Month: October 2011

You’ve Come So Far, You Forgot the Road….

     When Chester and I first met, I was working an entry-level clerk job at Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Base, in California. He was in the preliminary stages of treatment for his PTSD and awaiting a hearing on his disability rating. He was receiving retirement, but he was unable to work due to his treatment status. I was making minimum wage. I lived in a one bedroom apartment with Megan that was near my work and her school. When I think back to those days, we were happy, Megan was thriving, we were thinking of getting married at the end of summer, and thinking about relocating to North Carolina.

     A good friend of Chester’s called and asked him to pick him up at Naval Air Station North Island. Back in those days, before 9/11, military personnel could fly on “hoppers” from one base to the next, pretty much on a first come, first serve basis. Chester went and picked up “Chico” and he spent the day with us and the night with Chester at his condo, then Chester took him back to catch the next flight out. He gave Chester some money and told him to take me out to dinner.

     When Chester told me about this, I told him, knowing how tight the budget was, “Naw…lets just go home and have a spam sandwich”. He never forgot that story and he tells people about it when financial struggles come up.  He reminds me of it when I drink out of my Mikasa stemware and he drinks out of a Ball canning jar glass. When we get caught up in “wants” versus “needs” we forgot that it wasn’t the newest technology gadget, or the designer shoes, nor the five star restaurant dinner, that we have the fondest memories of.   It was sitting at the wrought iron patio table my mom gave me to use for a dinner table in that tiny one bedroom apartment, that had a view of the landscaped eucalyptus trees on the property, watching the Lakers, having a spam sandwich.

Cross Country

The last ten years I have been making notes in my journal, or my husband has put out his digital recorder, when my parents visit us. Last year, my mom and I made “patitas” which is her signature stew for Christmas brunch to serve with tamales. This summer, I called her for a few clarifications and made it with my daughter who was teaching me to make tamales. I know, the daughter teaching the mother…another blog for that story.

My dad told us a story from our past, I had not heard before. He and Mom were moving from Corpus Christie to Norfolk, his new duty station. I was a toddler. It was the first time my Mom had ever left the area and my grandparents were having hard time. They were saying goodbye and Mom and Grandma Sotelo were so despondent, my Mom barely noticed my Grandfather Sotelo putting some money in the shirt pocket of her blouse.

They traveled cross-country to Norfolk via Roanoke, Virginia. I was surprised, because I never knew they had to go that route, through the mountains. It was here my Dad said he knew they were almost out of gas and they had no money. Dad was strategizing, but he had not spoken to Mom about it yet. He planned to leave Mom and I with the car, hitchhike to Norfolk, get an advance on his pay and hitchhike back. When he related this to me, I was so surprised. I know it was a different time, but how he must have agonized, having to leave his young wife and child and hitchhike his way to a Naval base. No money, no food and it wasn’t like it is now, with fast food and convenient stores. I cannot even imagine how far apart the stores and gas pumps were apart from one another in the hills of Virginia.

Mom, with the intuitiveness, that is present to this day, asked my Dad how the gas was. When he told her and then presented his worst case scenario, she remembered that her father had put some money in her pocket. When she took it out, it turned out to be fifty dollars. Fifty dollars is like having four hundred 2011 dollars!

When I think of how my grandparents lived in a little house with no indoor plumbing, a chicken coop, a shed where everyone took turns bathing, a garden and a pen where they raised pigs, I wonder what this money represented to him. I know my parents helped my grandparents when they needed help. It had to humble my parents that my grandfather had the foresight and the means to give his daughter, who was traveling far from them for the first time (the first of many such times), money to not just make this trip, but to help my parents get settled into their new life in a new state.

Grandma Who Lives Far, Far Away

   

Raina and her Mama, June 2000

 I became a grandmother for the first time 11 years ago.  Her name is Raina and she is a beautiful granddaughter, with her mother’s soulfulness and her father’s kind heart. I thought I knew what I was in for when she came into my life, but I was so ill prepared, it was not even funny.  My daughter had miscarried three times before Raina was born, so she is our “miracle” baby.  I knew I was in love before she even arrived, but I never knew how much I would miss her, until I met her.   You see, I am a long distance Grandma.  Raina lives in California and I live in North Carolina.  

"Isn"t she lovely"

     I had the round trip ticket purchased, and I had a week set aside to take vacation, but she had to arrive on time, or at least 48 hours around the projected due date, or I was going to have to adjust my time off.  Not the easiest request when you work for an attorney who was going to be at his wit’s end without help for ten working days.  Things have a way of working themselves out, and this did.  I got the call from my son-in-law that they were on their way to the hospital and I was good for nothing at work until I got the call that she arrived, all 8 pounds of her.

Baptismal Picture, 2000

When I met Raina, she was all dressed in pink, laying in the center of her mom and dad’s bed, dozing of course.  I embraced her mom, both of us crying in the joy of arrival of this baby.  After all the pain her mom had gone through,  I thanked God for this precious bundle of life for both my son-in-law and my daughter.  I laid down next to her so I could see her, so beautiful and so complete.  

Raina's First Trip to North Carolina, 2001

     I spend a week and some days with them, helping cook and clean.  I bathed and fed her, but was careful not to intrude on my daughter’s time with her new daughter.  If she needed me, I was there, if she did not, I was happy to observe or take pictures to memorialize the moments for me.  It was during this time, when I was bathing my granddaughter and dressing her after drying her little perfect body off, putting baby lotion all over, so she looked like a shiny doll,   I started to realize, I was going to have to return to North Carolina.  I was never so resistant to the idea of returning home, since I was a young teen.  Being an adult, didn’t help, because to rationalize the thought of husband, job and home, was just not cutting it.  

Daddy's Raider Girl, September, 2005

     I really tried not to cry, for my daughter’s sake, but I had not experienced the depth emotion that overcame me as I said goodbye.  I wept all the way to the airport and poor rental car people, probably thought I was having a nervous breakdown, but it was just new grandma trauma.  Looking back now, I remember, I never regretted moving to North Carolina until just that moment.

Raina's First Communion

     In this life, you learn to be thankful for what you have.  I have a healthy granddaughter.  I have adjusted to being a long-distance grandma.  Just this year, I spent time with Raina and was able to do the things “normal” grandmas do.  I took cupcakes to her class the last days of school.  I went to her swim lessons and her swim meets.  I went to her playoff softball games at a time when her team went farther in the playoffs than any other time.  

Goofing Off at Breakfast, Ft. Bragg 2009

     Raina has two sisters now and a cousin, so my grandmotherhood has expanded.  When she was in first grade, she answered the house phone and told her mom it was grandma.  Alicia asked her, Grandma Gloria or Grandma, my mom?  Raina answered “Grandma your mom…Grandma who lives far, far away”.

Raina and I, June of this year

The First Step

 

   October 15, 2011, came without even the benefit of an alarm clock.  Chester and I  were much to nervous to wait for it to go off at 6am.  I was up at 5:30am to get to our sister-in-law’s house to pick up two pound cakes for the dessert table of the golfer’s banquet we were having after the tournament.  I had also wanted Krispy Kreme donuts for the coffee table to have for the golfers, before the tournament.  My dilemma was that the new store about twenty minutes from my house, and my sister-in-law’s house was fifteen minutes north of mine,  and I knew I would be hard pressed to do both and be back to my house to pick up my friend Katie, who has more tournament experience than I, and was helping me with registration, by 8:00am.  I am sitting there in the parking lot of our corner store about a mile from Evansridge, the engine of the TC a low rumble, as dawn was lightening the sky around me,  I made an executive decision, and instead of going south, went north to my sister-in-law’s.  My plan was to pick up coffee items and Krispy Kreme donuts in a box at the nearest Food Lion.  

      My husband concerned about no one from the tournament would be there to greet golfers, that he left before any of the rest of us, and as it turned out, when he arrived, he only one there besides the grounds keepers.  Jimmie, Katie’s husband, took time to get a bite on the way, while we brought up the rear of our group, with the registration paperwork and coffee pot.  

     We had only a couple of teams sign up.  However, the people who came were old friends from past tournaments, another cause, another force of nature…our friend Cecil, who succumbed to cancer after a valorous battle six years ago.  These guys, along with Jimmie, Cecil’s cousin, supported us and the tournament, the moment we contacted them.  The balance of the teams were made up of judo athletes who played golf and one of Chester’s Veteran’s group participants and his friends.  

   The volunteers, who were friends, family and judo friends, help Katie and I make coffee, set up tables, set up the banquet room, take pictures and get the guys on the course.  Then, they all found a cart and followed Chester and our other sister-in-law who, not only made the golf quilt for the tournament raffle, was also taking the tournament pictures.

     I have always said, some of the most peaceful places on God’s green earth are National Parks and golf courses.  They are also some of the most beautiful pieces of land you will find.  

Bullcreek Golf Club is one of the few minority owned courses in the U.S.   It was farmland that was worked on by the families that invested in the dream of having a local golf course.  Having the tournament the second week of October allowed for the fall foliage to dress up the course.  It was a mild fall day.  We could not have asked for better weather for the golfers. 

    My good friends, Halima and Shelia, came to help in any way I needed.  They had never been on a golf course before and loved the friendly competition of the team they followed.  Our daughter, Courtney and her boyfriend “Boston”, gave us moral support and blessed us by just being there.  Danielle, my new young friend, helped strategize about the banquet room and hang up the Judo banner.  We had Bushido Judo of Durham dojo members come to the tournament to support us, and then were recruited to help set up the banquet room.  Others came from the dojo to participate in the banquet and see the results of the competition.  Everyone that participated voiced the common theme of the good time that was had by all and looking forward to the next year.  

  Looking back at it now, it seems so unnecessary, all our worry.  The reality was, we had only participant experience in golf tournaments.  To have Chester’s plan, that I put on a legal pad back in February, be realized that Saturday, was a feat by itself.  To have all the participants, volunteers and family express their desire to be included the next year, was more than we had hoped for.  We left the site of El Toro Fall Bash 2011, good wishes and the good will still very much present in our minds and hearts, looking in the rear view mirror course…until next year.  

 

Cafecito


I grew up with coffee. I learned how to make it for my parents. I was the picture child for a Folger’s commercial with the percolator, no sugar, no cream, please. Black. That’s how my parents took their coffee. I, liked hot tea, thanks to my Tia Nana, who served it to me with plenty of sugar when I was a teenager, newly arrived to the States from the Philippines, where my dad had been stationed. It was not until I was a young mother, working for my father in a family janitorial business, did I start drinking coffee. Not just any coffee…styrofoam cupped, sat on the burner all night until four am when I stopped by, who knows what brand, Seven-Eleven coffee.

I blame my mom for my love for gourmet coffee There was a period in the 1980’s when my dad worked for an American company in Saudi Arabia. Wives were not allowed on this overseas job, so my parents met in Spain or Portugal during this time. It was on one of these trips that my mom discovered espresso and cappuccino. When she returned home, she would compare the coffee houses we would frequent to how the espresso was brewed and served, how the cappuccino were either dusted with cinnamon or nutmeg, or the height of the froth and the difference between a latte and a cappuccino.

I was trying gourmet coffee at Pannikins in Encinitas, Crooked Crow at UTC and the Embaradero, and cappuccino at the Red Lion Hotel brunch cafe, and any indi coffee house I could find between Poway and Carlsbad. Carlsbad Roasting Company, a little sliver of sidewalk and building that roasted coffee onsite. I would take my Sunday paper and sit outside the cafe, less than a block from the Pacific.

When Starbucks took over a lot of the indi houses, including the renowned Pannikins, I, remarkably did not boycott the coffee giant. For some reason it did equate with Safeway or Gallo to me. I drank the proverbial koolaid…or white chocolate mocha, in this instance. Maybe I was too jaded, maybe I had hung up my protest shoes…maybe I just liked the taste of Starbuck’s French Roast more than any other make of French Roast!

I think the funniest side trip I ever made was on the I-85 from Evansridge to Pensacola, looking for a Starbucks off the highway just east of Atlanta. I took an offramp thinking I had seen the Starbuks logo on a billboard and it turned out to be a dairy of some kind. It wasn’t until almost Montgomery, Alabama, that I found a Panera Bread to get a decent cappuccino that I didn’t have to use map quest to find. Ironically, when I did the same trip with my daughter she recommended I get off at an offramp not far from the dairy. This offramp had restaurants like PF Changs and Cheesecake Factory, and sure enough, a block from the restaurants was a Starbucks. My kids will tell you another story about me obsessively looking for a Starbucks in Sacramento on the way home to Oceanside, but that is too embarrassing for me to recount. I will let them tell it at the next family get together, when they get to the part of the conversation “the dumbest thing Mom ever did” time. Until then, I am happily drinking my cafecito…smell that French Roast brewing?

The DC4 Part II


I know I speak for all of us when I say we were captured by the history, the symbolism, the richness, and the dignity of what we saw. I shake my head when I think how we didn’t have time to visit any of the museums or more of the monuments. We made the most of our trip, though. We disembarked at the Jefferson Monument first, taking the steps quickly, excited to see with out own eyes, what we had only seen in pictures.

Thomas Jefferson

This monument is one of my favorites. I have been to Monticello and could not get over how serene and quiet the grounds there were. The monument was similarly still and dignified. Jefferson Monument from the bridge

We boarded our trolley and went to the Lincoln Memorial and I have to say that to walk on the steps of so much history took my breath away. I had seen news reels of Martin Luther King’s famous speech. I recalled my readings about the President Lincoln, the Civil War and it’s aftermath, the Civil Rights movement and the March on Washington, and how these events impacted so many of us. The symbolism of the four of us, two African-American women, one Indian from Ghana who came to American as a young child, and I, American of Mexican descent in front of the Lincoln Monument did not occur to me until later when I saw the picture. What I was experiencing at that time was the personal significance of being a woman of color, third generation American of Mexican descent, whose grandmother was undocumented until she received her citizenship in her senior years, with a man of color as President, as the daughter of a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer, as the wife of a Purple Heart recipient, as the mother of an active duty Navy Aircrew member, I had never been more proud to be an American.

Only in America...Shelia, Me, Halima and Dana 12/2009

Those of you who have visited my posts know my husband is a Vietnam veteran. Visiting the Vietnam Memorial has been a lifelong dream of mine. Once the trip to DC became a reality, it was my mission. Before I met my husband, I had studied the history and read fiction on the war. When we married, I became of student of PTSD, wanting to understand the condition that not only held my husband in its grasp, but permeated the psyche of so many veterans. I knew it would break my heart, but I was compelled to visit the granite gravestone that held the names of so many loved ones.

The Wall

(to be continued}

Four Days

     Eight months ago my husband and I had a conversation about doing a golf tournament to fundraise for judo students. I had been laid off the month before from a job that was two months short of seven years and we had just lost our dear friend Karen. We were both still in a state of shock, but Chester, who has always been the braintrust of our familia, had been incubating this idea for a couple of years and he had a PLAN.

     Stepping out on faith is not unfamiliar ground to us. We have lived this life of ours with faith in God and our ability. We have lived this life with the faith of the goodness of man. I have seen friends, acquaintances and family all respond when we told them about Chester’s idea for this tournament. No one we have reached out to has not responded. It is a reaffirmation of faith for me.

     So even as I am in major procrastination mode because of the excitement of what is now four days away, I will get away from this spot by the window and get my list out for the few remaining things that need to be done, like send my grandson’s sweatshirt to him before he outgrows it, and cross it off my list.