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.