Kingsville, Texas An Immersion Memoir-2

June 20, 2017


This morning, I met a former student who is now an Associate Professor of English at TAMU-K for breakfast of tacos (mariachis in Laredo) at Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant on King Street. With a heart full of joy at seeing her doing so well, I drove off on my way to campus. Driving on Santa Gertrudis – more about the street names later—as if drawn by a magnet, I turn on Second Street, now called Martin Luther King, Jr. Street, to find the place where the house where I lived from the fall 1973 to the spring of 1975 used to be. I couldn’t believe it. A few years ago, when I was in Kingsville to do a talk at the museum, I had driven by the house and it was still there. But now? No house. I recognize the alley and the house at the corner so I knew it was the correct address. Yet, all that is there is an empty lot enclosed by a wooden fence. That is all that remains—and my memories of that space where I first felt grown up and independent. The space where in some sense I came of age as a scholar, as a woman.

The House on 2nd Street

It was surreal–I stepped out of the car and was transported back to 1974. In my mind’s eye I am standing in front of the big rambling house with faded pink siding with doors that often don’t shut quite right. The owner, an Anglo woman who wore wigs, heavy eye make-up, red lipstick, and chain smoked, lived in half of the house; she divided the other half into two living spaces she rented to students. Gustavo, a friend from Laredo, who had been a classmate at Laredo State University, lived in the apartment in front, and I in the back. Mine was a one-room apartment—with a tiny bathroom at one end.  Standing in the hot morning sun, I could hear the music coming from Tavo’s apartment. On his door a ZZTop sticker placed there by an earlier tenant, no doubt another student. Tavo was a Vietnam veteran and on an R&R trip to Japan had picked up a fancy reel to reel stereo system; the stereo, turn table and the two huge speakers, occupied a prominent spot in his apartment next to a large cabinet television set where we watched Star Trek. He smoked and drank gallons of black coffee. Often, we worked late into the night to finish assignments: seminar papers, book reviews, and annotated bibliographies. We didn’t procrastinate, we just worked hard, all the time. One particular night we didn’t sleep at all as we wrote our papers for Dr. Galloway’s seminar on 18th century literature. We would write and read each other’s work. All night back and forth. That period is my least favorite and I was worried that my paper on Eustace Budgell and The Spectator was not good enough, but we both earned A’s.

The memories flood and tears come remembering the neighbor’s huge St. Bernard, a dog that visited me often, whining at my door so I would come out and pet him. One particular night, it was raining and the dog wouldn’t stay out, but came right into my apartment when I opened the door; he wet everything as he shook himself dry. Tavo heard the commotion as I was shouting at the dog to leave and came over and helped me get him out. We had a good laugh because the dog was heavier than I and there was no way I could push him out. I was quite skinny—emaciated, really–weighing under 100 pounds.

I had several good friends from Laredo who were undergraduates staying in the dorms—Lynch Hall,  Lewis Hall–so my tiny apartment became a haven for them. On weekends, Saturday evenings, or Sundays after mass, they would come over and I would feed them baloney sandwiches and Kool Aid, and once in a while I would make flour tortillas and cook up a pot of beans—comfort food! My friends: Jerry, Tere, and others including a few male friends who some times wanted to be more than friends—Tan, a Peruvian graduate engineering student; Hassan, an Iranian business student, and Bill a blue-eyed blond sociology student who drove a red mustang and was always talking about the great sex he and his Mexican girlfriend enjoyed. When I met her at the Newman Center, I kept thinking of Bill’s stories. I debated whether to tell her that he was talking about her like that. I chose not to and instead confronted/chastised him and ended our friendship. I enjoyed my conversations with Rosa Bosquez, from Robstown, also an English graduate student who was writing science fiction stories. She had a halo of black curls, small laughing eyes, and built fornida; she was always concerned about gaining weight. Then there was Ute, a German woman married to a GI who lived in Corpus and had two children—we became inseparable when we were moved to the Physics building where we as TAs shared office space. Our earlier office space was above the gym and it was a great improvement to move into a normal office space. Another classmate, an anglo woman (was her name Ann? Or Sarah?) and I spent hours discussing our readings, our lives, and our futures. She gave me an old TV when she and her husband bought a new set. I rarely turned it on, though. I was meditating for hours and with the teaching and studenting I had little time for entertainment–except for the Star Trek episodes but it was more fun to watch them with Tavo. All these friends spent many hours in my cozy apartment sitting on the floor or on the twin bed covered with the Indian, cotton, purple, paisley print bedspread. I kept it until I moved to Lincoln for the PhD and my mom’s sister, Tia Licha made me a beautiful blue and beige bedspread that I loved because it reminded me of the bridesmaid’s dresses we sisters wore for Mari’s wedding. In fact, my aunt and my mother sewed the dresses into bed pillows for each of us. But by then I was in Lincoln and had a proper apartment—but only after having lived in the Godinez’s basement for the fall semester and in Elaine Jahner’s basement for the spring.

The landlady, Tavo and I were not the only inhabitants of the old house; we had roaches the size of large monarch butterflies sharing our space. And when I turned off the lights, they flew. My efforts at keeping everything clean and using bug spray worked for the most part, but they were never fully gone. I was also on the lookout for scorpions or other bugs. I missed having pets because at home, we always had dogs and cats and when my grandmother was alive we also had birds in beautiful cages. But in Kingsville, I was a student and could not have pets; the tall Alamo tree in the yard was home to a number of birds, and I loved waking up to their song. In the night, the train whistle would sound the long, plaintive wail that reminded me of the train whistle back home in Laredo. To this day, the sound of trains elicits a nostalgia and a yearning for that which will always remain home.

With a sense of sadness, I got in the car and drove on to campus to prepare for the seminar.

Summer Abode

After the seminar this evening, I drove down 6th Street and turned on Henrietta Street to go by the last place that housed me in Kingsville. To my delight, the house is still there. That summer of 1975, before I left to Lincoln, Nebraska, I rented a room from Mrs. Sandoval. Tavo had already gone back to Laredo; my lease had been up, and I couldn’t sign another for I was only in town through the summer. So, I jumped at the chance to move into the house on Henrietta. Rafaela, a classmate in my American Women Writers class had told me about the room that Mrs. Sandoval had available for rent. I took it and became roommates with Raffy. I loved living there although I had to teach at 7:30 a.m. and being a night owl, it was difficult to get up and be “on” that early. Mrs. Sandoval worked and she wore a name tag with her last name in bold black letters—probably why I remember her last name but not her first—on her white uniform. I can’t remember if she was a nurse or a cook in a kitchen. I wrote a poem about that house and about Mrs. Sandoval. I should look it up.

That summer, the figs ripened on the tree in Mrs. Sandoval’s yard and I was in heaven. I would pluck a juicy fig and bite into it — the childhood memories would come. So many fruits from my childhood remain my favorites: pomegranates, figs, watermelon, mangos. The house was quiet and the room was perfect. I had already moved my bookshelves—just boards on large bricks, really– to Laredo to my parent’s living room; I was practically living out of a suitcase. But the house on Henrietta Street felt like home. One evening, walking home from the university I was imagining a future house where I would have a library to house my books and a study where I could write; I often had the same thoughts walking to the apartment on 2nd street, but tonight, it was different. I could see it in my mind’s eye—a large room, walls lined with book shelves, my books all around me. I felt joy.



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