Mom would have been 92 years old in June 6; she left us on April 25th.
She was born Norberta Guerrero Villanueva in Laredo, Texas as her family like many others, would come north from Monterrey to work at the turn of last century, a pattern that was altered by the great depression of 1929.
During the following ten years, the US government saw Mexican labor as a burden on the economy and implemented a Repatriation program by which hundreds of thousands of families including their US born children ended up in Mexico. She grew up and got married in Mexico until she decided to return to Texas claiming her US citizenship where coincidentally met and married another repatriado from Guadalajara.
Death is actually rare in our family; it seems to visit every thirty years (knock on wood).
In my immediate family I have only lost three members in 60 years; my great-grand mother in 1957, my grandmother in 1985 and Mom this year. We owe this to a strong gene pool, a conscious healthy diet growing up and a good sense to maintain a safe, healthy lifestyle all engineered, guided and inspired by the three of them.
Mom like all matriarchs in our family came from a generation that had great work ethic and incredibly strong determination, something inherent in most working class people that learned to fend for themselves from an early age. As a single mother for many years she worked two jobs sometimes to support the family and never asked for help. Instead, she was always ready to help others. Her giving nature was in her DNA coming from generations of workers in the service industry. Because of that, I make it a point never to ask for room service when I stay in hotels and honor the work of cooks and support laborers in public functions.
In fact, she worked all her life until a month before her passing as a teacher aid in a Houston schools seniors’ program. It was a program where seniors tend to the children to lighten the teachers’ work load. But for mom it was a lot more than that. She would tell me about her days with the children, all the class activities, projects, exercises involving, drawing, spelling, writing their names and the little tokens she created to reward them when they finished.
She gave them attention and probably the care many of them didn’t get as much at home and, in return they called her grandma’ and gave her love, hugs and kisses. A relationship permeated by the magic of innocence and patience. I find this cosmic because as loving as Mom was, often times she wasn’t as patient with some of us, the same as my grandmother. I realized in time that this is common when a single parent plays both roles.
Just the same, I learned that mothers are well rounded people; I know Mom liked to listen to Dean Martin, the Beatles, the hustle, Jim Croce and Eric Clapton, as much as Tim-Tan, Maria Victoria and Maria Luisa Landin. I remember she told me she liked the movie The Apartment by Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine. This one afternoon, as we were buying groceries we read on the paper the Apartment was showing on television. We had just moved into a town west of Chicago and had not even a chair to sit on but Mom decided to buy a black and white television set in a Montgomery Ward store.
We rushed home, unloaded the groceries, set the TV on the kitchen counter and while Grandma was cooking dinner we sat on the floor and watched the movie.
People like Mom are great teachers from whom we learn by example. An everlasting lesson from her is the realization of how insignificant we are and yet how important we can be in other people’s lives. A couple of years ago she was told that her kidneys were in perfect condition after a medical check-up so she told me she was thinking about putting one up for donation.
There is so much to write about a person like Mamá whose life personified our peoples’ spirit of survival with courage, humility and dignity. I only hope I can honor her memory through my actions and am able to pass on her legacy to my daughters whom she adored.
I write these lines as a tribute to her and as a way to say goodbye.
Although I know she’s resting now and finally at peace, every other morning I forget and reach out for the phone to talk to her.
We miss you Mamá…