Saturday, January 31, 2009

el elefante es grande

Selsa Couch was born and raised in Taos, New Mexico. She came from a rather large family - at least four brothers and three sisters that I can remember. I only saw the whole crew together once but at different times, her mother, Margaret Anaya, and some of her sisters or brothers, would visit the Couch family in Fort Wayne.

That entire Anaya family was an animated bunch. When with each other, they would speak their native language (Spanish) and their hands would be doin' almost as much work as their lips. Please do not think that I am making fun of them - I'm certainly not. If anything, it made me aware very early in life how powerful non-verbal queues were to communicating with someone else.

Selsa's family had very deep roots in a world that frankly, I knew nothing about. The language, the traditions, the foods - they were all new to me. I was a good sport though - I kept my mouth shut and tried to blend in as well as I could.

One of the things that was extremely important to Selsa was that both of her children had a solid understanding of their roots. The playing out of these expectations came in the form of a strict, Catholic-church upbringing, a rigorous educational curriculum, and hands-on experience with traditions that Selsa herself experienced as a child.

I've already written about our CCD Classes, Confession, and Communion.

Another area that she was insistent that Ericka learn was the Spanish language. When the Couch's moved to Hadley Road, we jumped full-force into learning how to speak Spanish. Me and Ericka would sit in the nook area (between the kitchen and the family room), with our books (which Selsa purchased for us), and we would review our Spanish lessons with her.

This was independent from our school stuff - this was afterschool lessons and how I got mixed up into it - I'm not sure. It was probably a lot like all of the other things that my mom and Selsa conspired on (i.e. if it was good for one daughter - it would be good for the other daughter too).

Nouns and verbs.
Male and female versions of words.

It was a lot to learn.

Selsa used to drill us on the fundamental proununciations of the words. The phrase which I cannot get out of my head, "el elefante es grande".

Looks (and probably sounds) simple enough, right? Absolutely not. You needed to put emphasis in the right areas and your tone needed to reflect the statement that it was.

It was during this period of time in our friendship that I first noticed how tough Selsa was on Ericka.

Selsa was an elementary school teacher. She taught at Hoagland and then at Ward. Her teaching (and parenting) methodology reminded me a lot of my third grade teacher, Miss (Sandra) McDougall. She was tough, had high expectations, did not take any b.s., and did not allow for any excuses. Neither she nor Miss McDougall were mean - they were just very set in how they thought things should happen. It's a series of good qualities to have in a school teacher. In a parent? I have mixed emotions.

My mom wasn't anything like this (not to say she was a "better" parent or anything like that). Their styles were just totally different from one another. My mom was more laid back and casual about parenting and I think that I had higher expectations of myself than I think she had of me - or at least that she ever verbalized to me. She was basically a kid herself and although she was smart, she dropped out her junior year to have me. I think she was just pleased that I was a good kid who liked school, did well, and didn't cause issues for anyone (except my bratty sister PJ).

Sitting at the table, one Wednesday afternoon, practicing our Spanish - I saw it.

I saw the almost unbearably high standards for everything and anything.

I saw the cracks in my friend. She never broke down or fell apart. It was her demeanor, the sad, defeated look in her dark eyes. I didn't know how to fix it. My first reaction was to grab her hand and run out the back door and into the big, back yard.

But I didn't. I sat there with her and we continued through the lesson.

Afterwards, while waiting for my mom to pick me up, we went outside and spun ourselves around in circles until we got dizzy and fell to the ground laughing.

That's how me and Ericka used to deal with things in our lives. Distractions. Goofin' off. We never poured our hearts out to each other and we never had deep, insightful discussions. We were there for each other in a very silent way and for many years, it's probably what kept us both sane.


ida said...

good post. it made me refect on myself as a parent and not feel bad about the times i am/was like yours or ericas moms. thank you. and i am glad that you were there for erica and could see what was really going on. if you have kids i am very sure you are a very good parent. good post.

Carl H. said...

I second that motion! I SO enjoy your reflective posts. They bring me back to the same point in my life where your post takes place - well, same but south of Sandpoint.