Cover Illustration: Nina Alexander Illustrations: Mark Lopez Editing, Layout and Design: Adriana Sánchez Alexander Executive | Artistic Director, Gemini Ink: Rosemary Catacalos Director, Department of Community Initiatives: Dennis J. Campa Social Services Manager, Senior Services Division: Laura Cisneros Social Services Manager, Youth Services Division: Arlene Rhodes Executive Director, Bihl Haus Arts: Kellen Kee McIntyre Administrator, Bob Ross Senior Center: Pete McKinnon Instructional Specialist, Northside ISD: Cynthia Katz Tyroff Writers in Communities Director, Gemini Ink: Adriana Sánchez Alexander © 2009 Gemini Ink
a collection of intergenerational writing by seniors and high school students from San Antonio, Texas
in partnership with Gemini Ink’s Writers in Communities Program & the City of San Antonio’s Department of Community Initiatives Writers-in-Residence: Mark Babino Carlos Ponce Robert Flynn Michele Stanush Donna Ingham Vincent Toro Funded by: National Endowment for the Arts’ Initiative on Creativity & Aging Genevieve and Ward Orsinger Foundation
Note: The authorsâ€™ work is edited as lightly as possible in order to honor and preserve their original voices.
Acknowledgments Thank you to our participants and partners, including the Bob Ross Senior Center, Bihl Haus Arts, and the Northside Independent School District. Seniors:
High School Students:
Oralia Boehmer Angela Campos Shirley Cunningham Jackie DuBos de Boisblanc Donna Heath Pearl Land Anne Larme Peter Olson Gloria Rivas Juan Rodriguez Carolyn Sanchez Patricia Thomas
Amy Abrigo Victor CastaĂąo Amberly Diaz AndrĂŠs Duque Alexander Garcia Tamra Johnson Valerie Lopez Aundria Martinez Crystal Martinez Josh McGoldrick Christopher Padilla Jessica Poston Raquel Rodriguez Melissa Stuebben
This small book that you hold in your hands is based on the idea that everyone has a story to tell. For ten weeks this past spring, seniors and high school students met together in workshops with professional writers to tell those stories in a series of letters â€” letters to their friends, to their family, to themselves, to the world. Why letters? Using letters as a vehicle for their work emphasizes that the writing they produce is not for themselves alone, but that their words represent a relationship between writer and reader,
between generations, and between cultures. Their work reminds us that writers and readers learn from one another, share common experiences, and create community through language. And so, dear reader, this book is a letter to you. The writing that you find here is just a small selection of the work produced during the Life Letters Project, but it offers a meaningful glimpse into the lives and stories of San Antonio.
Project Director, Gemini Ink
I have begun to recognize or realize that there is much that I have missed.
We haven’t met yet, but already you know there are great differences between us. For starters, I am much, much older than you. Probably at least forty-five to fifty years older. That doesn’t mean I demand respect or that I know so much more than you or that I am smarter than you, just older.
Keeping busy is a good thing sometimes, but it’s not so good if it’s used to ignore things you wish you hadn’t missed. There is being busy and then there is “busyness.” Busy-ness is when I fear doing something and instead find something else to do that’s a lot more comfortable and secure, and I don’t have to fear failure.
Growing older has been a recognition I have made about myself, especially these last couple of years. Prior to then, growing older didn’t demand much of my attention. There were too many other things I was interested in – job, education, family, vacations, and new stuff to buy. But these last few years have given me a different perspective.
Herein lies my recognition. I probably have lived a life full of fear of failing in the future. As a result, I have missed many opportunities that might have proven successful for me and bought a great sense of significance to my life. -1-
Why have I done this? I often ask myself the same question. Taking risks is always fraught with the possibility of rejection. I fear rejection the most. Rejection hurts. Rejection is an assault on your self-worth. It makes you feel worthless. It is always so much easier to take the safe route with smaller consequences than risk the greater opportunity and face the hurt of rejection. You can see my point, can’t you?
late — after the time when you can’t do much about them except remember. You can’t change what has happened in the past; that has to happen when the experience is fresh. I tell my story to you, a young person, so that you might learn from my mistakes. I offer no advice, only reflection on my own experience. I can only hope that the model of my life causes you to think deeply about yours.
So, this perspective has followed me much of my life and only in older age have I come to recognize it. It has colored the story of my life for many years. It reveals much about who I am and why I live the way I do. Recollections are important. Unfortunately, sometimes they come too -2-
know. Are you sure you want to do that? It seems to me that you usually write about imaginary people doing stuff you wish you could have done.
I’m amazed to hear you are participating in a writing program with high school kids. What can you be thinking? You don’t know any kids that age and what you remember of high school wasn’t all that great, was it?
This will be a big change for you. I hope you are up to the challenge.
Oh yeah – you went back to your 50th high school reunion last fall, didn’t you? What was that like? As I recall, you had never gone back to your old stomping grounds once you escaped to college. What were you looking for or expecting to find? Your lost youth? Ha ha! You’ll have to open some old wounds if you write about that time in your past, you
The things I like best about my life are... first, I’m an older sister. I love my younger sister. She is two years younger than me, but is taller and looks bigger than me. Second, I love that I can talk to anyone. I love talking and singing. Third, I love to play sports and be active. I play volleyball, basketball, softball and cross country. And on the weekends I go running with my dog Gino.
My hope for the future is to go to college, and it has to be an out-of-state university. I would like to travel. I think that’s why I want an out-of-state school. I would like to major in Business Management. I love business, seeing how they start and what they are or what they will become. My fear in life would be to not achieve my hopes and dreams. Right now, I have to save my working money to make my life dreams come true!
The one thing that I dislike about my life… ummmm, well I wish my dad was around a little more, but it’s a little okay because I have an amazing stepfather that treats me as if I were his own.
Well, I hope to meet you soon!
“The Gang” I want you to know that your grandpa wasn’t always old, crotchety, and fat. Here is a story about the neighborhood I grew up in and the friends I had while living there. Two of them became lifelong friends. Like a marriage, we took each other for better or for worse. One became a college professor, another an alcoholic, and I became the proud grandpa with four beautiful grandchildren, my “Grand Bunch.”
The bus traveled on Virginia Street stopping at every corner: Cub, Piper, Lockheed, Braniff, Mooney, and on and on. It moved slowly all the way to AB’s Market at Morgan and Virginia. We stepped off the bus, trudged home with books, papers, notes, and other stuff. We dropped everything at the front door. We went to the refrigerator looking for something. We worked on homework ‘til the magic hour. We didn’t need a clock to tell the time. We all knew what time it was.
I call the story “The Gang.” Your greatgrandmother, my mom, called it ‘la ganguita,’ or the little gang. ‘Ganguita’ is pronounced gahn-gee-tah; the ‘u’ is silent, as it is in most Mexican words with ‘gui’ in them. Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.
We stood and looked out the front window to see if anyone else was moving. We left the house and walked to the gathering. Like zombies, robots, whatever. Ants -5-
San Antonio, TX
Wish you were here... -6-
marching towards Virginia. Al, my frontdoor pal, waited for me or I whistled and waited for him. One of us took a stab at the other’s arm to acknowledge each other.
mood. A smile or anger — intense and serious — were always returned with more gravitas, intensity, or more gesturing. We met on the east side of the school, the cool side. If the day had been boring — many of them were — we played a running game, sometimes football, sometimes a mixture of tag and name-calling. Having a name attached to the tag was always more hurtful than being just plain “It.” We worked up a good sweat and got winded and spent.
We lived closest to the school. We could look up and down Virginia and see the Williams brothers coming from Beech; Fredo from Braniff; Chale and Willy from Piper; Danny, Alfonso (Poncho), Kicky, and JR from farther away. We all waved and gestured toward one another, some gestures less civil than others. We had digital communication long before anyone called it that. Every sign delivered with emphasis was answered with something harsher and more graphic. Each sender delivered his sign influenced by his own
With the pent-up energy gone, we gathered to discuss the barrio, the happenings and grab a smoke. Mr. Perez beat his wife again last night; Sandy, the neighborhood beauty, bathed with her -7-
bathroom window open again; Jimmy’s mom brought home another uncle last night. He had the largest family of any of us. Chale’s dad was customizing another ‘32 Model ‘A’. Gabe’s family was moving.
My darling, this is one of many stories I will share with you over the years we spend together. By the way: smoking, don’t try it, at home or anywhere.
It went on until stomachs started growling. It was suppertime. We trudged home more slowly than we converged. Al and I always had a few last words before parting.
Letter by Juan
I entered the house, Mom in front of the stove or the sink welcomed me by asking, “How’s ‘la ganguita’?” not expecting an answer. Dad welcomed me with, “What did you do today?” or “You and I need to talk.” This was my barometer. I was in for an uneventful or event-filled evening.
I want to tell you about something that happened to me. This past basketball season, something really amazing happened. My last game of the season helped me realize something very important. It helped me to know that even though I am scared to grow up, I can grow up and I can be a great leader like the high school seniors I have known in the past.
Now that it was halftime, I was no longer warming the bench, but instead I was heating up the court.
Buzz! The shot clock buzzer went off ending the first half of the last basketball game of my 2008-2009 high school basketball season. I had started the game off unprepared and found myself warming up the bench until the second quarter.
As we stepped back onto that court, I realized that we were there to show the opposition, Clark High School, how to play real “Lady Husky” Basketball.
“We need to get the ball in to Amy,” Coach Conway informed the team as I looked around the stadium. My eyes searched the crowds and I realized that we weren’t just competing for ourselves, but we were also competing for Holmes.
“Amy!” My teammate Analisa, better known as Flo, called out my name. “Yes, Flo?” “Can I ask you to do something for me?” “Sure. Anything. What’s up?” “No, seriously — I need you to do something for me.” “Seriously, what’s up?” I was wondering what she could possibly want in the middle of the game? No matter what, she should realize that I would do anything for her. She’s my captain, role model, friend, and
teammate. And, as a senior, this would be her last high school basketball game ever. What could she want? “Amy, can you help me win this?” I looked her straight in the eyes and felt the world fall on my shoulders, yet with ease I replied, “Yes, I can.” It seemed to be seconds later that we found ourselves in the last quarter of the basketball game with minutes left. Clark had the ball. They were transitioning quickly down the floor and I noticed I was the only one back. I set up my wall of destruction. Whistles blew.
After that game, after that “win,” I realized that I was someone people looked up to. I was also a captain. I was ready for next year. I am ready for next year. Maybe you had something like this happen to you. Tell me about it?
“CHARGE!” shouted all three referees simultaneously. Our crowd out-cheered Clark’s “boos” and I felt the adreneline pump through my veins as the roaring crowd shouted my name. My jersey was drenched in sweat, but my heart kept me going. Analisa had the ball. “Amy!” she shouted as I sprinted down the floor. She threw the ball and as my hands met leather I knew what was next: lay-up. I scored and we were tied. The last seconds were passing by and somehow Clark scored once more. We got the ball back and had our chance to score but it was too late. We lost according to the book, but in everyone else’s heart, we won.
It was my 13th year on a sultry summer Sunday afternoon. By then, I had read all my older sister’s Doubleday mail order romance books. Now, I was unwittingly stuck on an unexpected double date staged by my 14-year-old cousin Nayo. My date — the stranger — was much older, maybe 16 or 17. Nervously, I stole quick looks at him and at Nayo and her date. We crept into the dark last row of the theater. It seemed like everyone in the last rows wasn’t there to see the movie, but to share stolen kisses. Apprehensively, I squirmed in the seat as he tugged at my hand and quickly placed his arm around my shoulders. I sat like stone wondering how I had been hooked into this affair.
Swiftly, he pulled my face toward his and started kissing me. I forced my lips shut bewildered by it all. He pushed at my lips forcefully with his own. Suddenly, he had strained my mouth open and stuck his tongue into my mouth. Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, rattled in my brain. My sister’s books had not prepared me for this. I bolted, running swiftly to the freedom of bright sunshine. I was beside myself wondering how I would explain to parents and people how I could have allowed myself to become pregnant. I did not want to be a mother, not yet! I was angry but more horrified at my ominous -12-
Greetings from San Antonio
pregnancy. Besides, I didn’t remember his name and he certainly was not what I imagined a husband should be. Weren’t you supposed to fall in love first? Weren’t you supposed to take long walks by a pond or in a park, weren’t you supposed to visit each other’s families? Weren’t you supposed to have fun and get to know each other? What about the hoopla of a white wedding dress in June? What about my schooling? What about food and care for a baby? All I knew for sure was that I was facing a horrible dilemma. I was pregnant and now my life was ruined!
“I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant, and I don’t know what I am going to do when my parents disown me,” I whispered. Nayo giggled and assured me how impossible it was to become pregnant by kissing. Whew, thank God, thank God, thank God, was all I felt as we walked home.
Finally, after what seemed hours, Nayo came out and asked what happened.
In my life at this moment, I most cherish my desire to be a better person and the ability to let myself grow into a better person. In my life I like that I have a lot going for me.
we can do much more good than evil. I believe that my generation including myself can help this world to be a better place if we can put our minds and effort into it.
When I go out into the real world I would like to own my own business, and I hope that I can be successful in that. I would love to see my baby —my business — grow into something wonderful, though it scares me when I look into the real world and see it falling apart with war and economic crisis.
I hope you learned a little about the essence of me, and I can’t wait for your reply.
But as much as it scares me I’m optimistic that when my generation gets out there -15-
From where have you come? Where were you spawned? Were you in the Bible I read? Were you in the Garden of Eden? Did you spew, like vomit, from the preacher’s mouth?
Never again will you threaten my very existence!
Did you crawl into my gene pool? Did you seep into my mother’s milk? Were you in life’s rainstorms that fell? Were you in the lightening that struck? Were you in painful mistakes I made?
I know we’ve been together for a long time But it’s time for you to go.
Goodbye Guilt! You are no longer welcome around here.
Well, guilt — I don’t mean to be ugly but you’ve gotten too big for your britches! No more will will you poison my mind! No more will you torture my soul! -16-
I have learned to live in the present remembering the lessons of the past, for the path to our future lies in them. This I learned from you.
My Dear Teacher, I do not see you as frail or weak. Though the walker and forgetfulness makes you feel otherwise. They are signs of resilience. My Dear Lady, Though you repeat adventures of the past I long to hear them again and again. I long to hear of the songs you sang. My Dear Neighbor. Your walk is slow and your speech takes time. But you still stand tall and proud. I wait to hear your days of glory. Do not worry about what is to come. -17-
You had a really blessed beginning, having been born into your family. They gave you good values, ethics and a beautiful faith. Having a good start is a great advantage. I mean, you are not perfect, you know. As you matured, like most young adults you became idealistic. This wasn’t so bad unless you went overboard, which you were guilty of more than once. Yet, I forgave you because you were still growing and your brain was expanding. Remember your 20’s — you thought you were mature. Oops, wrong! That wedding was beautiful, but that marriage was not a thing of beauty. After ten years it went south. Like most humans you are not good
at admitting mistakes. But you made up for that with five beautiful children. I must admit they turned out really well. I give most of the credit to you. It wasn’t easy going back to college, working two jobs, doing any and everything to improve your life. You even managed to spend lots of time with them in spite of the pressures of parenthood. Those kids have your work ethic. They’ve always had your support. You really loved working in radio, television, newspaper, and magazine. You were the “Media Girl.” I know you miss journalism, but it is best that you are not there anymore. Unfortunately, many of those venues have lost their “truth” and have given in to lower standards. You struggled through hard times, the -18-
job market, and a divorce. The most traumatic of all things was being molested at gunpoint. Not easy, but you stayed optimistic. Surviving that horror brought out something new. Fear. It stole a lot of your starch, leaving you less optimistic. But it gave you better judgment. You finally learned that everyone is not nice and you don’t have to trust them or even like them. Love them. Pray for them, but it’s sometimes better and safer to keep your distance.
well. Hang in there and keep those fingers dancing on the computer keys. Someone once asked you this same question in your teens and in your 60’s, “What was the most exciting thing you have ever done?” Both times you answered, “I hope I haven’t done it yet.” That’s a pretty good answer. It isn’t over, Jackie. Remember you don’t stop laughing because you get older. You get older because you stop laughing.
Letter by Jackie
Congratulations on keeping your 73-yearold brain active. I think the fact that you’re taking a writing class, Life Letters (which are just about deleted in your present electronic brooh-ha-ha existence), is evidence that you do not take “lazy”
Hiking through the Andes, 10K race, Swimming to the island, frog and flutter kick, Dancing to reggae, exploring, wandering, shopping to heart’s content, Pressing shovel to the ground, tending my garden, Chasing the dog. Feet on the ground, toes grabbing, muscles activating calves and thighs, Hot pavement, cool prickly grass. Crunching through the gravel, sucking and splashing through the marsh, Rubber soles slapping the ground in rhythmic fashion. Or no sound at all! Automatic and effortless.
Energy, attractiveness, health, freedom, spontaneity! You have no idea how lucky you are. The last place I have walked — really walked — is North Carolina. My legs don’t really know Kentucky and Texas, And Mexico is a distant memory. (Can it really be twenty years?) Sloppy wheels dragging in mud, pebbles, bits of plants (the floor is always messy) Atrophied muscles, desire, independence A mismatch between outside appearance and feelings inside I live with envy. Everything must be planned and overplanned. Life is frustrating, even dangerous now -20-
â€” what a tiny margin of error! Money helps but not enough. My independence hangs by a tenuous, twisted thread, One strand imperfect technology, the other, luck.
I smile often – my philosophy, if a 16-yearold can have one, is if you smile the world smiles with you. I love not only to smile, but to actively create smiles on the faces of others. I’m being raised by a father who loves his wife, his sons, his job and his life. He has always taught me that just because I use a wheelchair to get around doesn’t mean that I have to limit myself in what I do. Not only has my father impressed upon me profound life lessons, but also selfconfidence, perseverance and best of all, a sharp wit and sense of humor.
But enough about my early years. Let’s talk about a teen’s view of the world. I look at the world as my oyster, with which to do as I please. I want to finish high school and go to college, but I don’ t know for what yet. I do know that I want to make a lot of money and have a big, happy family one day. I hope you have enjoyed my letter, and I look forward to future correspondence.
license away from me after I totaled my car almost two years ago. I always need to wait for someone else to take me. I hope and pray that my health will sustain me able-bodied to get around the rest of my life.
I’m thankful I was born at a time in history when persons could really be country folks in a way of life that is way different from what it is today. Farming was much more physical — a hands-on kind of farming.
I try not to fear anything as fears change your way of thinking and your actions will suffer from the fear. Due to the actions of our politicians and business leaders, our nation has suffered and is suffering tremendously. The news medium has not helped in any way, as I see it. Too much negative news gets broadcast everyday. That then makes the John Q. Public fear and think negatively.
I never did really like to live in the city, as it was a different way of life. Nowadays, I’m thankful I’m inside of the city as there are many more services available to help persons to get around than there are in the country. The one thing I do not like about my situation is that I am no longer independent, as the state took my driver’s
People seem to think that the government -23-
is the answer to having a free ride. I’ve been around long enough to know that what our government gives you credit for, they can and will come and take it away from you. My parents had a loan from the government when I was a child. My Pa had bought sheep. So each year at sheep shearing time, the government man always came. My dad had a branding iron shaped in a “U” and a bucket of red paint. The government man would point out the US Sheep (United States Sheep), and my Dad would dip the iron into the paint and put a “U” on the rumps of US Sheep. During the year some “U”-marked sheep died, but the government never lost any sheep. Always my dad lost. My dad came up with a way
to solve that situation. However, that is another story so I will leave that ‘til later. Wars have been going on since the beginning of time. We as Americans know that our forefathers gained independence from the mother coutry from which our forebears came. As history is now recorded, it seems our independence from other countries is now slipping away. We take so much for granted. Life will go on for the coming generations. However, our or their freedom is slowly being piddled away inch by inch. Those in control are taking it slowly and surely away.
The promise, idea, hope, to the American people was that this dreaded, unneeded war in Iraq was going to end. Obama put that in our heads. Yet instead of bringing our brave soldiers home, you send more platoons, some for their third or fourth tour. It is ridiculous! You are taking these men and women away from their families once again, just when they got them back. You give these soldiers hope that they wonâ€™t get sent back, then you send that hope spiraling down into the black abyss as you pull the rug out from under them and inform them that they are returning to the nightmarish hell overseas. So many men and women have already lost their lives never again to see their families.
Why send more to their graves? Why send more back to the place where they see their friends die and suffer emotional consequences? Nobody knows what really happens over there. We are shielded from the horrible truth of what really our soldiers are doing, what the real reasons for the war is, who is really responsible for this never-ending war.
I can see that many things have changed over time, and I’m glad you brought that up in your letter. This past week I was in a deep debate with my friend Ezra about if time has changed for the better or for the worse. And I’m under the belief that time only changes for the better. Our world has come a long way from what it has been. These days things are simpler, nicer, and more enjoyable. And we should all be thankful for how our world has turned out. My friend Ezra wants to go back into time and live life the way it used to be, but I’m sure once he realizes how those days really were lived, he will change his mind. My friend doesn’t realize it now, but he will soon realize that he is living in the today and not the yesterday. I’m
sure Ezra would have a heart attack if he was teleported back just to the 90s to realize that they didn’t have iPods. Time is constantly changing and we should all go along with it. This debate made me realize a lot, and that “a lot” is freedom. Freedom is being given to us day by day, and the one to thank is Barack Obama.
with foam on top.) Clean the chicken coop and the pigeon cages. Feed the animals at least twice a day. We would also make the beds; wash kitchen dishes and clean floors; help with laundry. We didn’t have a washer and dryer. My dad had a calendar so the chores were shared evenly. There was no fuss. We followed the rules.
I want to share thoughts, experiences, how things started and grew — rich memories of my childhood in Mission, Texas: Your great-grandma was a devoted mother. Every morning, I used to watch her knead the dough for tortillas and roll them and cook them on a grill. She cooked all three meals and also attended to one of my brothers, a hydrocephalic, who was in a wheelchair. My father — your greatgrandpa — was a mechanic for the railroad and always smelled like oil and smoke.
On the way to school, we would hear the whistle of the train going by and the sounds of the grapefruit processing-plant: the grinding of machinery making juice, the packers packing, the canning people canning. At school, we knew when it was lunchtime; the Catholic church bells always rang. Lunch was chicken and rice and beans and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
We were eight children. We all had chores to do: Pick up eggs from the chickens and milk the cow. (The milk was always warm -27-
Every night, from seven to nine, it was study and homework. After that we would listen to radio stories of Amos ‘n‘ Andy and Hopalong Cassidy. We had no TV — much less A.C., computers, or a telephone. Growing up was different from nowadays. We grew our garden with tools and our hands: carrots, potatoes, radishes, green beans, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce — it was all a distinct smell and taste. We also canned lots of it for later. Also, we had grapefruit trees, lemons, oranges, papayas, blueberries.
We were never bored. Sundays were special — going to church, sharing Bible verses and singing. One Sunday morning I was wearing a dress made with yellow round buttons and a chicken pecked all my buttons off.
Letter by Oralia
On weekends, we’d go with dad to the railroad to watch him work — greasy tools, wheels, motors. Sometimes men were working on the train whistle that let out black steam.
Other activities were playing ball and football, marbles, dolls, cooking with mud. We made our dishes with mud. And we would lay on the grass and look up at the sky and use our imagination. We would see sheep, stars, different shapes of clouds.
(and, by the way, most black people do not speak in Ebonics). Why does it always have to be the Mexican that smuggles or steals? Coincidence? I think not.
I don’t know how or why you look at yourself as being superior, while you stand for every universal flaw to turn it into a comical mechanism. C’mon, seriously. This media company you work so hard for isn’t giving you anything but a wad of cash.
What happened to the good people who stood for equality? MLK, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln… they’re gone, and everyone else is hypocritical or too scared to really fight for what they believe in.
Have you honestly not realized that every center of laughter in each of your movies is an overweight woman or a homosexual outsider? Has it not entered your narrowpathed brain that not all villians are black
And it’s you, Mr. Big Stuff, who stays and influences the good people to be cowards. Who wants to stand up if they are just going to be shot down?
I’ll tell you. We do! All those who are a size bigger than two, we do! All the women and men blessed with an abundance of curves, we do! Every gay man and lesbian woman, we do! All the Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, yellows, blues, reds, half-breeds, we do!
Letter by Aundria
We stand against you, the media producers, because we aren’t afraid of you or your bogus superiority. We may not be rich in assets but we are rich in power, numbers, and pride.
Discouraged, perplexed, saddened — that’s how I remember feeling at the age of eleven. I was upset over life’s injustices, such as bullying and favoritism among family members, friends, and people in general. One boring Sunday morning, as I glared out through the squeaky, musty-smelling screen back door of our house, I spotted my grandmother. She was walking alone to church on the sidewalk on the far side of her big corner house next door, which she shared with one of my uncles, an aunt, and my cousins.
‘Buelita Viviana, as we grandchildren called her, looked shorter than usual from a distance. She was stout in build and was wearing a dark-blue “dressy” dress, black hose, and black, small-stack heel shoes. She wore a small black mantilla on her head, as was the custom in the Catholic Church at the time, and carried a small, black, lacey purse. Her hair was teased and puffy. She would go to the beauty parlor every Saturday and to church every Sunday.
and friends, who were close to my age, to go with me the following Sundays. However, they rarely agreed, or they would agree and then change their minds at the last minute, leaving me dressed up in my black, patent-leather shoes and starched, light-blue dress with the puffy sleeves and the wide, satin-ribbon straps at the waist that tied to the back in a big bow. I also had a small black mantilla that my mother bought for me and a small, black clutch purse. Seeing my anguish, my mother suggested that I go to church with my grandmother, but I was too shy and immature to invite myself.
As I heard the church bells ringing and watched her disappear behind the houses and trees between her house and the neighborhood church, I felt in my heart, at that exact moment, that that’s where I needed to be. From that time on, I continually called and invited my cousins
When I grew up and married my childhood sweetheart, we took our two beautiful children to church mainly on special -31-
occasions. At work one day, a casual friend gave me a few Biblical tracts to read. That reading fascinated me. Soon, thereafter, she went on to work at another company, and we never kept in touch. Weeks went by. Then one night, after watching a Billy Graham television program, I dreamed that I briefly touched Jesus as He walked through the crowds as He did during His time here on earth. I then felt a touch to my head, and I instantly woke up with a huge smile on my face. I woke my husband up, but after telling him about my dream, he just sleepily muttered that I should go back to sleep. The next day at work, it seemed that Jesus was strongly driving me to reach
for the phone to call my babysitter to apologize for resenting her, since I had felt she was too strict with my child. (I realized later that resentment is an emotion not of God.) Imagining that my babysitter would think I was crazy, I instead disobeyed that command. Eventually, our minor marital problems grew into major problems, which ended our ten-year marriage. Then, thirty years later, after a series of subsequent meaningless and toxic relationships and a distant, irritable relationship with my children, I found myself standing outside the front door of a modest, hole-in-thewall building. It looked like an old stone house -- one-story and pale yellow -- but it was a small, humble church. On a previous occasion, Iâ€™d overheard a co-worker -32-
mention her church to another co-worker. Since I had been hoping to find a Christian church like one that somehow impacted me, which I attended a couple of times with my last boyfriend, I inquired about it. She described it as a church of close-knit fellow Christians and invited me to attend.
to take me up to the altar and pray for me. Still crying and preferring to leave, I reluctantly accepted. As they prayed, however, I began crying out profusely inside of myself and I humbled myself to God. I told Him that I obviously was not worthy of Him listening to my cries all these years since Iâ€™d denounced Him when I got divorced. I asked Him to please listen to whomever may be worthy to be listened to from among the persons who were praying on my behalf. My heart was touched and moved in a manner that surpasses all understanding, and I found that when Jesus was all I had, it was Jesus who was all I needed.
As I hesitantly walked in and stood in the back of this one-room building, the angelic Christian songs made me instantly cry uncontrollably, since they undoubtedly reminded me of the songs that were sung at the church Iâ€™d attended with my last boyfriend. I couldnâ€™t compose myself, so I went to tell my friend that I was leaving because of painful memories, and that I would return another day. She encouraged me to stay. After the service, showing much compassion, my friend and a few other church members offered -33-
I live in a world in which obstacles are my number one fear. The mere thought of having to feel pain frightens me to the point where I wish I could escape into the midst of a vast desert. If I only knew what the future had planned for me I might, and I emphasize might, enjoy life a little bit more. But what does that say? We are, or I am, human beings; we are supposed to live our life through obstacles. I have learned through the ups and downs that hope lies in the future. It rings in my ear like the sound of an instrument, and for this reason music is my strongest ambition that I hope to accomplish in the future. Music empties my mind and I go to a world without stress, that doesn’t
have obstacles. Music is my passion, my strength and me. Music is who I am. God gave me a gift to make people feel the same way I feel when I hear a note vibrate in a grand hall. To me, the only way to accomplish that passion is to live through my own fear in my life. We need to overcome those obstacles and see what door opens and slowly… slowly… slowly walk in.
with me and I didn’t ask. It was just an unspoken family crisis.
One of my biggest disappointments in life was not having the opportunity of meeting you. I was told you died from a tragic fall as an aerialist two years before I was born. The name of your act was “The Eaton Sisters.” You were only eighteen years old and were practicing without a net before a performance and you fell. You died two days later.
I was born two years later. I have been told that I brought joy and laughter back to their lives. Some say I look a lot like you but in reality, I don’t. I was not graced with any of your special talents. I have no balance, rhythm or any combinations of your talents. I was just a cute, ordinary baby girl on whom your parents — my grandparents — could lavish their love. Please believe that Grandpa and Grandma were the perfect grandparents, very indulgent without spoiling.
Your parents — my grandparents — were crushed beyond belief. You were their youngest, their baby. I still can’t believe that my old-fashioned German grandparents allowed you to begin this type of career. I also wonder if they ever saw one of your actual performances. They really never discussed your death
I remember wonderful fishing trips to the -35-
coast, and camping at the lakes and eating our catch of the day, no matter how small the fish were. To this day, I have to eat my fried fish with my fingers to check that there are not any tiny bones left behind. Until I was thirteen, I lived next to the homestead house in which you were raised. Grandpa and Grandma had moved to the city. I loved to play in your bedroom. In your closet, Grandma had stored all your beautiful costumes. I would take them out one by one and admire them. They felt like they were made of satin. I would let them brush against my cheeks. They were so soft and smooth. Their colors were brilliant blues, reds, and purples. And the greens were so bright. I would admire all of them and then select one for that day. I would put
it on and, of course, it would be too large â€” but I didnâ€™t care. For hours I would dance and twirl around and instead of being just that little country girl, I was the girl on the flying trapeze. Then I would have to carefully put each one back as this was my secret and if anyone found out I would have been in big trouble. Today, I have a box containing some of your personal mementos: snapshots of some of the other performers, newspaper reports of your accident and then of your death. There was a picture of you showing how you would hang from your legs and hold the next performer in your teeth and she would then twirl around many times. The most heart-rending letter came from Mrs. Eaton, written to my grandparents. She described events before you fell, -36-
Enjoying the high life in
such as going to the Lutheran church on Sunday morning, and almost a minuteto-minute account â€˜til you died. I know this meant so much to my grandparents. I treasure all the clippings, letters, and your own personal scrapbook, but most of all your ponytail that was saved for Grandma. When I held it in my hand, the hair was coarse and you had it dyed a dark strawberry-blonde. It must have meant the world to Grandma to be able to hold your ponytail in her hand.
spotlight and the rhinestones that trimmed them sparkling like diamonds. I open my eyes and reality sets in. I know that if you had lived we would have been very close and great friends. I have a sense of great loss never having had that opportunity.
After I read the newspaper reports of your performance, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine if I had been sitting in the audience watching my aunt perform. How thrilled and proud I would have been, seeing you fly through the air from swing to swing, your costumes glowing in the -38-
its path, determined by and manipulated by outside forces constantly. Even now as I present you, my ugly side, to the other, I cannot be free from those outside sources. Somehow, although youâ€™re no longer a part of me, that bond which ties us together will not be severed. These feelings seem even more silly and pitiful after hearing these comments. Ashamed, I realize that if I wish to climb out of my hole, I must first forgive myself, who is that same person I am afraid to look at. How will my reunion with my image present itself? Mostly as a horrid scared doll who refuses to face reality, who instead wishes to feed off othersâ€™ offerings like a parasite that has no end to its appetite?
My agony over my having wandered shamelessly off the path has led me to a place from which I can find no exit, though I know it is my own unpardonable sins that brought me here. Here is a hole into which I dug myself deeper with each obstruction. The hole is my world, made by my own hands. I cry out in desperation, my tears polluting like an acid rain. Burning, sizzling in old infected wounds. Falling too from the sky is a cleansing rain, traitor to my own tears, as if God exists and is crying for me. This rain I know can heal me, but I refuse to let it. I fear what my world, a dark infinite but familiar hole, will be like if I do. Soon, though, I realize I can dig no more, and at once let my outer shell fall like a leaf slowly drifting from -39-
The things I enjoy in life are reading, writing and running. Sometimes I like to dance and sing. These things keep my mind off the negative things in life. I can express my feelings and mood through writing and running and even dancing. The things that I dislike in my life include doing homework, watching TV and going in elevators. I just hate elevators â€” they creep me out, they are so small. I think Iâ€™m claustrophobic, I hate closed spaces.
an archeologist/astronomer. I want to find an alien, new species, I want to discover a new world. I want to know where we came from. I want to know if aliens have visted us before, where are they now? Is Nessie, the Loch Ness monster real? I want to find her and keep her as my pet. Is Atlantis the lost city real? Or did Pluto make it up? I want to find all those wonders of the world. My fears in life are not accomplishing my goals. I want to leave the world being remembered by all.
Homework and watching TV bother me because I could do something else besides wasting my time. I want to do something, be someone. My hopes in life are to do so many things: travel the entire world, write a novel, discover something. I want to be -40-
Rule 2: Learn to smile and speak. Your mother and I were walking through the Primrose apartment complex one day. As we passed other residents, I spoke and smiled and sometimes stopped to exchange a few words. Some people waved and called from their balconies. Others waved or honked from their cars. Even some of my doggy buddies, like Sarge, Misty and Little Bit, would bark a greeting. Your mother asked, “What are you, the official greeter?” I told her that Primrose residents spoke and smiled at each other even if we didn’t always know their names. I know when someone smiles and speaks to me, I feel better. I try to smile and speak even though I may not feel well. Remember, no matter how bad off we are, someone else is worse off.
As you grow closer to your college graduation, I wish to remind you of several rules for life: Rule 1: Learn three little words. “Thank You” and “Please.” From the time I learned to talk, we were taught to say “thank you” and “please.” When someone gave us a gift or a treat, if we didn’t say “thank you,” we might not get to keep it. Any request was automatically denied until we said “please.” Saying “thank you” and “please” shows gratitude and appreciation for the action. It also causes people to want to continue to be generous. -41-
Rule 3: Do your best. My high-school business teacher, Mrs. Frazier, was always on my case. She seemed to always push me further and demand perfection from me. I used to dread going to class. As I turned the corner into her hallway, she would be standing there in her cat-eyed glasses and a business suit. She always seemed to be frowning. One day we had a typing assignment and were told it had to be letter-perfect with no erasures. I typed my assignment and made a minor error. Being a very skillful and neat eraser, I made a correction anyway. The next day, she collected our papers. She was skimming the papers, when she came to mine she kept going. After a paper or two, she returned to my paper. She took the paper and held it up to the window and then you could see the correction. I had corrected two letters. My question
was, “If you can’t see the erasure without extra effort, what does it matter?” Her reply was, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Also, that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I received my “By Name” orders for Hawaii due to my excellent office skills. This assignment was one of the highlights of my life. If you had asked me in high school, who was my least favorite teacher, it would have been Mrs. Frazier. Now I thank her wholeheartedly for making me seek perfection. It served me well throughout my career. Therefore, Baby Girl, Go forth into this world with a smile on your face, “thank you” and “please” on your lips. Put forth your best efforts at all times and you will succeed. -42-
Shortly after opening it, I discovered that this toothbrush, after two minutes of use, vibrates in a strict staccato form for several seconds to notify you of your completion. I did not take much note of this, and, for a long time, barely noticed its influence on the habits of my oral hygiene. Several months later, though, I was watching TV (a rare act that is typically accompanied by bouts of selfloathing and angst for society), and I saw a commercial for Oral-B. In it, several archetypal scientists in bleached coats were performing what seemed to be intensive studies on brushing teeth. After watching this, I felt very dirty (this being the effect of watching TV) and decided to brush my teeth, an act I have always considered pious for its consistency to bring forth epiphanies.
Last year, someone gave me a toothbrush as a gift. Nothing terribly outstanding about it: it is an Oral-B Vitality, with a charger dock to place it on. At first, I questioned the creativity/sincerity of the gift-giver, and even considered the socially-condemned idea of regifting, which I later found out had been committed by the person I received the gift from; but, upon further inspection, I reluctantly chose to keep the gift. After all, the toothbrush I had currently been using was given to me by my dentist, and this seemed a relatively high-quality electronic toothbrush anyway. -43-
As I brushed my teeth, I was reminded of those tempestuous scientists with their floss and their beakers, and I lugubriously thought about whether that commercial was a true depiction of the Oral-B labs or not; whatever work these men did or what ideas they came up with, they would be forgotten in the tidal wave in what society calls “more important things.” At that point, the incessant zut-zut of my toothbrush emerged, and I realized that I had just done the one thing I had explained to myself was a problem: I took the tiny conveniences that help me through the day, and, instead of putting them on a pedestal, I put them below it. I failed to understand that it is because of these seemingly miniscule and unimportant conveniences that I am not driven insane in constant trepidation,
wondering if I may have forgotten something. Instead, I forget them with ease, and I allow the technologies of this day to “worry” for me about how long I have been brushing or when to take the kettle off the boil for me. It seems that, in this age of exponential movement, where we are taught that the worth of our lives is measured by the profound and ingenious acts we commit, we forget to give credit to the small things that take care of us, so we can worry about the bigger things.
but not alone. We learn to manage the loneliness, dodge the development of selfishness, keep the sneaking shadow of hostility at bay. It’s very difficult, and some can’t manage. However, at the worst of times, when all seems lost, when no one will save you, when you must face yourself, that is when you find out what you’re truly made of. That is what shapes your character, completes it; it’s what makes us human. When you are alone, know you are alone; even for just a little while, you are in your purest form; your soul is naked, exposed, in front of a mirror. You have nothing to hide from yourself. Though some hate the feeling of loneliness, we must love it as well, for it reminds us of who we really are.
Being alone should only be treated as a small luxury. You should turn to solitude to gather your thoughts, perhaps produce something of your own, without interference or outside opinions that could discourage you. I use loneliness to think, analyze, even fantasize, just to escape reality for a few moments; sometimes I grow bored with reality. When you remain alone, bad things can happen. It can lead to brooding thinking too much, becoming detached from others. Artists may be lonely, but they don’t forget that the world is the ultimate source of inspiration — its beauty and its faults, its most beautiful mountain top or its most disgusting marsh. Some of us don’t choose to be lonely. One can even be lonely, -45-
On the road from
San Antonio, Tx
Note from author: The idea for this piece originated in a letter to a 2009 teenager, where I described what it was like to date in the 1960s.
In those pre-cell phone, pre-email, precall-waiting, pre-answering service, prebeeper, pre-rotating-call-schedule days, my dad, the local physician, allowed one long distance phone call each week. (It was expensive, after all.) He tried to enforce a three-minute limit in case one of his patients had an emergency. But I never did use that egg timer sitting by the phone. As far as I know, no one ever died as a result, either.
My boyfriend, Bob, lived in a town only six miles away, but it felt like 100. We met when some girlfriends and I, tired of the local boys who were uninterested in smart girls, ventured to the neighboring town for a dance. Bob was a star quarterback, smart, cute, and romantic â€” my first love. The distance between our towns and lives made our relationship all the more exciting. The year was 1968, and I was sixteen years old.
Bob usually borrowed his parentsâ€™ Oldsmobile Delta 88 for our Saturday-night dates. But one evening he appeared in a two-toned, turquoise-and-white 1957 Chevrolet sedan he had purchased with money earned working as a carhop at -49-
the local A&W. There it was in all its tailfinned glory — ready for a central role in our budding relationship. In the 1960s, guys had to do all the driving and pay for the whole date. Gas was 28 cents a gallon, and Bob would pump two or three dollars worth at a time, whatever he could afford. He picked me up at 6 p.m., so we could spend the maximum amount of time together before my midnight curfew. We drove 25 miles to the nearest theatre to see a movie, or hang out with his friends, walk in the park, or play miniature golf. But mostly we just drove around and talked. Bob and I grew up together in that ’57 Chevy, sharing our teenaged thoughts about everything from parents, to friends, to sex.
Gradually, Bob began to customize the Chevy to his liking. One evening, he arrived at the appointed time — but gone was the nice, comfortable bench seat where I could sidle up to him and he would put his arm around me as he drove. In its place were two horrible BUCKET SEATS. How romantic was THAT? I was MAD. In retrospect, I realize this particular redesign of his car’s interior was a subconscious stroke of genius on Bob’s part, undoubtedly aided and abetted by raging male hormones. I mean, where else were two teenagers to go but the BACK SEAT when you couldn’t get any privacy at your parents’ house, or anywhere else for that matter? Twenty-degree Wisconsin winters were beside the fact. Somehow, -50-
we always managed to stay warm in that turquoise-and-white, tail-finned ’57 Chevy.
man of few words, he nevertheless could be very scary.
P.S. That ’57 Chevy was almost my nemesis, however, if indeed a 17-yearold can have a nemesis. One evening, shortly before we were to graduate from our respective high schools and move on to the rest of our lives, Bob brought me home just before midnight. Of course, we parked in the driveway at the farthest end of the house from my parents’ bedroom to say our long good-bye. All of a sudden, up went the garage door: it was my dad, called out to a late-night emergency. Embarrassed, we quickly scrambled to the front seats and bid a hasty good-bye. I later trembled in my bed, wondering what my dad would say when he got back. A
To this day I remember verbatim his “lecture” the following morning: “STAY OUT OF THE BACK SEATS OF CARS!”
Thanks for reading.
Gemini Ink nurtures readers and writers and builds community through literature and the related arts. We are the only community-based center for literary arts and ideas in San Antonio and South Texas. Every year, we serve an average of 5,000 readers, writers, and literary performance-goers representing a diverse sampling of our communityâ€™s population. Four programs currently serve our mission: WRITERS IN COMMUNITIES (WIC) sends professional writers into diverse community settings to work alongslide students of all ages, needs, interests, and abilities in free workshops based in oral traditions, reading, and creative writing. The AUTOGRAPH SERIES presents writers of national and international stature - many of them recipients of major prizes such as the Pulitzer or National Book Award - each spring and fall in free public performances at major local theaters. The UNIVERSITY WITHOUT WALLS (UWW) offers three semesters of fee-based reading groups and workshops and also many free literary events led by professional writers, scholars, and interdisciplinary artists. DRAMATIC READERâ€™S THEATER (DRT) features professional actors interpreting literary works in free performances, often accompanied by original music. For more information, visit www.geminiink.org or call 210.734-WORD (9673). Toll-free: 877.734-WORD (9673).
Published on Feb 26, 2010