My grandmother was born in a box car.
I have opened several speeches with this little fun fact about my family.
My grandmother was born on May 5, 1930 in her family home which, at the time, was located in boxcar out behind the Swift Meatpacking Plant in the Stockyards of Fort Worth Texas.
She is very light skinned and had red hair. My Great-Grandparents, especially my Great Grandfather were dark skinned. One day great grand pa and my baby grandmother when a few men came by and asked where he got that white baby. His response, “I found her along the train tracks.” (This started off a long history of inappropriate and ill-timed quips from family members.) The sheriff came looking for him with the goal of returning the white baby to her true family. Fortunately my grandfather’s boss was around and vouched that the baby did indeed belong to that family.
This story is the beginning of my immediate family history. My mother’s side of the family is a fun and exciting blend of Gonzalez, all of whom are strong willed, benignly crazy people and the Zarates who now consist mainly of mule stubborn very strong women, some who are two shots of tequila away from being poison mean.
My grandmother, the very light skinned baby with red hair grew up “passing” for white to the point that she was often sent to do family chores that involved the exchange of money because she would be treated fairly. When she was seventeen years old, she was a dead ringer for Rita Hayworth. This was around the time she met and married my grandfather, Angelo Gonzalez.
Angelo went with his friend Jesse Zarate to meet Jesse’s younger sister at the bus stop and decided that he would marry this strong, lovely girl. My grandfather was newly returned from the War and he was known to be a drinker.
My grandmother, showing quite a bit of grit and fortitude for a teenager told him in no uncertain terms that she was not going to be one of those women who wait for their husbands to stagger home from bars. If he wanted her, he would have to stop drinking.
From what I understand this was quite the task, but he did it. He quit drinking and married her.
She became a social worker in the early 70’s and I vividly remember attending the ceremony when she received her certification. (I also remember my brother saying that he was going to yell, “Yay Grandma!” when her name was announced. My mother said that if he did she would snap his head off. This made me laugh for hours.)
My grandmother is living what probably are her last few days. She is 86 and says she has been ready to go for awhile. I’m not at all ready. I have lost both grandfathers, one grandmother, several aunts uncles and cousins. Mr Steve died just a few feet away from me. I knew it was coming and I was ready.
I’m not ready this time. I’ve grown used to being dead inside and the arrival of Batman in my life has helped me heal to the point where I can feel things again. I’m not ready.
I spent some time with my grandmother this weekend and she wanted to know if I was going to vote. I told her I was. She said that if that man wins the election our country will turn into Nazi Germany.
As we discussed this real fear I realized that my grandmother is starting to slip a little mentally. Yet she sees things far more clearly than the rest of the world seems to.
She is not afraid of dying or of being poor. She is afraid for our country.
Because she was born in a box car.