Friday, July 29, 2011

My Favorite "Butt Call"...

I'm sitting at work, with the radio on, and suddenly a song comes on that brings a flood of memories to me. It was a song that was very popular a number of years ago, and it’s associated to one of my most memorable butt call.

Have you ever experienced a “butt call?”

You may be wondering what is a butt call. Let me explain. A butt call usually occurs with a cell phone, usually belonging to a man, dials a phone number unknowingly. Because, men usually keep their cell phones, among other things, in their pants, a call can be made when they reach into their pockets, or sit and reposition themselves, the "call" button is inadvertently pressed, prompting a call to the last number that was dialed. They are totally unaware they are actually calling someone until much later, or never, depending on what the receiver of the call decides to do. This can put all parties involved in a very awkward position later.

Well, during the 5 year span of my “single days” after my divorce, I received a few “butt calls.” Here is a story of one in particular.

One late evening, years ago, I was up late watching T.V. and catching up with some laundry. My two kids were asleep, and I was just about to turn in myself, when suddenly, the phone rang. It was past 11:30 pm, and it was very unusual to get a call so late. I was a bit worried, and wondered who would be calling me so late in the evening, so I hurried to the phone and picked it up. It served to be a true "wake up" call on my part.


No response. But wait, I think I recognize that voice…

“Steve? Hello?”

It was Steve alright, but he didn’t hear me. He was apparently too busy talking to another person. It immediately became apparent that I was a receiver of a butt call. I heard background conversations, and a woman’s voice, and a lot of giggling. I heard glasses, and a juke box playing, Rob Thomas’ Smooth. Wow. It sounded that the guy I was seeing at the time was at a bar, apparently with another woman! Hmm.. I started to wonder, should I hang up? Should I try and call him? Should I yell in the receiver and call him names? Should I just listen to their conversation? I decided to listen in. This conversation was interesting. I guess he wasn't with his daughter tonight like he had explained earlier that evening to me. May be “someone” was trying to tell me something. I felt a little evil listening in, but, hey I was the one who got called at 11:30 pm, so I had every right to listen to the drunk.

“You look so cute with that cowboy hat on,” said Steve.

Giggle, giggle, giggle...

“Thank you.” I responded.

Steve must have re-positioned himself on the chair or stool he was sitting, because most of the rest of conversation was mumbled, and unfortunately, I didn’t hear too much until, he apparently repositioned his pants once more and got up.

“Let’s go home….” Exclaimed Steve.

Giggle, giggle, giggle…

I never let my “butt call” know what I had heard that evening. I took it as him actually doing me a favor. To make a long story short, the last time I heard from Steve was when he called months later to let me know that he got beat up by his new “lady friend.” According to him, she had thrown a phone at him, and he was heartbroken. Poor Steve. How ironic, poetic justice, hey? At least I can laugh about it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Mom

My mother was born on a summer day, July 7, 1934 on the island of Terceira, in the small coastal village of Vila Nova. She was born in the rock walled home, her father, Francisco and her Tio Janeiro had built years before. Francisco had returned to the island after making his journey to America. He had worked on a dairy farm side by side with his brother Gilberto. Although it was very uncommon for people to return from America, he had promised his mother that he would come back to the island one day, and he made good with his promise. He met my grandmother, Maria Adelaide, soon after, and they made Vila Nova their home.

My mother was the third daughter born to my grandparents. Unfortunately, both of her sisters had died before their 1st birthday due to an infestation of ecoli found in milk products, that plagued the island in the early 1930's. Both of the sisters born before were lovingly named Aida, but when my mother was born, my grandfather insisted that this time, this daughter would be named Ana.

My grandfather Francisco, from what I've heard was quite the character. He had an infectious personality, and was a very comical and jovial young man. He loved children, and like many people of his generation, he loved carnival. His passion was his writing "dancas do carnival", and he was known throughout the island for his talent of writing verses. His passion for writing started at a young age, always reaching for his notebook and pencil at his side, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night, because a verse that would pop his head. He just had to write it down, or he might forget it by morning! My grandmother had told my mother that there were many sleepless nights due to her father's need to write. One of his first verses/poems he had first written, as a child was entitled, ironically, "Ana."

Unfortunately, my mother would never to know her father. My grandfather passed away from throat cancer when my mother was only months old. My mother was to only know of her father by recollections of her mother, and those by her many aunts and uncles, and family friends. My grandmother, Maria Adelaide, who found herself a widow at the age of 27, soon was married again a few years later to the only grandfather I would ever know, Jose. Jose was a good man, and a loving husband and father to my mother. He was a good friend of my grandfather's, and would speak about him often to my mother. This union also brought another sibling! My mother now had a younger sister, who my grandmother lovingly named, Aida---my dearest aunt.

My mother lived, for what I'm guessing, in the shadow of her father's death for a long time. Her father had died at a fairly young age, and people spoke about him and his talent constantly. The village missed him, and they missed his music. You could say he was almost some sort of celebrity from the village that was taken away too soon. Perhaps they were waiting to see something of my grandfather's talent come out of my mother. My mother was a pretty, brown eyed girl who people found a bit shy, but did possess some of her grandfather's talent. She enjoyed being on stage. Her passion was singing and theatre, and she was good at it. She was also quite the fashionista. Sometimes there would be parcels in the mail sent from America from an Aunt with beautiful dresses inside. They were handy downs, but my mother, who is an excellent seamtress, made "it work." A cousin visiting from America had once told her parents upon seeing one of my mother's plays,

"If she was born in America, she would be like our Marilyn Monroe."

(Okay, my mother told me and my sister this years ago, but to this day, she denies it. But it is true! So from time to time, we tease my mom and call her "Marilyn", but we are doing it out of love...nothing else.)

Yes, my mother had many admirers. She would sometimes talk to them from a high window on Thursdays and Sunday afternoons. There was this guy that lived in the city, and that guy who was from Lisbon, and that soccer player, oh and let's not forget that guy named Lorenco, but from what I've heard, I think her only true boyfriend was my father.

My father was in the American military at the time he first met my mom. He was stationed at the American base in Lajes purely on a fluke! His tonsils had to be removed, and because of that, he was not sent to Korea as originally planned. He was to be stationed at the island. Ironically he was stationed on the island of his parent's birthplace, where there were many cousins to visit! Ironically, my mother's step-father was one of them. My mother was only 15 when she first saw my father, 7 years her senior, standing there in her kitchen in military uniform. It was love at first sight for my dad.

Years passed on, and many letters were written to my mother, with no reply. Eventually, my mother got older, and kissed my dad for the first time. In her words, "He is the only man I've ever kissed!" (Oh, if only it was that easy for all of us.) My parents got married on the island, and after the birth of my oldest brother, Eddy, they went to live in California. It would be 15 years until my parents would return to the island with their children.

There have been good times, and tragedies in my mom's life, but my mom is one of the strongest women I know. She can drive you crazy with her compulsion for high heels and JcPenny clothes shopping, but she is my mom, and I wouldn't trade her in for anybody else. I fondly remember trips to the Azores as a child, where my mom had at trunk full of just shoes. My father would complain, and they would argue each time, but the arguments always ended in roars of laughter. There has been a void in her life since my father has passed away, and that void cannot easily be filled. Life does go on however, and she has proven that it does.

Happy Birthday Mom!! Let's make it another 40 would not be the same without you!

Monday, July 4, 2011

An American Story - The Lost Letter

My great-grandparents, Maria & João Lima; Taunton Massachusetts 

The other day, I had family come over for a nice visit. My Aunt Cecilia, and two of my cousins, Susan and Kathleen and their children were able to visit with us for the day near the pool on a very beautiful summer afternoon. Between the distractions of the children, ages 2 to 8, and a drowned mouse, (please don't ask) we had some interesting conversations about my own family history. I know much more about my mother's side of the family than I do of my father's, so I particularly enjoyed listening to the stories my aunt had to tell. My Aunt Cecilia is my father's sister, and she had been to the east coast many times, and between her visits with her aunts and uncles, and my late grandmother's recollections, she had many stories to tell. The visit was a memorable one for me, and I had the need to write some of this history down so as not to forget it. It's part of my own American family history, and being that it is the 4th of July, I think it is a most appropriate day to share this with you.

First of all, I am an American. I was born in California, 45 years ago in a fairly small coastal town of Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz is primarily known for it's Redwood trees and beautiful beaches. Santa Cruz is a desirable place to live--not just because of the ocean, but it's known for it's lifestyle, and easy way of living.  (More about Santa Cruz: My grandparents liked Santa Cruz as well. They enjoyed visiting during their summer vacations, and spent their days at the beach, away from the hot valley weather of home. They eventually decided to retire and move there in the early 1950's. My grandfather had sold the ranch in Winton, California, and at the age of 50 decided it was time to rest ocean side, and live the American dream. Not too shabby of a feat for two immigrants from the Azores, traveling in the "steerage" area for weeks, bound for America.

My grandmother, Rosa Lima was the eldest girl of 12 children. She was born in the Azores, Terceira, in the village of Agualva. Her mother depended on her to help care for her younger siblings, and her days were always filled with a never ending list of chores, and as I lovingly remember her say, "endless changing and cleaning of diapers." During the precious moments she did have for to herself, she would retreat to the attic area of her rock walled home into a crawl space so she could read her "novelas" (romance novels)and magazines in peace and quiet. Her cousins thought of her as a quiet type, who was somewhat of a dreamer. Like many teenagers her age, she had visions of going to America one day. She heard stories and read magazine articles of life in America, and it all seemed so exciting and different.

Her older brother, Manuel, had traveled to America a few months earlier. He had left on a ship with his best friend, and second cousin, Francisco. Francisco de Melo Borges--who happened to be my mother's father, and my grandfather. Manuel and Francisco traveled together in a large ship to start a new life. Manuel was going to look for work on the east coast, and Francisco was on his way to California to meet up with his brother Gilberto and sister, Maria whom had taken the journey a year before. They spent their time in the ship under many unpleasant conditions for weeks. They shared food they had brought with them from  home, shared stories, and their dreams. To pass the time, Francisco, who was known as the entertainer, wrote poetic verses on the ship and practiced and sang them to Manuel and the other passengers in the steerage area.

Manuel and Francisco reached Ellis Island, with soot on their faces, and with weary but heavy hearts. Their month's journey together across the Atlantic was a long one, but their journey had just begun, and they were to part ways now. They said their tearful goodbyes never to see each other again. My grandfather,  Francisco left onto another ship bound to San Francisco by way of Argentina, and Manuel stayed in New England, to settle in Massachusetts to find work at a factory.

Rosa's father, my great-grandfather, Joao, (John) was to make the same trip with another older brother six months later. Manuel had written home to say that he had found a good job in a factory that made copper pans. Rosa's mother, my great-grandmother, Maria, urged her husband Joao to meet their son there.

My great-grandmother Maria was the driving force to take her family to America. She was known as a very strong-willed and courageous woman. My great-grandmother wanted a better life for her children, away from the hard life, and hardships of the time. The island was experiencing awful weather, and sickness was plaguing the island. By the great urgency of his wife, my great-grandfather half heartily took the trip with his other son, Joao. They crossed the Atlantic and reached the east coast during a cold winter. My great-grandmother, Maria immediately begun to make preparations to meet them there later. It was soon discovered that she was expecting another child, but that did not hinder her from planning her trip at the least, in fact it made her more determined to have this child born in America.

It was cold, and it was a bitter winter in Massachusetts. It was the first time my great-grandfather had seen snow! Being older, my grandfather felt out of place in this new country. He was an island person, who had land and cattle in the Azores. He had grown his own food on the land. There in Massachusetts there were only factories, no land to work on, life was busy and was confusing!  It was not what he was accustomed to. His son, Joao, had an easier time adjusting.  He found a job working side by side with his brother Manuel.  However, my great-grandfather was frustrated.  After months of searching, he was unable to find a job.   Out of desperation, he wrote a letter to his wife, that went something like this:

"Our son Joao has found a job working with his brother Manuel, and they are working hard and making good money. I however, do not like it here. I cannot find a job. I miss my land, my wife and my children. The weather here is miserable. It is cold, and I think it best that you not come as we had planned. I will make arrangements to come back home at the end of winter......"

The letter arrived to my grandmother's house one winter's day. Rosa and her siblings all rushed around her as she excitedly opened the letter. Everyone was happy, and excited, but not more than my great-grandmother. She happily read the letter out loud to her children. As the words of her husband were read, the smile on her lips quickly faded. Upon finishing reading the letter, she immediately held it over her head, and ripped it into pieces in front of her children, and sternly told them all:

"We NEVER received this letter!"

She told her children that they would never speak of this letter, and they were to leave for America as planned at the end of the month. They were bound to America--no matter what the circumstances were. The letter, as far as she was concerned got "lost" in the mail, and that was that.  End of story!

Yes, my great-grandfather was a bit surprised to see his pregnant wife and children there waiting at the dock the day of their arrival. The letter he wrote had apparently never arrived.

My great-grandparents, with much work, and sacrifice eventually settled in a nice little town in Massachusetts called Taunton. My grandmother found a factory job at a thread factory, and at a social gathering, eventually reconnected with a friend of one of her brothers,  her one and only true love, Joao Costa, aka "John", my blue eyed grandfather.  My grandfather had traveled over the Atlantic from his native Terceira that same year, and with him he brought visions of life in California.  At that time there were many opportunities there primarily in the farm and diary industry.  My grandparents were soon married and made their life there, working hard, digging ditches, and doing any farm work they could find.  They pinched pennies, and made necessary sacrifices, often living without many simple luxuries, to eventually owning a ranch, and raising their four children: my Uncle John, my dad, Joe, and my two Aunts, Cecilia and Addie.

It's hard to think that a letter could have changed it all. Thank you great-grandmother Maria for ripping that letter. I owe you, as well as my children, and their children.  I'm proud to be an American, but most importantly I'm proud of my Portuguese American heritage. God bless America--may this country always be known as a place that welcomes all who have a dream of greatness!