Monday, January 30, 2012

A Forgotten Birthday

My family always celebrated birthdays in a big way. The birthday “newborn” woke up to cards and presents, hugs and kisses.  All day long the “baby” got teased and coddled – no chores, free valet service, little surprises.  The day ended with a special dinner cooked by my grandmother and a delicious cake baked by my mom, then Mom, Dad, or both tucked the lucky birthday child into bed with more hugs and kisses.

Who wouldn’t look forward to a special day like that?

The day I turned ten, I woke up to nothing.  Thinking maybe my family was waiting for me to whine so they could pounce on me and tease me about it, I kept quiet. I went off to school thinking maybe, they were planning a big surprise that afternoon, but when I got home, I sniffed the air and there was no hint of my grandmother’s delectable enchiladas or my mother’s mouthwatering chocolate cake.  We sat down to a one-pan "guiso" (a casserole) and a package of stale, store-bought cookies.

To say anything to them at this point would only add insult to my injury. I was forgettable to the very people who gave birth to me.  

After dinner, my dad called his mother and wished her a happy birthday.  Yes, my paternal grandmother and I shared the same birthday, something my father said made me special.  I didnt feel so special that year. 

The next morning my mother called her brother and wished him a happy birthday, and we all lined up to take our turns yelling wishes over the phone.  She remembered her baby brother, but she forgot about her own baby - me.

When she hung up, my mother announced that we were done with the December and January birthdays, but not to forget hers two weeks later, and that was when she turned to me and remembered.

         Everyone tried to make it up to me but they were a day late. There are things that cannot be undone - words that cannot be retracted; actions that cannot be rescinded, regardless the compensation. The older me understands that what happened back then was unintentional, but my special day had come and gone. 

      The ten-year-old in me still remembers that day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Best Friends

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there lived a little boy and his grandmother.

They were best friends.

She called him Mr. Stinkypants Bigfeet, and he called her – what else? – Grandma.

She was there when he took his first step, uttered his first word, and took his first bike ride.

 They created adventures from early in the morning until late in the evening while his parents defended the kingdom and nursed the sick.

They read all the books inside the castle, sometimes two or three times (especially, the peek-a-boo ones and anything to do with tractors), and when they tired of those stories, they created their own magic on white paper with fat crayons.

Yellow was her favorite; his was brown.

Every day they scoured the confines of the castle looking for the best places to hide, and then they explored the wonders of the courtyard outside.  Exhausted from their adventures, they returned triumphant to feast on animal crackers and juice.  They danced in joyous celebration and took delicious naps.   

But the time came when Stinky and Grandma needed to say goodbye. She needed to return to her own kingdom far away, and he was ready to explore the world on his own.

They said goodbye, promising to always stay close.  After all, they shared special memories no one else could claim. She was there when he took his first step, uttered his first word, and took his first bike ride.

She had been his first best friend.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Random Photo

I am two years old in my oldest memory.  My mother doubted I could remember back that far, but then I describe the house we lived in then, down to the floor plan, and she is amazed.

It plays like a silent home movie.  I am alone in the “front yard” – a grassless patch of dirt and rocks.  A square piece of cloth, the size of a man’s handkerchief, lies on the ground, and a table is set with mismatched, plastic dishes.  A neat serving of green weeds sit next to mounds of black mesquite seeds on each of the four, toy plates.  I scramble to take my place and adjust my sundress over my lap, trying to sit like a lady.  I am wearing clunky summer sandals, the kind with the two large straps, one over my ankle, the other covering my toes. I reach for a chubby, metal teapot and serve my guests teacupfuls of water.

I chat happily to my pretend family when my grandmother comes to check on me, and we talk as my memory fades to black.

I have no idea why my brain chose this memory to keep over all the rest.  Like those random photos one finds stored in an old shoe box, it has no more meaning than it captures a slice of time.

I find myself relishing my memories, repeating them adnauseam to anyone who will listen, not because they are golden tidbits of information, but because they are me and I don’t want to forget who I am as I grow older.  Maybe if I repeat them often enough, they will stay to visit longer and not go away, never to return again.


Monday, January 9, 2012

My Birthday Month

Here it comes.  Yup.  Another birthday.  Like all other biological functions, they come without our consent.
Some of us fight them with plastic – both credit cards and implants; others – we just go with the flow.
I started showing grey in my late twenties, and I didn’t cover any of it until I hit my forties and my hairdresser suggested we try something to “ease” the transition.  We started alternating my grey with light blonde highlights.  Those of you who knew me then, probably remember that phase. Pinky swear you will talk about me with kindness.
In a moment of desperation (I was spending more on my grey than on the monthly grocery bill raising three teens), I bought a box of Clairol for eight bucks and went Vampire Black. When my hairdresser saw that, she acquiesced and suggested something “softer.” She mixed up a batch of “chocolate brown,” and that was my signature for the next ten years.
Four years ago I decided to be totally honest with who I was – one hot, earthy, mama – and embrace my boomerism.  When I told my hairdresser and my family that I was going grey, there was protest all around.  My greyness offended those who measured their quasi-youth by mine. Too bad.
When she retired, I saw my chance.  I chopped all my hair to less than one inch in length and went cold turkey.  I hear Aveda and Clairol took quite a hit in sales back then, but I didn’t care. For several months my head looked more like a clump of dry oregano than the salt and pepper it is now. The grey-headed chick in the mirror still catches me off guard sometimes.
I cannot erase the wrinkles; discussing my moustache is taboo, but the greying – that I embrace.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mis Antepasados

One of the books I want to write one day will be loosely based on family history and stories my father shared with us as children.  Though I have worked up an outline for this generational novel, I will have to do quite a bit of research before I can start it.

My father’s story always began with a land grant given to mis antepasados (my ancestors) by the Viscount of Santander in the mid 1700’s.  Dad didn’t know much about the Martinez or the Ramirez families before then other than they were titled Spaniards. They traversed the ocean and came to claim their land but found it so uninhabitable they retreated to the more “civilized” cities (at that time) in Mexico.  They either wore out their welcome or they were forced to claim their “porciones” or lose them, because they soon moved back in the 1750's to what is now the area between Laredo and Zapata, Texas.

The land yielded only rocks and cactus, and any livestock that survived in that desert was usually stolen by outlaws or raiding bands of Comanche. They were too busy eking out a living and protecting their lands to get too involved in the politics around them.   

Through the generations that followed, the government around them changed hands from Spain to Mexico and all those who came along anxious to claim it.  It wasn’t until 1848 when the border crossed over them that they became a part of the United States. They were given one year to give up their lands and move across the border into Mexico, or stay and become American citizens.  Their Spanish land grants would be honored if they did.

Oral tradition was such a big part on these ranchos that my father and his family would share many colorful stories about one “uncle” or another.  He told of heroic men and women and that mixed with my own imagination might one day make an interesting read, two hundred and fifty years and ten generations later.