Happy Mother’s Day!


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My mother Carmen and I, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, 1956.

Happy Mother’s Day to every mothers everywhere! Yesterday and today!

Yest, today is Mother’s Day in the U.S., but yesterday was Mother’s Day in México because Mother’s Day is always celebrated on May 10th in México. I was born on May 9th, so my mother would usually tell me how she had hoped I would have been born on Mexican Mother’s Day, May 10th. When I was a boy, she usually told me this either on my birthday or on May 10th, or more often than not, on both days. She also told me how she was hoping for a girl during her entire pregnancy. I would have been Debbie, but I turned out to be a boy.

Unfortunately, my mother is no longer around for us to spend the day with her. She always wanted to have grandchildren from me, but my children weren’t born until long after she passed away. So my oldest son only knew his maternal grandmother until he was almost two years old because she, unfortunately, passed away from ovarian cancer, but he never met his paternal grandmother, my mother. And my twins never met either grandmother at all. I feel that my sons were deprived of some wonderful experiences by not having had grandmothers in their childhood.

The happiest days of my childhood were the days when my parents were still married and my grandmother and tía Matilde were living with us in Chicago. My mother was always so happy having her mother in the house. Everyone needs a mother. And to have a mother and grandmother in your life is to be doubly blessed!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Irma Serrano


Irma Serrano at the People's Theater, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I never understood why my mother went to Mexico when Irma Serrano came to Back of the Yards to perform at the People’s Theater. She absolutely loved Irma Serrano. My mother had all her records. My mother saw all her movies. Yet, my mother went to Mexico the summer of 1970 when Irma Serrano came to People’s Theater.

But my mother had a plan! While she was away in Mexico, I would go for my mother to see Irma Serrano in concert! I was only fourteen at the time, so I was a little nervous when my mother explained her plan to me. I would go see Irma Serrano in concert and then tell my mother all about the concert when she returned from Mexico. My mother thought her idea was absolutely brilliant. I, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. Because of my mother, I, too, loved Irma Serrano as a singer and an actress. I just couldn’t let my friends know this dirty little secret about me. What if my friends saw me going to the People’s Theater to see Irma Serrano? What would I tell them? What if they wanted to tag along? That was my dilemma of the summer.

My mother arranged everything. She bought another camera just for the concert because she always took her camera to take pictures in Mexico. I was to take pictures of Irma performing on stage. I was to take pictures of every outfit she wore. She changed a few times during her performance, so I made sure I took pictures of every outfit. I have to admit that this was kind of fun, especially since Irma seemed to welcome the additional attention of an adolescent male admirer. My mother also wrote a letter to Irma that I was supposed to hand deliver to Irma Serrano personally. Those were my mother’s orders! My mother wanted me to go backstage after the performance to talk to Irma and take more pictures of her.

“But how am I supposed to go backstage?” I asked my mother. “Just tell them that you’re delivering a letter to Irma Serrano from Carmen Rodriguez! They’ll let in then!” I was always painfully shy, but now I was truly afraid to follow through with my mother’s plan. She wanted me to meet someone who was really a successful star and really, really famous. I was scared to approach Irma after the show. But I was even more afraid of how my mother would punish me if I didn’t take pictures of Irma and deliver my mother’s letter backstage.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert! Of course, that was also due to the fact that none of my friends saw me going to the People’s Theater that afternoon. Luckily, the concert was on a Sunday afternoon when most of my friends spent the day visiting relatives. I recognized every song Irma sang because my mother always played them at home. The only time I didn’t like listening to my mother’s Mexican music was on Saturday mornings. She played her music starting at sunrise. If I told her to turn it down a little, she would yell at me for being lazy and staying in bed. I would put the pillow over my head and the music didn’t sound so loud that way.

Since I was at the Irma Serrano concert of my own free will, according to my mother (under duress, if you asked me), I attempted to enjoy myself as much as possible. The audience consisted of less than about a hundred people, but they were all really into Irma. Myself included. It was a really good concert! And since the audience was so small, it was also very intimate.

After the concert, I was able to get backstage my mentioning my mother’s name. I seriously doubted that would work, but I was amazed that I got to meet Irma Serrano in person. I told her that Carmen Rodriguez had written her a letter and I then handed her the letter. She smiled as she took the letter and said, “So you’re Carmen’s son? She told me about you.” I don’t know if Irma really knew my mother, but she knew how to treat fans appreciatively.  I asked Irma if I could take more pictures of her and she consented. I was thrilled to be backstage with Irma Serrano all by myself!

So that was my closest encounter with a very famous star!

Parque Marquette


Taste of México, Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois

My oldest son found a frog at the forest preserves and decided to keep it. He bought an aquarium, but soon the house smelled of stagnant water. He really didn’t clean the aquarium regularly or properly. Then he got bored of having a frog. He thought of releasing the frog in our backyard, but I told him it would die there and that would be inhumane. I suggested he take the frog to the Marquette Park lagoon where it would at least stand a chance to survive. A week passed and the frog was still our roommate and the aquarium water was still polluting the air we breathed. Yesterday, we both were home at the same time, with free time at the same time–something that rarely happens with our busy schedules (even though I’m on summer vacation now!).

So, I said, “Let’s take the frog to Marquette Park now.” Amazingly, he agreed. However, he didn’t want to touch the frog because of the putrid smell. He brought the aquarium down from his bedroom and put it on the front porch. He almost threw as he set the tank down. So, I was the one who took the frog out of the smelly tank and put it into a five-gallon bucket to take to Marquette Park.

I’ve been going to Marquette Park since the 1960s. My parents always loved taking us to parks or beaches whenever possible. When my mother got her driver’s license, she ventured further away from our house. Once she took us to Brookfield Zoo! But first she had to build up her courage. So she took us to Marquette Park. She had heard that it was a nice park. She drove us there in her 1964 Chevy Impala convertible. I remember driving on Marquette Road to get to Marquette Park. My mother was amazed by the houses we saw there. When we drove back home on Marquette Road, my mother said, “Some day we will live on Marquette Road!”

Eventually, we did live at 2509 W. Marquette Road! Many Lithuanians lived in Marquette Park. There were very few Mexicans in the neighborhood back in the early 1970s. But that didn’t stop my mother from moving in. I missed my old friends at Back of the Yards, but Marquette Park was a much bigger and better park than Davis Square Park. Marquette Park had a lagoon for fishing, sailing, RC boats. There were plenty of activities at the field house where I eventually joined the Mar Par Chessmen. Years later, I joined the Marquette Park Track Club that was coached by Jack Bolton. There were soccer and baseball leagues. I went there for a wrestling match when I was in the eighth grade. I got to know Marquette Park very well. There were very few Mexicans at the park then.

So, imagine my surprise when I returned with my sons to Marquette Park to release the frog (I bet you thought I forgot all about the frog!).  Over the past few years the neighborhood has been changing. African-Americans started moving in. Now, Mexicans are moving in, too. Whenever I drive through the neighborhood, I see more store signs in Spanish. Since I don’t spend all that much time there, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the park. Marquette Park was filled with mostly Mexicans. Several soccer–actually, fútbol–games were in progress. Unlike the 1970s, all the players were Mexican. Ditto when I drove past the concrete basketball courts. I was also surprised by the Mexican food vendor in the picture above. They sold the usual Mexican food items: elotes, tacos, gorditas, raspados. My son was hungry, so he bought a couple of tacos de carne asada and an elote in a cup. I didn’t even know you could buy elote in a cup! I always buy it on a stick! As Dios intended. But, I’ve also seen pizza in a cup. So why not elote in a cup?

Anyway, we placed the frog (See! I still remember that this post was about the frog!) on the grassy shore of the lagoon and the frog immediately jumped into the water. Live long and prosper!

Happy Father’s Day!


4405 S. Wood Street, Chicago, Illinois

Happy Father’s Day!

I would especially like to thank my father Diego for being my father. He’s holding my baby brother Joey in the picture and I’m standing next to him. Seated are my brothers Danny, Rick, my sister Delia, and my brother Jerry. My mother isn’t in the picture because she was the photographer. She loved taking pictures of the family!

I can honestly say that the happiest days of my life were when I was a boy living with my family before my parents got divorced. Both my parents were always there for me, although we did have a few misunderstandings. My taught me some carpentry and how to use tools. I would always help fix his cars because he was a mechanic at the Curtis Candy factory. He was proud to be a mechanic. My father respected anyone who was a good carpenter or mechanic by calling them maestro. Thanks to my father, I’m now able to perform many fix-it projects around the house.

As a father myself, I often think of all the things my father did with us and I try to do some of the same things. Sometimes, just being with his children was enough satisfaction and joy for my father, especially after my parents divorced. Even we’re not doing anything together, I’ll often sit in the same room with my sons just to be with them. Occasionally, we’ll start an unexpected entertaining conversation.

My father always asked me for suggestions for trips we could make, and no matter how crazy I thought the idea was, he would take us on the trip. He never made any excuses for not going. So, now I follow my sons’ suggestions. One time, my oldest son was writing a report on Mount Rushmore and we all became interested in the report. My son suggested that we go to Mount Rushmore and we went the following June. Every time I go on vacation with my sons, I always think of my father.

Happy Mother’s Day!


A rose for you, on Mother's Day.

Happy Mother’s Day! Yes, you! I may not even know you, but if you’re a mother, Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers past, present, expectant, and future! That about covers everyone. But especially to all the mother’s I know, Happy Mother’s Day!!! On Mother’s Day we celebrate our mothers and all they’ve done for us. Happy Mother’s Day!

Haunted


Chicago, Illinois

Sometimes I think my house is haunted. I’ll be sitting at home alone, and for some strange reason, I’ll hear someone walking up the stairs of my front porch. I’ll wait for that someone to knock or ring the doorbell. But no one does. When I look out the front door, there’s no one there! This has happened to me several times. Once, I hurried to the window when I heard the first footstep. I was so sure I would see whomever was coming up the stairs. But again, there was no one there. That was pretty scary! Of course, I’d probably get scared if I saw a the police or fire department at my house, too.

I tried to forget about the footsteps on my front porch. But, then, one day, my son told he was home alone and he heard footsteps on the front porch. He thought I was coming home, so he went to open the front door. But no one was there! He said he heard the footsteps on several occasions, but this was the first time he told me. He said it felt kind of creepy. He also told me that sometimes when he’s home alone on the first floor, he hears footsteps upstairs. I told him that sounded kind of scary, but I didn’t admit to him that I had also heard the footsteps upstairs. I’m beginning to believe my house is haunted.

I’m not a fraidy cat. Really, I’m not!  But sometimes eerie things happen around me. Things that scare me. Especially when I’m all alone, after dark. One night as I was sleeping, I was roused from my sleep by someone talking. Did I mention it was really dark? Well, it was so dark because the street lights were out, so I was really scared. As soon as I woke up, the talking stopped. I was beginning to theorize that the ghost didn’t want to talk while I was awake. But then I realized that I was talking in my sleep again. I got scared for nothing!

When I used to live in Marquette Park, I used to go running early in the morning before I went to work. Some mornings I ran at about 5:00 am. It was always dark when I ran. Running at that time was good exercise for me because sometimes the drunks coming home from the bars at that time would swear at me because they thought I was crazy for running so early in the morning. Sometimes, I got to do other exercises besides running. Some drunks were so personally offended by my running that they would throw beer bottles at me and I would have to dodge them. Needless to say, my morning runs were never boring.

But that wasn’t the spooky thing I wanted to tell you. Usually, there was no one out when I ran in the morning. Once in a while, I would see a family, a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter, all dressed up like they were going to church or a fancy party, waiting for the bus. I would only see them when I ran eastbound on 71st Street. They would be standing on the corner of 71st and Sacramento, waiting for the bus. I mean no one ever waited for the bus there at that hour dressed like that, especially not an entire family.

The very first time I saw them, I just caught them out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought I was just imagining the family, but when I turned my head to get a good look at them, there was no one there! I had just imagined them! But, wait! When I turned my head forward again, I saw them out of my corner of my eye again. This really creeped me out, if you know what I mean.  I just kept running and tried to forget about the family waiting for the bus. And I forgot about them for a while, but then I saw them again. However, I never saw them when I looked directly at them; I could only see them out of the corner of my eye, and only when it was dark.

I told a few of my friends about my vision. Most of them laughed and said I was crazy. In fact, no matter what I told these friends, they always told me I was crazy. Some friends, huh? So why did I tell them in the first place? I just had to tell someone. I didn’t want to go to my grave withholding this secret from the world. Finally, I told someone who thought that maybe I saw the ghosts of a family who was killed on that corner, perhaps in a car accident. I thought it was possible, but I don’t really believe in such things. Of course, I wouldn’t rule it out, either. Just to be on the safe side, I never ran across the street near the bus stop where the family stood. Over the next few years, I would see this family periodically when I ran early in the morning. A couple of years ago, I saw them while I was driving eastbound down 71st Street about 5:00 am. I’ve just learned to accept their presence and move on with my life. I wonder if they’ll ever catch the bus they’re waiting for.

I suppose this all started when I was a little boy and my mother used to scare me so I would behave well. She would tell me scary things to prevent me from doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. I would actually hear my mother’s voice scolding me, even when she wasn’t around. Once, when I was riding my bike, I knew exactly how far I could ride my bike, but I decided I would cross that imaginary line. Immediately, I heard my mother yelling, “¡David! ¿A dónde vas?” So I turned around expecting to see my mother. But there was no one there! I had only heard her voice! And I was so sure that I had not imagined my mother being there.

Of course, my mother told me that if I stayed out after dark, I might not get back home. Alive. Ever. She didn’t want to have to worry about me coming home late, so she told me if I stayed out too late la llorona would get me and I would never come home again. La llorona, according to my mother, was a dead woman who wandered the land looking for wayward, disobedient children to take as her own; she had killed her own children, so she would never rest in peace until she found her own children. This was pretty scary stuff for a ten year old! Anyway, one day, I was at my friend’s house until after dark. I was scared because I knew la llorona would be looking for me. As I was walking home, I kept a watchful eye for la llorona. Suddenly, some boys who lived on my block ran past me, yelling, “Run! Run!” I was sure la llorona was chasing them! But I just froze dead in my tracks. Just then, I felt someone grab my arm from behind! I knew I was a goner. La llorona had caught me! I regretted not listening to my mother when I felt that cold icy hand grabbing my arm.

Then the grip on my arm tightened and I heard a male voice say, “Run! You were supposed to run!” I looked back and I was being held by a Chicago police officer. I was out after curfew. “Run!” he said. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to run when you see the police? Run!” So, I ran home and never stayed out past curfew again!

Liver and onions


Liver and onions

I think we can all agree that liver and onions is not a very popular dish in America. Otherwise, someone would have opened a fast food restaurant with a drive-thru specializing in liver and onions by now. This will never happen, but imagine the possibilities! For me, this would be great since liver and onions is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Luckily, it’s available at many restaurants. It’s easy to prepare and I’ve actually made it myself a few times. 

Even when I was little, I loved liver and onions. My mother prepared it frequently because she loved liver and onions. I guess I inherited her love of liver and onions. Sometimes mother would make just for her and me. Beef liver was usually very cheap. I guess not many people liked eating liver back then, but no part of livestock was wasted. As The Jungle famously quoted one of the meatpacking plants, “We package everything except the squeal!” 

Unfortunately, my younger brothers wouldn’t eat liver and onions if they knew exactly what they were about to eat. So, my mother would explain that were about to eat some exotic dish. As we sat down at the table, my mother would always say something like, “Hoy vamos a comer tigre.” “Today we are eating tiger.” “Hoy les preparé algo muy sabroso. ¡Tiburón!” “I made you something delicious today. Shark!” And my little brothers would eat up the liver and onions that they so detested. 

Once, we all sat down for dinner and my mother announced, “Hoy vamos a comer ballena.” “Today we are eating whale.” And so we all started eating whale. On this day, I found the whale especially delicious. I was the only one who knew we were actually eating liver, sans onions to create the effect that we were actually eating whale. Have you ever eaten something that was especially delicious and it really hits the spot. Perhaps I was suffering from an iron deficiency that day. Well, on this occasion, the liver tasted especially good despite lacking onions. I asked for second and thirds. My brothers continued eating it. Until I blurted, “The liver came out really good today!” My mother gave me a pained stare. And my brothers yelled, “Yuck, I hate liver!’ And they all stopped eating. My mother yelled at me because my brothers would have kept eating if they still believed they were eating whale. 

This reminds me of something that happened recently with my son Alex recently. We were at Old Country Buffet and he came back to the table with what he thought were chicken fries. He said they were really good. When I went for seconds, I saw where he got the chicken fries. He was actually eating calamari. I love calamari, so I got some for myself. Alex was surprised that I would eat chicken fries. I told him that he really ate calamari. He insisted on knowing what exactly calamari was. When I told him it was squid, he stopped eating his chicken fries! 

I guess sometimes you’re better off not knowing what you’re eating.