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You Can Count on Me


She knocked on the back door of Doña Nela’s home, waited a second, then knocked again. Her mother came to the screen door, a dust rag in one hand.
“Hija, what brings you here?  Is everyone all right?”
“Dad never showed up and we are out of food.”
“Como siempre.  Esperame aqui. I will be right back.”
While she waited, the young woman looked down at her shoes.  She had tucked a thin piece of cardboard inside her right shoe to cover the hole in the sole; the other had a thick elastic band holding it together at the toe. She hated being poor, but at the moment, she hated her father more. He hadn’t been home since last Friday morning and today was Thursday.  By now his paycheck was gone, spent on alcohol and cheap women, while his wife struggled to keep their five children from going hungry.
“Toma.”  Her mother returned with a bundle wrapped inside an old pillowcase. “Doña Nela is not home.  She will never miss that onion or those potatoes.  Con cuidado, there’s a couple of eggs, and an orange for all of you to share. And here,” she reached into the pocket of her worn apron, “this is the last of the money I have been saving in case of an emergency.  I get paid tomorrow, but I won’t be home until Sunday evening for a few hours as usual, so if you need more, come see me.”
“We’ll make do.  Gracias, Mami.”
“Take care of your brothers.  Nos vemos el domingo.”
The young girl turned to leave.
“Hija.”
“Si, Mami?”
“If your father comes home, hide the money.”
“You can count on me.”

The year was 1942, and my mother was fourteen. She quit school that summer after finishing the eighth grade and went to work to help my grandmother provide for an older sister and three younger brothers.  Thanks to her they all finished high school and they had food to eat and a roof over their heads until they were able to fend for themselves. 
All of them are gone now except for my mother and one brother, and this is my personal contribution to Women's History Month. My mother can count on me to tell about her sacrifice. 

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