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Posts Tagged ‘back in the day’

This is the story I wrote for a class many years ago. It is the one referred to in Catching Fire. The story is quite long (3,000 words). I have posted the first part here. I will post another part in a day or two.

 

            I like to listen to my parents when they talk at night and they think us kids are all asleep. One night I heard my parents say something about how they owed too much money and my father didn’t earn enough to pay it all back.  Then they said they wished they didn’t have seven kids and I cried because if they weren’t my parents, they would only have six kids and they would have more money to pay the bills. Our house was real big and it was one of the oldest ones on the block. Inside, it had four big rooms, and two kitchens and two bathrooms. Mom and Dad were saying that we should move. My father said that the newer houses cost too much and they wouldn’t be big enough for our family anyway. My father said that he wanted to stay in this house because it was only five minutes away from the cannery where he worked.

            The next night they talked some more about the house. Finally my father said that the only thing to do was to make our house bigger so that we would all fit in it. “If we open the basement, we can make rooms down there and we can rent the other side as an apartment.” My mother agreed. “Yes, that way we will all fit in the house and with the money we collect for rent on the apartment, we will have enough to pay the bill.” I fell asleep and was happy. I didn’t have to find new parents because they would have enough money now.

So we all started to help him to make rooms in the basement. My oldest brother was ten and my little sister was two, but all of us helped. The boys were old enough to dig out all of the dirt while us girls got our sand pails and filled them with dirt and carried them to the pile where my father showed us to dump it out.

One afternoon, a big dirty yellow truck came to our house. They drove it onto the front lawn. The back of the truck was kind of round and it kept turning and turning and turning the whole time. Then some mushy gray stuff poured out into the window my father had made in the basement.

            Even Ben, the old man across the street, came to help. He was very old and skinny and he walked real slow. He used to call my father ‘mi hijo‘.

            By the end of the weekend, the basement was almost finished. During the following week, my father would hurry home from work and start varnishing, putting in linoleum, and gluing paper on the walls. He would work down there while we ate dinner and even after we’d gone to bed, we could hear my father yelling at my mother, “No, not like that, you fool! It won’t match if you do it like that… mejor vete! Just leave! I’ll do it myself!”

            I tried to sleep but I could still hear them talking. Later when I woke up in the middle of the night, I could still hear them down there. It was only for a few nights and soon the boys each moved into a room downstairs and the four of us girls got mad because we had to share the same old room upstairs.

            Soon, there were people coming in and out of the house looking at the apartment that used to be my brothers’ bedroom. Some people moved into the apartment in a few days and we all had to act different. We couldn’t run down the hall anymore and we couldn’t make noise when we played out in the yard.

            Then, one weekend, my father started to build a room at the back of the “apartment.” We called it the “cuartito.” It made the apartment bigger and my parents said we could get more money for it.

            Every time someone moved out, the phone would start ringing and people would want to rent. Sometimes, my parents would tell us to be extra noisy when the people came over and to go out into the yard and have a lot of fun so we would and the people would go away real soon.

            Most of the people were older than my Mom and Dad. None of them had any kids for us to play with. Sometimes the ladies would act like our mothers, but nicer. One lady used to buy us toys and I remember that one of them used to look at us and cry. My mother said it was because she didn’t have any kids of her own. She made my older sister a dress for school and she made me two of them because she liked me better and besides, it was my first year in school so I needed the dresses more.

            One time my parents rented to some people and it turned out that they had a little boy named Kenny. They had paid their rent so my parents told them they had to pay more for Kenny. Kenny used to fight with us girls and my brothers would beat him up when no one was looking. My parents knew about the fights but they said maybe they would move out if Kenny kept getting beat up. My father hit him with the car one time, but I guess he didn’t do it right because Kenny didn’t even have to go to the doctor. My Dad did have to get some bumps out of the car with the hammer though.

            Another time, when it was raining, a man ran to the door. He said his name was Chino but he wasn’t. He asked about the apartment. My parents rented it to him but didn’t like it much when his wife came in from the car. They made funny faces at her. Chino’s wife was very pretty. Her name was Victoria and she had blonde hair. She was gonna have a baby and she was real fat. Later, when they left, my parents talked about the baby. “But the poor baby. What will it be? Okie or Puerto Rican?”

“Who knows? I guess it will have light hair, but curly, don’t you think? They agreed.

After Chino and Victoria had lived there for a while, they got real friendly with us. We used to go and play a real long game when it rained. We used play money and little green houses. It was fun. I wished the money were real so I could give it to my parents. They needed it. Chino spoke to us in Spanish. He used to tell us stuff about how dumb Victoria was and laugh at her because she didn’t understand what we were saying.

            When my parents went shopping  one day, I leaned back real hard on my chair and I broke the big window behind me. Chino heard me crying and came over with a tape thing. He went away on the car and when he came back, he had a new window with him and he put it in so my father wouldn’t hit me when he got home.

            Sometimes, when Chino was at work, men would come and go into the apartment. One day Chino came home early and one of those men was still there. He got real mad and threw him out and threw a small brown box at him.

            That night I heard him tell my parents about it. I was embarrassed and glad I wasn’t in the same room because Chino was crying. He said that Victoria was crazy. “Look Vince, there’s nothing you can say to change my mind. She’s totally crazy. Since I met her the family told me but I thought she would change with time. I’m tired of telling her…nothing goes in. Those men are taking pictures of her. They use the pictures for dirty magazines. I can’t stay quiet any longer. You would do the same if you were in my place.” He said he would go away and take the baby with him, even if he had to go to court and have them take Victoria to a hospital.

            A few days later he came in real happy and told us they were going to have another baby. He said he hoped the next one would have black hair like him. The baby they already had looked too much like Victoria and he wanted one that looked like him.

            They moved right after the baby was born and we used to go to visit them in San Francisco. They always had candy for us. The new baby had blond hair, just like the old one. Chino said his hair was almost like that man’s that he had thrown out of the apartment.

(To be continued.)

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