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

Generic Kool-Aid®

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

Was enough.

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.


Shopping Carts

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

It’s cheaper

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.