Into my pre-teen years—although I tried to hide my true feelings—I became self-conscious which developed into a guarded inferiority complex. While not shy as my mother had been, I felt like an outcast: I came from a broken home, my family was poor, and I was still on the school’s free lunch program. My clothes were hand-me-downs. We didn’t own a car. I didn’t even own a bike, although I always wanted one. We didn’t go on vacations like to Disney World the other kids bragged about, nor could we afford the latest trends or luxuries as others.
As I wrestled with these feelings of mediocrity, I became ashamed of my Puerto Rican heritage. I didn’t play the blame-game, but felt second-rate, forever on the outside looking in. I determined not to let anyone see through my brittle exterior to see a weakling. In school, because I didn’t feel part of the “in” crowd, I enviously watched as the popular kids voted for class president, vice president, or secretary. In my mind, I believed the ritzy kids went to summer camps, swimming lessons, and Girl Scout meetings. After all, they paid for their school lunches, not the state. They wore the latest fashions, not hand-me-downs. Their straight pearly whites glistened when they smiled. They even pronounced their words perfectly. They lived in big houses whose parents had “nest eggs.”
“Some are more privileged than others,” Grandma explained to me. “But we are all the same in God’s eyes.”
I wasn’t about to argue with Grandma’s statement. All I knew was that there never seemed to be enough funds to do anything extra. My grandparents were extremely frugal. They didn’t believe in splurging or in keeping up with the Joneses.
In the early seventies, several public schools were still racially unbalanced, so the federal courts stepped in. Miami’s school districts bused students from one neighborhood to another to achieve integration.
Busing made my life plummet from bad to worse. I attended Miami Shores Middle School, a predominantly white school where kids commonly called Hispanics “spics.”
Because I was of Puerto Rican descent, I was the target of their taunting. “You spic English?” they scoffed, using their favorite line. They even gave me grief about my naturally full-sized lips (something others now pay money to have done).
To make matters worse for me, my grandma—unpretentious and a bit old-fashioned— insisted I wear dresses to school past my knees, even though other girls wore the trendy mini-skirts and mini-dresses. Almost all my clothes were second-hand, and at eleven years old—going on twelve—that bothered me.
“Grandma, this isn’t what the girls wear nowadays!” I groaned.
“Dis is what you’re wearin’, and you shouldn’t be ashamed. Your clothes are clean and pressed,” she said with finality in her usual accent.
I threw up my hands. “Grandma, you’re gonna make me get into fights!”
“You are a Christian girl,” she retorted, her eyes wide and fierce. “Dun you forget that.”
* * * *
Thanks to you, Grandma, I haven’t forgotten.
I’ll always remember my beloved grandma who passed away in the eighties, whose birthday would have been July 26th. In her simplicity, she impacted my life and instilled in me values and principles I shall never forget.
© M.A. Pérez 2014, All Rights Reserved
10 responses to ““Dun You Forget.””
Mary beautiful tribute, to a beautiful lady by the sounds of this post.
I can imagine how difficult it must have been for you at eleven going on twelve. But now you’re older, you appreciate the ‘discipline’ she instilled in you. Thank goodness for the people who ‘shaped’ us and refused to back down. Beautifully told, Mary.
She was a great Christian lady………very much loved by all our family.
Indeed she was, cousin 🙂 And your sweet Mama and she were sisters and very much loved as well. May they RIP.
Hi! You are such an inspiring blogger that I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award which I will post tomorrow. At least this is one you don’t have yet, 🙂 Blessings,
Whoo Hoo! I am honored 🙂
Loved it… Donno why when I read your writings I can visualize it all. It’s like watching a short film.
I love you Maryann…
God bless you more!
Awwww Cathy! Then that means I’m doing something right 🙂
I love you too, Cathy!
I had 2 grandmothers, but the one in Maine was a stranger–we were too poor to go see her. I missed growing up with a grandma whose first language wasn’t English but Canadian French. My Texas grandma took care of me when my mama was sick, and I learned a lot from that lady. The first was love. Seeing others outside our family love her made me see what a blessing she was. Though she instilled many things into me, the one which stands out is “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”
I enjoyed reading about your grandma.
It is my maternal grandma that I write often about. I lived with her and my grandpa for almost three years when I was small. Grandma was more like a mother to me. I got to know my paternal grandparents as well whenever my dad visited and took me to see them. (My parents were already divorced by the time I was five.)
Thank you Sandra for sharing 🙂