In honor of upcoming Veteran’s Day and my father who is 93 years young and a veteran of WWII. War veterans are everyday normal people, who becomes heros at war risking their lives for others. My dad helped drive amphibious landing crafts and was only 17 when he went to war and served on the USS Lanier. He was also present during the signing of the peace treaty. To me though, he’s always been just dad.
I vaguely remember living in my birth place of Southern California. I remember our house somewhat; the four bedrooms, the detached garage, the strange but pretty outer space flowers (passion flowers) covering the chain linked fence. I remember the gas pipe, improperly running over the sidewalk that the nicest girl in my class tripped over at my only birthday party. We had all grown accustomed to stepping over it. I remember singing and dancing to “Proud Mary” using a pretend microphone with my cousin, who was 8 and a couple of years older than I. I remember the remodeled kitchen that my mom was so proud of shortly before my dad got his idea to open a restaurant 450 miles away in Sacramento.
My dad was prone to spontaneous ideas and once he got one, it held on like a bulldog. My mom was not exactly a little submissive shrinking violet, but I believe she picked her battles and also got worn down. They actually moved from Colorado to California years before I was born. His mother joined them and moved in with them a few years later. She lived with us for over 30 years. My mom’s family was back in Colorado so it was a very difficult, emotional move for her. I think my dad was relieved they were all back there.
We 4 kids were spread out in age. My oldest brother was 13 years older than I, the next brother was 10 years older and the youngest boy was 4 years older . My oldest brother served in the air force, and was in boot camp preparing for deployment when the US pulled out of the Vietnam War. Since the two oldest boys had graduated by the time my parents moved, they had no desire to go and chose to stay behind. That was hard for my mother and although we were only 7 hours away, whenever there were visits in the future, there were also tears when departing.
Mom and Dad, Grandma and the two remaining kids left to fulfill Dad’s dreams and fortune. Dad had been a cook at Denver General Hospital in their early years of marriage while my mom was a nurse there. My mom had 8 siblings and she was close to them and very close to her mother. My dad had no living siblings, only his mother, who depended on him a great deal. I never thought about how challenging it may have been for my mom to have her mother-in-law live with them for decades. At age 7 or 8, I only knew that both of my grandmas loved me, and at that time in my life, that’s all that really mattered. They were old school Hispanic little ladies, complete with the no nonsense outlook on life and the accents. My mom’s mother, Grandma Helen was a little more modern, wearing slacks and polyester blouses and was the best cook around. When she came she would make homemade tortillas and wonderful meats in simmering sauces. Grandma Celsa was very traditional, making all of her own skirts and blouses out of cotton and wore little black witch shoes and a black hairnet, even with her silver hair. She was not a good cook, but she could often be found on the couch crocheting beautiful doilies.
When we moved to Sacramento the plan was to open a Mexican restaurant. An old friend of my dad’s had talked him into coming, promising that he could work for my dad at the restaurant, and they could make it a success. We rented a little two-bedroom house that also had a renovated garage. My parents of course got a bedroom, my grandma and I got a bedroom and my brother got the renovated garage, which he liked. One thing my brother did not like was me. I was the bratty, spoiled little sister to him and he was ornery towards me. I recall a time when a friend of my dad’s brought a monkey to the alley outside of the restaurant to show him. My dad said to me, “Come outside I want to show you something.” I went outside and although curious, I did not want to pet it. My dad insisted, and while he pulled my hand towards the monkey, I pulled it away. The monkey did not like that. He jumped on my leg and sunk his teeth in. I screamed, ran down the street with a monkey on my leg and my dad stood there with his mouth wide open. The man got his monkey and my dad drove me home, telling me not to tell my mom. My brother told me that I would probably get rabies from the monkey and die.
I lived through the monkey ordeal and the dream of the restaurant turned into a nightmare. The restaurant was in a poor location and the “friend” began bringing his cronies to the restaurant after hours and they would steal the food. It wasn’t long before my parents were in financial trouble, the man was fired and we moved. My mom went back to her old job as a nurse, which she loved and my dad was a custodian for the schools. I’m sure that finances were always a worry, as every few years my dad would have a new adventure, but I never knew about the money situations and never felt that we were needy. We eventually moved to a suburb in the country and we had a backyard that was about ½ an acre. My brother and became involved in our schools and extracurricular activities . My friends joined 4-H and I decided I would like to try too by raising a sheep. I got a cute little lamb and went to the classes and fed the lamb as was recommended with the specific food. The lamb grew and would be ready to take to show in a couple of months. My dad had an idea. If he could help fatten up the lamb, then my chances would surely be better to do well at the fair. He got a trailer full of rice hulls that could also be used in the garden. The sheep ate to its heart’s content and within a few days, it was so bloated it looked like a wooly balloon. Then it died.
Then there was the goat incident. Ah, the goat incident that is famous in my family’s folkloric. Dad thought it would be a good idea to bring home a goat to raise. Well, he brought the rather large goat home; my mom saw it and was so angry that she ran after the goat with a hammer. I remember her running around the yard chasing that goat, the goat running away bleating, and my father running after my mother. I think that time, my brother and I stood there with our mouths wide open. My mom did eventually calm down. The goat became “Martino” and went on to other escapades. One time the neighbor phoned us to let us know that Martino had come into his open sliding door, entered their house and was lying on their bed. I had to bring him home. For some reason our neighbors never treated us quite the same.
Time marched on as it does and I eventually graduated. A few years later, I met the man of my dreams, whom I am still married to. We visit my dad who is 93, as often as possible. He lives back in Southern California, near my older brothers. His mind is still sharp, and is the life of the party at the care center. My mom passed on about 5 years ago, exhausted no doubt. It was surprising and gratifying to see my dad take care of my mom sweetly and kindly the last few months of her life, as she battled cancer. I’m sure he was feeling appreciative of all she had put up with over the years. Every love story is different and individual. My parents’ story surely was and my dad wouldn’t have it any other way.