Sometime in the late 80s, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni sold their Boyle Heights home. My family’s Hacienda Heights home became their default residence while they were in LA, away from their homes in Tijuana and El Cargadero, Zacatecas.
As one might expect, our three bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house felt crowded with eight people spanning three generations sharing the space. The physical aspect wasn’t ever that big of a deal except when the grandparents went to bed early on the living room sofa bed and we had to be quiet in the kitchen. No, what took more time to adjust to mom and Mamá Toni’s often clashing opinions on how the house should be run.
Mom has always had all four kids help out with chores both in and outside the house. I had to help in the kitchen more often than my brothers, and they had to rake the leaves of mow the lawn more often than I did. There were times when the roles would be mixed and Danny would be doing the laundry or ironing. And we all had to help trim la mora and clean up the huge mess (the mulberry tree in the front yard).
Mamá Toni was quick to express her disapproval of this set-up. She scolded Mom for letting Danny iron his own pants and called me and Lori lazy. Once when she saw dad washing dishes and helping mom clean up after dinner, she told mom she was embarrassed.
My grandma’s old school attitudes stressed out mom who saw talking back to one’s parents as taboo. Mom had to find a respectful way to tell her own mother that in her household it was okay for her husband to help wash dishes and her sons to wash their own dirty socks.
After living with my mom for 20+ years and nearing 90, Mamá Toni has calmed down a bit in her strict division of labor. After she got sick and was hospitalized in 2004, she even let Papá Chepe wash his own dishes after lunch. I was flabbergasted when I saw this as I’d never seen him even take his dish to the sink or warm up his own tortilla. I’ve seen him do this a few times since, and it’s still strange for me.
Every once in a while, Mamá Toni will still speak up when she sees something that conforms to her view of the way things should be. On Sunday most of the women in my family complimented me on my cute new dress. Mamá Toni said nothing about the dress and only complimented me when I put on my apron so I could make a green salad and protect my white dress.
“Que bonita te ves con tu pechera,” she said. [Translation: You look so pretty with your apron.]
The only time she ever compliments my looks is when I’m wearing an apron. I’m okay with that. The apron is pretty cool.