In this tribute to her mother, Yolanda Reyna recalls the modest circumstances of her childhood and her mother’s talent for meeting for meeting the needs of a large family. 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 Reyna
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 properly dressed. She’d fix her hair so pretty, find the right outfit to wear, 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 he got dressed, he’d put on a plaid shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and work boots. He also made sure that he was properly 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 in the back of the truck. Sometimes I got to sit in front between my parents. It was so much fun! I’d stretch my neck out just to look out the window as my father drove down the streets. I still recall the sounds of the gears shifting.
There was a check-cashing place where my father drove my mother to. I remember the lines being so long! We had to wait for hours for our mother. While my father sat in his truck and waited, he would listen to the radio, while the children waited patiently in the back.
When my mother was done cashing her check, my father drove us to “Phil’s Market.” That was the grocery store where my mother shopped. I remember that market being on Rosecrans Blvd. in Compton. My mother would buy the children new toys on that day. The girls got miniature dolls and the boys got miniature toy army men!
When the grocery shopping was done my father drove us back home. We were so excited to get new toys on that day. We couldn't wait to play with them. While my sisters and I played in our room, my brothers played outside.
My mother really made the best of things when she was in the kitchen. While she cooked dinner, my father sat in the garage drinking his beer and listened 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. I don't even recall us having salt and pepper shakers! She’d pour the salt in one hand and with the other hand, she would use her fingers to toss the salt in the pan, and all she needed was salt and pepper to season her meals.We never owned a whole set of dishes. We had plastic dishes and most of them had a burnt spot somewhere, or part of the edge was melted because she used them as lids for the pots as she cooked.
My mother never owned any Tupperware. She would use a cup or a bowl for anything that was leftover. The cup was mainly used for leftover tomato sauce. A meal that was often made was macaroni and tomato sauce.
She also made cut-up hot dogs and tomato sauce, or as she would all it “chopped up weenies and tomato sauce!”
We also had hamburger meat with potatoes and tomato sauce. That was a specialty in our family, often handed down from generation to generation. That meal would later be called “The Poor Man Meal.”
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 bag. I can’t even begin to explain how she mastered her work, but believe me, it did curl our hair!
One more thing my mother made the best of, was her old fashioned remedy, Vicks! When one of the children got sick with a cold or cough or if one of us got a leg ache, which was often because we loved playing and running outdoors, she’d rub Vicks all over our chests or our legs!
My mother, the shopper, the cook, the hairdresser, the healer! Her legacy!