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Archive for the ‘family stories’ Category

Over the next three years, my father was sent to specialist after specialist.  We lived in San Jose, less than an hour from San Francisco.  He had to go to UC San Francisco Medical Center for a series of treatments.  The visits to the clinic took all day.  He couldn’t go alone so we took turns going with him and mostly, waiting in the car all day.  There were hearings and visits to psychologists, physical therapists, surgeons, and lawyers.  My dad was never able to return to work and it was finally agreed, by the experts, that he was permanently disabled.  The State Rehabilitation Department decided that they could not retrain him to do any kind of work so at the age of 37, he was declared disabled.

Battling the Social Security Department was another long trip which took many years.  If memory serves, by the time his Social Security benefits kicked in, I was in college and it was around 1975.

Our family life changed drastically.  There were still six of us kids living at home, four of us completely dependent on my father.  My mother had never worked outside the home and having dropped out of school in seventh grade, had no marketable skills. My older brothers contributed everything they could from their part time, minimum wage jobs.  My oldest brother dropped out of college after the first semester so he could work full time.

My parents have both always been very proud; too proud to go on Welfare or any kind of state aid.  He did finally give in to accepting food stamps and medi-cal benefits to keep us fed and to get medicine for my sister who had developed medical problems.  There was no cash income as his Social Security benefits had not yet kicked in and the small amount he got for state disability was not much help.  My sisters and I did what we could, babysitting in the neighborhood, so we could buy our own clothes and shoes and what we might need at school.  Even so, we couldn’t afford a lot.  We went without.

It was very difficult to see what the whole situation did to my father.  He started drinking even more heavily than he had before the accident and he began to mix his liquor with his prescription pain killers.  He felt ashamed of not being able to provide for his family.

These were also very interesting times and in a way, very inspirational.  Because we had no income, my Dad had to resort to his hidden talents.  The most productive of these being his ability to talk people into almost anything he wanted to talk them into or out of.  This manifest itself primarily in my dad making a living by buying something very cheaply then turning around and selling it at a substantial profit.  We never knew what my father would find to make us money by browsing the “magic mini ads” which were free two line ads in the local newspaper.

Once, my dad bought a portable bar which held and tapped a keg of beer.  He kept it for one week before he sold it at 100% profit.  With the profit, he bought himself another portable bar which he kept for himself and a portable sauna.  The sauna was traded the following day.  The trade yielded a talking parrot and a 25 gallon aquarium, complete with exotic fish.  He sold the parrot and traded the aquarium.  The deals yielded him in excess of 150% profit plus a yellow headed parrot.

This parrot was very young and did not yet talk.  My three sisters and I took care of that very soon.  We placed the cage on the counter next to the telephone and within a couple of weeks, he was talking.  We had taught him to say “hello,”  “how are you,” and his name, “Loco.”  He used to go crazy saying “poco loco coco” over and over and over again.  Although he was the family pet, I grew very close to him and all these years later, I wish I still had my Loco.  I cried when we had to sell him a year later.  We needed the money.

Another time, my dad surprised us by coming home with a huge metal cage which held a very large and heavily sedated monkey.  The monkey’s name was Jimmy and he was a Macaque (pronounced MaKayk).  Jimmy was so close to being human that it was frightening.  He acted like a baby when he wanted to get his way.  If it didn’t work, he’d throw a tantrum, like a two year old.  He would grab a hold of his cage and shake it from side to side, almost knocking it over.  Those times were pretty scary.  What would happen if he escaped from the cage during one of his tantrums?

Jimmy was capable of escaping from the cage.  He proved this to us on a number of occasions.  Once, my oldest brother, Carlos, was in the living room washing windows.  He looked up in time to see Jimmy on the outside of the window, mocking him, then Jimmy waved at him and ran off.  Carlos was speechless but managed to compose himself quick enough to run down the street after Jimmy!

Jimmy began to have more and more violent tantrums, especially when my sister’s boyfriend came to visit.  He was very jealous.  My parents had to sedate him.  They would crush one of my father’s valium pills and put it in Jimmy’s food.  This only worked the first time.  After that, Jimmy would carefully dissect all food given to him and wipe off anything that looked like pulverized medicine!

Eventually, my parents felt it was time to get rid of Jimmy because of his violent fits.  They sold him to a man who lived on a large ranch and promised to build a 9′ x 12′ cage for Jimmy so he’d have a place to move and be free. When Jimmy left, it was clear that he was crying right along with the rest of us.

Once Jimmy was out of the house, it was time for more deals.

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“No hay mal que por bien no venga” is one of my father’s favorite sayings.  It is the equivalent of saying that “every cloud has a silver lining”.  My family has lived through some really tough times and one thing that helps keep things in perspective is this saying.

I remember the day it happened—the day everything changed.  It was in November of 1969.  I was in eighth grade and although I wasn’t really sick, my mom let me stay home.  She knew I was well ahead  in all of my classes and I would be good company for her.

It was about 10:45 and we were watching the morning movie hosted by Pat Montandon who gave a lot of background information on the day’s movie and had a trivia contest where people could win prizes of free movie tickets and dinner certificates.  I was sitting by the phone waiting for the trivia question because I was pretty good at it and my mom said I could call in and try to win a prize so I was ready for Pat to give the question.  My mom was in the kitchen, fixing some salsa to go over her eggs.  She made the most delicious salsa with tomato sauce, jalapeños, bell peppers, onion, tomato, and bacon.

We heard a car pull up the driveway and looked at each other in wonder because no one ever drove up our driveway.  It was too steep.  We heard a car door, then the door knob.  The door was locked.  We were frightened because we didn’t know who would drive up our driveway and then try to get in without knocking.

My mom, still in her robe, hid so no one would see she wasn’t dressed yet.  I looked out the window.

“It’s Dad.”

“¿Tu papa? No.  It can’t be!”  She rushed to the front door to see for herself then she opened the door to let him in.

One look at him and we both knew something horrible had happened.  My father was never sick.  The last time he had missed work had been about eight years before when his appendix had ruptured while he was at work.  That had been a close call.  He looked pale as he moved very slowly, in a crouched position.  There was a strange look in his yes.  All these years later, I realize that look was fear.

“What happened?”

“I got hurt.”

“How?  What happened?”

“On the fork lift.  I don’t know what happened.  I can’t figure it out.  It jerked and I flew out of it.  I landed on the ground.”  He seemed to be in shock as he spoke more to himself than to either of us.

My mother reached out to help him come into the house.  He seemed to be in great pain.  My mom offered to call the doctor.

“They took me to the doctor from work.  He said to come home and take a warm bath and go to bed.  He gave me some pills to take.  I have to go back to see him in a couple of days when I’m ready to go back to work.”  He took the prescription bottle from his jacket pocket and handed it to me.  “What does it say?”

“It says it’s valium.  You’re supposed to take it every six to eight hours.  You’re not supposed to drive or operate machinery and you can’t drink alcohol while you’re taking it,” I answered.

My mom helped him into the bedroom and into bed.  She gave him his medication.  When she reappeared in the kitchen, she was quite shaken.  “I’ve never seen your father like this.  He looks like he’s in a lot of pain.  I’m afraid that it’s worse than it looks.  I have a feeling he won’t be going back to work for a long time.”

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When I was growing up I was exposed to a wide variety of music at home.  As far back as I can remember, my parents played records of  music in Spanish and listened to Spanish language radio.  I learned to dance by putting my feet on top of my dad’s feet and having him move us to Mexican mariachi music and rancheras and later, to Tex-Mex.

As my brothers, who were all older than me, grew into their teen years in the 60’s, I grew to love their music.  I can still sing every word of every Sonny and Cher song and I still blast the Beach Boys from the radio in the car and at home.  Then came the music question of the 60’sRollingStones or Beatles?

Our house was split.  Richard, the middle brother was strictly a RollingStones kind of guy.  Carlos, the oldest, was a straight Beatles guy.  David, the youngest of the three boys was kind of in between.  He listened to it all and picked what he liked best.  We, the younger sisters, took it all in and would sometimes use either the Stones or the Beatles to get what we wanted from one of the brothers!

In the summer of 1970, I was 14 and Carlos was 20 and still lived at home.  Carlos worked at the cannery where my dad worked and paid for his own car insurance and other car related expenses and the rest of his money went to my parents to help support us all.  One day, he came home smiling and happy and went into his room and started to play Let It Be on the record player.  He had bought the song on the 45 rpm version.

From then on, when Carlos was home, all we heard of him was Let It Be coming from his room.    It got to the point where, a couple of weeks later, my dad got tired of listening to that one song and threatened to go into the room and break the record in half and throw it out!  Carlos started playing it at a much lower level until he was able to save the money to get a whole Beatles album that he then listened to non-stop.  That was not really great with my dad but at least he didn’t have to listen to the same words of wisdom, Let It Be.

When I scattered Carlos’ ashes on April 18, I couldn’t help muttering those words as the ashes escaped the fingers of my hand…let it be.

LET IT BE

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be.

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people

Living in the world agree,

There will be an answer, let it be.

For though they may be parted there is

Still a chance that they will see

There will be an answer, let it be.

Let it be, let it be. Yeah

There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy,

There is still a light that shines on me,

Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.

I wake up to the sound of music

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be.

There will be an answer, let it be.

Let it be, let it be,

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

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One year when the kids were little, we booked a trip to Disney World in Orlando.  We left the day after Christmas.  It was the three kids and my ex-husband and me.  We had a great trip staying at one of the Disney hotels and going to the theme parks every day.   The two older kids had a blast swimming in the Mickey Mouse shaped swimming pool and ordering room service with Mickey shaped waffles.

The kids were all little, ten, seven, and one.  We hadn’t ever been to Florida before as our vacation place was Hawaii, which made this trip even more special.  They had been to Disneyland in California but never to Disney World.  We also spent a day driving to Cape Canaveral to see the Kennedy Space Center.

For those who haven’t been there, every night they have the most elaborate fireworks and laser show at Epcot.  At least they did in 1991.  My kids loved the fireworks and we took turns watching the fireworks one night and using that window when everyone was watching the show to go on the rides with long lines during the day.

On New Year’s Eve, they were having an extra long and special fireworks show at Epcot.  We took the kids back to the hotel early so they could rest because we had decided to go to Epcot to watch the New Year’s fireworks show.  The kids ate and bundled up and then we took the monorail to Epcot and found a comfortable spot on one of the little hills across from the lake in Epcot.  We would have a great view!  We waited until the show began and about five minutes into it, I looked over to see Tina crying.  Tina was seven and she had the biggest, fattest tears rolling down her cheeks and was going through that “ugly crying” when you can’t catch your breath and your face is all scrunched up.  I thought something horrible had happened and I asked her what was wrong.  Why was she crying?  Her answer: “Because it will never be 1991 again.” And on came a fresh dose of the heaving cries!

That little seven year old mind was feeling sorry for the year 1991 that was all over and would never come around again.  We still laugh when we think about it and we tease her.  She remembers it well and once in a while, she gets all teary-eyed when we remind her and there we go all over again with the tears!

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My Irish Root(s)

I know, I know. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! But in this case, there is some Irish in my family tree.

My mother’s side of the family is from Texas, from the Rio Grande Valley, on the Gulf of Mexico. Many years ago, I think about three generations ago, a young Irish lady came to the United States to study. She ended up in Texas and became pregnant with an American baby. She was taken in by my mother’s great grandfather and his family. They had a ranch and they took care of her there until her baby was born. In exchange, she did some light housekeeping and watched the children on the ranch.

When her baby was born and it was time for her to return to Ireland, she couldn’t take her baby home because she would suffer horribly for being an unmarried mother (this was in the early1900’s). She gave her baby boy to my mother’s maternal great grandfather and his wife and then she left for home. They adopted him and the only name for him on record is the surname Saldana. They raised him as their own. There is no record of the Irish mother’s surname.

There is also some rumor that the great grandfather had actually fathered the illegitimate baby. In any case, on my mother’s side, there is Irish blood, which probably accounts for all the green eyes, red hair, light complexion, and freckles!

shamrocks.jpg

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