Earlier this week, when the family of Eldest Son’s Ohio Heart Throb, (whom we know as Regina, as well as Eldest Son’s Wife) was coming for supper, I took a look at my garage and the pavilion and decided I needed some assistance.
So, I called for Hortencia, my beloved neighbor, and also our renter, to see if she wanted to clean for me for a few hours. With Friend Karen’s great help in communication (Hortencia speaks almost no English and I speak almost no Spanish) we got the arrangements all worked out. Hortencia came and got an early start, and was making great progress. I saw her out there, slaving away, so I went out for a little while to try to talk to her a little. The heat was oppressive, and she was sweating profusely as she worked. She returned my greeting, but she seemed unusually sad.
“I talked to Lupe!” I venture, hopefully.
She understood, “Si,” she says proudly, and smiles broadly.
“She was doing so much better than the last time I talked to her.” I add, a little more boldly. “It makes me so glad.” (I smile and hug myself to show that I am so very pleased.)
She pauses, and turns her head away. I am startled to see that she is crying. She purses her lips and tries to keep the tears from falling. “Baby is sick.” she says, and begins to sweep furiously.
I knew that Lupe’s baby was sick, but she has been taking her to the best doctor, and it appeared to me that things were doing okay — But I thought maybe I was missing something.
“Hortencia, are you okay?” She either didn’t understand or chose not to respond. She resolutely turned her back and began to sweep. And I needed to get into the house, so I came back into the cool of my air conditioned home while she swept in the heat. And of course, I’ve been pondering muchly.
Hortencia is about my age. Her husband and I are actually almost twins. When I consider how diverse our lives are beyond the point of being moms and grandmoms and women of about the same age, it feels like I’ve been plunged into a stifling room as hot as the outdoors where she was working that morning. I know that she has had very random work. Both of their wage earning children have left and it is just her and her husband in the trailer. Money is tight.
I asked her, then, if she could stay a little longer and work inside. I hoped that she could cool off, and that I could justify paying her a little more. She and her funny little husband have lived in the trailer in our side yard for close to fifteen years. They don’t pay a lot of rent, and we have always mowed the yard, provided the fuel oil, paid for trash pick up and supplied their trailer with water from our farm’s deep, sweet well. When the oil prices went up, we asked if they could begin paying for their own fuel oil. We can get it cheaper than they can, so we always have it put on our bill, and the plan was that they would pay us.
There is something that I need to say about our tenants. They have been the best renters we have ever had, and they take care of the place and they have been conscientious about not having raucous and unmanageable parties. Hortencia’s husband has even stopped drinking and become a sober and hard working man because they are concerned that we might throw them out if he starts to get drunk. I understand from the stories of their children that he is a most unpleasant drunk, so we have been grateful that, for whatever reason, he has decided to stay away from the alcohol that has been the ruin of so many of our Hispanic friends. And they always pay their rent. And usually, on time.
That being said, they have not paid for their fuel oil. And the communication issue is, of course, a problem, but when the total was over $800.00, Certain Man was not quite so mindful of their good points.
“Hon, you’ve got to do something,” he would intone at regular intervals. “At $400.00 a month rent, you are paying them to live in our trailer. I understand that it is hard for you, but you are too soft hearted. You need to make them pay. How do you ever expect to get ahead if you don’t make them pay for their fuel oil?” I had heard his arguments over and over again, and I honestly did agree with him, but when I knew the dynamics of their lives, and thought about all the trouble that owned them, I couldn’t bear to be too hard on them. Then I thought that maybe now and then Hortencia could do some cleaning for me, and I would just deduct it from the fuel oil bill. That worked once. And then, she needed some of the money for something or other, and asked through friend Karen if I could give her “half” and take the other out of the oil. And so, that is how we have done it now for three times – but the trouble is that when it comes time to pay, and I see how hard she has worked, I feel so sorry for her, that I usually pay her what I would plan to give her for the work she does, and then I credit her an equal amount on her fuel bill.
Okay. Right about now, I can hear the outcry. I know that it isn’t my job to make up for all the things that aren’t right in our economy. And I know that the immigration business is a sordid and complicated affair. And I know that there are people out there right now that are askance with the thought that I am such a push over. I know just as assuredly that there are those of you out there who understand exactly how I feel.
I’ve been given so much. I have the freedom to come and go as I please. Yes, there is the terrible problem of illegal immigration, but there is also the thing that we didn’t choose to be born where we were, and we didn’t choose to have the lines fall to us in such pleasant places. I will own that Certain Man and I have made decisions over the years that have brought us much blessing, but for every decision that we have made, there were a thousand other decisions made for us that are also blessing us far beyond what we deserve.
And when I look at my neighbor, and I think of all that she has borne in her life, and especially when I consider what she has to look forward to in the future, I am overwhelmed by sadness. I think about her concern for her far away girlie, Lupe, and the grandbaby in a land where babies die so often that the first birthdays are celebrated elaborately just because the baby is still alive. I think about her son, so full of promise and character, now back in Mexico with a pregnant girlfriend, and so little future. And I think of her two other daughters that are stateside – neither in situations that would comfort a mama’s heart. I think about her longing to return to the land of her birth, Mexico. She works so hard, and she settles for so little because she feels she has no right to ask for more. I sometimes think that her mind may not be as quick as some, but the poverty that she was born into and the abuse she has suffered over the years certainly has contributed to her limitations. And whether she can think as quickly as some or not, she still has deep, deep feelings and her capacity for love is immense.
I wish so much that I could just sit down and have a heart to heart talk with her. I have so many things that I would like to know about her, and I long to look into her heart. And I understand that the time grows short. Just this week, I was told that she and her husband are saving up to buy a pickup to return to Mexico. They have considered returning for years, and always something comes up to make them stay. This time, I have a feeling in my bones about it, and I expect that one day, maybe without warning, they will pack up and go.
And when I stand before my Heavenly Father some day to give account of the deeds done in the flesh, I pray that this is one situation that will have been acceptable in His eyes. I don’t really care if it makes me money. I don’t care if people understand. I don’t care if we are thought pushovers or bad business operators — in this particular matter, that is.
But I do want my Heavenly Father to say that I treated the alien in the land with kindness and respect. That I went out of my way to help where I could. And that I practiced the Golden Rule, and “did unto others as I would have them do unto me” regardless or ethnic origin, social standing or mental capacity.
And I believe it is safe to trust Him. Even when it comes to $800.00 worth of fuel oil for which we may never be paid.