Woman in a Red Coat – SOL Day 5

scarfAn older woman sat in front of us in Mass today.

Beautiful red trench coat with a hood, a beautiful red silk scarf peeking from beneath her short hair.

She reminds me of my mother… This is something my mother would wear.

Something she would wear.

Right now, she is relegated to one of 3 outfits my brother decides she can keep at her nursing home. She doesn’t see the sun, nor can she comment on the light sprinkly weather we had in Texas today.  She doesn’t fix her hair.  The only red in her wardrobe is a beautiful knitted throw I gave her for Christmas.  Hopefully, it hasn’t gone home with my brother who is always concerned about “theft.”  — Yes.  “Theft” in quotes.  There’s never been an incident in the place he chose to keep her.  If anyone steals anything, I’ll just buy her another, and another.  I wish I could buy her a red trench coat.  And another.  And another…

I wish I had my mother.  With me, so I could dress her, baby her as she babied me.

So I can dress her the way I remember her.

There was her dust blue coat she’d wear when we went to the Shrine for those long walks from the parking lot.  The same coat she’d wear when she had morning duty at her elementary school.  She’d forever wear a scarf over her head, like a 50’s-movie-star.  Mom was my Hedy Lamarr.  Full of beauty, full of slight wisdom, full of fight for my Dad.

There were parts of her I wish I could remember — what she did, how she responded to life, how she led her family.  I make it up as I go along.

When she was the age I imaginer her, I was a young 20-something, a 30-year-old Mom living in another city, trying to survive.  We weren’t close.  But now that my life has settled, what I have are the memories as she calls to me over the years.  I imagine what she would say, how she would guide me.  I make it up as I go along.

I am with my 9-year-old, who’s been my 9-year-old forever.  She is the exact age when my Mom and I were Besties.  The last of my 3 older siblings had just left the house, family drama was reduced to a minimum, and it was just me, Mom and Dad.  Life revolved around school, the market, church and my backyard.  I was The Baby, and I hadn’t yet been relegated dish duty or any absurdities of young adulthood.  I was the apple of my parents eye.

They’d wake me, I’d eat my little breakfast Ma made for me and travel with her to work, where she was a teacher’s aide for Mr. Martinez, a math teacher.  He was a god to her.

“Aye!  Mr. Martinez!”  my 50-year-old Mom would say at a joke he really didn’t intend to crack.  He wasn’t confused by my mother, but charmed.  He was the son she wished she could have.

There was grading with Mom, lunchtime with Mom, after school tutoring with Mom, open-house with Mom, pastel coloring bulletin boards with Mom, running the mimeograph machine with Mom, overhearing gossip with Mom, eating those extra apples from the lunchline with Mom, her big pockets stuffed with fun erasers and shiny pencils she’d find throughout the day with Mom… loving education with Mom.


When I relive these treasures, like I am now, there’s an energy from the past that draws me closer to my youngest.  I live the past and the present in the same moment, a communion of my memory and what will become a memory for my daughter in an instant.  I relive my life with my baby.   And I live with my mother — I am with her, I feel it.  I take a deep, deep comforting breath and I can feel myself sitting just a little straighter, the way Mom would want me to.

Si, sit up, Mijita.  And don’t walk too fast, she’d say as she rapidly snaps the gum in her mouth. You know you’re alway in a rush…

Thanks, Ma.



Dad’s Pen – SOL Day 4


New Notebook.  Same brand, same model.

…because I’m a creature of habit when something seems to be working for me.

Since mid-summer 2016, I hadn’t written consistently in my Notebook. Stacks and stacks of completed notebooks I possessed.  That summer, it just stopped.  My mother moved into a nursing home — that made 2 parents now, institutionalized 350 miles away, a situation I had no say in as the youngest child — extended family members were squabbling, lawyers were summoned, and.. my writing just stopped.  Dried up like a rusty faucet.

One day late in February, my National Writing Project mentor visited our campus to lead a workshop for our department.  She was just the person to undo the spell, the plumber with a monkey wrench to get my mojo going.  I’ve been writing ever since, daily, dedicatedly, devotedly.  It’s all coming back to me now, my “bad” year a blur.  I’m now teaching mini-lessons directly from entries in my notebook, we are finding time to write every other day in our classroom, and we are becoming a writing community, even though it’s past mid-year. We just have a lot of catching up to do, that’s all.

Never will I forget the look on my children’s faces when the spell broke — where have you been all year?  I. Will. Keep. This. ..at the front of my mind for the rest of the year when I am tempted to abandon the practice we have ALL (every last 140 one of us) fallen in love with, for the sake of “one more thing to do!”  Never again (please!).  I pray I can keep it for the rest of my writerly life, with my students or without.

New Notebook… Same pen.

This one is an older model Pilot — a “Precise V5” that’s been around for years and years and years. I know because my Dad would grade his Chemistry papers with these same pens during the 80s and early 90s.  Blue — Red — Green.  Exactly what they’re still selling in stores now.

Never once did I pick up one of these pens — when I’d find them in his suitcase as I rifled for stuff for him, when I’d see them lying around the kitchen counter or on the counter in his lab.  Never during his grading fury, which usually came toward the end of the six weeks.

This was when final exams would pile onto student work from the week and he’d have only a day to return report cards to his students.  This was the era before retesting for a 70.

It was my job to help him with the averaging the night before grades were due.

Dad discovered my talent for the 10-key the night of one of his grading binges that usually started around 11 o’clock on a Sunday night.  I was up to say good night to him and he very innocently asked me to average the grades for one kid for him.

“Oooh… you did that very fast. Here, do these grades, too.”

…5 x 5 desk calculator, the kind you can still find at Office Depot, like so many other things the world hasn’t outgrown..

Before long, it became my duty all throughout high school to take care of the averaging.

Every six weeks, 140+ kids, until I left for college and then some.  I’d handle the 10-key for him as soon a his grades were ready.

Which meant:  sometimes his sending me to bed early at 7, 8 o’clock so I could be ready to average for him at 3, 4 in the morning when he’d be done with his Precise V5 grading.   He’d wake me with a little shake of the shoulder, a little cafecito, a little “Mijita..”

Me and him, sitting quietly through the night with his ranchero music playing softly in the background, the smell of coffee beckoning us to stay awake through the night.  These moments were among the most peaceful of my life, my father and I like Cistercian Monks praying over a silent meditation of numbers and averages.

Once I’d enter the final grade, he’d hand-write them onto his carbon-copy report cards for his students.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t ideal — but I cherish the memory it gives me, the help I could give my father.  In generations past, there were the children of bakers, farmers, shoemakers who helped their parents.  I can see how these children had no choice in the work they did, the help they gave their family.  This was just what I did with my father.  As a child born to older parents, fun things were few and far between.  What we could bond on was work-centric.  Maybe this was just a product of his generation, his culture at the time.. work was what he always did.

Idfff these are the only memories I could have with my father, I’ll gladly take them.



Sidekick. – SOL Day 8

Slice Image

I changed my avatar.  That’s me at 9 years old.  I loved that year.  Every time my children have turned 9, I celebrate that year as though they’re graduating from college or getting married.

This is almost true.  I’ve had 2 children graduate from high school — one a junior, another a sophomore in college — so I’ll soon know whether I’ll feel the same overwhelming joy of them earning their college degrees as I felt when they turned 9.  College degrees are no measure of lifelong success, not now, not in this economy.  But when you’re 9, you’ve entered the realm of reason and begin to enjoy the unfolding of life.


This is pretty much when my memory begins.

I have flashes of images — from old photographs not in my possession (isn’t that curious?):  me, holding on to Mom’s elbow when she was a teacher’s aide at my old school.  Me, about to embark on my first solo journey to San Antonio on a school trip.  Me, celebrating my 9th birthday, surrounded by my family that had outgrown me — which is where my avatar comes from.


I was 8 years younger than my closest sibling.  And, so, when I woke up to the world, everyone had already moved on.  That’s how I became Dad’s sidekick.

I don’t remember having done everything with him, but I do remember tagging along when he went to McAllen for tv parts and schematics (tv repairman), when he prepped his classroom and stocked it with measured chemicals and bunsen burners (chemistry teacher), when he drove for miles, late on Friday nights to drop off film for our local football team (team photographer) .. I just hung out with Dad.

We didn’t have conversations that I remember.  I don’t have photographs of those times.  I’m probably the only one in this world who remembers him being peaceful in his solitude as I recall these moments, because I know I was such a diminutive presence when I was around.  I kept Dad company, and he whistled.

He whistles still.