Mi familia: Coming together

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2011 by redswandiaries

 From Francisco and Soledad Vasquez was born a family rich in culture, passionate in life, and rooted in love. Four generations later, we continue to celebrate this awesome legacy.

 Our grandfather was born in Juchipila, Zacatecas, Mexico. My grandmother in Parall, Chihuahua, Mexico. Francisco Vasquez came to the states searching for work and after a short time in Colorado, he settled in Wichita, Kansas. He then brought my grandmother to the states to begin their life. They brought into this world Delfina, Rebecca, Frank, Ishmael, Martha, Albert and Cecilia. From this second generation came 22 children. The third generation continues the legacy with more than 30 (plus one on the way) and the fourth generation is growing.  

 My grandfather and grandmother have long passed, their lives filled with the hard work and the desperation of building a life in the U.S. Abuela died in 1950 from tuberculosis. She spent her last days in the Wichita Tuberculosis hospital, quarantined from her husband and children. Abuelo died much later, but still too soon. My mother and sister lived with him a few of his last years and my favorite picture of Francisco Vasquez is him standing on the front porch holding the tiny hand of my sister. His face is etched with the difficulties of his life, but his eyes are strong, ancient, always reminding me of a great chief. I see those same eyes in his sons and grandsons.

 One week ago, we brought these generations together. It was a weekend of family gatherings, a golf outing for the guys, and a whole lot of hugs, smiles, laughter, conversation and photos. We exchanged phone numbers, emails and Facebook page information, caught up on the latest changes in our lives, attempted to remember the names of the many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And while we reminisced, we created new memories, fresh memories. We recalled when we were young and so close, before life set us on our individual paths, and we rekindled friendships and strengthened bonds made years and years ago.

 Our grandfather’s brother, Albert, had a daughter, Amália, whom we lovingly nicknamed “our Rose Kennedy.” Amália and her daughters, Estela and Norma, are as close within the family as if they were extended sisters to their cousins, something our family has continued through the years. Within our generations, we have eradicated the second-third cousin descriptor. We are family, extensions from one family to the other, bridges from sister to brother and brother to sister. Estela and Norma continued the bridgework with five of their own children and many grandchildren.

Unfortunately, two brothers were missing from the festivities, one due to health and the other due to stubbornness. In a family this large, there is always a certain amount of tension, a little misunderstanding. No family is perfect. We truly missed them.

 As well, we were greatly missing Uncle Johnny, who would’ve showed the little kids how to bait a hook, our  “Rose Kennedy,” Amália, and Norma who would’ve celebrated her birthday on that Sunday.  After every snapshot, I could almost hear Norma’s sweet voice saying her famous phrase, “Isn’t our family good looking?’

Of our cousins, we truly missed John-John, Jerry, and Andrea. We felt each of them there with us, watching and laughing, but oh, how wonderful it would’ve been to hug them all just one more time.

 And we especially missed our cousin Jeff, who due to health reasons was not able to attend. I often pictured him throughout the day, wearing a Cheap Trick or WSU t-shirt and sipping a cold, beer and instructing the young kids on how to light firecrackers.

For three days, we were together, spending our first evening at Becky and Matt’s home, the second day Aunt Cecilia and Uncle Danny opened their doors (and garage) and on Sunday we spent the entire day at The Red Barn. It was memorable, and not just for losing power shortly after breakfast, and the water pressure to the toilets so that Matt had to rescue us with the RV, or the typical Kansas storm that rolled in mid-afternoon after the power finally came on.  It was made memorable by the fact we were together. By the time Monday rolled around, we were exhausted but content. I likened the day following our reunion to the day after Christmas, so melancholy and empty. The gifts were gone, the excitement diminished, and our homes were quiet. Too quiet.

It truly was a labor of love and something I wish we’d done fifteen years ago and had continued every five years. It isn’t too late. I have learned there is one constant in life, family. Sure, family can drive you crazy, make demands, even make you angry, but when the dust settles the people you can always count on are the ones who share your blood, your history, and your legacy.

 I am merely a branch of this Vasquez family tree. It is together we truly bloom.

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Saturday in the shop(s) (2011 Shop Crawl)

Posted in My Community with tags , , , on June 13, 2011 by redswandiaries

Make that eleven shops. Saturday was the 2011 Shop Crawl or for you who only use those large spaces next to your house to park your vehicles, Garage Crawl. And what is a shop/garage crawl? Much like a Pub Crawl or Blues Crawl but without the cover charge, expensive drinks, and crowded tables. Oh, and this one involves bikes. Big bikes.

I’m not sure who thought of the Shop Crawl, but I’m giving credit to David and Piper Ayala, after all they did send the invitation, organize the event, chart the course, lay the ground rules, and keep us moving. Piper also dubbed the event the Route 69. Of course, the idea could have sprung from the engraved and painted, beer and Captain splattered, if-this-concrete-could-talk floor of the Ayala garage during one of the many Friday afternoon gatherings of the Ayala Custom Shop Fuxx. Who really knows, except last Saturday was time well spent.

So, it begins with what David likes to call his Mexican Blackberry.

The list of who’s in, who’s out, who’s volunteering their shop/garage as a stopping place to stretch legs, de-numb butts, guzzle a water or beer, have a snack and hit the road to the next stop. It all began at Everybody’s Restaurant at 9:00. Oh, make that 9:00-9:45. And I mean, 9:45.

David, or “Big Ben”, kept us in line and on time with his Piper-created itinerary, calculated down to the seconds in order to have us at our Last Stop before sundown. 15-30 to ride to the destination, 25 to chill, five  to road-prep. Give or take.

“10 minutes!”  This became the motto of our Shop Crier, but hey, it worked. We left Everybody’s Restaurant at Hillside and Harry and headed southwest to our garage. Our garage is Brad’s second home,  and while it is small and crowded, it is much-loved by the Bearded One. After all, it holds everything VW and then some. The morning was still cool with the sky cloudless and bright, and at one point it felt like a morning in autumn, with no hint of the heat to come.

We then headed north to Pauly’s, where we were scheduled to arrive at 11:00. By the time we reached Pauly’s, the sun began to remind us that summer was only a week and a half away. Pauly’s pool was tempting, but when Big Ben announced “10 minutes!” it pulled us back to the reality of bikes and roads. None of us were complaining.

If I were to write about each stop, my post would be just as long as our 13 hour ride, so let me just hit the highlights, and there are many. Each shop/garage was as unique as its owner, the tell-tale signs of personalities hanging on the walls in the shapes and colors of Mattel Hot Wheels, pin-up girls, nudie calendars, black and whites of Steve McQueen, splashes of black and orange, beer banners, barbershop chairs, antique gasoline pumps, primered cars, the hatch of a VW bus, a Union Jack, more than a few Stars and Stripes, and Frigidaire’s stuffed with ice-cold beer. These are the original man caves, the truest of castles.

And the ride? Well, there’s no describing the ride. We rode from one side of town to the other, encompassing the southwest, north, south and east sides of Wichita, including Andover and Derby, riding past golf courses and Mid-Continent airport, through congested traffic and empty roads alongside fresh-cut wheat, zig-zagging amidst the garden tours of College Hill and skillfully maneuvering dirt and rock roads. If you’ve never been on a bike or been a passenger, you are missing a view, an experience. Every time I perch precariously on the back of my husband’s self-built Big Twin, I remember two quotes:

“Whatever it is, it’s better in the wind.”      and    

 “Only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of the car window.”

As for the view, I find I notice things on a bike I’ve missed repeatedly while driving in my car. On a bike you are more alert for obvious reasons (that would be the idiots on four wheels), but you are also vividly aware of your surroundings. There is no containment, no walls of steel blocking you from what is all around you as you ride down the road. The view is open. You are open. It’s amazingly scary and euphoric. And again, I can’t truly put it to words, so if you ever get the chance to see the world from the seat of a motorcycle, do. Even if it is just once.

All in all, it was an amazing day. 15 awesome bikes. 11 fun-filled stops. 22 great people.  No mishaps. No breakdowns (by bikes or people). The sun was warm on our faces and arms, but the stops were rejuvenating, the company familiar. There were the few odd spaces in the floors of some of the garages reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs (I kept looking for the bucket with lotion), and one too many swimming pools to be tempted, but other than that, a learning and laughing experience.  As well, we shared time with the most uninteresting man in the world who shared “I rarely drink beer, but when I do it must be free.”

By the time we headed our separate ways into the night, we were exhausted but content. So remember: Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.

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Auntie Em, Auntie Em

Posted in My Community, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 24, 2011 by redswandiaries

It’s strange how the name of a character in a movie can resonate so differently among people. For some, it recalls Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, while for others it brings to mind tornadoes. And nothing but tornadoes.

As a child, I remember my cousins yelling “Auntie Em, Auntie Em, it’s a twister” each time the sirens went off, be it during the weekly noon drill on Monday or an actual sinister warning of what was headed our way. And each time I come across the movie Airplane, I laugh out loud when Johnny tangles himself in phone cords and yells “Uncle Henry, Auntie Em, Toto, it’s a twister, it’s a twister” (if you click on the link provided, that particular scene with Johnny is at the very end of the video, but it’s worth the wait if you are an Airplane fan).

Growing up in Kansas, you have to laugh. As a child of the midwest, you learn quickly how to read the clouds, become nervous when it’s humid, and understand the dew point readings. You know the place in your home that is safest to ride out a tornado, be it basement, bathtub, crawl space or closet. And you become a professional at packing a tornado kit each spring (blankets, batteries, jug or bottles of water, flashlights, extra batteries, battery operated radio, cell phone, non-perishable foods) to keep in your safe place, as well as the extra bag beside the bed that includes medications, important documents, and other keepsakes you don’t want to lose when all hell breaks loose.

Because that’s what it does, this tornado. It unleashes hell on earth. Just ask the survivors of Joplin, MO; Reading, KS; and Greensburg, KS. In one terrifying moment, all you’ve known, all you’ve worked for, all you’ve cared for is gone. Obliterated or vanished, it doesn’t matter because the end result is the same, life is changed.

A person from California once asked me how I could live in the midwest with “those tornadoes.” I asked how they could live with those earthquakes, after all we do get 20-30 minute warnings, sirens screaming to turn on your televisions or radios and take cover. We have Doppler radar and text message alerts, plus years of examining the sky and air and differentiating between a typical Kansas thunderstorm and an afternoon filled with  foreboding. What do they have?  

But in light of this year’s deadly twisters, I’m beginning to think all of our weather technology, early warnings, and personal weather experiences are not enough. When a half-mile wide tornado comes at you packing 200 mph winds, destruction is inevitable, survival is diminished.

But we are a resilient bunch. And I know the communities of Reading and Joplin will rebuild and move forward, just as the people of Greensburg.

And those of us out of the path of the storm will watch, pray, and cry for those who lost relatives, friends, and everything they possessed.  We’ll check our tornado kits, monitor the local radars, and be sure and check on those we love, all the while knowing Joplin could have  been and still could be us.

Mi madre, mi reina

Posted in Mi Familia with tags , , on May 7, 2011 by redswandiaries

Martha Andrea Vasquez Castro. My mother, mi madre. My queen.

My mother would not consider herself a queen, not ever. I’m not so sure my mother considers herself strong, the foundation of her family, our family, the rock, but she is.

Hers is the advice we seek, the ear we bend, the hand we hold, the shoulder we cry, the back we know will carry us, the tongue we know will set us straight.

As a child, I feared my mother, but not because I knew if I messed up she would be the first to inform me and the first to swat my butt; or the tales she told to scare me into good behavior, like “if you stick your tongue out at me, when you die your tongue will stick out of your grave and everyone will know what a bad girl you were, sticking your tongue out at your own mother.”

I feared her because she ruled, in the sense she was the queen of her domain, her family, and how would I ever aspire to that level. Impossible. I was a skinny little girl with glasses and unruly hair who hid behind books bigger than me and felt sick to her stomach when she was the center of attention.

 I would never be the woman with the too-red hands who fed everyone who entered her home, even if they weren’t hungry because magically, just stepping into her kitchen set their stomachs to growling. I would never be the woman whose siblings continued to seek for advice or to vent or to gossip or just to be in her presence because she was as familiar to them as their own skin, their own breath, their own beating hearts. I would never be the woman who cared unconditionally for her husband and children, as if her very life depended on it, sacrificing her time, her energy so they could go out into the world and live, and love, and conquer.

As a teenager I fought her strength. I denied the traits I’d inherited, pretended I was not my mother’s daughter, while unknowingly becoming more and more just like her.

As a young woman, I accepted my mother as friend, as mentor, and for the first time noticed she and I have the very same hands. Not one day goes by I don’t look down at my hands poised over a keyboard, grasping a dish towel, reaching out to a friend, folded in prayer and see her.

But I’ve come to understand I’ve inherited the best of both of my parents. I’m proud I am unafraid of voicing my opinion, of caring for my family. I’m not ashamed I put my family first, lose sleep worrying over them, unflinchingly bear their burdens.

I no longer see the skinny little girl with glasses when I look in the mirror. I see my mother’s daughter. And I am thankful. Thankful to the woman who quit school to take care of her father and siblings; who visited her mother in the Wichita Sanitarium/Tuberculosis Hospital, sometimes just through a screened window, clutching the hands of her siblings; who brought into this world a lifeless son, our brother we never knew, and unselfishly asked for him to be donated to science so no other mother would bear such pain; whose dream of a big family settled on the shoulders of just three, whom she said over and over “were enough, more than enough;” who learned how to drive after my father lost his job, even though she was nervous, so she could get a job; who stayed up late waiting for her children to come home, never sleeping until she heard the front door open and shut and continues to do so, even though they are adults and just visiting; who never missed Mass; who cried when I graduated from college; who faltered for the first time when she buried her granddaughter.

She is this and more. My mother is homemade tortillas hot off the placa; the sweetness of Mexican chocolate; the quick pinch on the leg during Mass; the warning smack on the head with a hairbrush ( I said, sit still); light pats on the back after a bad dream; the scent of baby powder, Ivory soap, and Aquanet; the famous frown in all those black and white photos; the firm hand on the top of my head as she blesses me; the best cook, no, the only cook in the world; the one person I have to call every day just to hear her voice.

I tease her that when she dies, which will be never, I’m going to insist her epitaph be “I should’ve order that,” because it never fails, when we go out to dinner she always likes what someone else at the table has ordered. And while this might be true regarding her appetite or ordering skills, I know it isn’t true in life. Not that she didn’t have every right to want another life considering all she’s been through, but that is not the woman I know, I feared, I admire and adore.  She lives the life given to her and she lives it with greatness.

My mother, my queen.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Latino Writers Collective: Mentors deserving of success

Posted in My Community with tags , , , , on May 5, 2011 by redswandiaries

The Latino Writers Collective  is a group of Latino writers based in the Kansas City area. They are an amazing, talented, and ambitious group of artists. I had the incredible fortune of joining their collective, albeit from afar, a few years ago. While I’m not able to attend many events, workshops, or exhibits, this group of my peers continues to inspire me through their dedication, their passion, their writing, their art, and their crazy but wonderful emails!

The month of April brought deserving success to two of the leaders of this fine group. I can think of no other two people more deserving of recognition. These two have worked hard, fought many battles, persevered, and through it all continued (and continue) to create beautiful works of art, poetry, and prose.

Jose Faus is a painter, a poet, writer, creator. And he is the winner of the 2011 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for Kansas writers. He will receive an all-expense paid trip to NYC to meet with editors, literary agents, writers, and give a public reading.

Linda Rodriguez is a poet, writer, activist, creator. And her novel, Every Secret Thing, won the St. Martin/Malice Domestic Award for Traditional First Mystery Novel. Her book will be published by St. Martin’s Press and will be released in hardcover next spring.

I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am for these two wonderful people. As they travel this new path on their journey, they will continue to inspire not only by their accomplishments, but by their example.

Congratulations, Jose and Linda. This is only the beginning.

Please, pass the glue

Posted in Me with tags , , on May 2, 2011 by redswandiaries

A criticism of my writing, other than “letting go,” is the ending. I tend to hurriedly close a story, leaving frayed threads of character, closure or plot to sway awkwardly in the breeze. I’m not sure why I tend to end stories in this manner.  I don’t believe it’s a loss of interest in the characters or story, or a lack of anything more to write, I just decide to call it good. Sometimes this method works, but the majority  of the time it fails.  What inevitably happens is I return to the story and recreate a new ending, taking my time to snip and tuck those frayed ends.  But it usually doesn’t happen right away, I tend to take my time returning to the work, unless there is a deadline involved.

It seems this inability to “stick to it” is carrying over into real life. My real life. I’ve noticed I’m lacking in stick-to-itiveness. I can’t seem to finish one thing before trudging headlong into another. And I can’t seem to figure out why this is happening. I’ve always finished what I’ve started. Always. But it seems I can barely finish a simple household chore without being distracted into downloading music or reading a magazine.

Examples: I decided to reorganize closets last fall. They are half-finished. I obtained a three-tiered mobile storage cabinet to assist with my photo sorting and scanning. It remains empty, the photos still crammed into photo boxes I bought for reorganizing. I started a new work out program after weeks and weeks of research, which only lasted about three weeks before I began to miss a workout here and there. Now I’m lucky if I complete three workouts in a week (it’s a six days a week program). Plus, I’ve yet to complete the one month beginner trial portion. Of course, this all has carried over into my writing. My novel turned into three novels, all of which I’ve abandoned at various stages while creating three different blogs I can no longer keep up with on a daily basis, which was my intent.

As of late, the only thing I’ve stuck with from beginning to end was during lent. I gave up red meat. Although, I did knowingly eat a cheeseburger within the first few weeks, but it was for a birthday and the birthday dude insisted he’d shot off a text to the Pope to get clearance for the day, and besides, WWJD? I convinced myself He’d eat a cheeseburger in honor of a friend’s birthday. Wouldn’t He?

So my latest dilemma is my lack of stick-to-itiveness. When it comes to keeping it together and finishing what I’ve started, I’ve got no glue.

And just what is the glue? Is it ambition, motivation, need? I guess once I figure out the consistency of said glue, I’ll be better equipped to find an answer. Until then, I’ll have to resolve to make a better effort of finishing a book I opened a week ago, which sits gathering dust on my bedside table. Or finish transplanting seven plants into the new pots I purchased a month ago. Or rearranging the furniture in the living room.

All these unfinished projects make it seem as if I’d suddenly disappeared, was working hard then just stopped, vanished, whether it was mid-read, mid-move, mid-senten

Tribute: Cirilo Arteaga

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 by redswandiaries

A tribute to Cirilo Arteaga, the voice of our community for many years, as well as infamous storyteller. He will be greatly missed.