Life isn’t short, but it can damn well feel like it.
In 1952, the matriarch of the Perez family stepped foot in the United States of America with a determination that couldn’t keep her from doing what she was here to do. With that determination, she had a lot of baggage—pregnant with twins and two young boys. After landing at Midway Airport, in the early morning, she took a taxi cab to the address from where she was receiving less and less money every so often.
Back in the ‘50s when men would come up to the United States for work, they would naturally send money back to their wives and children. Regardless of where they were the men were still the source of income to the family. All over the country of Mexico you hear these stories: Men would send money home and when they got back they expected things to be better off. When situations weren’t better, men would get upset and storm off; others would drink away their money and still others had the audacity to beat their wives. And yet, there were still the others who stayed in their new country, building a new life without the thought of baggage. There were good men, too, who came back after making their money and finding new jobs in Mexico with no problem.
When the taxi cab arrived to their destination, the driver turned around and told her not to get out of the cab until he made sure they had found the right person. The driver walked up the stairs and knocked on the door asking for Jesus Perez. There he was. The driver explained that he had his wife and kids in the cab. Jesus said it wasn’t possible. Lo and behold, there came the little train of his tiny family (compared to what it became) marching into the house.
Because of that fateful decision to find out what exactly was going on in this new country to which she was losing her husband, I am here. My grandmother is one of the strongest women that I’ve ever known and because of that determination, she continued her life along with the other eight children she would have after those little boys.
My uncle Jesse, uncle Jerry (the two little boys) still remember that day and can sit and explain it to you, step by step. From the letters that they received in Michoacán, Mexico from my grandfather, to the plane trip and all the places they lived after that, my uncle Jesse will tell you with sincere accuracy down to the years and months when everything happened. The surviving twin is now my tia Rosa, and after her came by tia Carmen. My mother came next, followed by my uncle Tony, my uncle Joey and the baby, my tia Marina. My grandmother gave birth to 10 children. She lost two in their infant years and my uncle Joey passed away in December 1995. She has seen more children go before her than any woman would want to see, but still life goes on and she is the epitome of that.
With eight kids growing up, you can just imagine all the stories my cousins and I hear. From kids being placed in different grammar schools to climbing on sand mounds to hearing about all the friends that everyone had while living on Harrison and Morgan to stories of Taylor Street, it’s a book in itself.
They tell stories about how they would stay up as late as they could just to wait for hot dogs or pizza on Friday nights after my grandmother got home from work. They talk about how they had to share beds, how many tempers emerged when someone lost a game, how brothers and sisters snitched on each other, and about how they built snow forts and tunnels during the exciting blizzards. I heard about how they all would go out and walk around the city alone at eight years old. How the girls had to take care of the younger kids, how the younger kids never had to do anything, how the boys would torture the girls, use the younger kids as punching bags and how the phone book deliveries really did take place. I heard about the different jobs that my grandparents had, the friends that they made with the other families around them who lived in the same communal building. I heard about who the boys liked and who the girls liked and about the trouble everyone would cause together or on their own.
I heard about the trips to Mexico, the mattress made of clothes, the melting ice cream in Texas and the snake holes in the ground. I heard about how my grandparents loved to dance about how it was hard with my grandfather being an alcoholic and how the kids were sent to drag him out of the bar and home to where he belonged to sleep it all off.
My grandfather passed away from alcoholism sometime in April of 1972. He was about 45 years old. My mother was 15 years old. My dad was already in the picture. My uncle Jesse was already married and moved out. And thus began the struggle of a single mother raising seven kids still in the house.
It was a challenge, but it worked out, amazingly. She worked hard, disciplined harder and saw all her kids grow up to have kids of their own. Now, the next generation has started and my cousins are having all of their babies.
Last Sunday, we had a bit of a scare. After my uncle Jesse, the oldest son, made a toast to my grandmother and her 87 years of life, my grandmother fainted without a pulse in her chair at the dinner table. We were in a restaurant, all 45 of us were there, and my uncle began performing CPR on her. She was revived and rushed to the hospital. After plenty of tests, we were told that one of her arteries had 99 percent blockage. She would have passed on had my uncle not have been there to perform CPR on her. After three days in the hospital, she now has a permanent pacemaker and is doing well.
This is only the beginning of my family history. I keep saying I’m going to write it down and I haven’t until now. This is just a start.