My mother documented everything about the early years of my life in a baby book. I keep this special book at her house because I live on the road and when you move every 6 months things tend to end up missing. I have always loved looking through this book even when I was as young as 4. The book is so stuffed that the binding has been ripping since 1989 so it became a very fragile possession that my mother would not let me touch very often. She kept it on the top shelf in my playroom and when I began climbing, she moved it to the closet and put a dresser in front of the door. Seems extreme but she had put a lot of work into this book so that I may have something neat when I was older to look back on and she damned sure wasn’t gonna let me destroy it by the age of 5. I really wish I had the book right now though because then I could tell you exactly how the year of 1987 went down and would have pictures to share. She even has newspaper articles in there from important events that happened in the world. It really is a super neat and fun book to thumb through.
What I can tell you though about when I was 2 is that my neighbor Lupe began to watch me during the day when my parent’s were at work. She grew to be a woman that I loved dearly and is still my mother’s neighbor to this day. Lupe’s house was always safe and smelled delicious.
My mother had a long drive to work so she would drop me off most mornings before the sun was even up. Some mornings Lupe would have breakfast waiting on me–my favorite was scrambled eggs and ketchup, and some mornings, looking back now that I am older, I realize she had just woke up. Chris, her husband would always be gone for work already. He worked for the city and I remember he would come home for his lunch break and we would all eat lunch together and watch the news.
Sylvia, their daughter, was a teenager and in high school. She was your stereotypical teenage girl. She would come in the kitchen ready for school, her hair fixed just right– she was so stylish and always looked so sharp. 9 times out of ten she would be frowning and complaining. Nevertheless, Sylvia was cool. She was always mean to me and always so mean to her mother and honestly I was scared of her but sometimes she was nice. It was those moment’s that I lived for.When I was little I couldn’t understand why she talked to her mom that way but when I became older I did the same thing.
Lupe also had a son named Dan that was very handsome and extremely sweet. He was the oldest and I loved when him and his buddies would hang out and watch movies with me. He had to have been a junior or senior when I was 2 but he wasn’t around much and by the time I was 4 or 5 he had moved out and had a girlfriend that he later married.
Lupe had a routine. Every morning, once everyone was out of the house but us, she would start ironing. She had small narrow ironing boards special for long sleeve shirts and she could press pants so that you would have thought they had been dry cleaned. I think this is why I remember Sylvia always being so put together, her mom would iron every outfit in the house. It was part of the laundry, just no thinking–out of the drier, ironed, hung and then put away. I would sit or stand near the ironing board and just talk her ear off about anything and everything. She was nosy and would ask me questions like if my parent’s slept naked and I would tell her anything she wanted to know.
After the ironing was done, it was usually time for Sesame Street which I loved and never missed. She would stay in the kitchen making the dough for tortillas that would be served with lunch. If you see pictures of me while I was in her care, I was pretty chubby due to the large amounts of handmade flour tortillas I consumed on a daily basis.
She also made something that is now comfort food for me like meatloaf is for my husband. Believe it or not it is fideo. When I was little, she called it Mexican macaroni. She would make a big thing of it on Monday’s so that she could heat me a bowl if it whenever I wanted throughout the week. After she no longer watched me, she would call for me to come pick up a tupperware dish of Mexican macaroni she had made special for me. And when I went away to college, I began to crave it so bad I had to make a special trip home so that she could teach me how to make it. These days, my husband and I eat it about once a week and I have learned how to make it just as good as Lupe. It’s super simple to make but everyone has their own preference for how they like it, as do I.
After Sesame Street came the Reading Rainbow and after that Mr.Rodger’s. Lupe would make lunch and by the time the boring show came on about the computer’s or whatever it was about, it was time for lunch, followed by nap time. Afternoons was when she ran her errands. She would get to a stop sign and wouldn’t pull out to turn until I told her the coast was clear. And if it wasn’t and I hadn’t checked, oh, how she would get on to me. She was very no nonsense, very impatient–when she told you to do something, there was no hesitating–you did it right away. She had nephew’s that would come to visit and the only time I really remember getting in serious trouble was the time I bit one of her nephew’s. I’m not sure how old I was but I remember we were in the hallway playing. He was the youngest and kept biting my arm, which I thought was funny. But for one reason or the other, I decided to bite him and it hurt the poor kid. I don’t even think I could talk when that happened but I remember I felt guilty and when my mom came, Lupe told her about what I had done.
I could go on and on about memory’s with Lupe, about how we would visit Stella the neighbor who didn’t speak english, how her husband tried to teach me spanish and I called him “fatso” (a name he liked for some reason and preferred that I call him after that incident) or the time she caught me lying and told me that lies were like snowballs–“You tell a lie and it gets bigger, just like a snowball that gets bigger because you have to keep adding snow. You tell a lie, and you have to tell more lies so you don’t get caught. You have to add more snow to make the snowball bigger so it won’t fall apart when you throw it.” That would be a never ending story though so I won’t do that.
I loved Lupe and cried for weeks after she quit watching me and I was sent to daycare. At the time I was told that it was because Lupe didn’t want to watch me anymore but I later learned that it was actually my father’s wish. Apparently, I came home speaking Spanish one day when I was about 5 and my father being the racist that he is, couldn’t have his white daughter speaking “Mexican”. What a shame considering I paid a large amount of money to learn Spanish in college and could have just been bilingual for free.
One last interesting fact–my mother paid Lupe $20 a week because Lupe didn’t want money for babysitting me. Even in the late 80’s and early 90’s that was cheap for childcare. I like to think that Lupe considers me one of her own and wasn’t concerned about the money because she loved me and wanted to continue taking care of me. Whatever her reasoning, I am the person I am today because of the years spent with her and her family.