Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the sixth excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
My mom was the epitome of the warm and loving maternal parent. She taught us unconditional love, faith, compassion, and perseverance. Even during the last days before in her death in 2003, she remained strong in her convictions and her belief that everyday alive is a good day. While any indiscretion on our part would be met with my dad’s scowls and rebukes, my mom would react with gentle counsel and loving support urging us to do better the next time.
She was our biggest cheerleader encouraging us to be the best we could be. After all those years of watching me play sports, I’m not sure if mom really understood the complexities of the games, but I did know that she cheered every time it looked like I did something good. Every morning she would remind us that the day would be a good one because the sun came up and God gave us another day, and after each meal, she insisted that we say “thank you God,” and of course she encouraged us to pray the “Our Father” before bedtime.
My parents, brothers and sisters, and our cocoon on 48 Viewmont Avenue were the center of my universe where I was free to explore my little world. My earliest memory is of an incident that started on the driveway of our house. I was about four years old and playing in the front yard. Those were the days when parents didn’t seem worried that their kids were running around in front of the house. The traffic in our neighborhood was nearly non-existent once everyone returned home from work, and my mom could see the entire yard and beyond from the kitchen window.
It seemed like she always was in the kitchen cooking, washing dishes, or watching over her kids playing outside. Most likely, she was always doing all three. I remember playing on the grass and eyeing the old two-toned orange and white Ford Mercury sitting on the narrow one-car driveway thinking about driving just like my dad. As the car sat majestically on the driveway, I thought about how strong and important I would look behind the wheel. When I noticed my mom had left the window, probably to go to the refrigerator to take food out for dinner, I darted to the car and struggled to open the heavy driver’s side door.
I then jumped onto the bench seat behind the steering wheel and started off on my imaginary road trip. As I spread my arms wide to maneuver the big round steering wheel, I strained my neck as high as I could so that my little head peeked over the dashboard to see the road ahead. Eyeing the gearshift on the steering column, I was ready to kick into high gear just like my dad would to send this big hunk of metal roaring down the highway. There was just one problem, our driveway sat at a slight incline, so as I grabbed the gearshift to make my move, the car started moving – backwards!
The car rolled back slowly off the driveway until it came to a complete stop in the middle of the street. I sat in the car not sure what to do next. My mom screamed from the kitchen window and dashed out the front door to save her baby boy as my dad stood on the front grass laughing. This may have been the first indication that I was willing to take a risk to get what I wanted, and like many other risks I took later in life, not a very smart one at that.
My sister Barbara described me as a little boy who was always smiling, laughing, and playing like I didn’t have a care in the world. My older brothers and sisters were just that, older brothers and sisters who I admired and sought to be like and, along with my mom and dad, were the heroes in my life. So, I grew up not playing with them, but with the neighborhood kids. We rode our bikes up and down the street, sometimes venturing off a few blocks away to ride in the open field behind St. John Vianney Church, played two-hand touch football in the street and basketball in our driveway, or let the neighborhood girls join us for a game of hide and seek.
Barbara also described me as easy-going and accommodating. My mom wanted me to try out for the elementary school Mexican folkloric dance troupe, so I danced. My dad wanted me to play little league baseball and junior high school basketball, so I played. I seemed to be good at everything I tried. When I was eight years old, my little league team was undefeated, and four years later I was the winning pitcher in the little league major division championship game.
When I wasn’t going to school, playing with my friends, or accommodating my parents’ wishes, I loved to read. A County branch library was only four blocks away, so I would hop on my bike, ride to the library, go straight to the sports or history stacks, check out some books, and ride back home, avoiding the back fence of the school and other dangerous hideouts like the parking lot behind Ray’s Liquors where the winos loitered.
With one arm steering the handlebars and the other arm carrying five or six books about baseball or World War II, I would rush home where I would excitedly open the books. Armed with this knowledge, I would spend hours on some weekends debating sports and history with my dad and his friends while they sat on the barstools and drank at the kitchen counter. That was my life in the cocoon on 48 Viewmont Avenue, and those around me kept it safe and secure.
Next Wednesday: The protective cocoon of Viewmont Avenue begins to show some cracks.
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