Authors: Oscar Lewis
When Lenore was pregnant with Manuel, I began to see Lupita on the side. Lupita also worked in the La Gloria restaurant. Lenore and I had a lot of arguments and every time we did, she wanted to tear the house down. She was terribly jealous and really made a scene. When I’d come home from work I would often find her in an angry mood, any little thing upset her. She would fly into a rage and get sick. Her pulse would almost stop and she would seem to be dead. The doctor didn’t know what caused these attacks. I couldn’t take it. I wanted affection. After working all day I wanted someone to speak to, someone who would understand me, someone to whom I could pour out my troubles. You know, there are many types of people and when a poor man doesn’t get any affection at home he finds it outside the home. The doctor once said to me, “To be content, a woman needs a husband who keeps her well dressed, well fed and well screwed, and for that, he must be strong and remember her often. Do this and you will see how things are.”
Lenore had a strong temperament in that way, and I believe it was one of the reasons … well, she might have lived … but, well, a woman who is always quarreling makes her husband forget her. It’s not the right sort of thing to do, I know, but that’s when I propositioned Lupita at the restaurant. I’m not a very strong fellow but I’ve always been a little hot-blooded. That’s my nature. Before Lupita, I had gone to a whore house on Rosario Street, but I got an infection there. It was because I wasn’t careful, lack of experience, nothing else. Since that time I never went to one of those places. Today, I wouldn’t go there even if it’s free!
But in spite of my bad conduct, I have had the good luck to never have heard that any of the women who have lived with me weren’t true to me. They were all dark women and of very passionate temperament … here in Mexico we believe that blondes are less strong sexually … but even if I didn’t make use of them for a time, they didn’t go out looking for another man. An honest woman, especially if she has children, must control herself and wait. I have had five
wives … there was one with whom I had a son but she married someone else. That son of mine is twenty-two years old now and I think it is time I went to gather him up and claim him. Yes, I had five women, and a few on the side, and luck still favors me, all in all. You cannot tell me it wasn’t luck when a nobody like me, an illiterate without schooling, without capital, not tall, not young, not anything, is lucky on all sides, with women.
Another man would be in jail by now! But I value my freedom and never looked for unmarried girls. No! All my women had already been married before I lived with them. Otherwise, there would be complications. If they had been virgins, I would probably have had to marry one of them in church or by civil law or I would be in jail for twenty years!
Anyway, when I began to have relations with Lupita, I didn’t go into it with the idea of having a family with her. But she became pregnant very soon. I would meet her at her room on Rosario Street where she lived with her two small daughters. They were so little they didn’t know what was going on. But later they always respected me and even called me
. At that time I was earning very little so I couldn’t support Lupita, who continued to work at the restaurant. But for the past fifteen years I’ve paid her rent.
Here in Mexico, when a woman with a child is accepted by a man, as I accepted Lenore, she usually doesn’t feel she has a right to protest if her husband goes out. She knows she has blundered. It is different if the wife were a virgin and married by civil and church law. She would have every right to complain. But Lenore was difficult. Well, I suffered a lot with her but I never abandoned her. I was faithful to my banners. I only left the house for a few days each time we quarreled. I always came back because I loved the children.
Then one night she died, and what a blow it was. It was about seven o’clock at night, we were drinking
when she says to me very sadly, “
, Jesús, I’m going to die this year.” She was always complaining of headaches. Then at one o’clock in the morning she said, “
, I’m dying, take good care of my children.” And the death rattle began. What time did I have to do anything? The doctor came and gave her an injection but it did no good. She was pregnant but the doctor said she died from the bursting of a blood vessel in her head. What I suffered during those days! I walked the street like a somnambulist. It was a good thing the grandmother was in the house. She took care of the children.
WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD WHEN MY MOTHER DIED. I WAS ASLEEP ON A
mat on the floor next to my brother Roberto. My little sisters, Consuelo and Marta, slept on the bed with my
. As though in a dream I heard my father calling. He called to us when he saw my mother slipping away from him, when he had a feeling she was going to die. I was always a sound sleeper and my father had to shout. This time he really yelled. “Get up, you bastards! Get up, you sons-of-bitches.
Hijos de la chingada
! Your mother is dying and you lying there. On your feet,
.” Then I got up, very scared.
I remember my mother’s eyes and how she looked at us. She was frothing at the mouth and couldn’t speak. They sent for a doctor who lived only a block away but my mother didn’t last long. Her face became dark and she died that night. My mother died carrying inside her another brother of mine, well on his way, because I remember that
had a big belly. Another woman was nursing my sister; that’s why Marta remained so small.
Whether it was on account of the pregnancy or really a “congestion of the liver with the heart,” like they told me, I don’t know. But when my mother was laid out, the thing she had in her stomach, my brother, was heaving inside. It was still heaving and my father had a desperate look on his face. He did not know what to do, whether to let them cut her open and pull it out or let it stay there. My father cried a lot; he cried and went to tell all his
Her death came as a shock to everyone. She was only twenty-eight years old and oh, she was healthy, so healthy. People had seen her washing the courtyard and doing her housework in the morning. Why,
that very afternoon she was still delousing my
. My mother was sitting in the doorway and my father at her feet.
At that time we were living in a
on Tenochtitlán Street. In the evening my
said to me, “Go out and buy some fried
and corn gruel.” I went around the corner and bought the food from a woman who had a stand. I’m certain it was on a Monday because the day before was Sunday and we had been on an excursion to the Basilica with my father and mother.
That Sunday we all ate avocados and chitlings and
, things that are very bad for the bile if you eat them before or after a fit of anger. Well, on Monday morning my mother had a real fit of anger on account of my brother Roberto. She had had a bad quarrel with a woman next door.
The whole day passed. My father came home from work and both of them were in a good mood. They were still having their supper when we children went to bed. That night my mother had her attack and there wasn’t even time for my father to call a priest to marry her before she died.
A lot of people came to the funeral, people from the tenement and from the market place. I don’t know how long you are supposed to keep a body in the house but my father didn’t want them to take her away and people began to complain because the body was already decomposing. At the cemetery, when they lowered my mother’s casket into the ground, my
tried to jump into the grave with her. He cried as though his heart were breaking. My father cried day and night on account of her.
After she was buried,
told us we were all he had left and we should try to be good children because he was going to be both father and mother to us. He kept his word exactly as he promised. He loved my mother a lot because it took him six years before he married again, before he married Elena.
I believe my father loved my mother very much, in spite of their many quarrels. My father was very stern and a man of action. He used to quarrel with my mother because he was always a stickler for having things very clean. If he found something where it shouldn’t be or anything that wasn’t right, he’d start a fight with her. And when I saw them in a big argument, I’d get terribly scared. Once my parents were having a hot argument and my father got excited and tried to strike my mother with a knife. I don’t know if he did it just to scare
her, but anyway I stepped in between them. I didn’t even reach up to their waists. I stepped in and my father calmed down right away. I began to cry and he said, “No, son, no, we’re not fighting. Don’t get frightened.”
was dead set against alcohol—he didn’t even like to smell it. Once my
went to celebrate the Saint’s Day of my aunt Guadalupe and they gave her quite a few drinks. So they had a big argument and I remember vaguely that my parents separated. I must have been three or four years old. At that time we lived at No. 14 on the Street of the Bakers in a
—just one room with a kitchen. My mother went to live at my aunt Guadalupe’s on the same street. They asked me whether I wanted to stay with my
. I guess I felt more fond of my mother at that time for I decided to go with her. They were separated about two weeks.
My mother’s nature was just the opposite of my father’s. She had a happy disposition and liked to talk and chat with everybody. In the mornings, I remember, she sang while she lighted the charcoal fire and made our breakfast, she never stopped singing. She loved animals and that was the only time we had a dog. “Yoyo” used to take great care of Roberto and me. My
wanted lots of singing birds and plants in the house but in those days my
was against spending money on things like that.
loved parties and did things in a big way. When she made a
on my father’s Saint’s Day, or even a small celebration on our birthdays, she prepared huge casseroles of food and invited all her relatives, friends, and
. She even liked to take a drink or two, but only at a party. She was the type of person who would give away her own meal to anyone who needed it, and she was always letting some homeless couple sleep on the floor of our kitchen.
We were a happy family while she was alive. After she died, there were no more parties at our house and no one ever came to visit us. I never knew my father to have friends; he had
, but we never saw them. And as to visiting, the only homes my father ever entered were his own.
Most of the time my mother worked to help my father. He paid the rent and gave her money for food, but my aunt told me he never gave my mother money for clothing or other things. For about five years she sold cake crumbs in the neighborhood where we lived. She would buy cake trimmings and crumbs from El Granero bakery and
sell little piles for five and ten
. After that, she got in with some people who bought and sold second-hand clothes. She used to take me to the Roma district when she bought clothes for her market stall.
It was there that something very sad occurred, about which I am the only one who knows. There was another man in my mother’s life. I don’t know, but I believe that my mother had married my father for love. They had met in the La Gloria restaurant where they both worked. But there was another woman, Lupita, who also worked there, and my mother was jealous of her. She told me once that this woman was my father’s sweetheart. Perhaps that is why my
began to see the second-hand-clothes man on the sly. She used to take me along, maybe to protect herself or to avoid getting intimate with him. I don’t know if they ever saw each other alone.
I was very mad about this, except that the man, like men do with children, gave me spending money when we went to the movies, or he’d buy me something. But in spite of that, I wouldn’t let go of my mother. I’d put my arms around her and wouldn’t let her talk to him. Once I threatened to tell my father. She said, “Go ahead and tell him. He’ll kill me and then you’ll see how you’ll get along without me.” Well, after that I no longer had the courage to do it. My father was always very jealous.
I don’t know how long this thing with that man lasted but we went to the movies only three times and then my mother died. He must have really loved her because he even came to the wake. When I saw him come into the house and stand there, I had a feeling of hatred for him. My father was there, how did he dare come? Later, that man took to drinking and went completely to the dogs. Within a year, he also died. Now I can excuse him, because he honestly loved my mother. I couldn’t understand things then.
was very fond of going on religious pilgrimages. Once she took Roberto and me with her to the shrine at Chalma. Chalma is the popular shrine for the poor, who, with much faith and love, walk the sixty kilometers through the hills. It is really a hard trip, a sacrifice, to go loaded with blankets and food and clothing. When we went, there were many people. It took us four days to get there and we slept in the hills or in towns at night, right outdoors on our straw mats, Roberto and I were afraid at night because we heard
the women talking about the witches that sucked children’s blood. One
said to my mother, “Be careful with your children because the witches are very active at this time. Just think, they found three children yesterday with not a drop of blood left in their bodies.”
Roberto said, “Do you hear that, brother?” And we both were filled with fear. I said, “Do you know what? We will cover up our heads with the blankets at night and they won’t know that we are children.”