All posts filed under: volume six

Photo Illustration

Finding Jerry

I was raised at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, at the crossroads of the Coosa River and the spring fed Choccolocco Creek, in rural Alabama. In 1943, when I was five years old, Daddy finished his studies at Trinity College, in Henderson, Tennessee. He graduated as an ordained minister and obtained a church congregation in the township of Pell City, 15 miles from our home at the time. The position came with furnished housing for the minister and his family. He proved to be an exuberant and popular minister. Daddy was hired by two other churches in nearby communities as their Sunday preacher. Jerry, Sue and I had to go to church three times every Sunday as he wanted some of the family with him. He needed us to help keep the congregation in tune and on track with the singing. Afterward, Daddy put his hand on our shoulders. “Good job, Little Man,” he’d say. “Good singing, my Little Bird.” Daddy was hired for a 15-minute radio program and his sermons became so popular, …

Photo Illustration

The Lesson

That morning was my first day of school. It was the most exciting day of my life. I woke up bright and early. I bathed. I brushed my teeth. I was a five-year-old overzealous boy. My shirt was perfectly pressed and buttoned down – white as the driven snow. My corduroy blue pants had razor-sharp pleats. I sported brand new “Buster Brown” shoes and would probably be the only kid in the first grade lucky enough to own a pair. I was excited and ready to learn some great lessons. Thirty boys and girls sat impatiently inside the class. Some were nervous. Others were crying from leaving Mommy and Daddy. I could barely sit still. I was full of life, happy and energetic. I turned to the kid next to me. “Hi.” I twisted and turned as I sat. Anxiously looking front and back and side to side. Smiling at all of the other kids, I gazed at the classroom decorations. The green “blackboards” were immaculate. Having never been scribbled on, the white lines were …

Photo Illustration

Blue Serpent

I was born and raised in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, in a region known as La Cienega de Chapala. The house I grew up in sits on land given to my paternal grandparents many years ago, when President Lazaro Cardenas redistributed the large haciendas, taking the properties from their rich owners and dividing it among peasant farmers. Much of the country’s agricultural land was in the hands of a few hundred hacendados, or “bosses,” with farm workers living in near slavery conditions. My grandparents got word of land being distributed in Michoacán. At the time they resided in a little town in the state of Jalisco, called El Pedregal. They began their journey following the edge of Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico. Grandma Natalia and her three young children were on a wagon pulled by oxen. Grandpa Chon was on foot herding their pigs and goats. They camped at night under the wagon, their animals nearby. After several days on the move, they finally made it to the place that was to …

Photo Illustration

The Tracks Home

Don Luis shivered in line at the snowy desert camp near Utah’s Great Salt Lake that winter of 1945. The icy wind pierced his thin shirt and pants, chilling his skin. Trains carrying war supplies rumbled throughout the railroad yard. Traqueros, track workers, hauled picks, poles, and shovels. He had never labored on the railroad, but he’d learn, earn money and return home at war’s end. At the front of the line, officials distributed thick coats. Don Luis presented his contract to an official. Purchases would be deducted from his paycheck, the official informed him. Don Luis grabbed a long sheep skin coat. He stroked the warm lining, draped it over his shoulders, and headed towards the railroad tracks. Two foremen and an interpreter gathered a crew of thirty men. Don Luis huddled with his paisanos, buddies from his village in Mexico. They donned work gloves the foreman furnished them. They were to remove old tracks and install new ones. The transport of soldiers and food depended on the maintenance of the rails, the interpreter …

Photo Illustration

Hard Not To Say Goodbye

The family was scattered in a half-moon circle on the grounds of the cemetery. Spring and roses filled the air along with weeping. Two hundred people stood looking down at a pink and gold casket. One by one, people dropped to their knees, or had to be held up by someone else, or they just plain fainted as Reverend Lorenzo Alexander spoke the words of goodbye to our departed Zula Mae Alexander McCrary, Cousin Zula, a woman who gave love to so many people through out her life. She was my aunt, but everyone called her Cousin Zula Mae. She was the oldest matriarch of the family and now she was gone. At 97, old age had taken her. The elders before her lived to be 100 or more, but she had lived a good life of love. Zula Mae was made in Mississippi. Her ‘sippie roots made her tough for hard times. She taught the family what it meant to love unconditionally and not be afraid to do so. She was born to sharecroppers. …

Photo Illustration

Not The Way I Once Believed

The airport in Havana is a collection of small, hot buildings, about a quarter mile apart and surrounded by large fields. Our little group is standing outside the Jose Martí Airport, which is reserved for family visiting from the United States. We’re all trying hard not to cry as we joke about whether it’s possible to pack my sister and her kids into our suitcases for the flight home. She’s joked during this trip that being in Cuba as a tourist is the only way it’s tolerable. Cubans aren’t allowed in the airport, so every time the sliding doors open the crowd huddled together in the suffocating humidity screams out their loved ones’ names as they catch a glimpse of them. Sweat trickles down my back as I try to fight the thought that I’m abandoning my family here. I look into my sister’s red eyes and the guilt chokes me, although her face is free of resentment. Nioly is a product of my father’s first marriage and was only three years old in 1980 …

Photo Illustration

Entrepreneur

I knew something was wrong before we left. Eduardo and I were planning a Vegas getaway. Alex would remain at home. I told him before I left, “I don’t know what you are up to… but you are up to something, and I will find out!” At one time, I had trusted Alex to stay home, do the chores, and take care of the dog. I still wanted to trust him, but I couldn’t. This weekend away was important to me. I made it all right knowing that his Tío Oscar and his cousins were next door. It was winter in Vegas and our first time away as a couple. But that Saturday night in our hotel room, I don’t know if I was dreaming or what, but suddenly I sat up and realized that something else was stolen. A week before, looking for a particular ring to wear, I discovered that it and other pieces were was missing. That “something else” happened to be two pairs of earrings; a pair my sister had given …

Illustration for Story

341

That first night away from home was the hardest. I lay on my cot and cried silently as I stared at the ceiling in the dark. I asked myself repeatedly what I was doing in San Antonio, Texas, 1,300 miles from East L.A., sleeping on a strange bed in a strange dormitory packed full of strange bald guys. I wanted to sleep, but could not. I wanted to be home, but I wasn’t. I had joined the Air Force. We could no longer refer to ourselves in the first person. From here on it was, “Sir, trainee Salgado reports!” Hours earlier, I’d stepped off the bus onto Lackland Air Force Base to begin basic training. As I lined up in front of the bus, our Training Instructor (TI), Staff Sergeant Pat, was in my face, growling on how ugly I was and snickering over how much fun awaited us at his resort. The name-calling began. Our first names were never spoken. We were now called “rainbows” because we arrived wearing a motley of colored civilian …

Photo Illustration

Alice

“Where are we going? I’ve never been down this way before…” “When you’re in class do you understand what’s going on?” “Yes. … When the teacher asks a question I’m usually the first one with my hand up.” “Yeah – but do you really understand what’s happening? I’m just wondering if you’re slow… because right now you don’t seem to understand what’s going on. We are going down the 15. The 15 is another way to San Diego.” Mortified and hurt I sat quietly. I didn’t know that Temecula was not along the 5. The girl intent on making me feel like a fool was my best friend Alice. Alice and I became friends at a time when my heart was aching and raw. My long-time boyfriend had just left me. Every waking moment was like being lost in a cold, isolated tundra. Tears were always waiting behind my eyes. Weekdays were filled with the business of school and work, but I couldn’t bear weekends alone. Alice was in the same situation. We were drawn …

Photo Illustration

Pórtate Bien

The acceptance letters arrived from five California universities. My mother beamed but I dared not share the news with my father. “You have big dreams,” he would say. “It’s not good to dream big because the disappointment in not achieving those aspirations is going to get the best of you. And what good does a college degree bring to a woman? You will marry – fill your house with children and then what? No college degree needed for that.” I signed my acceptance letter with my mother’s blessing. I left for college without my father’s consent. It was Move-In Day, one week before the Fall Quarter commenced. My mother borrowed the neighbor’s Mustang and drove me to the University of California at Riverside. Freshman and returning students unloaded their belongings at the horseshoe-curb in front of the Aberdeen-Inverness Dormitories. Students were accompanied by their families – setting up their rooms, meeting their roommates, touring the campus, buying textbooks and UCR apparel. My mother had scrounged money to purchase the basics for living in a dorm …