her story

my favorite picture ever
this is my mom. i talk about her here sometimes, but i thought it would be a good idea to tell her story. recently she has been driving me crazy, but then last night as i was looking through some old photos i found this one, a favorite of mine since i can remember. as i sat there looking at it, my irritation melted away, and i felt so much appreciation for her, for her bravery. i love this photo for so many reasons. i love her hair, i want mine to look like that. i love her clothes, that they are back in fashion, i love that she is wearing yellow converse and petting a baby squirrel that she rescued from the side of the road. but thinking about her story, about her life at that age, this photo suddenly struck me on a different level. i see a sadness around her mouth, i see that she is alone in the picture, and in a sense she was so alone at that point in her life. i see her petting that small life and see her reaching out for something to care for and above all i realized that she was so brave to do what she did. and so i thought i would share that story. it isnt particularly amazing or harrowing, but it is hers and therefore it will be mine forever.

my mother was born in 1954 in bogotá, colombia. she is the second child in a family of three girls and one boy. her dad worked a hard job in a factory and loved to sing along with opera records late at night on the hi-fi. her mother stayed at home with her children and her mother in law and kept the house spotless. a family of the 50's. she grew up a happy child in a life that was good, but had its fair share of ups and downs. many times those late night opera sessions were spurred on by alcohol. at one point her mother moved out of the house for six months because she was fed up with her husband. a bold move for the time that ended up serving only
as a temporary fix. but still she was happy, maybe a bit prone to mischief but always with a twinkle in the eye, a laugh and a big smile. as a teenager she had friends all over the neighborhood and would go visiting. there was a boy she liked who lived up the street. she liked to walk that way and see if he was home. one day she made the short walk and found out that he was home and had a friend staying with him. an american. tall and gangly, with longish straggly hair. she noticed him for sure, but still had her eye on the neighbor boy. this american was staying for a while. his teenage cynicism had him exploring central and south america, and he was in no hurry it was the 70s. besides, this colombian girl with the big brown eyes was worth some time. they started spending time together. he lost his dictionary on the bus the first day in town and was slowly building up his spanish skills. i like to think there was giggling over grammatical errors, but that they made him that much cuter and slowly the neighbor boy realized he was no longer needed for those walks around the block, they were doing just fine on their own. two months go by, he says he has to go back to the states for money, but that he will come back. she says ok, but doenst really believe him. he leaves, and keeping his word, comes back a few weeks later. three more months go by and he asks her to marry him. she says yes. she is 20 and he is 19. her parents are skeptical but dont say no. he doesnt tell his mom back home because he is afraid she would object. they get married. she wears a bell bottomed jump suit with pearl buttons all the way up her tiny torso and flowers in her hair. he wears a blue suit with a fly collar and has grown a mustache to look older. they honeymoon on the coast and then comes the jumping off point. she says good bye to everyone she has ever known, to a family she has never left, the few blocks that made up her world until then and leaves for the land of dreams. america. reality sets in. she lives in a house with her new husband and his mother. his mother does not disapprove, but does not quite give her approval either. she doesnt speak a word of english and her mother in law doesnt speak a word of spanish. he works all day at a gas station for $2.15 an hour. she sits in her room crying most of the day until he comes back and she has someone to talk to again. she misses her mom. her sisters. her block. she is afraid of her new mother. he has friends in washington, why dont they put a mattress in the back of his red toyota pickup and drive there? it is beautiful and they say you can make money picking apples. they pile their belongings on the mattress under the makeshift shell of plywood that he has tied down on the back and begin their journey. they stop in montana at a rest stop. she sits on a picnic table to stretch out her legs. she sees a little movement in the grass. a baby squirrel. she approaches softly, and picks it up. feeds it some crackers, slips it in her pocket and on they go. she is lonely living in a world of millions and she knows only one person. they arrive in washington and pick apples for a season. stay with friends in some cabins. after a few months, they drive back to missouri. she finds out she is pregnant and has never been happier. in june a baby girl is born and her life is changed forever. here is her very own doll to take care of, a little thing that she can talk to, coo over and whisper spanish nothings to. someone to keep her company while he is at work. someone to share smiles with, someone to give all of her love to.

mom sometimes tells me that i saved her life. that i was the best thing that ever happened to her. it struck me last night what that really meant. how brave she was and how alone she must have felt then. being 20 in a strange country with out a thing to her name, a penny in her pocket. not even able to speak the language. thirty years later and she has four children. lives in the house she first came to with my dad, and though my grandmother doesnt live with them anymore, she comes over every morning for coffee. they love each other and my mom calls her mom. they speak the same language and a day doesnt go by that they dont see each other. my dad is still gone most of the time. they still speak in spanish with each other and they have had their own share of ups and downs. and life goes on. i love you mom.

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Anonymous kirsten said...

that is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing it with us.

9:39 AM  
Blogger vwiese said...

what a wonderful story, I am not sure if your mom reads your blog but I hope she does. Your mom is a wonderful person and I am sure all those hard times helped her to become such a women of strength.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

i almost starting crying. no, seriously.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

That's a beautiful story -- and a beautiful woman. I want my hair to do that too!

I love stories about ordinary people and the arc of their lives, seeing how a situation that's awful at first changes over time. It's such a good reminder that the whole story doesn't happen in one day. Thanks.

9:47 AM  
Blogger elizabooth said...

Oh, Hannah, that was beautiful. I too love everyday stories -- your mom sounds so wonderful. I'm glad that you took time out from being driven crazy by her (hey, we've all been there) to count your blessings. Thanks for such a moving story this morning.

As a mother, I can only dream that my own daughter would write something like this one day. Motherhood changes your perspective on your own parents, doesn't it?

9:51 AM  
Blogger beki said...

What a beautiful story!

10:05 AM  
Blogger devinemom said...

thank you!

what a beautiful story so rich with history. i love that they are still together.

10:24 AM  
Blogger molly said...

wow, hannah. i was glued to her story like a good book. a beautiful story, beautifully written.
i really, really enjoyed it.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Alicia A. said...

What a wonderful tribute.
Just beautiful.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Mariko said...

Lovely, Hannah. It's an amazing story, and hey, she was on to the whole squirrel thing from the gitgo!

11:22 AM  
Anonymous myra said...

Beautiful Hannah, thank you.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous stephanie said...

oh hannah, this is really beautiful. thank you.

my own mom drives me absolutely crazy most of the time, but when i sit myself down and think of her life and what she's been through (she essentially left home at 15), i begin to understand and love and appreciate her more.

and thank you for digging up the squirrel photos!

11:49 AM  
Blogger Molly said...

So, so beautiful, Hannah. I'm with the other Molly - I was glued to every single word. Thank you.

11:55 AM  
Blogger lisa s said...

lovely lovely lovely

just wonderful hannah. thank you

12:26 PM  
Anonymous erin said...

what a beautiful post, hannah. i love your mom's story and how you told it. i am sure that she is very proud of you.

12:36 PM  
Blogger ke said...

maybe you should have posted a warning that if you read this story you might find yourself crying in front of your computer at work... its good to think of our parents as real people with real stories.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.



1:20 PM  
Anonymous laura said...

te escribo desde España, acabo de encontrar por casualidad tu blog con la preciosa historia de tu madre. Me ha gustado mucho leerla y creo que es conociendo la historia cómo mejor podemos comprender a nuestros seres queridos, sobre todo a nuestras madres que, como bien dices, "drive us absolutey crazy". Pongo tu blog en mis favoritos así podré visitarte a menudo.
Un saludo cordial.(Espero que entiendas el español, a mí me cuesta bastante expresarme en inglés)

1:46 PM  
Anonymous amy k. said...

sadie just asked me why I was crying!! what an amazing post. thank you.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous jenny vorwaller said...

gushing tears inside over here....

what a beautiful beautiful beautiful story hannah. this merits publication. so glad you came to save her life too ;) wow. and this photo with it...what a story...


3:11 PM  
Anonymous melissa f. said...

good job you, making everybody cry like that.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous abbyjane said...

You tell her story so well. It makes me think about the importance of each person's presence in the world.

3:56 PM  
Blogger beth said...

wow. you come from a good story, han. thanks for sharing. i too hope your mom reads this.

4:02 PM  
Blogger pixie sticks said...

My mom is currently driving me crazy and I needed to read this. Thanks for sharing. It's lovely.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous amy h said...

What a great story -- like a mini novel. Have that husband of yours turn it into a screenplay or something. :) Thanks for sharing!

7:29 PM  
Blogger Su said...

Thanks for sharing that...such a sweet story. My mom came from Cuba when she was 15 and her story is quite similar. It makes me see her in a different light when I think of it.

7:44 PM  
Blogger tracy said...

i have been waiting for a moment to read this through carefully. i knew from the first line that it deserved my complete attention. a beautiful tribute hannah. thank you for sharing it.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous toby said...


6:17 AM  
Blogger julieree said...

such a beautiful story Hannah. Your Mom sounds so brave.

I love your story-telling--sounds like a story one of my grandparents would have told. Why do we not tell stories as much anymore? Thank you for this!

6:59 AM  
Blogger aprill said...

such a beautiful story, and equally beautiful images of your mom.
thank you for sharing this. it made me weepy!

7:48 AM  
Blogger kristen said...

hannah, as a mother whose own mom also drives me crazy most of the time, i thank you for sharing this. so poignant and makes me love your mother even more.

8:47 AM  
Blogger bugheart said...

as i am getting
ready for a trip
with my mom
back to paris
(where she spent her 20s...
where my dad and her met)
this story
was especially
thank you
for sharing
a beautiful
piece of
your history.

2:00 PM  
Blogger ♥ joleen ♥ said...

this is a really beautiful story- thank you so much for sharing!

6:23 PM  
Anonymous blair said...

I think the most moving part of this story for me is when your mom told you she thought you saved her life. It makes me look at what my children bring to my life so different all of a sudden. A beautiful story Hannah, thanks for sharing it in your eloquent way.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous melissa said...

thank you, hannah x

2:32 AM  
Anonymous bellablue said...

Hannah, Thanks so much for sharing a piece of your life. I think as mothers we can all relate to your mom... the lonliness we can feel, the complete love a child can bring. She is beautiful. As are you.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Toni said...

such a beautiful story. i can't say that enough. it has, this very moment, helped me to appreciate my own mother so much. what a gift we have in our moms. than you for reminding us.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Veronica said...

Dear Hannah,
It is the first time I visit your blog and I am so happy I found it.
The story of your mom is so touching to me because, even though I've lived here for a few years and I am older than your mom then, I still feel a little lonely and miss my country {Argentina} but I have my little girl, the joy of my life, who saved me as you saved your mom.

9:29 PM  
Blogger shash said...

(crying over here) what a sweet post for you and your mom + family. lovely picture. i too was glued to the story. thank you for sharing!

9:52 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I love this piece of history, Hannah. Thank you for sharing it, and it really did read like a novel!

¡Y felicidades por poner el acento! Estoy super orgullosa de ti! :)

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My own mother, now suffering early onset alzheimers, often drives my crazy but every day when my kids have run me ragged I remember that at my age she had four (not two like me) and had already been married, alone and repartnered but this time in her life. She is strong, even if you never knew it and brave even if she doesn't remember. We must as daughters remember our mothers and bring them alive for our children every day.
Thank you for remembering and sharing with all of us.

9:06 PM  
Anonymous lyn said...

What a lovely story, thank you for sharing it.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous sally said...

Goodness gracious, your mother's story made we so teary. I see a lot of your mother in you. What a wonderful story.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous cristina said...

pass some (more) kleenex please, this was beautifully written.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Alix said...

beautiful hommage.thank you

4:38 PM  

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