at very inopportune times. You make a commitment to me and I will commit to you.” Our job would be to attend every single one of those presentations and convince their employees to give money to Juvenile Diabetes. Were we in, could we do it? Um- hell yeah.

For the next 5 months Anna and I breathed, ate, and lived Southern CA Edison, in addition to the other corporate walk teams we had to continue to work with. The pace was grueling and there was no guarantee of a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That is the day to day life of a fundraiser. You have to believe that the money will come at the end of the day.

Spending so much time together, I came to know Burnetta and so many other employees at SCE. Every person who came into contact with her came away inspired by her- you could just tell.  She was kind, energetic and positive beyond words. She was a strong, well-respected leader within the company and by her employees. It was truly a joy to work with her. I had the privilege of working with her not only that first year, but a second year as well, we worked that well together and for her- she was relieved to have found a strong, committed charity that finally did what they said they were going to do. The money came- at first in trickles and I was sweating not gonna lie- how do you justify spending so much time and effort and only raising $5k? But then it got into double digits and I knew we were going to be okay. I think that first year we ended at $50-65K, if my memory does not fail me. Read the rest of this entry

Tia Chica’s Empanadas

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FullSizeRender (1)I have a new friend. His name is Don Patricio. He’s in his mid to late 60’s and the abuelo of twin boys on I’s soccer team. He and his wife arrived in Chicago 40 years ago from Ecuador. Now they live in St. Louis, with their son and his wife, helping to raise the grandchildren.  He’s been here a year and he desperately misses Chicago and its large Latino community – I hear it in his voice and recognize it because I too share that same longing and familiarity.

He calls me La Reina Mexicana- The Mexican Queen. He is very sweet and introduces me to the other Latinos at the elementary school. He knows them all and they adore him. There are Cubanos, Ecuadorians, Argentines and Bolivians. We all have our own story of how we arrived here in middle America.

FullSizeRenderThis past Friday night, the elementary school held it’s annual international culinary festival fundraiser. The gym was filled with an ethnic smorgasbord of foods- Japanese sushi rolls, green tea matcha cake, Jamaican sorrel, jerk chicken, festival, German bratwurst, Cuban tamales, and on and on. It was a huge celebration of our merging of cultures. I represented FullSizeRender (2)Mexico and made 40 servings of arroz con leche– Mexican rice pudding.  So it only made sense for Don Patricio and I to spend Thursday’s entire soccer practice discussing what else but food. I asked him what he was making for the festival- I knew it was going to be something yummy. He told me his wife was going to make ham empanadas. That one word alone took me back about 30 years to Tia Chica’s empanadas. Read the rest of this entry