It was clear to me what I was going to post today until I came home. I wrote a brief intro and emailed it to my gmail account since I can’t call up either my blog site admin screen or my gmail at work. We were sent home an hour early and I was anxious to write. Supper was fast and simple, hamburgers, onions, buttered corn and I’m ready to hit the keyboard. After I checked the email it became obvious my posting plans were changed.
The weather is mild today, low 60’s, overnights are wonderfully chilly. We have vowed to keep the heat at 60 and supplement with firewood throughout the winter just to see how low we can keep the electric bill, so Honey borrowed the company truck and loaded it with free wood from a coworker’s unused wooded lot. The fire is happily roaring as we speak.
I checked my gmail, waded through the forwards and newsletters, and saw one from my sister’s kids in El Paso. They had purchased a headstone for a brother’s grave and gathered to place it properly, to photograph and remember.
The longer I live, the more I am made aware of my family’s abject poverty when I was growing up. We were po’, not being able to afford the o and r. Since Mom sewed, knitted, shopped the resale shop, and harvested an unreasonably large garden, we had clothes and food. Since Dad worked on the house after work until it was too dark to see, we had shelter. Since the three of us shared body heat under a mountain of whatever quilts and blankets could be piled on, we didn’t freeze. I don’t remember when we acquired a phone, but it wasn’t November of 1957.
Mary was the first child. “Oldest” is currently too sensitive, so I politely dub her the first of the five. She turned 18 two months after I arrived. My brother Ralph, also known as Buddy, joined the Air Force and went to Korea the following summer. Both of them married and had children by the time I was 3. Mary had a girl, then a boy, and Ralph & Betty had Dean. I remember feeling very generous toward little Dean and gave him my teddy bear. I immediately wanted it back. Too late. Gone. Dean’s bear. That was a long ride home.
Mary’s third was Tony, born November 30, 1955. He was amazingly pretty. They were amazingly poor, living in a section house, one of several in a row next to the Santa Fe railroad for which Isidro worked. I don’t know how she fed them, or kept them away from the rattlers. The short description is sand, some of which Tony ate, yucca plants, heat, loneliness, and two unpainted rooms. Showers were outside and so was the water pump. Does all that tell you the kids didn’t have a mound of toys, or a TV, or a phone?
Our town’s telephone system was from the wayback machine of the day, probably equipment from the 20’s or before. Blanche Utzinger had the switchboard in her home. It was the classic plug and play. Crank the phone, she answers, tell her who you want, she pulls up what had to look like a spark plug and she literally plugged your phone into someone else’s. Before we signed up, if someone needed to reach us, they would find the Cameron operator and lo, Mr. Utzinger or someone Blanche could contact, drove to our house and gave a ride to the switchboard to take the call.
Dad was still a hired hand when my anticipated arrival was announced. I think it was that news that spurred him to look for better work and he hired on with Butler Mfg as a welder. He was 6’2″, big shoulders and long arms, unusually large hands and size 12 work boots. When I was very little I was scared of him. One day in the kitchen when I ran from him and headed for Mom’s skirt, she told me I was hurting Daddy’s feelings. I ran to Daddy to say I was sorry and he was my new favorite from that day. When he wasn’t around, I was again an inconvenient attachment to Mom’s wardrobe. At one point in time, Dad worked second shift and I begged to stay up for him. There was no TV, only Mom’s constantly growing collection of books. She held me on her lap that one night I remember and we rocked until he drove up.
One night in November of ’57 someone hurriedly pulled into the driveway, spoke with urgency, and Mom ran. I don’t remember the time of day, I don’t remember if Dad was working evenings or was just late getting home from his day shift. I had been sleeping in the bedroom that adjoined the living room and woke to fragmented hysteria. I remember Mom crying, Margaret and Sharon were crying, I remember hearing the words “dead” and “railroad tracks” and “train killed him.” I put 2 and 2 together and came up with Daddy getting hit by a train on the way home. “DADDY!!?” Almost as soon as I cried out, I saw him run into the room and grab Mom. Now I was confused and really, really glad he was ok. It took a few minutes to learn that Tony, 3 weeks shy of 2, was gone.
Rose Marie was 4, Jaime, 3. The two rooms were small, Jaime had a habit of wandering off to visit the neighbors in the adjoining apartments, generally wandering around but sometimes playing on the tracks. Tony followed him everywhere. They were babies, both of them — innocent, just little kids playing. Mary lost sight of them, went looking and at the sound of the train whistle, snapped her head around to see two toddlers playing in middle of the tracks. She ran, shouting. She managed to pull the 3 year old off, but not the other.
The impact bounced him and he was thrown. There was no crushing, no tearing, and no movement —- no life. He looked peacefully asleep as if that could in any way comfort a mother who was seconds away from saving her baby.
Somehow she found a way to call the Cameron switchboard and a car was sent to fetch Mom. Somehow Mom found a way to get to the desert on a train. Somehow, she managed to comfort her broken daughter. The 3 year old did and didn’t know what was going on. How could he and at 3, why should he? Mama, where’s Tony? Tony, wake up.
Mom told us that the priest was unsympathetic and refused to preside over a funeral for a child that hadn’t been baptised. Mary told him off and took her baby. His grave remained unmarked until this summer when his siblings, all but two of whom never knew him, placed the stone, laid roses, and paid tribute.