With the holiday season dashing through the air I'm getting close to turning fifty eight years wiser -- that's right, on December 16, 2016. As I get older I reflect more on some history -- the good old childhood days with my family back in Dimmitt, Texas. We packed up and moved to Oregon back in 1976, wow, seems like yesterday.
The holidays were so much fun for us, my mom was the type of lady that made it fun. She would sing Christmas carols while cleaning the kitchen. The kitchen was a small area with torn vinyl in different spots. All of our appliances were very used when we bought them at garage-sale price. I was one of the kids wearing that floor down with five other kids trampling it every day.
We had quite the bunch, Gilbert, who now likes to be called Gilberto, is the oldest. Guadalupe, who changed his name to Loop is next in line. Maria Louisa, who goes by Louise, is my oldest sister. Then there's me, David, close to a middle child. My younger brother Richard, who I am thankful for, he helped me become the great athlete I used to be. And finally, Diana, the youngest of our family.
I guess the best memories I've collected were the grade-school days, when we were living on the north side of the tracks in the ghetto. The roads were dirt and the neighborhood was lower income. Every year the anticipation of Christmas arriving was exciting. My mom would put up a silver-artificial tree that she kept in a worn box under her bed. My dad just couldn't afford to pay the high prices for a real tree. There were a few years where he bartered for a real and free tree. He was a janitor for years and then became a ready mix truck driver. He was the sole income for the family. It was difficult watching him come home from work looking depressed and very tired. He knew there were bills to pay and food to buy for the family. Most of our clothes were either hand-me-downs, or given to us from the wealthy people on the south side of the tracks.
There were days where I would come home from school and there would be no food in the cupboards. I try not to remember those days, because to tell you the truth, it is painful to think of the rough life my family once lived. I would often hear my parents argue about money. They would receive phone calls from bill collectors. I wish I didn't have such a good memory, unfortunately I do and I remember a lot of things. I can't wait to write my autobiography, but first I will finish the current book I'm writing.
Bless my mom and my dad. They were a team that knew their roles in a marriage. My mom was optimistic when it came to Christmas, my dad was the pessimistic. Once my mom convinced him to get presents for all the kids, well, my dad joined in with other treats. He would buy a box of oranges for the family. We had two old cars, a Buick and a Ford, they worked most of the time -- thanks to my dad's mechanical inclination. With a foot of snow we'd get every year, he was always busy putting chains on tires and driving us just about everywhere. Heat was a problem at our house. We had this box heater that we'd plug in and it would keep our small two-bedroom home warm.
As grade-school kids we really didn't go anywhere during the holiday seasons. We would just spend time around the house. With patches of ice and snow on the ground we couldn't ride our bikes. My brothers and sisters would all have different ideas of what games to play. Monopoly, sculpturing with clay, checkers, chess, and playing out in the snow. We'd also laugh a lot and fight a lot. It was really tough shooting a basketball in the snow, so we would take a break during Christmas time. We would also read comics and eat some homemade-almond-colored ice cream that my mom made -- it truly was from scratch. It wasn't really ice cream, it was vanilla, sugar, and snow mixed together. I think I'm the only one that didn't like it, everyone else seemed to acquire a taste for this clump of cold sugar. The important thing was the thought. My mom had a heart of gold that made the holiday season a joyous one for all of us.
As Christmas got closer, my dad pounded some nails on our small porch and hung up some Christmas lights. That really excited us even more and all we could think about was presents that we could possibly find under the tree. All of us kids screaming and jumping was over the top. Although Santa is a made-up character, we were told that he existed. When I was in the second grade I figured out that it was just a traditional fiction idea. Christmas is about our Savior Jesus Christ, and celebrating his birth. Santa was just a fun thing for us though.
Any little thing that my dad would come home with was priceless to us. One day he showed up with a package of fireworks. Wow! The colorful-red wrapping that shined against the Christmas lights was such a joy, especially for the boys. We loved fireworks. I loved them until one blasted on my thumb while I was throwing it. My thumb was throbbing all night, very painful. I gained so much respect for these dangerous sticks with a fuse.
I remember people giving us food baskets, walnuts, or some kind of dessert. We ate and ate, we were a bunch of hungry kids with a bottomless pit. My mom would cook beans, rice, and she would make the best homemade tortillas -- she was an expert at cooking Mexican food. I remember us all sitting at the kitchen table. She would throw a tortilla toward the middle of the table and whoever caught it first rejoiced eating while others looked on waiting for the next tortilla to fly. My little sister always cried because she could never catch one. My mom would tear a piece off of one and give it to her. It was a challenge at the dinner table when I was growing up with six kids and one cook.
One thing I'll never forget is watching my mom tear up at the end of the day. She knew we were struggling and she was tired. Every day she would clean the house, wash clothes, iron clothes, cook, discipline her kids, and deal with collectors on the rotary phone. I don't know where she found the energy and stamina all those years. I would say that her prayers kept her going -- the good Lord was there guiding her.
At night she would grab the mattress that was leaning on the kitchen wall and place it on the floor, that's where my dad and her slept every night. I can't even begin to imagine that. The four boys would sleep in one room and the two girls in the other room. The sacrifices that our parents made for us were above and beyond. My mom is no longer alive -- she's with the Lord. If she was here now, I know what I would tell her. Exactly what I've told my dad, who is still alive today. I have already told him how much I love him and I've thanked him for taking care of us when we were growing up.
Despite all of the heartache and uncomfortable living conditions, my mom and dad would find a way to get us all Christmas presents, or as they would say, Santa got them. The charge card at Montgomery Ward or Sears came in handy during the holidays. And, I know they paid them off throughout the rest of the year. They would send in a payment once in a while to keep the collectors from calling.
The only time we didn't get Christmas presents was during that one year we came to Oregon. My dad was unemployed and we were living in that rental house I talked about in my book, "Poor Kid, Wealthy Kid". Other than that, we always had something for Christmas.
We were thankful to have something under the tree on Christmas morning. Every year, half of the kids liked what they got, and the other half didn't like what they unwrapped. So the drama of "I wanted that!" started with some of us. My parents were great at assuming what each kid would want -- they got fifty percent correct. Each kid got a toy, plus underwear and pants, sometimes socks. The boys got a pack of Blackjack Fireworks and the girls got a Barbie Doll. The idea was, "To be surprised Christmas morning". Sometimes that didn't work as well as planned.
I think for me, the best part of the holidays was the food, plus that electric football set I once got when I was in the third grade. The tamales were from heaven. Sometimes my Aunt Juana would help my mom make them all day. Making tamales is definitely a complex process. The hot tamales were wrapped with a red string around them. One year my mom got them mixed up and we were surprised when we took the first bite. The authentic tamales were so good that we ate them all in one day.
I miss those days when my brothers and sisters were little and full of energy and joy. We didn't have a dime in our pockets, but we had each other. We watched TV together, we ate together, we played together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we went to church together. Oh, and yes, we all got into trouble at one time or another, watching the belt on my dad's hand was terrifying. My mom didn't use the belt, she used her hand. I normally didn't see the belt or my mom's hand as much as some of the others, I tried to be a good kid.
The holidays are so much fun, I often wonder what my brothers and sisters are thinking during the holidays. Do they ever think about the good old days in our tiny house? Gilberto lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Loop lives in Kalispell, Montana. Louise lives in Woodburn, Oregon. I live in Salem, Oregon. Richard lives in Keizer, Oregon. Diana lives in Columbia Falls, Montana. We all have families, some of us have grandkids and some of us don't. My dad lives in Otis, Oregon, close to the coast.
I know that with my own family now, we will have a nice Christmas. My wife has two daughters and I have two sons. We have six grandkids now. The holidays are still fun and Christmas is a blessing to us. Sharing the joy of our Savior's birth and celebrating with love toward each other is a Christmas blessing.
While my brothers and sisters are all far away now, I still think about them often. To tell you the truth we all have different values, time has made each one of us the people we have become. We've all made decisions along the way to put us where we're at today. Some are doing very well and others are struggling. I still keep in contact with some through email. The ones I see the most are my brother, Richard and my dad, Wences.
During the holidays I always think about where I came from and how we lived with so little, but yet still found a way to smile during the holiday seasons. Precious memories are those that we keep in our hearts forever. Sure, there was a lot of sadness and disappointments, but the Love we had for each other overcame everything miraculously.
Merry Christmas and Have a Happy New Year!