Tag Archives: El Paso

LSS: A lesson from his father

My husband and I have been married 18 years. Through the years, I’ve gotten bits and pieces of the story I’m about to tell, but this week was the first time he ever told me the whole thing — and he gave me his blessings to share it here.

Back in 1969, a few weeks after the astronauts landed on the moon, my husband’s dad went into the hospital.

From everything I know about my husband’s father, I gather that he was a manly man. I know he loved strange meats and cheeses, opera and bullfighting.

“He had a bunch of opera records,” my husband said. “I got that from him. I like opera. I’m not a fan of bullfights, but I’m glad I got to see some. I love the music and the sounds of a bullfight — and you know I love strange meats and cheeses.”

That trip to the El Paso, Texas, hospital marked the first hospital stay of his life. Doctors wanted to determine the source of some stomach problems. My husband and his mom were waiting for his dad when he got out of exploratory surgery. Everything seemed fine.

They talked for a while, and then headed home to check on the family’s two younger children staying with neighbors.

At some point that night, the phone rang. It was one of those phone calls you don’t want to get. Someone from the hospital was calling saying things weren’t going well.

Come quick.

No one else in the family drove. They woke Mr. Ortiz, the neighbor. He took my husband and mother-in-law to the hospital. When they got to the hospital, the staff wouldn’t let them in the room where they had visited a few hours earlier. My husband remembers someone talking to his mom and her crying.

Eventually, they went home. Nothing in his life has been the same since.

That was the summer between his 8th and 9th grade years. In 8th grade, he had been student body president and involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities. Once the funeral was done and the dust settled, he and his mom sat down and had a long talk.

He was the same age as our oldest daughter is now.

“Think about Greer (our daughter) right now,” he said to me last week. “She doesn’t have a clue about the ramifications of the light bill not getting paid. She doesn’t even think about it. The lights go on by magic. We stop and eat at a restaurant, and she orders whatever she wants. It’s all magic. Back then, when my mom and I figured it all out, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, you mean if I don’t do this, the lights won’t go on? What do we do?’ Well, I got a paper route.”

So began my husband’s long career in newspapers — and many other life lessons.

“I became more aware of everything around me because I became responsible. Childhood was over,” he said. “All of a sudden it wasn’t about me anymore. I wasn’t bitter. That was just the way it was. As a matter of fact, in a strange way, it gave me more reason to succeed — to be good at what I was doing because I wasn’t doing it just for me anymore.”

He had thrown a paper route before, but the short route was to earn money to buy model airplanes. He refers to the job he got after his dad died as “a real paper route” — 100 papers every afternoon. He’d pick them up a block from his high school and walk the mile or so up the mountain throwing papers on both sides of the street. He switched to a morning route his sophomore year in an effort to be available for after-school activities.

By the time he graduated high school, he went to work for the newspaper full-time.

Early in our conversation, I asked my husband what he thought his dad taught him. He was stumped.

“When your parent dies and you’re that young, there are a lot of things that you plan to do together or thought you’d do, but we never got to do,” he said.

By the time he got to the part of the story of how his life changed after his dad died, he had come up with an answer to my question.

“Maybe that’s what my dad taught me — to get up and go to work every single day.”

He paused.

“Or maybe it was something more. Maybe somewhere along the way, I figured out what my dad knew all along. He was a man who never complained — which may explain why he was so quiet! Even so, I believe he taught by example that life is about happily doing whatever you have to do.”

Gracias por la lección, Papi.

(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, runs in The Sunday Advertiser. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.)

LSS: On the art of appreciating your husband’s ex-girlfriends

Somewhere out there, probably somewhere around the West Texas town of El Paso, there’s a woman I need to thank.
I’ve never met her. I don’t even know her name. I’m fairly certain she’s unaware what she did for my family and how it has positively affected our lives for decades and continues to do so today.
Apparently, she was attractive.
She had gone to a fancy private girls’ school in El Paso, Texas. My husband went to a big public school not too far away. They both graduated that May and ended up working together at W.T. Grant’s through the summer.
He liked her. He thought she was great.
“She seemed older than me,” he said. “Basically, I had a crush on her.”
He asked her out. They even went with her parents to the wedding of one of her family friends.
One day in mid-summer, the two of them were talking during a break at work. He asked her something about work later that week. She told him she wouldn’t be in that day. He asked why.
“Because I’m going to register at UTEP that day,” she said.
UTEP is the University of Texas at El Paso, a great school that literally sits right along the border of our country, with only Interstate 10 between it and the Rio Grande.
I’m unclear on exactly how the rest of the conversation went, but somewhere along the way, she said, “What about you?”
And he said, “Oh yea, I’m registering later this month.”
Here’s the thing: until that moment, going to college had not been a part of the plan for my husband.
He was the oldest child. His dad had died unexpectedly four years earlier. He was doing everything he could to live his life and help his mother and the rest of his family survive. Somehow college had not entered the equation.
Until that girl said she was headed to college.
“If she was going there, I was going there,” he told me last week.
As things turned out, he couldn’t get everything together quickly enough to get registered for the fall semester, but he was there in January.
Once at college, their paths didn’t cross as often as he anticipated. “She started dating someone and eventually got married and dropped out of school,” he said. “A semester later, I started working full-time at the newspaper and going to school part-time, but I graduated. I probably wouldn’t have gone to school—certainly, not back then—if it wouldn’t have been for her.”
And in trying to impress a girl, he changed the course of his life.
Our lives, for that matter.
From time to time, I think about the impact that almost-summer romance and quick conversation had. It’s such a great example of just never knowing the effect of our words and actions. Beyond that, it’s also an illustration of how the people you hang around can influence your life—for the good or otherwise. Realizing their sway might not be possible at the time, but it’s there whether you like it or not.
In other words, your mother was right. “Hang around people you aspire to be like—people who make you a better you.”

LSS: Mexican border a harsh reality

Living with the Mexican border in sight from my kitchen window changed me.
In 2001, after six years of living in El Paso, Texas, my family and I moved to Lafayette. Before living in El Paso, I thought of the border one dimensionally — a line drawn in the sand delineating one country from another. I didn’t realize how interconnected the lives, economies and cultures the two sides of that line were.
One experience reinforced that insight for me more than any other. On the day school started one fall, I unexpectedly ended up filling in for a third-grade teacher in one of El Paso’s small parochial schools. The school asked if I would help until they found a permanent replacement.
When I walked in the class and realized five of the nine students lived in Juarez and crossed the border every morning and afternoon, I was amazed. Even back then, crossing the border on a daily basis was not for the faint of heart.
Falling in love with that class didn’t take long. As these things happen, I happily completed the school year.
In the last decade, I lost touch with all but one of those third graders. As I’ve learned about the horrors of Juarez and its climb to become the most dangerous city in the world, I’ve thought of those sweet children.
Listening to radio stories about massacres at children’s birthday parties or the Juarez symphony playing on in the midst of so much terror, I’ve sat in my car and cried wondering about those students and their wonderful families.
I’ve comforted myself with this thought, “Surely, their families have gotten out of Juarez by now,” — without much contemplation of the fates and fear the other 1.5 million of the city must be experiencing.
Last week, via the miracle of facebook, I re-connected with all seven girls from the class. They’re all in college on this side of the border. To my shock, only one of their families has left Juarez.
For certain, at 20 years old, these girls have known more fear and heartache than I can comprehend. Here is what they have written to me this week.
In response to my sadness over Juarez, one wrote, “We have had to change our way of life quite a bit, but we are OK. It is still livable over here, so please don’t cry anymore.”
Another who attends college on the East Coast was more descriptive.
“I wouldn’t say the news is exaggerating. If I truly acknowledge how much fear is in my surroundings, I would never leave my house. …Even though our city is falling apart (because that is what is really happening), we still manage to do our daily chores.”
Some have not learned to drive because of the dangers cars pose. They rarely, if ever, answer the phone because of fake and real kidnapping threats. Fear is a part of every day existence.
“I am not saying this fear is present all the time,” one wrote. “I forget a lot when I am there, but little sounds around the house or outside still make me panic and remember that fear.”
My former students and their families have endured threats of kidnappings, homes broken into and the deaths of friends and family members at the wrong place at the wrong time.
They simply live scared and scarred these days, unsure how to proceed.
“So,” as one wrote, “that is life in Juarez.”