The Children of Sanchez (7 page)

BOOK: The Children of Sanchez
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When my father died, he left a little house over there with some goods, which I took over. I was the only one of his children left. I was already here in Mexico City, working in the restaurant. Some people down there sent me a telegram.

When I came, my father was still alive, and I saw him die. He told me, “I’m not leaving you anything, but I will give you a piece of advice. Don’t get mixed up with friends. It’s better to go your way alone.” And that’s what I’ve done all my life.

What he left me was very little. This half-brother of his, together with the people there, had me thrown in jail. I gave him what my father left for him in a written will, I was supposed to give him 50 percent. But he was a very lazy man, good for nothing and didn’t like to work. Well, I followed the will to the letter, and according to the law. Why, I even gave him an old Singer Sewing Machine that was in the house. I said to him, “You can take this uncle.” I, being good-hearted and sincere, said to him, “Look, this is what goes to you and take this machine for your wife.” Well, even after all of that, he had me thrown in jail. For a hundred
pesos
! I told him, “You’re a miserable so-and-so.” I gave him the hundred
pesos
, the others divided it up and left him with ten. You see how it was? Even among your own relatives you can’t trust anybody when it comes to money. People want to grab all they can.

Ever since I was little I liked to work. I was ambitious to earn money for clothes. I saw my father make money with his little business, and I wanted to have something of my own, not on a very large scale but I wanted to earn it with these, with my hands, not with my father’s money. I was never greedy for the inheritance from my father, not at all. I used to think, “If some day I have some money in my pocket, I want it to be through my own work, not because somebody gives it to me, a neighbor, relative, uncle or my father, no, sir. I want to earn it with these hands of mine.” And another thing, when I left home I knew that if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t eat.

I was about twelve when I left my father’s home. I ran away without telling anyone. First, I worked at a grain mill, then as a field hand on a sugar plantation, and then as a cane cutter. It was hard in the fields and I worked with a hoe all day long in the sun. They paid one and a half
pesos
per thousand canes but I could barely cut half of that and so I earned only seventy-five
centavos
a day, not even enough for food. I was very hungry and passed whole days without food or with only one meal a day. That’s why I say, I had no childhood. I worked this way for about four years.

Then I met a Spaniard who owned a corn mill. He knew I had some experience with scales and weighing and one day he said to me, “I am going to Mexico City. If you want to come, I can give you work.”

“Yes, sir, I’m ready.” All my baggage consisted of a little box that held my clothes. I wanted to know Mexico City as I had never been anywhere before. We took the train the next morning and arrived in Tacuba, where we stayed. After working for him for a while, he threw me out. We had a quarrel over the weights of a scale. He was looking for an excuse to throw me out. You know how people are when they see someone more ignorant and illiterate than themselves! They do what they want, no? At that time I had just come from an
hacienda
and I didn’t know anything! My eyes were blindfolded. I didn’t know a single street! I had already used up the little money I had. There I was without a
centavo
and not knowing a soul.

Well, as some people say, “Where everything else is wanting, God steps in.” There was a man who worked in a mill nearby. He used to pass by every day. One day he saw me and told me his boss wanted me to work for his mill. That night I was standing on the street corner with my little box of clothes under my arm, without a
centavo
, without any idea of what to do. If I had had money, I would have gone back to my homeland. At that moment this man passed by as if he had fallen from the sky. He said to me, “What are you doing here?” I told him. He said, “Don’t you worry. Let’s go to my house and I’ll find you a job.” But there was that union business. The next day we went to see his boss. He told me I had to be in the union to work in his mill. I didn’t even have a
centavo
. We had come from La Tlaxpana and I walked nearly to Tepito. The millers’ union was there. They asked me how much money I had on me. When they found out, they said nothing could be done. So I went all the way back on foot, without a bit of food in my stomach, There I was back in the same situation, going
hungry. That’s why I sometimes scold my children, because I’ve always given them food and a roof over their heads.

So I started going to the grocery stores to see if anyone was looking for an errand boy or helper. I knew something about the grocery business and could wait on customers rapidly. I went from store to store with no luck. There was bread everywhere and me so hungry, you have no idea how it feels. After a few days I met a man in La Tlaxpana, a block from where I was staying. He had a grocery store. He asked me, “Do you want a job?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you have references?”

“No, sir. I just arrived from Veracruz.” I was praying to God that he give me work or something. I explained that the only man I knew had a mill nearby. He went to speak to the man and then said he would take me on trial for two weeks. The pay was fifty
centavos
a day and food. There I was the next day with my package of clothes, for I had no place to leave it. I went to work at once. I was quick, I went around as if I were on wheels. I needed work, I had to eat. Two weeks went by, then a month, then three. I was very happy. I worked from six in the morning to nine at night without rest. I ate my breakfast cold in the store, there was no time to warm it. There were many customers. I delivered orders and lugged boxes I could barely lift, cases of beer, sacks of salt.

One morning my boss brought another boy from a village and he said to me, “Hey, Jesús, come over here. This boy is going to take your place. You’re no damned good, get out.” With those sweet and comforting words he fired me. That’s all there was to it. There was nothing to be said. The next morning I was out on the street again.

But these difficulties help one to become a man, to appreciate the true value of things. One learns what it means to earn a living with the sweat of one’s brow. To grow up away from your parents helps you to become mature.

When I was at the store, I had met a boy who had a relative who was a janitor in a building downtown. I asked for a note to this man and went to see him. I showed him the note. “Sure, why not? The building is empty,” he said. “Pick out any place you like and put your box there.” I stayed there without a
centavo
and once more I began to look for work.

That’s when I found a job in the La Gloria restaurant. They paid
me twelve
pesos
a month and three meals. I went in with my package of clothes and began to do everything they asked me. I was eager to work and while lifting a heavy package I got a hernia. I went to the toilet and saw a little lump here in my groin. I pressed on it and it hurt. I went to a doctor and he told me I had a hernia. I was lucky because the doctor belonged to the General Hospital and had me admitted. Now what about my job? I spoke to the owner, a Spaniard, a decent man, a real human being, I asked permission to go and be operated. They operated on me quickly but then I did a stupid thing. After the operation it hurt near the stitches and so I lifted the bandage and touched it and infected myself. Instead of being in the hospital for two weeks, I was there for five weeks.

When I got out I went to the restaurant and found someone at my job. But the owner took me back. Yes, I’ve worked there for over thirty years, and I’ve rarely missed a day. For the first fifteen years, I worked on the inside as a general helper and learned to bake bread and make ice cream. I worked fourteen to fifteen hours a day. Later, I began to do the shopping for the restaurant and I became their food buyer. When I began to work I earned eighty
centavos
a day. Now after thirty years, I earn the minimum wage of eleven
pesos
a day. But I could never live on this wage alone.

In thirty years I’ve rarely missed a day of work. Even when I’m sick I go. It seems that work is medicine for me. It makes me forget my troubles. And I like my work. I like all the walking I have to do and I enjoy speaking to the market vendors. I know them all after these many years of buying fruits, vegetables, cheese, butter and meats. I look for the best buys and all that. One has to know about buying, because each fruit has its season, no? Like melons. They’re getting good at this time and I can buy them. The early melons were bad. They come from different places, from Morelos, from Michoacán, Cortázar. The ones from Guanajuato are very good; also the yellow ones from Durango. The same with oranges, they come from all over the Republic. Vegetables, too. The best avocados come from Atlixco and Silao, but they send most of those to the United States. The same with tomatoes. One must observe much to learn to know fruits and to be able to buy.

I buy six hundred
pesos
’ worth of food for the restaurant each day. They give me the money in the morning and I pay cash for each
purchase. There are no bills or receipts. I keep my own accounts and hand in a list of expenses each day.

I get to the restaurant each morning at seven to open the iron shutters. Then I work inside for a while, have breakfast and leave for the market at nine-thirty. Two boys assist me and they cart the purchases back to the restaurant. I get back at about one-thirty and usually there is something missing, so I run to the market again. I go back to the restaurant at three o’clock, have lunch and leave about four to look after my pigs, to sell lottery tickets and to visit my daughter Marta and the children.

My work companions at the restaurant think well of me and appreciate me because I am the oldest employee in the establishment. We joke and tease a lot and this, too, is a distraction. I’ve always behaved myself and gotten on well with my boss. A lot of workers hate their boss and don’t feel loyal, but in that respect I am well off because I know my boss holds me in high esteem. To show his appreciation he allows me to work seven days a week and all holidays, so I can increase my earnings. For years I’ve worked on Wednesdays, my day off. I respect my boss and I do my best. He is like a father to me.

All I do is work and take care of my family. I never go to
fiestas
. Only once, when we lived in Cuba Street, some people in my
vecindad
made a
fiesta
and I danced a little. I didn’t drink much and went right home to bed. For me there are no outings, no parties, no nothing … only work and family.

And I have no
compadres
where I work. I consider
compadrazgo
a serious thing, a matter of mutual respect. When I needed
compadres
, I chose older people, not youths or my fellow workers. Before you know it, young people invite you to drink with them and do things together. Some even kill each other, and that is bad. When I am invited anywhere, I don’t go.

It was at La Gloria restaurant that I met the mother of my children, Lenore. I fell in love with her. She was short but broad-shouldered and dark-complexioned. I was about sixteen and she must have been two or three years older. She had been in Mexico City longer than I, and had had a husband in free union. I accepted her with a child of ten months. I was very happy to do it. It seemed perfectly natural to me, but the child got sick and died soon after. I was earning only eighty
centavos
a day and couldn’t afford to pay ten or fifteen
pesos
a month for a place of our own, so I went to live
with her family. I was young, very poor and very foolish in those days. I was stupid, like a piece of wood. But at fifteen, what experience did I have? All I knew was that I wanted to sleep with her.

But, as we say here, after twenty-four hours, a corpse and a house guest begin to stink. Her brothers drank a lot and came home and beat their wives and we had difficulties. I tried hard to find our own place to live in and finally found a room that rented for ten
pesos
. I didn’t even own a bed. My wife sold bread crumbs and leftover cake and earned more than I did. Sometimes she earned eight
pesos
a day. Yes, selling pays well and there I was buried like a potato in that restaurant.

Lenore had a strong personality and that is why I couldn’t live very peacefully with her. She wanted me to marry her but that made me angry. I thought she wanted to tie me up for life! It was wrong of me, but that’s the way I was.

Lenore was the first woman I had ever had. We lost our first child, a little girl named María. She died a few days after birth, of pneumonia. Some say her little abdomen burst. Manuel was born next and I was happy to have my first son. I was even proud to be a father. I looked at him as though he was some strange person. Being so young, I lacked experience. One doesn’t feel love right away, but my children always gave me pleasure. But at that time, we lived in misery. I earned only eighty
centavos
a day, and it didn’t go far. Naturally, when Lenore was having a baby, she couldn’t work and without her ten or twelve
pesos
a day, we lacked everything. She usually helped with the house expenses.

After Manuel, there was another boy who died in a few months. He died because of lack of money and because of ignorance. We had no experience and didn’t struggle to save the baby. Lenore was a good person but she had a terrible temper and would get bad attacks of the heart and the bile. She always had trouble with her milk. She was not one of those affectionate mothers who pampered their children. She didn’t beat them, that I remember, she was about average there, although she would get very angry and use strong words with the children. She didn’t kiss or hug them, but they were not badly treated by her. She went out all day selling cake.

I wasn’t very affectionate with the children either. I don’t know whether it was because I didn’t get much affection in my childhood, or because I was left to take care of them alone, or because I was
always worrying about money. I had to work very hard to get them food. I didn’t have time for them. I think in most homes, arguments and tragedies have an economic base because if you have fifty
pesos
a day expenses and you don’t have the money, it bothers you and you worry and quarrel with your wife. I think that’s what happens in most poor homes.

BOOK: The Children of Sanchez
10.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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