Eulogy for Mother
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Daughter of Teresa, granddaughter of Josefa, my mother, Natividad was born in El Paso, Texas on December 24th, 1921. She always told us that she was responsible for the rest of her sisters being born in this country. The family was on its way back to México because PD had closed the mine and was sending workers back to México. The family never got there because of my mother’s birth. She was the only one in her family who was not born in Morenci and although she made sure people knew she was born in Texas, she was very proud to be a “Morenci girl.”
When I asked family members to describe my mother, they used many of the same terms: a private person, very shy, meek, humble, a caregiver, religious, loving, simple tastes, stubborn, intelligent, unassuming, frugal, timid, serious, modest, always put others ahead of herself, and most of all, she did not like being in the limelight.
For their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Mama didn’t want us to make a big fiesta. We finally got her to agree to a simple renewal of their vows with only the immediate family present. For her eightieth birthday, we planned a big party with all the extended family invited. Again, she nixed the idea and we finally got her to agree to a small celebration with only her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The party was planned for last Saturday when everyone could come from California, Nevada, and Texas. When I talked to her on her birthday, she told me, “Can we cancel the party? I feel too weak.” I told her I would not cancel it but postpone it until she felt better. Today we are all here to celebrate my mother’s 80 years of life. It’s not the party we had planned for, and there are many more people than my mother would have been comfortable with, but we’re all here to honor her memory. I know, Mama that you didn’t like to be in the limelight but today, like it or not, the spotlight is on you.
My mother was the fifth child of Teresa and Wenseslado. That put her in the middle of a family of ten children, nine of which survived to adulthood. Maybe being in the middle of such a large family accounted for her demeanor but I think it was also part of her nature.
When I asked my mother if I could interview her for an oral history project I was working on through the Arizona Humanities Council, I was astounded when she agreed. I explained that the interview and photos would be on the Internet and people all over the world would be able to read her life story. She still agreed to do it. This shy, unassuming woman, gave us a gift the rest of her family and I will treasure always. She shared her life with us, not because it would place her in the spotlight, but because she wanted us to know who she was. We spent an enjoyable afternoon together to do the interview. At first she was timid only answering the questions sparingly but as she became more comfortable, she forgot the tape recorder and told me the story of her life, a life that was intertwined with the town of Morenci. Knowing her story brought us closer together as mother and daughter and allowed me to better understand my mother.
Mama went to school in Morenci from kindergarten to 12th grade. She still remembered the names of all of her teachers and she listed all of the students in her graduating class, alphabetically. She stated in her interview: “I was smart that’s why I was changed from first low to first high.” This meant she had skipped a grade and was in classes later with students two or three years older than she. Her sisters, Josie and Licha remember that Nati was the one who handled the family business, kept track of their finances, translated for them, and went with them to get dresses and shoes during the Depression. One of them told me she had “a sharp brain,” the other said she was “very intelligent.” Both expressed the utmost admiration for their older sister. Mama was proud of the fact that she graduated from high school. For the past six months she had been searching for her diploma. Every time we spoke on the phone she would ask, “Are you sure I didn’t give you my diploma when I gave you yours?” I finally asked her, “Why do you need it? We know you graduated from high school.” She answered, “Yes, but my grandchildren and great-grandchildren don’t know that. I don’t want them to think their grandma was a dummy.” She was overjoyed when she found the diploma last month.
Because of her interview, I learned that my mother had a lot of fun as a child and as a teenager. All my life I’ve thought of her as a serious and cautious person so this side of her was a new revelation. When they were kids, her sister Josie would think of something crazy to do and my mother would caution her about the dangers but then she would go ahead and do it along with Josie, and their cousins, Lina and Pepita. My mother was the one that always wound up getting hurt. Maybe that is why when she was raising me, she kept me on a tight rein. She remembered that one time they all crawled through a pipe to spy on a meeting in the church basement. She cut her shin so badly she got an infection that kept her out of school for a month.
She never worked outside her home after she married. In her interview, Mama said to me, “I prefer being a housewife, to have somebody take care of me. I could have worked if I had wanted to because I think I was smarter than some of the girls that went to work at the store. I don’t regret not having worked.” She may not have worked outside her home, but in her roles as wife, mother, and housekeeper, Mama excelled. Mama and Daddy balanced each other perfectly. He is talkative, outgoing, and very social. She was shy, unassuming, and private. He earned the money; she managed it. She wrote out the checks to pay the bills, figured out the income tax each year, and saved money.
Mama was a caring person. If someone moved to our neighborhood on AC Hill and didn’t have a job yet, she’d get Daddy to help the man find one at PD. She’d collect clothes from our family and her sisters and take them to the destitute family along with food. Part of that had to do with her being religious but it was also her nature to be a caring and giving person. When my husband, our children, grandchildren, friends, or even my friends’ family members were sick, I would call my mother and ask her to pray for them and put their name on the church’s prayer list so others could also pray for them. She believed strongly in the power of prayer and I saw the effects of it so many times that I became a believer also.
Mama was a loving and caring mother. Besides seeing to our every day needs — good food, clean clothes, a clean house, and taking care of us when we were sick,; she also encouraged us to do well in school and think about getting a higher education. She worried about us even after we were grown and had our own children and grandchildren. I still remember an incident that occurred when I was a little girl about eight or nine years old. I met my Aunt Annie on the way home from school and she invited me to go with her to the PD Store to buy a pair of shoes. I was so thrilled that my teenaged aunt wanted me along, I forgot I was supposed to go directly home after school. I went with my aunt and it must have taken longer than we thought it would take. On our way home, we met my mother. She was angry and wouldn’t even listen to Aunt Annie’s apology. She yelled at me the rest of the way home about how irresponsible I had been. At the time, I felt resentment because I thought I was being punished unjustly for something so trivial, especially since it was the first time I had ever done it. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I realized how frantic she must have been when I didn’t get home on time. She had gone to her mother’s house, then to each of her sisters’ houses searching and not finding me, thinking the worst. When my son Erik was three years old, he got lost at an amusement park, and I went through the same stages of being worried, scared, and relieved when I finally found him. I knew then that my mother reacted as she did because she loved me so much
Mama was a worrier but she didn’t like for us to worry about her. When I told her we were moving to Tucson and would be closer to her and Daddy, she said, “Don’t do it for us. Your Daddy and I can take care of ourselves. Don’t worry about us.” In the past couple of years, it became a litany, “We’re fine, don’t worry about us.” Of course I did worry, hadn’t I been brought up by a master worrier? This past year, I especially worried when I noticed she was losing so much weight. Every time I brought up the subject, that something must be wrong and she should see the doctor, she stubbornly refused to do so and repeated, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
Like so many others of her generation, my mother was a frugal person. She was raised during the Depression so she knew what it was like to go without. During World War II, she took care of me and my brother Richard while Daddy was away at war. She learned to make do with what she had and to save when she had extra. Her tastes were simple. She preferred to wear one of the cotton blouses she sewed for herself than a fancy silk blouse. When we, her children got older and had our own money, we bought her expensive gifts, wanting the best for her. Mama thanked us, and oftentimes put them away. Maybe she was saving them for a special occasion or maybe she felt uncomfortable wearing them.
There were four hobbies that brought joy to my mother. She collected dolls and salt and pepper shakers, and she crocheted and sewed. When I first noticed the dolls in her house, I asked her where she got them. “From the dump,” she said. She revealed that since she had never had a doll as a child, she always craved one. Whenever she saw one at the dump, she rescued it, cleaned it up and sewed new clothes for it. Once we saw what her doll collection meant to her, we, her children, started giving her dolls for her birthday, beautiful porcelain dolls. Her collection grew, but I don’t think the newer dolls were ever as precious as her “dump dolls.” I never asked what her attraction was to salt and pepper shakers but as I went on my travels or in to antique stores, I bought them and so did my brothers and sister-in-law. Her hobbies of crocheting and sewing brought her two-fold enjoyment. She liked keeping her hands busy and creating something lovely, but I think she got even more pleasure from giving it to someone she cared for.
There are so many things I wanted to say to you, Mama, but regret I never found the right time. I’m glad that I did say, “I love you” every time we said good-by on the phone or when we parted. But I never told you how proud I was to be your daughter, how much you influenced who I am, how beautiful you were in your own quiet way, how much I admired and respected you, how much I wish I had inherited your beautiful eyes and long eyelashes, how long it took me to be proud of my Indian nose which I did inherit from you, and you from Mama Teresita, and she from Grandma Pepa and which now my Granddaughter Mandy has gotten from me, and most important of all, how you rooted me in “la familia.”
So I am telling you all of this right now. I know you’re listening to this eulogy up there in heaven and by now you’ve probably already said “calláte” several times. But today is your day and you’ll be hearing your name all day long as we, tu familia y tus amigos, share our memories of you with each other. Rest in peace, Mama and don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine!