Relationships


A couple on a date at the Casa de Frida Kahlo en Coyoacán, México.
La Casa de Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán, México.

While I was in Mexico, I learned a little more about Mexican relationships. I suppose I have my own preconceived American notions about how their relationships are structured. Well, I was surprised to learn about many aspects about their relationships that were previously unknown to me. Yes, there are Mexicans who marry for life, but that’s not always the expectation of every couple. During one of my many dinner conversations with relatives, I mentioned that the divorce rate in America was about 50%. One of my cousins boasted, “Mexico is catching up!” She divorced a couple of years earlier. And getting a divorce in Mexico is now much easier. Only one party has to go to court to request the divorce! A few of my cousins had children out-of-wedlock. That’s not so unusual here in the U.S., but I was surprised to hear that it also occurs more and more frequently in Mexico. One cousin had recently broken up with his wife. So I asked if he was already divorced or just separated. He said that they were never married. She just left the house and he got to keep their two daughters.

One of the strangest things I heard about was commitment in a relationship–or rather a lack of commitment. If a couple stays together for more than one year and then they break up, one party can file a civil lawsuit for monetary damages for not marrying the other. So many people keep track of their anniversary date, not to celebrate it, but to break up just before they can be sued. And the longer they’re together as a couple, the more monetary damages they’re liable for. Because a couple, it’s assumed, is together because they eventually want to get married.

Look ma! No marriage!

Melanie


After my first divorce, I moved back home with my mother to 2509 W. Marquette Road. At first, she didn’t even know I was living with her. She lived on the second floor and I moved back into my bedroom in the basement. When I separated from my wife, I lived in the basement for about two months before I finally told my mother I had moved back home. I guess I needed to feel comfortable about telling her. Plus, I thought that the possibility of a reconciliation still existed. I didn’t want to tell everyone I was getting divorced if we got back together again! The reason she didn’t know I moved back home was that she worked the day shift and I worked midnights. We hardly ever crossed paths, and not just physically, but also ideologically and morally. Anyway, when I told her I was getting divorced, she said I was making a big mistake and that I would never find another wife as good as her. You know, the usual speech a Mexicana gives her oldest son upon discovering that he’s getting divorced. A speech filled with sentiments that would make any Mexican son feel guilty for breaking his mother’s heart by not giving her grandchildren. I was hoping to get a reception like the prodigal son, but I got The Mexicana Mother Speech! I got over it in about two days.

Once I could freely go upstairs to my mother’s apartment on the second floor–she rented out the first floor to paying tenants–I used to see my mother staring out the window a lot. Our house faced north on Marquette Road, just west of Western Avenue, so there was always plenty of activity to observe. One day, as I was trying to sneak downstairs behind her back–she always knew when I was in the room–she called me over to look out the window. A young Mexicana holding the hand of a little girl was was walking past our house. They lived in a basement apartment across the street. My mother had noticed her walking past our house previously. I don’t think that my mother would have taken such an interest in them if they hadn’t been Mexicanas. The next day, my mother saw them again. “They always walk by at the same time,” my mother said to me. “She needs a babysitter. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.” I told my mother to be careful because she might not trust her daughter to a complete stranger, especially one who is waiting for her on the street. The next day, when I went to my mother’s apartment, the young Mexicana and her daughter were in the living room. The mother was a very pretty Mexicana who was completely bilingual. In fact, when I heard her speak English so fluently, I didn’t think that she could speak Spanish at all, but she was just as fluent in both languages. It turns out that Chayo, her actual name was Rosario, took her daughter Melanie to daycare every morning before going to work. Somehow, my mother talked her into dropping off Melanie at our house before going to work. How did my mother convince Chayo to trust her with her only child? Well, my mother was waiting outside about the time that Chayo and Melanie walked back home from the daycare and my mother greeted her in Spanish. One thing led to another and they were talking on the corner for about an hour before they went into my mother’s house. Apparently, they both knew some of the same people. So that was the connection! Mexicans always try to find a common bond, whether it be friends, family, or the same place of origin in Mexico. So my mother had a babysitting job now.

So the next day, Melanie was upstairs when I woke up in the afternoon after working the midnight shift. I love children, so it was nice to have a little girl in the house again. She was like my mother’s daughter and my little sister. We both pampered her. Melanie looked much happier now than when she walked home from the daycare. Melanie’s first day at our house was very exciting for Melanie and us. Then Chayo, who was about my age, came to pick up her daughter. We talked for a while and when it was time for Chayo, and Melanie to leave, Chayo asked my mother how much she charged for babysitting. I knew mother didn’t want any money, but she had to name a price, so she said, “One-hundred dollars! Cash!” Chayo’s mouth dropped open. And then my mother laughed. She said that she would babysit for free. Chayo said that she had to pay her something because she was saving so much not taking her daughter to the daycare. Chayo tried to slip some folded dollar bills into my mother’s hand but she wouldn’t accept them. As far as I knew, my mother never charged her for babysitting.

Melanie took quite a liking to me. She had just turned four and she was at that age where she was so much fun. She had long, dark brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. She looked liked the cutest Mexican girl ever. She would always anxiously await me going upstairs when I woke up in the afternoon. We played games together and she always sat next to me at the dinner table. When I started working the day shift, she would look out the window waiting for me to come home. She was always happy to see me. Soon, she wanted to go with me whenever I went out. At first, I didn’t want to take her with me, but my mother said it would be okay. Melanie and I walked to my car hand in hand. I was going to the store to buy some groceries for my mother. Melanie sat in the front seat with me. Actually, she kept standing up and putting her arms around my neck, holding on for dear life. This was in the 1970s before it was mandatory to have small children in safety seats. Well, I almost got into an accident because Melanie obscured my vision, so I had to swerve and slam on the brakes. Melanie lost her grip around my neck and slid across the front seat until her head hit the passenger door. Luckily, she didn’t even get a bruise. I learned my lesson and from then on Melanie wore a seatbelt. After that, I felt more comfortable driving, too.

Then, my mother started talking to me about Chayo. She was available. I should ask her out. But what about Melanie’s father? He was in jail. I didn’t even want to know what crime he had committed to wind up in jail soon after Melanie’s birth and I didn’t want to know. Besides, he never married Chayo. No, I never asked Chayo out and she soon met someone else, something I have never regretted. One day, Melanie, out of the blue, started telling me, “I love you.” Somehow, she had become like my daughter. I didn’t mind, either. I like having Melanie around. Then, it all ended when I enlisted in the Marines. My mother told me to look for Chayo’s brother who was also in the Marines. In one of those unbelievable coincidences that you’re not supposed to write about because no one would believe it anyway, I actually met Chayo’s brother at Camp Pendleton. I wrote about this accidental meeting in a previous blog entry. And in yet another one of those unbelievable coincidences, I met one of Chayo’s sisters at the University of Chicago Track Club. But wait! Here’s another coincidence. When I was a member of the Marquette Park Track Club, Joe Gregory, one of our runners, announced the he was getting married. To whom? To another one of Chayo’s sisters. After I was honorable discharged from the Marine Corps and I had my own apartment near Marquette Park, Chayo called me. We talked awhile. My mother had previously told me that she would try to set me up with Chayo. So Chayo called me, but I wasn’t really interested. She called me a few more times, but that was the end of it. My only regret? That I didn’t ask her about Melanie!

I love you, Daddy!

J


2509 W. Marquette Road, Chicago, Illinois

J should have been D. But he wasn’t. He was J. And for a very good reason. My mother said so! Well, I’ve already talked about my mother’s naming process in my previous blog entries. My parents had six children: David Diego, Daniel, Diego Gerardo, Dick Martin, Delia Guadalupe, and Joseph Luis. All of names started with D–except for Joseph (which starts with J and not D, as I’m sure you probably noticed. I have always admired the intelligence of my readers!). The other notable oddity in the naming process is Daniel who has no middle name! I was less than two years old when Daniel was born, so I have no idea why he has no middle name. Were we too poor to afford a middle name for Daniel? Was my mother mad at my father for getting her pregnant again and so she denied my father Diego yet again the opportunity of having a son named Diego? I really don’t know because neither my father nor mother ever talked about how Daniel got his name. To this day, Daniel’s lack of a middle name remains one of the great mysteries of our family.

Before my youngest brother Joseph Luis was born, my parents were in the middle of a hostile separation and later a contentious divorce. How my mother got pregnant was a mystery to me even back then because I hardly ever saw them together for about a year. But somehow she got pregnant. And my father was proud of the fact that he had gotten her pregnant.

However, there was never any doubt the he was my father’s son because when Joseph was older, many people thought he and I were twins. The resemblance was that strong. So how did he come to be named Joseph Luis? Well, he was born in August of 1968, months after our Uncle Joseph, my father’s much younger brother, died in Viet Nam. I remember when my Uncle Placido called to say he had to visit us to tell us something very important. He came after my brothers and I were already in bed, so I knew he had something important to say. I listened from my bedroom, which was right next to the kitchen where they sat. I heard my Uncle Placido say that my Uncle Joseph had died in Viet Nam. I could hear both my mother and father crying. I cried, too, in my bedroom. So my mother named my brother Joseph in his memory. That was actually a very good reason not to follow the D rule in naming us.

Our Uncle Joseph was everyone’s favorite uncle. He loved playing with all his nephews and nieces. Everyone cried when he died. It was the longest funeral procession I had ever seen–and I lived by a funeral home so I saw a lot of funeral processions! My father was one of his pall bearers. The day after the funeral, my father couldn’t get up out of bed. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Whether his paralysis was physical or psychosomatic was never determined, not even by the doctor who came to our house to treat my father. After about a week, my father just got up out of bed and started walking again. He wanted to go to work again.

What happened to D?!

New Year’s Eve


Making tamales with TLC

I have many fond memories of New Year’s Eve beginning in my childhood when our entire family would go to my Uncle Simon’s and Aunt Mari’s house. The party always involved eating a lot of  Mexican food and real hard play among cousins. At midnight, everyone, I mean children, too, toasted with a glass of champagne. That was the only time of the year I drank alcohol–until I became an altar boy and my friend once talked me into taking a sip of altar wine before mass.  But I only indulged that once because I felt so guilty and sinful afterwards.

Once, we were in Mexico for New Year’s Eve and we celebrated by making tamales and eating them. In Chicago, my mother made the masa during the day and then made buñuelos at midnight as a way of ringing in the new year. I think that New Year’s Eve wasn’t as exciting once we stopped going to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I don’t really remember too many of those later celebrations now. When I was married, I was content to stay home with my wife and son and watch the festivities in Chicago on TV. When I lived in Bridgeport, I used to take my oldest son to the attic window at midnight where we could see the fireworks downtown. When the twins were born, we moved farther away from downtown, so we could no longer see the fireworks from the window. But we watched them on TV, although not quite as dramatic.

Later, after my divorce, my Mexicana girlfriend decided that we would make tamales for New Year’s Eve. She bought a giant pot for the tamales and lots and lots of masa. We would make tamales together, just the two of us. Actually, I enjoyed making the tamales. In Mexico, I only got to watch the women of the family make the tamales; males weren’t allowed to touch the masa. My girlfriend showed me how to mix the meat into the masa and stuff the masa into the corn husk. She had made tamales a few times and actually knew what she was doing. We even made some sweet tamales with raisins. We had about six different kinds of tamales. We literally did this for at least two hours and the giant pot was still only half-full. However, she insisted that we fill the pot all the way to the top. We filled the pot at about 3:00 a.m. And I was exhausted! But wait! She put a penny at the bottom of the pot where there was boiling water to steam the tamales. The flame underneath had to be at just the right temperature and you could tell if the temperature was just right because the penny would keep making noise as the boiling water moved it. The only time I really saw tamales made was in Mexico as a boy, but my mother and aunts cooked the tamales over a bonfire. Well, I went to bed about 6:00 a.m. because I couldn’t stay awake anymore. She stayed up to keep adding water and ensuring that the tamales cooked properly. I didn’t realize they would involve so much work. She woke me up a few hours later when they were done. She had stayed up the whole time! We then ate the tamales and they were so delicious! We ate them later that day. And the next day, too. There were so many tamales that she put some in her fridge and froze the some in her freezer. And there were still some tamales leftover! So I took some home and put them in my freezer. We ate tamales until the Fourth of July! And we never got tired of them. We loved them!

¡Happy New Year! ¡Próspero Año Nuevo!

Please! No more tamales!