THE CAREGIVER´S CHRONICLES: LOOKING BACK PART 4

We continue with Yaya’s life, Part 4! I hope you’re up to date with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, because otherwise, you might get a bit lost! I was going to write all of this at once, but I decided to take it slow to avoid overwhelming us, especially myself. Are you ready? Let’s see what this fourth chapter has in store for us!

In Part 3, we left off with our arrival in the USA. It was quite a shock; we didn’t speak English, my father was unemployed, and apart from my paternal grandparents, we didn’t have many friends. My mother was still grieving the death of her father. It was 1977, and there we were, the four of us, ready to embark on this new adventure that life offered us. It was traumatic for me, but I imagine it was also for my mother, although she never admitted it. She was always positive and gave my brother and me all the support in the world.

The first year, we lived with my grandparents and tried to adapt to the new customs of the country. My father made my brother and I watch English television for hours and hours. I remember watching Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, Happy Day´s, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Three’s Company, Little House on the Prairie...(there are probably more that I don’t remember, but these were the main ones). My brother and I also went to Summer School, so between TV and school, by the end of the summer, we were already speaking English! For my parents, especially for my mother, it was a bit more complicated.

My mother not only had to learn English but also adapt her Spanish to the Latino version, as she realized the many differences between Spanish from Spain and Cuban Spanish. One funny anecdote in this regard that my mother often remembered was one day when we were walking the streets of New Jersey with my paternal grandmother. My brother and I stopped in front of a pastry shop and started saying, “Mamá, Mamá quiero un bollo” (something a normal child of that age would say here in Spain)… Problem… the word “bollo” in Cuban Spanish means the intimate part of a woman, haha. My grandmother, horrified, told my mother to shut us up, but my brother and I didn’t understand and kept shouting it. My grandmother, who was a very conservative and modest woman, was having heart attack.

My brother and I during 
the storm in New Jersey.

I’ll also have to say that in that year, I don’t know if it was 1977 or 1978, there was one of the worst snowstorms in New Jersey. I remember waking up one day and everything was covered in snow, you couldn’t even see the cars. My brother and I loved playing in the snow, but I also remember how fucking cold it was when we had to walk to school. My mother would bundle us up in like a thousand layers (like a scene from the movie A Christmas Story).

There are many more anecdotes that my mother used to tell me about what happened to her during those early years. One time she told me that she wrote a letter to her mother and had to go to the post office to buy a stamp. She sayed she spent almost a whole day practicing how to say “I need a stamp to send a letter to Spain.” She repeated the phrase a thousand times in front of the mirror.  When the day finally came she went to the post office,  she says she was trembling (my mom has always been very nervous). She stood in line and when her turn came, she started stuttering, “III need, me stammmmm.” She says the words wouldn’t come out, she tried over and over again, and the man just kept looking at her. After a few minutes, the man said, “¿Que necesita un sello señora?” He spoke perfect Spanish. That’s when she realized that at that time, half of New Jersey was Cuban.

My mother and her looks
 with my brother and I.

We lived one year with my grandparents and another in an apartment that I remember was above a furniture store. One day, the store started to burn, and we had to run out through the emergency stairs outside the building (yes, as you see in the movies, haha). Anyway, at the end of the second year, my paternal grandfather got sick and passed away. At that time, my father´s cousin who had also left Cuba told my father that we should go to Miami, as there were more Cubans there, and the weather was more tropical.

My mother when she graduated
 from English classes.

And so we did, once again, we packed our things and headed to Miami. There, at least, it wasn’t the winter cold of New Jersey, and we really lived well those years. The only thing is that Miami wasn’t like New Jersey in the sense that you couldn’t walk, take the subway, or the bus everywhere. In Miami, you need a car, no matter what. My mother had to get her driver’s license, which was quite difficult for her. She was very nervous, and I remember my father bought her a super big car, it was green, and we called it the hippopotamus (I don’t know why). One day, we were home alone, my brother and I had just arrived from school, and suddenly there’s a knock on the door. It was one of our friends, and he says, “Your mother just crashed into the security fence of the housing complex.” We rushed downstairs, and sure enough, my mother, poor thing, was there super scared, and the fence was completely down. There were police and all the neighbors around. It seems she got nervous and pressed the accelerator instead of the brake… Thank goodness there was no one passing by at that moment!

At Disney World,
at a birthday party,
and my brother and I
with the "hippopotamus".

Not everything was bad, my mother made many friends, some Spanish and others from other Latin American countries. They went together to English classes and had a great time. She also got a job retouching negatives in a photography studio (the way to retouch photos before Photoshop) in Miami Beach. I think for her, it was a life she never would have imagined, and she did things she never would have dreamed of. I believe she missed her parents and life in Spain a lot. In those times, our economy wasn’t the best, so we couldn’t go back to Spain every year. But we did go back as much as we could to see my grandmother, aunt , uncle, and cousins. One year, even my grandmother came from Spain and stayed with us for a while.

My mother with her mother and my father

I can go on and on, but there are so many stories and anecdotes that I’ll save for another time. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of Yaya’s life, which as you can see, has been very interesting. I wish her mind was still sharp so she could tell you everything from her point of view. I try to interpret what she might have felt and recall the moments that were fun, important, or simply unforgettable for her. In Part 5, I’ll tell you why she returned to Spain and her life until she was diagnosed with the damn disease.