Book: Resilience - The Life of a Mexican American. Novel based on a true life story. Names changed to protect participants. Introduction & 18 Chapters. I´ve posted first nine chapters. Interested in reader feedback. If interested, please read and provide me contructive feedback via comments. For additional chapters and poems, email (comments emailed to me, not posted so as not to influence future readers)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chapter 6: Teenage Responsibilities

Mom said I was becoming a woman. She made some new rules. I could no longer play outside like a tomboy. I was a young lady.

I had new responsibilities.

Previously I was her kitchen helper. When I was twelve, she put me in charge of meals for certain days of the week. I also took over responsibility of my younger sisters.

My two younger sisters Tina and Baby always hung out together as children. They were a one word name too, Tina-and-Baby.

Tina was a pretty baby. She had pretty brown hair and light, fair skin. Mom always dressed Tina up in pretty, frilly clothes.

Baby was Mom’s youngest. I think she was a surprise. Mom was 42 and going through the change. She went to the doctor because she thought she was having female troubles. Instead, she found out she was pregnant.

Tina loved Baby. She treated her like her own little baby doll. Baby’s real name was Angelina Elena, but Tina changed her name to Baby. Tina used to sing one of the popular songs on the radio that year and made it her own, “Angel, Baby. You’re mine forever. Angel, Baby. You are my Baby, Dear.” So the name stuck.

Mom treated both little girls very special. She also asked me to be responsible for them. Starting when I was eight years old, I made bottles for both of them and rocked them to sleep.

They both stopped their bottle the same year, Tina at five and Baby at three. Tina stopped because she didn’t like the teasing she received in Kindergarten.

In the sixties, Rick and I had to take Tina and Baby everywhere we went. Mom made it a rule. There were no kids my age that lived close to us. So there I was, a teenager, with three little kids trailing me around everywhere.

Tina and Baby learned to expect that I would take them everywhere. Sometimes it grated on my nerves, but it was hard to be angry at them.

Each night, they begged me to sing them the same song to help them fall asleep. I always gave in.

“Good Night My Love. Pleasant Dreams and Sleep tight my loves….” They quietly fell asleep and I tiptoed back to my room.

I loved my baby sisters even though I felt they were cramping my social life, I always felt it was my duty to protect them.

I started gaining weight the fall after my twelfth birthday. Mom laid down a new rule when I started my period. “You are a young lady now. You have to stop playing outside like a boy.”

I always had a voracious appetite. As a tomboy, I stayed slim because I was forever running and playing outside. Now, the pounds started to pack on because I was babysitting or staying inside doing housework or staying in my room.

Maybe it was a good thing I was getting heavy. Boys were starting to pay attention to me.

In the summer, Jamie gave me my first kiss. In the seventh grade, some boys started looking at me in school.

I felt a little insecure about boys. I never considered myself pretty. I was a tomboy.

When I started packing on the pounds, the boys stopped looking. In the 2nd half of seventh grade, one of my friends told me a boy liked me but he noticed I was getting chubby. She said if I wanted him to still like me, I needed to slim down again.

I didn’t know if I wanted boys to like me yet. I still felt like a little kid inside. Jamie’s kiss made me nervous.

I started reading books and watching TV. As a young girl, I thought it was safer getting lost in my fantasy world of books, movies and TV than meeting boys and falling in love. Besides, I knew Dad wouldn´t let me date.

We kept a huge, old dumpster in our backyard. This dumpster was given to Dad by the factory. Back in those days, you could burn your trash in town.

When Mom wanted a garden in our backyard, Dad cleared some big trees from the back area of the yard. He chopped the trees into short logs and piled them into tall stacks against our back fence.

On crisp, Indian summer nights, Dad burned the logs in the dumpster. All of us kids sat on a little hill near the dumpster taking in the sites, sounds and aroma of burning wood.

I loved the smell of burning logs. There was nothing like it.

To this day, every time I smell a burning log, I think of Dad chopping wood and those long hot summer nights burning the logs.

Sometimes, in front of the fire, we sat on logs, eating fresh watermelon. Dad and Mom had a special tradition whenever we ate watermelon. Dad split it in half and cut out the “heart” of the watermelon and handed it to Mom with the words, “My heart for my Queen.”

Mom always had a shy look when Dad did this. He either fed it to her or she would take it and eat it as they both stared into each others eyes.

When the dumpster became full, Dad hauled it to the city dump. Sometimes Dad brought the kids with him. We thought going to the dump was a special occasion. We kids searched the mountains of paper trash, searching for hidden gold mines.

Once, my uncle, who sometimes made the trip with us, found a box full of Christian books in very good condition. Another time, Dad found a wooden swing-set which he hauled home and set up in our backyard.

The only problem with the swing-set was some of the pieces were missing. It was a sturdy swing-set however in that it was made of heavy, wooden poles.

One day, Rick, Tina, Baby and I were playing on the swing-set.

All of a sudden, the legs of the swing-set started to split. Since many of the screws were missing, there wasn’t anything to hold it together when we all were on it.

The kids started screaming and moving in slow motion. They weren’t moving quickly enough as the legs of the swing-set started spreading farther and farther apart. The kids were going to be crushed.

I didn’t have an option. I had to stand beneath the center wooden pole and hold up the swing-set until they were all safe. By the time they reached safety, it was too late for me to get out from under.

I held up the swing-set as long as I could. Slowly, slowly it came down on top of me, first to shoulder level, then chest. Soon I was under it.

The heavy weight laid me flat on my back as a nail was scratching my belly.

I screamed to Rick, “Get help from inside.”

He jumped in leaps to the house and ran to get Steven and Mark.

When they came out, Steven and Mark started howling with laughter. “How the heck did you do that?”

Rick explained, “She saved us from getting smashed!”

Rick, my PR guy!

Steven and Mark picked up the swing-set enough so I could crawl out from under it.

When Dad came home and heard the story, he had the boys put the swing-set in the back of his truck and he took it back to the junkyard the next day.

Afterwards, the kids looked to me as their protector and I looked to them as children I should protect.

In the summer of 1960, Tina almost drowned. We were up in Cherry country. We were swimming in Lake Leelanau in the section reserved for us migrant workers.

Tina was only four years old. We were all swimming. Tina slipped underneath the water. I didn’t see her slip under.

I was swimming and I saw her laying flat on her back at the bottom of the Lake with her eyes wide open.

Seeing Tina laying on the bottom of the lake was startling. She looked so calm and peaceful lying there underneath the water. There were a few bubbles coming out her nose. I looked at her for a few seconds, picked her up and gently shook her awake out of her daze.

I asked her, “What happened? You were drowning!”

She looked back at me wide-eyed and shook her head as if nothing happened.

As she walked away, it suddenly hit me. Yes I moaned and groaned about having to take care of my baby sisters, but I knew that I loved them and all of my brothers and sisters.

My family was very important to me and I didn’t want to lose any of them. I knew that no matter what happened, they were my family.

No comments: