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Posts Tagged ‘earning money’

Note:  This was posted in August of 2009.  The other night, while looking for something else, I came across this post and read it.  It had me crying by the end, and reliving all that pain.  I decided it would make a good repost.

My mother worked  hard, all day and all night  to keep the house clean, the food warm, our clothing and our bodies fresh and clean.  There were so many of us that the work never ended for my mother so we were taught  to help out with the housework.  When we got old enough to go to kindergarten, we were old enough to wash dishes so we had to learn to wash all the dishes and take our turn with the others.  Another thing we did to help is that we learned to iron clothes.  So, as she cleaned or cooked in the kitchen, we would keep her company, standing at the ironing board, ironing and listening to her sing with the radio or sometimes we’d talk.  I don’t remember how old I was when I first ironed but I think I was in first grade, making me about six years old.  I began by ironing the easy things – pieces like pillowcases, handkerchiefs, pants, aprons, and finally  I learned to iron our dresses and shirts.  We would always count the things we ironed  because we were supposed to get paid for each thing we ironed – I think we started out with a penny a piece, going up to a nickel a piece by the time I was in fifth grade.  It was actually silly because, for the most part, we never got paid.  Once in a while, though, when she could, my mom would give us a nickel to get a Hershey bar or  a package of my favorites – NECCO candy.  I loved NECCOs because the word sounded like “nickels” and  I used to pretend they were real nickels and I’d buy things from my brothers and my older sister, using the pastel wafers as legal tender.  When she did give us candy money, my mother would  tell us it was the money we had earned from ironing and it made me proud to know I had worked to earn  my candy!

Once, when I was in second grade, I was in the kitchen ironing, while my mother  cooked .  My brother, Carlos, sat and talked to her.  It was a Sunday afternoon.  My father was at the cannery, working.  In the kitchen, we had the radio on to KLIV, listening to the top popular songs. When my father was home, we listened only to Spanish radio but when he was gone, my mom would let my brothers turn it to the English station.  I liked to  iron because when I ironed, I got to  spend time with my mother.   She never left us alone when we ironed so we wouldn’t burn ourselves.  I also liked staying in and ironing   because,  most of the time, I would get to listen to things my brothers and sisters missed while they played outside and I worked inside.  On that Sunday, I had been ironing a long, long time.  I had ironed a stack of pillowcases and handkerchiefs and even some of the dresses I’d wear to school.  I had earned about fifty or sixty cents so I had been ironing for more than an hour.  Carlos and my mother were laughing and talking.   I joined the  conversation and I put the iron on it’s “standing end” while I talked.  My mother had taught us to be careful and pay close attention when we were ironing.  I looked up to answer a question.  I was laughing as I felt first the weight of the iron and then the heat.  I was frozen by the scorching pain as the “cotton heated” iron ate through the layers of my skin.  I could not talk.  I could not move.  I could only smell my skin as it burned, layer by layer.  By the time my mother realized that something was horribly wrong, I was in shock.  I only remember that when the iron was taken off of my hand, it hurt so much that I passed out.  My mother called my father to come home from work so they could take me to the hospital.  It was Sunday and the doctor’s office was closed so we’d have to go to the hospital.  The office at my father’s work was closed.  Carlos and Richard rode their bikes to the cannery to find my father and tell him to come home.  He said he couldn’t come home because there was too much work.  There was no one else there to do it and no one to tell that he had to go home.  He told Carlos to tell my mother to call Dr. Johnson and see what he said they should do for me.  All afternoon and throughout the night, my mother sat by my bed, looking at my hand, taking my temperature, and crying.  I remember smiling at her and holding back the tears as much as I could so that she’d  stop saying it was her fault and so that she’d stop apologizing.  My mother layed down with me and cried.  My brothers and sisters were very quiet and behaved like angels so my mother  could take care of me.  At one point, the pain was so intense that nothing helped – not even the little orange baby aspirins – not the bandage my mother had put on – and not the tears and so I began to whimper and moan and I did not stop until everyone in the house heard my cries and felt my pain.  I stayed at home, in bed, when the others went to school the next day.  Two days later, the pain was less and so I went back to second grade, wearing a dress I had ironed on Sunday and a gauze bandage my mother had put on my hand.  I remember that the school nurse had me go in to her office every day so she could change the dressing, rub some medicine on it,  and watch  for infection because she knew my parents didn’t have the money for a doctor visit.  Slowly, the pain got less and less and months later, my hand had healed and there was hardly a scar left to remind me of the smell of my own burnt flesh or of the pain that had reached deep beneath my skin.

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