Sunday, May 9, 2015
I knew from a pretty early age not to take my Mom for granted. One of my best friends came from a broken family, and while I’m sure he loved his own mother, he could always count on two surrogate families, including my Mom, to be there for him. That was probably one of the best lessons I could have learned growing up. And yet, while I feel like I’m a pretty good Dad, I don’t think I could ever measure up to my Mom’s compassion toward others. The key, though, is to love your children unconditionally, and that’s something I learned from both of my parents.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I realize I had not really focussed on my Mom’s family history. I’m not necessarily talking about her paternal Chavez genealogy or her maternal Gallegos genealogy. I’m talking about her childhood in Grants, traveling to California each summer to visit family, and her upbringing in Albuquerque.
My Mom is Beatrice (Chavez) Gallegos. She was the middle child of five, born to Louis Chavez and Lola (Gallegos). She was born in Grants and named after her great-grandmother Beatriz Jaramillo. She had an older sister, Fran, who passed away after a battle with cancer, and has three brothers, Louis, Jr., Mike and Ralph.
The family moved to Albuquerque when Mom was in elementary school. They first lived on High Street, south of the street that is now Avenida Cesar Chavez. Her grandparents, Pablo Gallegos and Maria (Arellanes) lived nearby on the other side of Broadway. My Mom remembered her Grandpa Pablo carrying her on his shoulders from his house to her house. She also recalled how they had one phone line for a cluster of homes, and they would have to walk to where the phone was located to take a call.
I found a photo from about 1950 of my Mom’s Grandpa Pablo with other men preparing a pig for a matanza. My Mom is pretty sure that was at their property on High Street.
My Mom attended John Marshall School, which was across the street from her home. She was looking forward to attending Lincoln Junior High, where her cousins went to school and bragged about the dances and good times. But her parents moved the family to a new subdivision and a new home at 6804 5th Street N.W., which is the house where I grew up in the North Valley, in Los Ranchos.
As a child, my Mom looked forward to summer trips to Los Angeles to visit relatives. Her father, my Grandpa Louis, packed everyone in the car, which didn’t have air conditioning, and made the long drive to Los Angeles to see his own mother, Eliza, and his brother, Lalo. My Mom wasn’t very close to her Grandma Eliza, who was bitter about my Grandpa moving with my Grandma Lola back to New Mexico. But my Mom enjoyed the summer visits. One of my favorite photos is a black and white of my Mom as a young girl walking with her Dad.
When my Mom moved to the home on 5th Street, she shared a small room with her other Grandma, Maria, who was widowed by that time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. My Mom finished grade school at Los Ranchos, then went to Taft Junior High and later to Valley High School – the same schools I would attend a generation later. She graduated from Valley in 1965, which means she will celebrate her 50th reunion this year. She remembers the day she was pulled out of school the day her mother gave birth to her youngest brother, Ralph.
After high school, my Mom was supposed to go to Eastern New Mexico University in Silver City. I only recently learned that her Aunt Perla had encouraged her to go there. But she ended up going to work for the phone company in Albuquerque, which is where she was working when she met my Dad, Gilbert Sr., on a blind date.
It didn’t take long before she and my Dad got married in 1968. After I was born in Albuquerque, we moved to San Jose, CA, for my Dad’s work. That’s where my brother, Jon, was born. We moved back to Albuquerque for short time before my Dad’s work took us to Cincinnati. My Dad moved to Cincinnati first, and my Mom took my brother and me a few months later. I recently found a pretty amazing letter from my Dad to my Mom during that time period. He was having a tough time being away from my Mom and us.
We moved back to Albuquerque by the time I started Kindergarten at Los Ranchos. And we were back at the house where my Mom spent much of her childhood. I have great memories of my parents bowling with our neighbors, the Baca’s, at Valley Bowl. Their team was called the BG’s – for Baca’s/Gallegos’. That’s about the same time my Mom started working as a teacher’s aide at Los Ranchos.
I remember my brother and I sitting on the edge of my Mom’s bed most afternoons, talking to her about our day. During baseball season, most evenings and every Saturday were spent at North Valley Little League. If my Dad wasn’t coaching, he was getting the fields ready or dealing with equipment issues, while my Mom was working in the concession stand or keeping score. It was a home away from home. As a parent now, I realize how much work that must have been for both of my parents, albeit a labor of love. But as a kid, that little league field was the only place I’d ever want to be. To me, that was family time.
My Mom would work for Albuquerque Public Schools for the rest of the time my brother and I were in school. I remember going to her office at a few different administration buildings to use her work computer for my school work. I think her last job at APS was at Albuquerque High School. She was able to pull some strings and open the gym for me to play basketball every Saturday. By that time, I was working as a reporter at the Albuquerque Tribune. Several of my colleagues, as well as a couple of competitors from the Journal and the Associated Press played in a county basketball league. And we practiced at the AHS gym.
Early during my career as a reporter, I was sent to Arizona to get the story behind a murderer who kidnapped and killed an Albuquerque teen-ager. It was a gruesome and troubling story. In any case, I had to take a bus back to Albuquerque from Flagstaff. I’m not sure I ever told my Mom this story, but during that long ride home, as I thought about the death of that young boy, my mind turned to the recent death of one of my Mom’s close friends, Connie Delgado. I decided to write about my Mom, her friendship with Connie, and how much I appreciated everything she ever did for me. I don’t think I finished the letter, and for some reason, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t want to give her a half-written letter, but it was difficult to go back and finish it. I regret not finishing it. I’ve gone back through my things since then, hoping to find it. But I never did.
Well, Mom, consider this as a heartfelt substitute for that letter I wrote on the bus some 20 years ago. We’ve had many more memories since then. And now those include great memories of you with your granddaughters, who I know appreciate and love you as much as I’ve always appreciated and love you.
I still think about how you would make me chicken, my favorite meal, before my many surgeries. And how Jon and I would come home from skiing and you had some hot caldito waiting for us. And you would get the grass and red clay stains out of my baseball pants, and sew my uniform after my Pete Rose slides. And how you would embarrass us from the stands during baseball games, but secretly, we appreciated knowing our biggest fan was always there to cheer us on. And how you never minded our friends letting themselves in the front door and heading straight to the refrigerator or pantry, knowing you would always have snacks for them. And for allowing me to make mistakes, as a child and as an adult, but still being my Mom, who is the most understanding and forgiving Mom anyone could have. And now I am especially appreciative of how you do all of the same things for your granddaughters, including taking them and their friends to the movies, lunches, Target, the orthodontist, Bahama Bucks, and going to more than your share of soccer practices, games and tournaments. You do all this, and still find time to watch your San Francisco Giants play on TV, make it to La Cueva baseball games, go with your friends to movies, and keep up with your plants and flowers.
Happy Mother’s Day!