The first thing I remember about
my mother is of her giving me a bath in an old gray double sink. The sink
was behind a house near my father's parents place, the Pablo Diaz home.
You could see a dirt drive going down the left side of the house. In the
back yard toward the rear, you could see a very large old oak tree in front
of two more apartment houses. Around the base of the oak, there was
a wooden bench, a place to talk and enjoy with a friend. A child could
play in the light gray dust there. I had the feeling that I was staying
in one of those apartment houses. Behind the main house, I have a
picture in my mind of my mother giving me a bath, washing my hair, with
soap everywhere in this old, double square wash basin. Rosy cheeks and
suds on my body and hair. These are the first images I have of my mother.
I had recently called my aunt Jenny Diaz who lives in California and asked about where I had lived in my childhood. She told me of several places around San Gabriel, California. I recounted the story of the double sinks to her and said that this was the first memory of my mother that I could recall. She replied that it was not my mother who gave me a bath in the double sinks, but rather it was her, my aunt Jenny.
I remember going to the store
for my grandfather, a steel wire of a man, the size of a
matador. He said to me, "Dennis, will you go to the store and get some milk? It's for you." He handed me a dollar bill and away I went. I ran along the side of the house, across the vacant lot to the tracks, and followed the tracks for two blocks South toward South Pasadena and a half block to the Fair Oaks Boulevard. Across the boulevard was the store. The streets were hot on my bare feet, my usual summer wear. Into the store I went and grabbed a quart of milk from the glass case. I went over to the counter and looked at the cookies and the Mexican bread, those round rolls with that looked like turtle shells with sugar or icing on them. But, my grandfather said milk, to buy milk. I paid for it and walked out the door. The concrete was warm, but the roadway was hot. After crossing the boulevard, I opened the waxed carton of milk and drank about half of it, something a thirsty child would do. I headed back toward the tracks drinking milk as I went. When I finally got home, I tossed the empty carton into our burn barrel in the yard and found something else to occupy my mind. About a half hour later, my grandfather came around the house and asked where the milk was as he didn't see it in the icebox. I said I drank it on my way home. He smiled, gave me another dollar bill, and then sent me back to the store. "Bring it home," he said.
The girls (my aunts) living in the house were always playful and full of joy, and they stuck together. I remember one Halloween when I was about five they dressed me up in a Little Bo-Peep dress and patent leather shoes that belonged to my cousin. My hair was long then in a Buster Brown style. They put a little rouge on my cheeks and away we went trick or treating. They told everyone that I was too shy to get dressed up for Halloween. Those women loved that type of humor and it was a great big Halloween joke that we played on a lot of people and no one caught on. It was great fun and I have fond memories of that Halloween.
Our Christmas celebrations on Bellefontaine Street were always very big affairs. They usually began a week before Christmas and ended on January 2 after our all night stay at the Rose Parade. I remember my grandmother and her sister Mena cooking those two weeks everyday. A big wash tub steaming on the floor filled with sweet and regular hot Tomales. A garage downstairs and to the left filled with beer in an old beer replenishing refrigerator. All my cousins would sleep over during those days, pillow fights and dreaming of sleighs almost every night. Our Christmas trees were huge (it seemed to me at the time) and beautiful. You can imagine how big an event Christmas Day was. One Christmas Day, I made a complete ass of myself because I was a spoiled child. I had asked my grandmother for a black puppy. On Christmas morning, all of Santa's presents were passed out. A large box, which was wrapped with ribbon and a big bow, was brought downstairs. The present was given to me by my aunts, who were all smiling and beaming their happiness. They said, "Merry Christmas, Dennis." When I opened the box, I found a beautiful, brown puppy. But, being the spoiled brat that I was, I promptly told them that I had wanted a black puppy! I now remember my aunts' faces that day, but at the time, I didn't care. All I wanted was a black puppy, not a plain, brown one. I am truly sorry that I was such a wretch of a child.
My uncles Sam and Rudy would hang out at local bars after work. At night they would come home happy or sad depending on the weather. At times I would end up on some drunks lap, this is not much fun to talk about, it wasn't fun. I do not like drink or drunks they give me a headache. These were hard working men and most of the time were very good to me but on those few moments in time when they were drunk left a life long impression on me.
I had three major accidents while I was living in Pasadena. One accident involved a ride I had caught on an Ice truck on that dead end street behind my grandfathers home. I meant to quickly jump off, but the driver picked up too much speed and I jumped forward toward the road. I rolled like a car tire, smashing my mouth on the asphalt as I rolled down the road. I chipped my new tooth and skinned my knee. The tooth was later capped with silver. The horrible nickname "Snaggletooth" was attached to me for years. It was hard enough being Mexican, but I was a rare, wild Snaggletoothed Mexican who was only seen on a few special occasions.
The second time I was hurt was when I was hit by a car. I was crossing the street while I was going to the store on Fair Oaks I have already told you about. I do not remember what happened. One minute I was on the curb accross from the store and I stepped into the street and the next minute I was in the hospital. How long was I in the hospital I do not know. A day? A week? I have no clue and no one seems very worried.
The third accident happened when I was taking my shortcut through the Huntington Memorial Hospital on my way home from school. I was on my small bicycle going at a high rate of speed, with my hair flying and pumping my pedels like crazy. Coming out the back downhill driveway of the hospital at full speed, I swept out into the street into the back bumper of a passing car. My front tire hooked onto the car's back bumper. The driver drove down the street for some time before she realized that she had company. I was lucky. I was just skinned up on that trip.
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