the boyz n the hood

28 08 2008

You could only be in the club if you knew the secret password:

 “Father Michael, Roman, Lucy, Tino, Cheto, Juanita, Mary, Maria, Michael, Anthony, DeDe, Louie, Tommy, Eddie and Isaac.” – said in one breath.

I was a guera – more WASP I could not be.  

I wanted ethnicity – they had what I wanted.  

Our next door neighbors on Porter Street were this wonderful Mexican family being raised by a widowed mother…a bunch of them.  I remember the buzz around the hood when we knew that Father Michael was coming around.  The older sisters in all their glory looked like they walked off the set of Mad Men, like a  60’s version of JLo.  They probably don’t remember me – I couldn’t tell you who is who to save my soul – but they pressed in on me.  

The ones closest in age – relatively speaking – started with Louie.  I just remember dark, Latin and good looking.  But he had the heart of Mary Jimenez who lived 3 doors down right next to the South Shore tracks.  Mary’s brother JJ was my age – JJ – Juan Jose, Jorge Juan – I don’t know.  It was just JJ to me.  We’d be playing at my house and if we heard the train coming (like it did about every few hours) headed to and from the Loop – we’d run down to stand in front of JJ’s house and wave.  Like our own version of trying to get a trucker to toot the air horn…waving at people staring into space.

Then there was Tommy, Eddie and Isaac – all closest in age to my brother who is four years older than I am.  What girl can’t have a crazy crush on three Latinos living next door that always hung out with her brother?  

Maybe my memory is all whack – but I remember Mrs. Ortiz opening her back door – calling for the boys and they’d line up for hand-outs.  I got into that line a time or two.  Fresh, hot, homemade flour tortillas, dripping with butter and salt.  To DIE FOR.  To this day – one of my favorite breakfasts, lunches, or dinners – but mine are I store bought imitations that I throw on the griddle till they start to puff up.  Carb heaven!

Mrs. Ortiz doesn’t know that I was so fascinated by Hispanics that I started taking Spanish in 5th grade when our elementary school started one of the first bi-lingual pilot  programs in the States.  So many had come from Mexico to work in the Steel Mills that they capitalized on that influx of kids to help us learn Spanish.  Just think of it – 40 years ago we were glad to welcome those workers to our industries and were even smart enough to learn a thing or two about a culture other than our own bland one.  Who’d a thunk it?

And Mrs. Ortiz doesn’t know that in high school and college I took as many Spanish classes as I could.  Nor does she know that then I moved to Spain to live for 12 years.  And she doesn’t know that for the last number of years I’ve been working as an interpreter in a rehabilitation hospital helping Hispanic families who’s kids have all kinds of challenges.

But I see Mrs. Ortiz whenever I’m at work – Latinas that know how to love and nurture their broods.  When the Hispanic families I know are admitted to the hospital – their rooms are full.  Family comes from Chicago, Iowa, Florida, Kentucky – wherever to sit beside the bed of their suffering loved one.  The “white” people’s rooms – especially the older ones – no one comes to visit those grammys and grandpys.  They might be “graced” with a visit when it is convenient on the weekend as long as it doesn’t go too long…

There are so many things I’d like to tell Mrs. Ortiz about.  How I wish I could speak to her in Spanish.  How I’d love to hear her story from her mouth.  But I can’t.  Two hours after my dad died on Monday morning – we got a call from Tommy saying that his 96 year old mom died in another area hospice center.  Two hours later!  Tomorrow I will take my mom to the viewing.  With 49 grandchildren,  74 great grandchildren and 5 great great grandchildren…they may not even notice us come in.  With the exception that we’re gueras.

Wonder if Mrs. Ortiz lives next door to my dad again?  That neighborhood would be heaven.