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Thankful for my Tia

I wish to express my gratitude for my Tia. I do all this in complete humility. This lovely lady is 88-years-old, and if I could hold on to her, she would be here for another twenty years. She has a heart that is caring and loving. I was raised to think badly of her. Yet thirteen months ago, my Tia searched the local motels trying to fine me to take me to her home when I had returned to the city and my mother wouldn’t let me stay with her. She was the only one in the family who gave homeless-me a place to live. In these thirteen months, I have been honored to learn who my Tia really is. This most generous woman has never been able to read or write, yet is the smartest and most direct woman I have ever met. In our many discussions, I discovered that she may have had dyslexia which made it difficult for children to learn without assistance. Yet my Tia was from a time when no one had heard of dyslexia. And there probably wouldn’t have been help for poor Latino kids anyway.  Yet my Tia has been the boss of several of her own businesses, a few for over ten years. She worked and bossed men in an era when women were easily dismissed. She drove heavy duty hauling trucks. She, with help from her mother, built the house (once rolling off the roof to land on the ground below) that she raised her six children in, and still lives in today.  I have sat in what everyone calls “the little house” in the backyard, assembling a dialogue, adding rebuttals and explanations, and practicing my presentation to win my case. After watching one or two of my soliloquies, my Tia interrupted me and said, “Get to the point.” I was astonished. She wanted to hear what I had to say. While gabbing with her, she’ll ask me what a word means. I said, “Feedback,” once, and she needed it defined. I thought I’ll have to remember to use little words. Yet when I sat across the table from her in the kitchen, explaining what a book proposal was all about, she looked at me impatiently and said, “It’s a resume for a book.” I sat with my chin on my three circles of neck, dumbfounded. How absolutely perfect. How astonishingly simple. Yes. A book proposal is a resume for a book. 

If you should think, so what?, let me show you how her wisdom helps others beyond her immediate reach. My Tia was lecturing me on how ineffective I was as a mother and how my son – here she put one hand flat on her knee, then moved her hand and placed it flat on her chest, then finally, placed her hand flat on her head, demonstrating how I allow my son to treat me. I knew for certain that was going to be in one of my books. However, later in a way that was much more beneficial,

I used the demonstration. I gave a presentation to a class of 8th graders in middle school. I showed them what my Tia had

done. (Of course, I left out the “how stupid I can be” part.) I

asked them what they thought the motions meant. Everyone

shouted, “He’ll walk all over you.” I went on to demonstrate

how smart my Tia was in spite of having no education with

other parables of truth she had shared with me. Several of the

students raised their hands and stated that they also had

parents who couldn’t read or write. They walked out of that

class with their backs a little straighter being proud of their

parents. 

I have disagreed with my Tia and I wasn’t killed for doing so.

And my words have never been thrown back in my face later.

Astonishing. In fact, a joke began between us where the dog

and I had the same name, pendjo (stupid). I realized that my

low self-esteem had created this situation, yet I went to my

Tia and asked her if she could stop calling me that name. I

told her how much I appreciated that I could approach her

with the request. As I left the room, she said, “Thank you.”

Wow! To me! For that! Later, from a cousin, her daughter, I

learned she had felt hurt and angry by my request, and she

has never called me that name again since. I have heard stories of how as a single mom in the forties and fifties, she would hitchhike sixty miles to a small town to pick in the fields to earn money for her children so they could be fed and clothed while her mother cared for them. She stayed at a relative’s house and slept on the floor. Sometimes while hitchhiking, she would be picked up. By men. In the night. Many times, she had to walk the entire distance.  She told stories of how she and her two older brothers picked in the fields all year and that was one reason she hadn’t done well in school. In fact, all four siblings were not able to read or write because of working in the fields. The younger sister, my mother, always pretended to be sick to get out of work. You need to understand something. I was sixty years old when my Tia told me these stories. Up to that point, I had never known that my family had been migrant workers. My mother had never even whispered a hint about her history. Because of shame. I had bragged often attesting to the fact that I had never even met a migrant worker much less been able to write stories about them. Now I learned that my mother had ridden the circuits like everyone else. Amazing. In my Tia’s oft told tales, she related how their father would punish them. Brutal with the boys; sent her off to bed with no food. The little sister getting away with anything. The lesson taught was life was hard; if you didn’t work to make the money then you could go without the food you didn’t earn. I’ve heard stories from men about what nuns did to them by kneeling them on rice or bottle caps, and my grandfather did worse to my Tios. He was a religious man, and this was appropriate for that time period. My Tia worries about me tremendously. She says, “All you want to do is type” - here she taps the table with the tips of all ten fingers - “You don’t want to go out and find a man. How will you ever get a man if you don’t go out?” I laugh. Then a look of mischief comes to her eyes. She claims she always had a man, who bought his paycheck home to her. Men who adored her. Then, swinging her shoulders and pitching her nose in the air, she declared that she even had men fight over her. The paramount testament of a woman’s value in the fifties. “Several times,” she added with a sly smile. If by chance any of my cousins should read this I am sure they will be royally angry with me for mentioning this. My 88-year-old Tia wears lacy, silky, bold-colored undies. Now there’s a real woman. Even with all this, what I have enjoyed most with my Tia is my ability to joke with her. And her face when she smiles. She tells me of a woman on TV who has a beautiful singing voice and demonstrates what she means by singing a few chords. I say leave it to the lady on the TV to do the singing. She laughs. She doesn’t get angry. She laughs. At herself. With me. Astonishing. I related stories of my adventures across these United States, and she howled. Then when her daughters visited, in front of me, she told them how I was flirting with a guy and my teeth fell out. She laughed so hard she almost couldn’t finish the story. One cousin leaned toward me and asked if that was the truth. I replied that she was putting two stories together to make one, and yeah it was true. She loves to go out and eat and takes pity on this poor niece and takes me with her. I feel uncomfortable because we don’t say much, and I think she wants my company. That’s all. When my Tia has found me sick or hungry, she has flooded enough food down my throat to feed a small African village. Food is an all-time everything healer. And the rooster can’t compete with me in crowing about My Tia and how she makes the bestest Spanish rice in the world. Even all her daughters’ rice doesn’t compare. She calls me, “China,” because I love her rice so much and eat as much as she gives me. For my birthday, she made the larger quart pot full of rice just for me. Outstanding. My Tia is known as a scrapper. She will fight and fight to win. No holds barred. She’ll leave you without hair if you cross her. She cusses worse than an old sailor. She uses the “N” word with no attention even knowing my son is Black-Vietnamese. If you hurt one of her children, you better run and hide because there is no rock big enough to shelter you from her wrath. She’ll stand up to any man, any size, anywhere. There have been times when our bond has grown with a realization in each other’s eyes that we could go ice skating in hell before we waited for some man to do something for us. I have given much consideration to the gene pool that went into creating my mother and her sister. There is no denying that they do come from the same gene pool for the resemblance of my Tia to her mother is great. Yet, what astronomical event could have ensued for the gene pool to have been so split between these sisters? When they have visited the beauty shop together and someone comments on their resemblance, my mother will proclaim that they are nothing alike. That her sister is stupid. Bad. Has been with many men. Now these accusations come from the woman, the sister, who has protected and covered up for a pedophile for sixty years and pimped off her daughter. My mother has a cash register for a heart. My Tia is gentle, loving, and caring. I have no clue how these two women are related. Not a one. I am so grateful to God for having given me this time to get to know my Tia. She is an honorable person with a caring heart. She has given me the true value of what family means. I would do anything for her. Thank you, Tia. Jo Ann