Rogelia was a pleasingly plump Mexicana who lived next door to us when we lived at 4546 S. Marshfield Avenue. Whenever she saw me, she would call me by name and say hello to me. I always appreciated her personal attention since I was only ten. She had brown eyes, naturally wavy dark brown hair and olive skin. Judging by her clothing, her favorite color was blue. She was married and had two daughters who were older than me. Her younger daughter Estela looked just like her mother, but she was a little plumper and a little more naturally tanned. Rogelia and my mother were good friends so I saw Rogelia at our house a lot. In the summer, we all sat on the front stairs and just talked and talked and talked even though every one, except the children, had to get up early in the morning. Neighbors walking by would stop to talk a while, too. Amazingly enough, no one drank beverages of any kind. The rambling conversation was enough to intoxicate everyone. Whenever Rogelia sat our our stairs, she always asked me to sit next to her. I was like her date. My mother used to get jealous. I loved it! Sometimes Rogelia would run her fingers through my hair to comb it out of my eyes–and my mother would stare daggers at me. She would scold me later and tell me not to let Rogelia touch me. But my mother was never that affectionate with me, so I enjoyed the attention.
Rogelia looked very dainty, but was very physically tough when necessary. Sometimes her husband would home drunk, try to start a fight with anyone sitting on the stairs, and then go home. He would yell for Rogelia to open the door for him, but she wouldn’t. Finally, he’d get tired of yelling, then he’d pull out his keys from his pocket, and open the door himself. He’d slam the door the door behind him. Most of the time there was yelling and the sound of objects crashing against the wall or floor. Even my mother had to say, “¡Pobrecita Rogelia!” One day, there was more yelling and more crashing noises than usual. Suddenly their apartment door slammed open and her husband, who was drunker than usual when he walked home, came running out with Rogelia chasing him waving her fists at him. He had a black eye and his face was all bloody. Rogelia was furious, but when she saw everyone staring at them, she stopped and told her husband if he ever did it again she would kill him. We never found out what he did, but there was much speculation for months. Chismes, rumors, spread rapidly and became more elaborate with each retelling. One day, the police came and arrested him. They went to his car and conviscated some rope and a knife from the backseat. Apparently, Rogelia’s husband had raped and killed a woman. He was gone for a few days before he returned. It was a case of mistaken identity and he had happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rogelia and her husband never had another argument after that.
As strong as Rogelia was, she would feign to be dainty on occasion. For example, when she returned from grocery shopping with her cart filled over the top with groceries, she would ask me to help her carry in the groceries. I was young enough and naive enough back then to think she really needed my help. When I was done, she would ask me questions about how I was doing in school and if I had a girlfriend. She was genuinely interested in me. Then she would give me fifty cents and I would leave. Sometimes Rogelia would cook dinner for me. She would stick her head out the door and yell my name. The first time she did, I didn’t know why she called me. I soon enjoyed every time time she called me to her apartment. She liked talking to me while I ate alone. And Rogelia was a much better cook than my mother.
The only thing I regret to this day about the whole situation is how I behaved toward her daughter Estela. All the boys made fun of her because she was overweight. Well, I must confess that I, too, joined in on the ridicule. One day, as Estela was walking home, my friends and I were sitting on our front stairs. Alfonso called her a hippo. Fernando corrected him and said she was an elephant. Of course, me being me, I had to top everyone else. I started making earthquake noises and pretended that the ground was trembling. I pointed to crack on the sidewalk and said that Estela broke the sidewalk by walking on it. She ignored us as she continued walking home. Then my earthquake sounds became louder and my body trembled even more. The “earthquake” was so strong that I fell all the way down the stairs. Estela started crying! I looked next door and saw Rogelia standing outside her door waiting for her daughter. Rogelia had seen everything. I was caught in the act of making fun of her daughter! I was so embarrassed! I knew that Rogelia would be mad at me forever. She would never cook dinner for me again. I looked at her face to study her reaction. She was actually attempting, unsuccessfully, to repress laughter. She put a consoling arm around her daughter and they quickly went into the house.
Well, I did not fall from Rogelia’s good graces because of my incident with Estela. In fact, later that day, she invited me in to dinner. Her husband found me a babysitting job across the street that paid a dollar a week. And everything was fine between Rogelia and me until we moved to another house in the neighborhood.