Yolanda Gonzales’s story of her mother’s cooking reminds us that our parents don’t need to be wealthy to leave us with rich memories. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Yolanda Gonzales
When I was a young girl growing up, my family didn’t have much. We were raised on welfare, but I do remember my mother making the best of everything!
Just going to cash her welfare check, she made sure she was well dressed. She’d fix her hair so pretty, find the right outfit to wear, stand in front of the mirror and put her lipstick on so perfectly.
My father also made the best of everything. I don’t recall my father ever owning a suit, but when it was time for him to get dressed, he’d put on a plaid shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and work boots. He also made sure that he was well dressed, so he could drive my mother to cash her check and take her grocery shopping.
Back then my father owned a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck and most times the children rode along with them. Sometimes I got to sit in front between my parents. It was so much fun! I’d stretch my neck out just to look as my father drove. I remember those gears shifting as he drove down the street.
There was a check cashing place where my father drive my mother to. I remember the lines were so long! We had to wait for hours for our mother. But while my father sat in his truck and waited, he would listen to the radio.
When my mother was done cashing her check, my father would drive her to “Phil’s Market.” That was the grocery store where she shopped. I remember that market on Rosecrans Blvd. in Compton. My mother would buy us new toys on that day! She’d buy the girls new Barbie dolls and toy army men for the boys.
When the grocery shopping was done my father drove us back home. We were so excited to get new toys on that day. I remember that it was always a Saturday when my mother cashed her check.
My mother really made the best of things when she was in the kitchen. While she cooked dinner, my father would sit in the garage, drink his beer, and listen to his music.
My mother did her best with what she had in the kitchen. When she cooked, she never measured anything. We didn’t have measuring cups. All she used was salt and pepper to season the food.
We never had a whole set of dishes. We had plastic dishes with flowers on them, so light in weight. Most of the dishes had a burnt spot somewhere, or part of the edge was melted because she used them to cover the pots as she cooked.
My mother never owned any Tupperware. She would use a cup or a bowl for anything that was left over. The cup was mainly used for leftover tomato sauce. We had macaroni and tomato sauce.
She also chopped up hot dogs, or as she called it, “chopped up wiennies and tomato sauce.”
We also had hamburger meat with potatoes and tomato sauce. That meal would later be called “The Poor Man Meal.” That was a specialty in our family, often handed down from generation to generation.
When the holidays came around or it was our first day of school, my mother would use home-made hair curlers on our hair. All she needed was an old T-shirt, a brown paper bag, and a pair of scissors.
She’d cut out strips of both the T-shirt and brown paper bag. I can’t even begin to explain how she mastered her work, but believe me, it did curl our hair!