Kingsville, Texas An Immersion Memoir-2

June 20, 2017

House/Home

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.

[I CAN’T UPLOAD PHOTOS AS MY PHONE IS FULL AND WON’T LET ME TAKE ANY!]

 

Kingsville, Texas — An Immersion Memoir

June 19, 2017

Coming Home

I arrived yesterday, checked in to the EconoLodge and hid in my room preparing for today’s workshop. I am in Kingsville, Texas, working with the English Department at Texas A&M University-Kingsville on an NEH sponsored workshop– “The Aesthetics of South Texas Artists and Writers.” This morning, I felt a rush as I walked on campus, past the old gym where I shared an office with other teaching assistants. I entered Fore Hall where the English Department offices and classes are still housed. My entire being reacted. I got goose bumps; I smelled the cigar smoke that one of the professors used to smoke. I could almost see the young inexperienced, scared, young woman I was walking the halls in her blue jeans and colorful cotton blouse, her future in her hands. Today I wore black, for it is only 5 months since my mother’s passing from this earth and I am observant of a dying tradition, el luto. I wear my nostalgia and my melancholy with pride. No regrets. No. But plenty of tears and sighs as I recall that summer so many years ago. I reach back into my past and reassure that skinny naïve youngster with a smile and a wink.

 

The summer of 1973, I moved to Kingsville to pursue a Master’s degree in English at what was then Texas A&I University. I was 26 and it was the very first time that I would live away from my family, away from the house that had been home for over 20 years at 104 E. San Carlos in Laredo, Texas. Away from friends and neighbors. Away from the border. I was terrified. My family too was scared for me. Feared that I was growing away from them. That I would never come back. And in a way, my father’s fears were prophetic as the person that returned to Laredo in 1980 was certainly not the one that left in 1973. Yes. My father feared for me, but his fears were allayed because I was not alone; two other students, Rosie and Lina, also from Laredo, joined me. They were working on their MAs in education, and they would return to their teaching positions in Laredo after the summer. We rented a small casita near campus. Every weekend, they returned to Laredo while I stayed alone in that small house that reminded me of a mountain cabin as it was made of wood: wooden floors, wood-paneled walls, even the ceiling—all made of the same warm, rich, honey-colored wood. I loved it! The wood must’ve been good insulation for although we had no air conditioning, I don’t remember it being particularly hot. Perhaps it was because I was gone for the hottest part of the day and spent hours at the library. I cooked my meals in an old gas stove, and in the early morning or late afternoon when the scorching heat was bearable, I read under an old mesquite tree in the yard we shared with 3 or 4 other similar casitas. I was in heaven!

How I got to Kingsville…

The previous spring, Dr. Orlan Sawey, the chair of the English Department at Texas A&I, was visiting Laredo and my mentor, Dr. Allen Briggs, scheduled a meeting so I could meet with him. Allen knew I had finished my student teaching, and I was ready to apply for certification by the state of Texas to become a high school English teacher. He also knew that the student teaching experience had not gone well as I became disillusioned and frustrated. I had shared with another English professor, Dr. Martha Thomas, that although I had wanted to be a teacher since I was in junior high school, I found myself in a quandary as I just knew that I didn’t want to be trapped in the high school classroom unable to teach what I wanted and unable to help my students. Unbeknownst to me, the chat with Dr. Sawey was an interview, and as we said good-bye, he offered me a teaching assistantship and accepted me into the MA program. I still had to apply and go through the process, but I was in! I was stunned. Of course, I jumped at the chance and became a teaching assistant teaching two sections of English Composition each semester for the next two years.  The assistantship paid my tuition for 9 credit hours each semester and offered enough of a stipend to rent a room in the back of a decrepit old house near campus and still manage to send some money home.

That summer, I enrolled in two graduate English classes: a British Literature class and another class I can’t recall.  I remember the Tennyson / Browning seminar because the professor, Dr. Hildegarde Schmallenbeck, would become my mentor, my champion as I faced the politics and culture of graduate school.

Today, as we introduced ourselves at the workshop, one of my former doctoral students who is now tenured Associate Professor here told the story of how were it not for me she would not be here. How one day when she was working at FedEx in Laredo, I walked in to mail a package and told her she should go on and get an MA degree. How later, when I was the advisor for the PhD in English at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I found her finishing her MA in Corpus Christi, and insisted that she go on for the PhD.

When I arrived at the EconoLodge hotel last night, the young woman who checked me in told me she is from San Antonio and she is here studying for her MA in Counseling Psychology. Why don’t you go on for the PhD? I asked.

She explained that she didn’t have the funds.

Go for it, I said. If you get into a program, they will provide funding. Just apply!

Really? She asked incredulous.

Yes. I replied. That’s how I did it. Of course, it will be hard. But you can do it if you really want it.

She smiled and said thank you. Her eyes shone with possibility.

 

[TOMORROW I WILL TAKE PICTURES AND POST THEM]

About

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Hola, Bienvenidxs!

I have several blogs here. The Elcaminoayearlater documents my trek on the Camino de Santiago written a year AFTER I walked the 800 kms/500miles  of the Camino. I hope you enjoy it!

The other under normacantu includes entries on various topics. The current project is a Visit to Kingsville Texas in June 2017.

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