What was childhood like for me?
This one is best responded to with a couple of poems:
Found in Island of Dreams
I remember opening
Brown bag after brown bag
Of Meals Ready to Eat hoping to find
We could savor while we sat
On our cold basement floor.
Avoiding the powdered and packaged
Fake food, we drenched our
Fingers in purple and orange sugar
Instead. Laughing about it later on,
We wondered why no one
Had tried to stop us.
Every once in a while
Saturday nights belonged to
The joy of bubble wrap.
We would jump on it.
Easily amusing ourselves,
Not needing candy or gifts
Or even attention.
The sound of simplicity
Popping underneath our toes
After each move I’d keep
As many cardboard boxes as possible
And I’d build a fortress
In my new bedroom.
In it I would keep all the pieces
Of broken knick knacks, shattered
Toys and ruined books that didn’t make it
From one state to the next.
It was my sanctuary of memories.
My only answer to the word home.
Sometimes, on the 4th
Of July, the planes would fly
High above our government provided
Housing and we would sit on the porch
And watch the fireworks rise above our heads.
Mostly though, the three of us
Just spent time with mom.
Wishing Papi could have been there too.
I remember shopping carts
Lots and lots of shopping carts
Filled to the brim with platanos
Arroz and Mazola corn oil
The wheels always squeaked or got stuck
Mami always complaining, smacking her teeth
And saying with a sigh: “Ay, why’d you pick that one?”
“Let ME push it!”My brother would shove me.
“No, I can do it.”
I'd dig my nails into his arm.
“Deja eso,”Mami would scold
I always won.
By the time we’d arrive at Isle 4B
I was tired of pushing
And Mami was stuck with the cargo
Fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and cheeses.
“Go get the cereal,” she’d tell my brother.
“Stay here with your sister and watch my purse,” she’d look at me
I would stand and stare at the chips, cookies, cake and kool-aide
Mami had already told me we couldn’t afford because:
“No hay dinero para eso,” which meant “eso” “that” whatever it was
Was not essential to our survival.
It was an errand that never ended
Week after week, gallon after gallon, roll after roll
It was grocery trip upon grocery trip that I remember
Learning life lessons one Isle at a time
Taste the grapes before you buy
Stick your nail in the mango to see if it’s ripe
Generic foods don’t taste the same
But a box of Magic Stars is better than sugarless corn flakes
Only buy strawberries in season
Clipping coupons isn’t a hobby
It’s a necessity
Keep your handbag closed and your money in your pocket
Always check the eggs
And never grab the first box or bag of
It’s been handled too many times
I remember standing in line and hating it
I remember never asking for anything more than once
I remember translating for my mother
And paying with food stamps
This is where I learned to be patient and frugal
To take only what I need with grace and with gratitude
And leave the rest on the shelf
Never mind the expiration date.