Saturday, September 15, 2018

Nena, La Jefita, by Antonio SolisGomez

Nena's Children. Top L to R Raul, Maria, Miguel, Jesus (Tito) Bottom L Robert and Me

It’s not surprising that 'chinga tu madre' is the most despicable slur that a Chicanx can hurl or receive, a person’s mother being sacrosanct, inviolable, above reproach. It's this way not because a cultural norm or a Catholic canon decrees it, which it does, but rather because Chicanx mothers can be so loving and protective of their sons and daughters that it engenders in their children such awe and respect that they will go to any means to protect her in return.

It is therefore, a challenge to write objectively about one’s mamá, the subject fraught with a floodgate of memories so wrought with emotion that it overwhelms the intent. Nevertheless on this week of my Jefita’s 99th year of life, I write to honor her life and her role as mother, in this way.

Judged by the standards that reign in contemporary society, my jefita’s life was ordinary, nothing that she did made her stand out as someone special or accomplished in any way. She gave birth to five boys and one girl, they also ordinary in every sense, except that they all turned out to be hard working independent individuals with a refined sense of right and wrong.
left Raul, me, El Paso, Washington Park 1944

It’s in the last point that I will dwell, a quality that was paramount in her parenting and that is preeminent in the world of spirit, for in that realm worldly accomplishments are fleeting and temporal and it is only the virtues that one attains that are carried over into the next life. Thus the world is a stage, background if you will, at the foreground is the individual struggling to be a good and moral person. This background which is a person’s career, lifestyle, economic station, gender, ethnicity, religion, physical looks and nationality are washed away by death. What’s left is the person stripped of everything but his or her spiritual life, not religious life either but the basis for any religion: love, empathy, goodness, tolerance, compassion, honesty and truthfulness.

Although she was a very loving mother she was not a person that her children could manipulate or of whom they could take advantage. She had high expectations and these were established early on and passed from the oldest to the youngest. The following two stories attest to this. When my oldest brother Ruly was in 2nd or 3rd grade, she was called to the school and told that her son was goofing off, not paying attention to the teacher and not doing his school work. As punishment my mother told Ruly that there would be no birthday celebration for him that year and if he didn’t shape up he would also miss out on Christmas. He changed fast! The other story was of a time Ruly hopped on a trailer hitched to the rear of a car, he fell off and the trailer ran over his leg. Mother ran out to the street and when she ascertained that he was unhurt, proceeded to spank him.
Nena clowning with Tito's Letterman Sweater

There were a lot of morality stories that she and my grandmother imparted that originated in the Mexican culture. One of them was the story of the woman who has just cooked a chicken when someone comes to her door and she hides the meal behind the door only to find out later when the guest has left, that the chicken has become a frog. Time and time again when we lived in El Paso we had many men from Juarez come to our door asking for food and mother would ways find something to give them. The moral was simple you share what you have with those who come to your home.

The other story is about a woman sweeping the floor and instead of picking up the dirt, she lifted a corner of the linoleum floor covering and just as she was to sweep it under, the devil appeared.

This story like the previous one were not entertainment, they were lessons that were modeled by her own behavior, she being a tireless worker that even today frail as she is, wants to crochet, cook meals and because of an impending move, box her belongings, for at the end of the month she is moving in with my brother Robert and his wife.

It’s a hard time for her, dissolving her household. She has always been fiercely independent, never allowing herself to be taken advantage of or feeling depressed because of a setback. It’s always been go forward, roll up the sleeves and get working to fix whatever needs fixing.

Circa 1939 Nena visiting Torreon walking with three of her cousins
She was born Elena Gómez in Torreon, became Elena Solis when she married my father and then Elena Parral when she married my stepfather. She was called Nena as a child and by her friends into adulthood. She, her mother and father migrated to El Paso when she was around nine, sometime in the late 1920’s. She went to school and finished the 8th grade before starting to work as a domestic. She married, my and my older brother’s father but they divorced when he decided to move to Los Angeles. At the end of World War II, she married a returning soldier and had two children with him before the family moved to Los Angeles and in that new city had two more children.

She worked at the Sheraton Hotel as the Switchboard supervisor for many years before retiring in the late 1990’s. She was by then a single woman having divorced my stepfather in the late 1960’s, a time she marks as the most financially difficult time as my sister Maria and my youngest brother Robert were teenagers living with her.

Fortunately she had a male companion during the ensuing years after her divorce and she was able to travel to Europe, Mexico, Hawaii and many of the large cities of the USA.
Battle Creek Michigan circa 1997

My own assessment of my mother’s finest moment was when the family learned that Miguel one of my younger brother’s was gay. It was a shock when I learned. He had been an all star football player, had married and fathered two children and generally epitomized masculinity, which because of him I learned was not mutually exclusive. My mother didn’t hesitate one bit in embracing him and his partner. She traveled and stayed with him in Hawaii where he had moved, cooking him his favorite meals, never once making him feel that he was unloved because of who he was.

My brother had AIDS for several years but his body began to wear out in 2006. My mother was right there with him, nursing him until his final days. It was a devastating blow to all of us but more so for my mother, who continues to mourn him. She is known to her twelve grandchildren and to a handfull of great grandchildren as Grandma Nena, how that name skipped a generation and attached itself to her, is a lost memory.
On her 99th Birthday Standing Raul with his son Dan, seated Tito and Nena


laura said...

beautiful Dad. thanks for sharing this with the world.

Unknown said...

Nice piece Dad. A fitting tribute.