South Side, Chicago, Illinois.

Once, while traveling in the country, Mark Twain saw a sign that read, “Junk bought, antiques sold.”

To my mother, junk wasn’t merely just junk. To this day, I realize that there’s junk, and then there’s Mexican junk–there is no Spanish word for junk, although I did see a sign that read “Yonke” in my travels through Mexico). My mother managed to salvage just about everything she found in the alley. No chair was so splintered, no dresser was missing too many handles or drawers, no bed frame was so rusty or bent that they could not be repaired, refurbished, or rehabilitated with a little paint, elbow grease, and TLC. If my mother found something that was too heavy or bulky for her to bring home, she would come home to get me and between the two of us we would put it into the back of her red Volkswagon Squareback station wagon.

My mother always knew some Mexican or an entire Mexican family who had just come from Mexico and needed furniture. She would help them set up a home by giving them whatever furniture she had found. She genuinely loved to help people and she would never ask for any money in return. Occasionally, someone would offer money, but she would refuse it saying that they could repay her when they were settled down. People would come from Mexico and look for my mother because they knew that she would help them.

When I bought my four-flat house in Bridgeport, I attempted to help Mexicans on a smaller scale than my mother. I only helped my Mexican tenants and a few of their friends. When my brother lived in one of my apartments, he wanted to get rid of his living room set, but didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know anyone who needed furniture at the moment, so I told him to put it out in the alley only he didn’t want to throw it away. I explained to him that if we put it in the alley early Sunday morning, the Mexicans going to church would see it and take it home with them. Sure enough, all his furniture was gone within an hour.

When I got divorced and I needed to refurnish my new house, I got most of my furniture from my brother and sister. Sometimes I feel so Mexican!