My mother was born in a small village in Guanajuato Mexico.
Her mother was dirt poor even by 1930’s Mexico standards, which is really saying something. Her father had died before she was born. He was trying to catch a ride on a bus. It was one of those old-fashioned buses with the standing platforms on the corners and handlebars to pull yourself up in case you were running to catch the bus before it drove away. At least that’s the vision of it in my mind. The good news was he caught the bus. The bad news was he couldn’t hold on to his grip on the handlebar. So he was buried a couple of months before he got to meet my mother.
My grandmother already had an older daughter and had no way to support them both. So she immigrated to the United States. But she couldn’t take the girls with her. It was going to be all she could do just to keep herself alive. So my mom and aunt went to live in an orphanage. Grandmother told them she’d be back to get them when she could afford to provide for them. And then she left.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about that orphanage over the years.
About how mean the nuns were. How’d they dispense beatings for trivial slights. About how hard the children had to work every day. About how they barely had anything to eat. About how my mom had to sneak into the pantry in the middle of the night and eat raw oats because she was so hungry she couldn’t even sleep. It was many, many, many years after she left the orphanage before she could bring herself to eat a bowl of oatmeal again.
But leave she did, along with her sister. Grandmother came back. She had found a job and a home. She could provide for them again, but only in Texas. The problem was getting them across the border. So late one night she took the girls for a ride on a small handmade raft across the Rio Grande. And before she knew it, my mom was in McAllen Texas, living in the first real home she had ever had.
Over the years she watched her sister have two girls of her own and then waste away due to unchecked cancer. My aunt died a couple of years after I was born. My mother managed to have a lot more kids, though. 8 in all (I’m the youngest). She met my father in McAllen. He was a native of Illinois, having come down to Texas to start his career as a journalist. He was working at the McAllen Monitor as a cub reporter. Mom says she knew immediately that he was the one. He took a couple more jobs over the years before settling us all down in Houston, where he got a position as a reporter for the Houston Post, since closed.
We visited grandmother several times over the years in her little house in far south Texas.
She never did learn to speak English. But she had worked her ass off for decades and paid off that house. She had her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She always seemed happy to me, even though I couldn’t communicate with her. She passed away while I was serving in the Army in Germany. I think if I could have asked her, she would have told me she had a good life.
It’s probable that all my memories from those years played a role in my dreams one night. I woke that night to a vision of a young Hispanic woman beating the ever loving hell out of another woman. Why, I thought, am I having THIS dream? The setting of the dream looked exactly like the small towns of south Texas near the Mexico border that I had visited as a youth back in the 70’s and 80’s. But I couldn’t shake the dream. It returned several times over the years. With more characters and developing storylines. I’d be at work, completely unable to focus because I had suddenly thought of a new plot twist to the story. I’d spend all of my time on the treadmill at the gym thinking about ways to advance the story to its next logical step.
So I finally decided I had to write this book.
I thought I could be like my dad and brother. They’re natural born writers. Stories flow from their fingertips. Meanwhile, I stared blankly at the computer screen. Unable to fill a single page much less an entire chapter. The characters didn’t seem real to me if I couldn’t see them. I realized if I was ever going to make this book I was going to have to draw it out. And why not? Illustration was always my greatest talent as a child. Just because I had abandoned it as an adult didn’t mean I no longer had it. But where was I to find the time? I had a full-time job plus a family to support.
That’s when Saudi Arabia stepped in. They decided to kneecap the US oil industry by no longer artificially supporting the high cost of oil. So the oil industry crashed and my job went bye-bye. Hello free time! I spent the last 8 months of 2016 reacquainting myself with how to draw the human form and how to make comics. After a few tries, I finally finished chapter 1 and built a website to host the book online. I had finally, after 45 years, found my true calling in life.
Unfortunately, I had to go back to a regular job.
The money was drying up fast and I knew I was a long way off from making any money as a graphic novelist. So I’m back to working in the oil patch. But now, instead of spending my free time watching Houston teams lose on television, or working on odd jobs around the house, I work on my book. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to finish these books (oh, did I mention this has turned into a trilogy?), but I know that I will do this. Like my grandmother paying off her house, it may take decades of hard work. But I think about how hard she worked over her life. And my mother too, raising so many kids mostly by herself. In three generations this family has gone from living in absolute poverty in Mexico to living a comfortable middle-class life in the suburbs of America. If I don’t finish these books, what would my grandmother and mother think of me?