THE HISPANIC EXPERIENCE
The Rio Grande Valley
Houston Institute for Culture
A Short Story by Loida Casares Ruiz
My daughter Lucinda, or Lucy as she likes to be called, knows nothing about me. She knows even less about my mother Margarita. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I never told her enough about my life growing up away from my father or the fact that my mother was miserable with him, almost from the beginning, once the romance had worn off. I think that if I had, she would know that I really don't care if she never marries and is happy being single for the rest of her life.
As my grandmother Raquel would have said, "Mejor fregada sola, que fregada y mal acompañada." Better off alone than in bad company.
I had the greatest respect for my grandmother since I was a little girl because she was straight forward and she didn't take anything from anyone, including her own husband and children.
I also respected my mother for the strength that it took to leave my father in 1952, when it was unheard of for a woman to leave her husband and especially in a small town in Mexico.
Before she married my father my mother Margarita was a quiet virginal young woman who was considered "too old" by Mexican standards to marry.
"Ya se le habia pasado el tren," people would whisper behind her back in church or in the market.
In other words, "She missed the train."
If it bothered her to still be single at twenty-four she didn't show it. She was busy with her embroidery, her part-time job and going into town to the movies.
She was living with her parents, my grandparents, in the small industrial town of Baytown, outside of Houston. She worked for an older White couple doing their ironing, "to keep her busy," her mother Raquel said.
Mamá Raquel, as I called her, was a true believer in the saying that idle hands were the work of the devil. She felt that by keeping my mother busy and working she wouldn't get mixed up with any of the young liberal Americanized women who liked to frequent the big city going to dances at the Rice Hotel.
Raquel was a strong woman, unlike my mother. Margarita was more docile like her father Marcello. That's why she was such an easy target for my father Esteban when he met her in 1936. Raquel had warned her even then, but Margarita had her heart set on the man with the mean eyes.
Mamá wasn't attractive, but she wasn't what was considered unattractive either. She was a big boned girl and only five feet three inches tall. She had large breasts and wide hips and her hair was thin and curly but it framed her olive face becomingly in a halo of brown curls. She had large dark brown eyes and nice full lips that broke into a beautiful smile.
Esteban worked for the Humble Oil refinery, like her father and brothers, and they soon befriended him. He was handsome and bold and my mother said she was drawn to his piercing hazel eyes. He wasn't tall like her father and brothers but his personality made him appear taller.
Papá Marcello invited him over for dinner one night because he felt sorry for a young man without a family or a wife to cook him a good meal.
Margarita was helping Raquel serve dinner the first time Esteban saw her. His eyes wouldn't leave her and Mamá Raquel's eyes didn't leave him.
She saw how this young man watched her daughter move. She was watching him out of the corner of her eye because she knew her husband was oblivious to what was happening under his very nose. Margarita pretended not to notice because she knew her mother all too well and she wouldn't dare look in his direction.
Somehow Margarita made it through dinner feeling flustered and trying to appear normal and as Esteban said goodbye to her father she busied herself cleaning up as close as possible to the door to hear what Esteban was saying, but her mother's stern voice called her back to the kitchen to help with the dishes.
Raquel didn't waste any time bringing up Esteban's visit or attention.
"You saw him looking at you didn't you?" she asked, with her hand on her hip looking at Margarita, expecting an answer.
"No, I really didn't notice," Margarita answered trying to look busy and uninterested as she cleared the table.
"Por favor! I wasn't born yesterday. I saw how he was looking at you. Your father says he comes from a good family and that all of them own their own businesses but you know what I want to know?"
Raquel didn't wait for Margarita to ask what.
"I want to know if his family is doing so well, why is he over here so far away from his family? I'm sure there's much more to that story."
"Ay Mamá, what does it really matter? All he did was have dinner with us. That doesn't mean anything."
But Margarita knew it did mean something. It wasn't long before Esteban came back and this time he was there with a purpose. He asked Marcello's permission to visit her and she waited anxiously by the door listening for her father's response.
Marcello said he didn't see a problem with him courting his daughter. He thought Esteban looked like a serious responsible man and besides, my mother told me she was sure he was thinking, his daughter wasn't getting any younger.
When Raquel came home from the market and heard what her husband had done she was furious.
"We don't know a thing about this man! I don't care what he appears to be. The point is we know nothing about him or his family or why he lives here instead of with them."
"Enough mujer! I gave him my word and that's that," Marcello said sternly. And since he never spoke to her this way Raquel looked at him in surprise and decided not to say anything else about the matter, but she had a bad feeling about where this would lead.
So the visits began. The first day Esteban came to visit, Margarita didn't know what to say so he did all the talking.
"What do you like to do?" he asked her, trying to get her to say something.
"I like the movies... I like to go walking around town window shopping," she answered quietly, looking down at her hands in her lap.
They were sitting outside on her small porch on a loveseat. Margarita had dressed carefully for his visit, making sure her short curly hair was in place. She was wearing a solid mauve colored dress, below the knee and with a ruffle at the bottom. She and her mother sewed their own clothes and she always made sure to keep current with the fashion of that time. They received the Sears & Roebuck catalog and they copied the styles when they made their own dresses.
"Maybe I can take you to see a movie next time," he suggested, "We could invite one of your brothers. Maybe Marcos can come with us." He was referring to her younger brother, who was fifteen.
"Maybe... if Mamá and Papá say I can," she answered, still looking down.
"Look at me," he said and boldly touched her on the chin to turn her face up to him.
She gasped and he jumped, then they both laughed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," he said touching her softly on the hand.
She looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was looking.
"Don't be so nervous Margarita. Relax," he said softly, "Your father already said that we can see each other."
"I know," she answered and this time she forced herself to look him in the eyes. When she did she felt like she was going to melt. His eyes looked deep into hers and she felt her stomach flutter and a lump rise in her throat.
"Margarita, I like you. I like you a lot. I could tell from the first day I came here to dinner that you are a sweet caring young woman."
Esteban took her hand in his and brought it to his lips and kissed it. That was as far as he would go this time.
It wasn't long before Esteban held Margarita's hand longer and soon he also held her heart as well. She would wait for his visits every day in anticipation and longed for her mother to accept him.
When Esteban came to visit Raquel would lock herself in her bedroom and wouldn't come out until he was gone, even if it was dinner time.
Soon Margarita was letting him hold her hand longer and after that her father said she could walk down to the corner and back. During one of those stolen moments he pulled her behind a tree and kissed her.
She told me she thought her heart would burst; it was beating so wildly, as they walked back to the house together. She felt like her cheeks were hot and flushed. She knew her mother would guess what she had been doing as soon as she saw her, but even if her mother guessed, she said nothing.
Two months went by of hand holding and stolen kisses and soon Esteban proposed to my mother, after speaking to her father of course. Raquel wouldn't speak to him.
When Esteban asked her in front of her father in the family living room to marry him Margarita looked at her father in shock, not knowing what to say.
Somehow this hadn't happened the way she'd played it over in her mind when she fantasized about this moment in her life. For one, she'd always pictured her mother there and of course her mother was in her bedroom, as usual.
"Answer him mijita, he can't wait all day," her father said.
"Yes... of course I want to marry you Esteban!" Margarita said smiling and blushing with happiness.
There was nothing Raquel could do at this point and she knew, like she had at the beginning, that this was inevitable. She had once been a young girl in love and nothing anyone could have said to her would have changed the way she felt about Marcello. She was forced to accept the marriage and she started the wedding arrangements for her only daughter.
They planned a wedding in a small Catholic church in Houston, Our Lady of Guadalupe. It would be a small wedding because most of their family was in Mexico or in McAllen.
Esteban made excuses as to why his family was not attending. They lived in Reynosa and owned businesses he tried to explain. They couldn't all be gone at the same time and his parents were sick. He gave a number of excuses. Raquel looked at her daughter with a knowing look on her face. Margarita tried to ignore the look but she knew her mother wouldn't let this opportunity to say something pass her by.
"So these are your future in-laws," she said later when they were alone.
"Mami, they have their reasons," Margarita tried to explain.
"Yes, I'm sure they do."
"Mira Margarita. All I want is for you to be happy. If you're not sure about this, if you have any doubt at all, please don't do it."
"Mami, I love him. I really do! And he loves me. We're going to be so happy together, just you see!"
They were standing in Margarita's bedroom in front of her dresser and Raquel was facing the mirror. Margarita stood up behind her, threw her arms around her neck, and hugged her.
She looked at Raquel in the mirror and her mother looked at her, careful not to show any of the emotions she was feeling.
Raquel put her hands on her daughter's hands and patted them.
"I hope so, mijita, I hope so..."
Copyright © by Loida Casares Ruiz.
| HOUSTON INSTITUTE FOR CULTURE THE HISPANIC EXPERIENCE SEARCH email@example.com