By Moises Sandoval
May is when we honor the women in our lives, and for me, that it is when I most marvel at what my mother did for me.
Along with my father, my mother gave me the emotional intelligence to work hard, fulfill commitments, be dependable and make sacrifices for the common good of the family. She also gave me (her oldest), along with her nine other children, a strong foundation in faith. That’s because my parents could give us little else, but it was the most important thing they could give.
We were in the midst of the Great Depression. My parents were dry-land farmers who cultivated vegetables, corn and wheat. Goats, hogs and cows provided milk, lard and meat. But there were many mouths to feed: five sons, and destined to increase to eight sons and two daughters. We never went hungry, but we often lacked fruit and even potatoes. At school, we asked classmates who had oranges in their lunches to give us the peels.
We lived largely outside the cash economy. What little money we had went to buy necessities: shoes, cloth for Mother to sew into clothes, kerosene for light (we had no electricity), oatmeal and sometimes, canned fruit. There was only one Christmas morning when we found stockings filled with candy, peanuts, nuts and an apple.
But my mother was always doing little things to assure our future. On the denim overalls she sewed for us, there was always a pocket on the bib for a pencil, and there was usually a pencil stub in it. She also gave me a particular gift whose effects I enjoy to this day.
Typewriters fascinated me. My grandfather Enrique Perea had an ancient manual Underwood in his attic and whenever we went to visit, I would go up there to admire it. When I was 11 years old, she bought me a toy typewriter that actually typed, although very slowly.
I still wonder how she found it. We had no car or truck and thus trips to Las Vegas, New Mexico – the nearest town at 20 miles away – were rare, a half-day by horse-drawn wagon. And she would not have found it there anyway. She must have ordered it from the Montgomery Ward catalog.
I loved my typewriter, carried it to school and tried to do my homework on it. We were bused every day to a school in Rociada, New Mexico, with four rooms, one for each two grades. In the fourth grade, my teacher found I could do fifth-grade work and at his suggestion, I went to summer school in Las Vegas. I completed fifth grade in six weeks, returning in the fall as a sixth-grader.
My typewriter went with me to Las Vegas, where I lived with an aunt and uncle, Alice and Geraldo Martinez. I still have the postcard I typed on it and mailed to my dad on June 20, 1941.
It said: “I haven’t got lost in town. It is so easy to go to school. I am doing fifth-grade work. I have a very good teacher.”
I did not realize it at the time, but I had found the primary tool of my profession. That prized gift, lost when we moved to Colorado in 1944, was the first of many typewriters, including my grandfather’s old Underwood. They included manual typewriters, portables, electric typewriters and finally computers – from the earliest available to the most modern.
Every family, no matter how poor, has the inner resources to assure a future for its children. Nine of us graduated from college, without financial help from our parents. They empowered us to do it on our own.
Sandoval writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.