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Then they said they wished they didn't have seven kids and I cried because if they weren't my parents, they would only have six kids and they would have more money to pay the bills. Our house was real big and it was one of the oldest ones on the block. Inside, it had four big rooms, and two kitchens and two bathrooms. My Mother and Father were saying that we should move. My father said that the newer houses cost too much and they wouldn't be big enough for our family anyway. My father wanted to stay in this house because it was only five minutes away from the cannery where he worked.
The next night they talked some more about the house. Finally my father said that the only thing to do was to make our house bigger so that we would all fit in it. "Si abremos el soterraño, podemos hacer cuartos allEabajo y podemos rentar el otro lado como apartamento." My mother agreed. "Si, asE todos cabemos en la casa y con la renta que colectamos del apartamento, nos acabalamos pa pagar los biles." I was happy. I fell asleep. I didn't have to find new parents because my old ones would have enough money now.
So we all started to help him to make rooms in the basement. My oldest brother was ten and my little sister was two, but all of us helped. The boys were old enough to dig out all of the dirt while us girls got our sand pails and filled them with the dirt and carried it away to a pile en la yarda.
One day, a big dirty yellow truck came to our house. They drove it onto the front lawn. The back was kind of round and it kept turning and turning the whole time. Then some mushy gray stuff poured out into the window my father had made in the basement. Even Ben, el viejito from across the street, came to help. He was very old and skinny and walked kind of slow. He used to call my father "mi hijo".
By the end of that weekend, the basement was almost finished. During the following week, my father would hurry home from work and start varnishing, putting in linoleum, and gluing paper on the walls. He would work down there while we ate dinner and even after we'd gone to bed, we could hear my father yelling at my mother, "No, asEno, ¡mensa! It won't match if you do it like that...¡mejor vete! Yo lo hago solo...¡tu ayuda no vale ni mierda!"
It was hard to sleep because I could still hear them talking. Later when I woke up in the middle of the night, I could still hear them down there. It was only for a few nights and soon the boys each moved into a room downstairs and the four of us girls got mad because we had to share the same old room upstairs.
Soon, there were people coming in and out of the house looking at the apartment that used to be where my brothers slept. Some people moved in after a few days and we all had to act different. We couldn't run down the hall anymore and we couldn't make noise when we played out in the yard.
Then, one weekend, my father started to build a room at the back of the apartment. This made the apartment bigger and my parents said we could get more money for it.
Every time someone moved out, the neighbors would get mad because all the calls we got for the apartment would tie up the party line with people wanting to rent it. Sometimes, when people came to see the apartment, my parents would tell us to be extra noisy and go run around in the yard. So we would and the people would go away without renting.
Most of the people were older than my Mom and Dad. None of them had any kids for us to play with. Sometimes the ladies would act like our mothers, only nicer. One lady used to buy us toys and I remember that one of them used to look at us and cry. My mother said that it was because she didn't have any kids of her own. She made my older sister and I clothes. My sister got only one dress but I got two. The lady said it was because I was going to start kindergarten and didn't have any clothes and my sister did -- but I knew that it was really because she liked me better.
One time my parents rented to a man and a lady but when they came to move in, it turned out that they had a little boy named Kenneth. They had already paid the rent so my parents told them they could stay if they paid extra for Kenneth. They did and, at first, we were glad because now we would have someone new to play with, but as soon as they moved in, we changed our minds.
Kenneth was a real brat. He would fight with us girls and my brothers would beat him up when his parents weren't looking. My parents knew about the fighting but they said that maybe they would move out if Kenneth kept getting beat up. My father hit him with the car one time, but I guess he didn't do it right because Kenneth didn't even have to go to the doctor. My Dad did have to get some bumps out of the car with a black rubber hammer, though.
One time, when it was raining, a man ran to the door. He said his name was Chino but he wasn't. He asked about the apartment. My parents rented it to him but they didn't like it much when his wife came in from the car. They made funny faces at her.
Chino's wife was very pretty. Her name was Roberta and she had blonde hair. She was gonna have a baby and she was real fat. Later, when they left, my parents talked about the baby. "Pero pobre niño, ¿que irEser? ¿Okie o Puerto Riqueño?" my father asked my mother. "¿Quien sabe? Creo que tendrE el cabello gEro pero chino, ¿no crees?" They agreed.
After Chino and Roberta had lived there for a while, they got real friendly with us. We used to go and play a real long game when it rained. It had colored play money and little green houses. It was fun. I wished the money were real so I could give it to my parents. They needed it. Chino spoke to us in Spanish. He used to tell us stuff about how dumb Roberta was and laugh at her because she didn't understand what we were saying.
One time, when my parents went shopping, I leaned back real hard on my chair, just like my parents had told me not to do, and I broke the big window behind me. Chino heard me crying and came over with a tape thing. He went away on his car and when he came back, he had a new window with him. He put it in so my father wouldn't hit me when he got home.
Sometimes, when Chino was at work, men would come and go into the apartment. One day Chino came home early and one of those men was still there. Chino got real mad. We heard him yelling at the man. He threw him out and then he threw a small brown camera at the man.
That night I heard him tell my parents about it. I was embarrassed and glad I wasn't in the same room because Chino was crying. He said that Roberta was crazy. "Look Vince, there's nothing you can say to change my mind. EstE bien loca. Desde que la conocEme lo dijieron su familia, pero yo pensEque con tiempo iba a cambiar. Ya estoy cansado de decirle...no le entra nada. Esos hombres la estan retratando. Usan los retratos en magazúes. Ya no puedo quedarme cayado. You would do the same if you were in my place." He said he would go away and take the baby with him, even if he had to go to court and have them take Roberta to a special hospital.
A few days later he came over and he was real happy. He told us that Roberta was going to have another baby. He said he hoped the next one would have black hair like him.
They moved right after the baby was born and we used to go visit them in Oakland. They always had candy for us. The new baby had blond hair, just like the old one. Chino looked sad when he said that the baby's hair was just like that man's that he had thrown out of the apartment.
One time when we were all home except my Dad, my Mom was making dinner, and there was a knock at the front door. My brother Carlos went to open it. We all went with him but we let him open it because he was older than the rest of us.
There was a man there. He said, "Is your mother here?" He had a small suitcase. He was probably selling something. My brother told him my mother was busy. "Well, could you go get her anyway? Tell her it's Jessie.
Carlos closed the door and went to the kitchen. "It's some man with a suitcase. I told him you were busy but he won't go away. He said to go get you anyway. He said his name is Jessie." My mother was mad because she had to shut the stove off and go clean the tortilla masa off of her hands. She walked to the front door, drying her hands and we all followed her again, all seven of us. She dried her hands as she walked. She opened the door and screamed. She started laughing and hugging and kissing the man. We all looked at each other.
"Carlos, help him in. Get the suitcase." My mother was crying but she didn't look sad. We all just looked at them. Carlos picked up the suitcase and brought it in.
"Just a minute. Let me go tell the Taxi to go. I wasn't sure if it was okay so I asked him to wait." The man turned around and went down the stairs. We noticed the Taxi. That was neat. No one had ever come to our house on a Taxi before. We still didn't know who he was or what he was selling. "Mammi, who is that man? Are you going to buy us something?" my little sister Irene asked.
"It's your Uncle Jessie. My baby brother. He came to stay with us for a while. He came all the way from Texas." My Mom laughed as she wiped tears from her eyes. She looked at us and started to clean our faces and fix our hair.
The man came back and he had another suitcase with him. This suitcase was bigger than the other one. I guess he was going to stay for a long time. My Mom told him all of our names. He smiled at all of us. He shook hands with my brothers and tried to kiss us girls. Then we all went inside. We sat in the kitchen while Uncle Jessie talked to my Mom and she cooked dinner while he talked.
Uncle Jessie stayed with us. After a couple of weeks, the people in the apartment moved out. My Mom and Dad let my Uncle Jessie live in the little room behind the kitchen of the apartment. When the next people moved in, they rented all of the apartment except the cuartito where my Uncle Jessie lived. He didn't need a kitchen or a bathroom because he used our's.
We liked Uncle Jessie. He used to come over to iron his clothes. He would stand there, in the kitchen, ironing and listening to KLIV on the radio and singing the words to the songs. I liked the music that the radio played when he listened. It was in English and it sounded different from the ranchera music my parents used to listen to. He would sometimes stop ironing and take us girls by the hand and dance with us. We had fun. On the weekends when my Mom and Dad listened to their Mexican music, Uncle Jessie would teach us how to dance to the rancheras and corridos. We used to stand on his feet and hang onto his arms. It was fun but sometimes we fell off of his feet.
One day, when it was almost Christmas, my Mom made a cake. She told us that it was Uncle Jessie's birthday and we were going to have a party for him. That night we all sang Happy Birthday to Uncle Jessie. When we got to the part about "how old are you...?" Uncle Jessie lit a cigar and cleared his throat before answering, "21". He didn't even smoke the cigar, but the cake tasted really good.
One day Uncle Jessie got his suitcases and we took him to the bus station. He said he would be back. My Mom cried. We were all sad when he left. Texas was real far away. It would take him three days to get there on the bus. I wondered how he was going to sleep -- he'd be real tired when he got home, I was sure of that!
After a long time, Uncle Jessie came back but he wasn't alone. He had a lady with him. Her name was Cynthia. Uncle Jessie said she was his wife. She looked nice. She was real pretty and had short black hair. They moved into the cuartito where Uncle Jessie had lived before.
It was nice to have Uncle Jessie back but it was different. He didn't come over unless Cynthia came with him. She didn't even want us to call her Aunt Cynthia because she said it made her feel old. She told us to call her Cynthia...only Cynthia...not Aunt Cynthia or even tú} Cynthia...just Cynthia.
Uncle Jessie wasn't fun any more. He and Cynthia came over only when it was time to eat or at night when we were in bed and only my parents were up. I remember lying in bed hearing them laugh. Sometimes they would play cards in the kitchen and I would cry because Uncle Jessie didn't belong to us kids any more. Most of the time they didn't even come over. They just stayed in their room and laughed and rested. They rested a lot. They were always telling us to go away because they were going to rest.
Sometimes Uncle Jessie and Cynthia would fight. Uncle Jessie would get mad and yell at her and she would throw things at him. He would slam the door and come visit us. We liked it when they fought but my Mom didn't. She used to cry when Uncle Jessie and Cynthia would fight.
One day Cynthia left with her suitcases. Uncle Jessie borrowed my father's car to take her to the bus station. My Mom told us Cynthia wouldn't be coming back. She was going back to Texas. Uncle Jessie and Cynthia were getting a divorce.
We never saw Cynthia after that but it was okay because after awhile, Uncle Jessie wasn't so sad any more and it was fun to have him coming over all the time, just like before. He started laughing and singing and dancing with us again.
One time a lady moved in by herself. Her name was Elva. We liked her because she was so pretty but she was very fat. Elva was always sad. Her husband was never home. Sometimes he would come to see her because she was going to have a baby.
One day, when he came to visit, we heard them fighting. Elva told him to go away and not to come back because she didn't want any borrachos around her baby. We heard him hit her and she started to cry. He kept on hitting her more and more. It made us sad because we thought of the times our father would hit our mother and make her cry.
Elva's husband beat her up real bad. My mother called the police. My father told her not to but my mother said she had to because of the little baby. The firemen came first and then the ambulance. By the time the police got there, no one knew where her husband had gone.
There were a lot of people in our front yard watching. They were all whispering and one lady kept calling my father names and yelling at him because she thought my mother was the one in the ambulance.
After a few days, Elva came back to the apartment to get her things. She was skinny again and we were excited because we wanted to see her baby. Her mother came to help her move out. She told my mother she was taking Elva home with her so that "mendigo animal" would never touch her again. When she was ready to leave, Elva hugged my mother. I asked her if she would bring her baby to visit us some time soon. She smiled but there were tears in her eyes as she touched my cheek and then she went away.
My mother told us that Elva didn't have a baby.
The grocery store Ethe big Safeway Ewas on Sixth Street, almost right behind our house. To get there, we only had to walk around the corner, and walk to the end of the short block. With the help of the firemen who were always sitting in front the of the fire station on the corner, we could cross the street and walk across the parking lot to the front door of the store. We liked to go there because it was so big and clean and exciting. We didn't get to go too often, but my Mom would let us go once in a while if there were two of us so that we could get that one thing she needed to finish cooking dinner for our father, or sometimes she'd send us to get back the deposit for all the soda bottles we had, because she said we needed money real bad Eeven the two or three dollars that we'd get for taking our bottles back to the store.
We went all over the store looking for what we needed. If we couldn't find what our mother had sent us for we would go to one of the people who worked there and show them the note my mother always sent listing exactly what she wanted us to get, item, brand name, size, flavor, even the price she was willing to pay for it. I liked going to el Safeway. There were always lots of people there. The workers knew us and looked out for us. Once in a while, my mother would say that we had enough money to get a nickel candy for ourselves. That was an extra special treat.
One time when we went to Safeway, I noticed a little girl playing in the driveway of the house next to the fire station. She smiled at me as she jumped rope. I went on to the grocery store to get what I was sent for. When I left the store, I noticed that the little girl was still outside. She was playing. She looked at me and waved.
As I walked across the street, I waved back and she walked to the edge of the driveway and stood on the lawn of the fire station. She said, "Whuch yur name?"
I didn't know whether I should say anything because my mother told me not to talk to people I didn't know. The fireman that was watching out for me said, "Go ahead, sweetheart, tell her your name, it's okay." With his permission, I smiled at the little girl and told her my name was Sara. The little girl said, "My name's Melodie."
"I have to hurry home, my mother needs this rice for my father's dinner," and I hurried home.
When I got home, I told my mother about Melodie. While she browned the rice, she listened and asked if Melodie's mother or father had been with her. How old was Melodie? Was she nice? What did she look like? What did I mean she was darker than my brother? How dark could she be?
When I told her she was a negrita, she seemed surprised. There weren't many in our neighborhood. We didn't know any except Aaron, my brother's friend and he didn't live in our neighborhood. I asked my mother if I could play with Melodie sometime. She said maybe.
The next day, I asked my mother if she needed anything from Safeway, but she didn't. Each day I asked and each day she said she didn't need anything from the big store.
Finally, a week later, my mother said she needed a can of tomato sauce for the Spanish rice she was making for dinner. I was happy to go for her. When I got to the corner, I looked toward Melodie's house. She wasn't there. I waited for a minute to see if she'd come out. One of the firemen saw me and walked over to help me cross. "Okay, honey, it's okay to cross now." So I crossed the street.
When I walked out of the store with the can of tomato sauce, I looked across the street but Melodie wasn't there. I walked across the parking lot and I kept looking for her. She wasn't there. I got to the corner and walked across the street. I waited to see if she'd come out. As I started to walk toward the corner where I lived, I heard a little voice say, "Sara! Where've you been? I thought you wasn't gonna come out here anymore."
Happy to finally see her, I smiled at her. "l just haven't come out here because I only get to come when my mother needs something from the store. She hasn't needed anything."
"Do you wanna come over to play with me?" asked Melodie.
"l don't know if my mother will let me. I never get to play anywhere, only in my yard. Maybe you can come to my house and play with me." I hoped she would say yes.
"l have to ask my mother. Wait for me." She ran to the back of the driveway. In a minute she came out with her mother. Her mother said she'd walk with us to see where I lived. On the short walk, Melodie's mother asked me how old I was and if I had brothers and sisters and where did my father work.
Finally we were at my house. "This is where I live" I said.
"Do you live in the back?" asked her mother.
"No, I live right here."
"Does any one else live with your family?" asked her mother, adding, "the house is so big."
"No, just my family."
"Melodie, you can play for just a little bit. Supper is almost ready. I'll come get you in a little while." She turned around and walked back toward the corner.
I took the tomato sauce to my mother and brought Melodie with me. She said hi to my mother. My mother said I could play outside with Melodie. In the front yard, Melodie and I played tag and then I showed her the back yard. Soon, Melodie's mother appeared at the end of the driveway and said it was time for her to go.
The next day, I was in the back yard playing and I heard Melodie calling me over the back fence. She asked if I could come to her house to play. I ran inside to ask my mother. She said okay but don't go inside of her house because she didn't know Melodie's mother and don't jump the fence because it wasn't nice. My brother would call me when it was time to come home. I ran around the corner to Melodie's house. We played on the swings and played ball. My brother, Carlos came to the back fence and said it was time to go home. Melodie and I said goodbye and I walked around the corner to meet my brother and go home.
We played at each other's house several times. Soon, my mother said I could go inside Melodie's house. She liked Melodie because she was nice and polite. Melodie smiled a lot.
One day, when I was over at Melodie's watching TV, we started to play. We laughed so much. Melodie said that when she laughed like that her mother said she might roll over laughing. Did I want to see her try to really roll over laughing? I said okay. I thought it would be funny.
Melodie sat on the floor and started laughing. Then she threw her arms way up high in the air and her whole body went up and over backwards! I started laughing. Then as I watched, I noticed that her dress went up over her head. I could see her legs and then her white underwear. Then, I saw her stomach and part of her chest. I stopped laughing. Melodie kept laughing and rolling over again and again but I wasn't laughing anymore.
My stomach hurt. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. I wished I hadn't seen Melodie do that. I felt terrible. I wanted to cry for Melodie. I told her I had to go home because I didn't feel well. Her mother said she would walk me home but I said no. I could get home by myself. I ran all the way home. I came in the front door crying. My mother asked what was wrong. I told her I had a stomach ache.
I went to my room and laid down on the bed. I cried. I wondered if my mother knew that Melodie's skin was black all over - not just on her face and her arms and legs - but all over! Her stomach was black and her chest was black. I felt sorry for her. She was black all over. She couldn't take the black off when she took off her clothes.
I cried for a long time.
I never played with Melodie again.