Words from an Insomniac still trying to find her way

Chapter one- Home was grandma and grandpa’s house (most of the time.)

                                                                                     Part One

                                                                                252 W. Franklin Ave.

There are many things I will never be able to remember in this lifetime no matter how hard I try. But of the few, like my Grandparents’ phone number (on mom’s side), my sss#, and the words to “All is full of love” by Bjork, I won’t ever forget my Grandparents’ address (on my dad’s side). 252 W. Franklin; the old Casa Blanca with a yard big enough for two huge lemon trees, walnut, grapefruit, kumquat, and avocado trees, a row of cactus plants in the backyard, a garage the size of another home, two to three dogs that we were deathly afraid of (except the mother dog named Blackie), and plenty of room for all of us changos/monkeys to play. Nowadays it is rare to find a house in California with so much yard unless its price tag is in the millions.

Holidays, get-togethers, and barbecues created the wonderful and sometimes frustrating memories in my life. Games of tag, hide-n-seek and pickle were played here till the sun went down. Memories; they are like wild-fire when I think of that house, like my sister screaming in the bathtub while my mom and Tïas tried pulling out espinas/thorns from a small palm tree she ran into while we played tag. Most days us cousins sat in the back of our grandfather’s truck and made up games, letting our imaginations run wild or we climbed the chain link fence in the back yard which separated the house from the high school, just to walk around when we were bored. There were many fights (always verbal) and hurtful words that would spread like a contagious disease, jealousy, and even a bit of harmless torture, but at the end of the day, we were closer than most families.

The house itself; not that big at all. One story. Three small bedrooms. My grandparents’ bedroom at the front of the house was the warmest of the three. I found myself there often, taking small naps with its inviting warmth and aroma of perfume, dust, and old spice. Large windows occupied two walls letting in the warm sun rays and the uncomfortable cold air at night. It was a simple room which contained within it’s confines one large bed, a long dresser with mirror, an end table, and a couple of shelves full of grandma’s knickknacks. My Tía Mary, the youngest of nine children, now occupied the back bedroom which was even smaller than my grandparents’ room, but was fun to hang out in nonetheless, while my cousin Paul took the middle bedroom and that is where most of us slept whenever our parents were too drunk to drive home.

A small laundry room which became a temporary bedroom to everyone (including myself) at one time was behind the kitchen; at the back of the house. One bathroom with a wrench that controlled the bath tub water, a floor that was very very cold, and a wait line for days during family gatherings and parties was the most uncomfortable of places being too small to move around and embarrassing when while one of us was using the bathroom one of our Tías would barge in for an emergency pee herself. Try imagining that one bathroom in a home of (now seven) children. The living room was roomy enough and the dining room was always full of grown-ups gossiping about someone who wasn’t there or airing their family’s dirty laundry. But the most important part of that house was my Abuelitas’ cocina/kitchen. A meeting place for Tïas and Great Aunts while cooking up savory memorable foods; and my Grandmother at the heart of it all.

With it’s very old appliances like her stove which had to be there from the beginning of time, to the fridge which looked about the same age, to her pale yellow wall around the sink where ants enjoyed their marches on hot days, white walls around the stove, and one tall very thin closet pantry that held everything and anything edible such as oatmeal for days, generic cereal in the bag, Progresso soup, fideo, masa, and flour. I’m reminded of that kitchen whenever I smell homemade flour tortillas, frijoles, Mexican rice, or my favorite; Chicken Mole. My Abuelita was the best cook to grace this world with her presence and she didn’t have to earn a degree for it. We young ones were always shooed out of the cocina while she cooked, small as it was, it was a wonder she could cook at all. But she did it, and her cocina remained the heart of the house forever after.

Growing up in a Mexican-American family I am reminded daily about togetherness, about family and what brought us all together besides holidays and special occasions and the only thing that comes to mind is the fervor of food. Many Mexican-Americans will agree that food is the glue that keeps most families together. Just look at Mi Family, Mi Familia; food was the glue that held them together.

If we weren’t living at our grandparents home we were still there most of the time, visiting family or just barbecuing. In my heart I believe it goes a bit farther than that. I believe it was my Abuelita and Abuelito that were the glue holding us together. You see, they knew what it meant to be a family, to provide for a family, and to love like people should. My Abuelita also knew how to keep her husband and her family happy; cooking with love and doing it well. Perhaps she was taught these ways by her parents, maybe she was taught these ways on her own, but nonetheless, she was great at it, all of it. The loving, the disciplining (at least with us grandchildren), and the giving. My grandparents were family oriented and never thought less when it came to providing and sharing.

You see, my grandparents met in Arizona, moved out to California for work and lived in several cities with family or on their own with the kids until they finally landed in the lap of the Casa Blanca in the late 70’s. By then the older girls were married off and my youngest Tía had her own room while all six of the boys shared the other one. This became the house of many memories and adventures. We all made it our own while we either lived there at one time or had summer visits with our fathers. Throughout it all my grandparents gave us their love, culture, and history.

The house is gone now, the land stripped of its plentiful trees and young voices, but the memories are still there, and I bet if you drove down Franklin Ave. you too would smell the best homemade flour tortillas and chicken mole to ever come out of a wonderful home.

                                                                                         Part Two

                                                                     The House on Waco Street

The house on Waco street stands tall with a nice front yard complete with a huge avocado tree, continuously kept up by my grandfather, a brick stand for the mailbox with the address on the front. This is the house I will call home for the majority of my young life. Memories swim through here as well within its pretty shell, not all of them very nice, but memories all the same. Originally a three bedroom, two bath, the house on Waco Street grew with the addition of a back room, a brick/ rod-iron fence, and a garage that became a bedroom for my cousin.

Again, my favorite place in the house was my grandparent’s bedroom. The amount of sunlight was incredible through a row of small windows located at the top of the southern wall. A plain room in detail, just a queen sized bed, a long dresser and a small closet all embraced by white walls with my grandmothers sprawled detailed appliqués of ribbons and flowers. The living room as well as the kitchen were always darkened by closed doors and window shades, barely enough light to walk around. The kitchen was our grandmother’s headquarters as she always sat at the kitchen table, smoking her Pall Malls with a plastic filter, drinking black coffee, and continuously looking out her small window at the going ons happening around her.

The back room was specifically built for my grandfather, uncles, and male cousins dedicated to all things sports. Superbowls, boxing matches, all celebrated with grandpa’s famous ceviche, carne asada off the grill, and beer. I was lucky to have joined in the festivities, not because of the sports but because of the belonging and not being treated like a “girl”. A portion of that back room eventually became my youngest uncles bedroom. The two bedrooms housed my mother and Aunt as well as my two uncles and eventually my sisters and I while we lived there. The back bedroom eventually turned into a medium between kitchen and laundry room, not really a room anymore. I actually remember the wall of that room coming down for expansion. The windows at the top that my sisters and I would peek through when the guys hung out or sleeping one night only to be awakened by whispers of my grandmother standing in the corner of the room praying over our lost souls. I was creeped out that whole week, afraid to be awakened by her stares and prayers in the middle of the night again.

For me, the kitchen was the best. Watching my grandmother make homemade flour tortillas and the savoring warm aroma they released, homemade vinaigrette dressing, the over amount of bleach in the dish water all complete with conversations held between the women in the family. Stories and gossip about what’s-her-name or the neighbors drug addicted son in trouble again. My fondest memories of my grandmother are her flour tortilla making lessons. I loved being there with her, making my own awkward small tortilla, watching her cook it on the Comal and enjoying a piece of my hard work. Sometimes I was honored with a sneak peek of a stolen kiss from my grandfather to my grandmother or a sip of café con leche (which my grandmother stated would stunt my growth.- Looks like she was right after all!). It was frijoles and papas, or sometimes grandma would go out on a limb with a fancy dinner she saw on the Food Channels that we would chew and hide in our napkins disgusted by the unfamiliar taste of fancy food. Whatever the occasion, I’ll miss it, from the different food, the flour tortillas, the gossip, to the moment I broke my arm as the kitchen table fell on me, I miss her, I miss her cooking, I miss her conversation in later years.

The house on Waco Street still stands. I visit as often as I can, helping out my grandfather with simple (or tough grease) cleaning or just for his company. I visit to listen to his stories of youth and life before I was born. Although the kitchen walls have been cleaned of cigarette smoke and grease and re-painted, and the ribbons and flower appliqués are painted over in most areas, I still feel my grandmother’s presence. The house on Waco Street is my grandmother, in all its darkness and warmth.


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