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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Viejitos

I have really excellent parents.  The only problem is that they drive a new Toyota Camry, and I’m worried it will be a death trap for them.  Of course, I had them take it to the dealer, and the dealer in El Paso said their car wasn’t part of the recall.  But do I trust the dealer or Toyota?  Didn’t I just see a report of a runaway Toyota (which had been given a clean bill of health by a dealer) that had to be stopped with the help of a California highway patrolman?  The driver was so shaken up by the near catastrophe that he needed an ambulance.  I can only imagine what would happen to my elderly parents in that situation.

As our parents grow older, we worry more about them.  My father and mother are both 75-years-old.  My father Rodolfo, who has diabetes, can’t walk more than ten feet without needing to sit down or to lean on his wheeled walker.  He is still ‘there’ mentally, but his body is betraying him.  My mother Bertha has become the boss of the family, and has always possessed an incredible memory.  She is the one who drives, buys the groceries, and keeps my father’s doctor appointments, with him in tow.  Without her, I don’t know what we would do.

Luckily, my brothers live in El Paso, and so they help my parents whenever there is a true emergency.  But in reality, my parents love to be self-sufficient, are beyond intrepid, and will only ask for help as a last resort.  Having unlimited long distance on my home phone helps me keep in touch with my parents.  I am the one who alerted them to the Toyota recall during its initial weeks, who told them to get their H1N1 shots, and who helped them with their taxes.  I also invest their savings (extremely conservatively, given my parents’ preferences).

It is possible I am just bothering them, when I call them once a week.  Perhaps they would have gotten their flu shots anyway.  But I do have lengthy conversations with them about all sorts of topics, which I think sometimes changes their outlook, decisions, or practices.  It is not out of guilt that I call them, and it is not because I believe my way on such-and-such a topic is the only way.  I have a brother who generally listens to me financially, and another one who does not.  (I won’t mention who’s who.)

But this ‘family exchange of information,’ I believe, is the root of good neighborhoods and the root of strengthening communities to do better for themselves.  I think we, particularly Latinos, should do more of it.  I hear on the Upper Westside, mothers and fathers having conversations about which schools are better and why, what scholarships are available, what’s a good summer camp for kids and why, what’s a reliable money market fund, what’s the best kind of mortgage and with which bank,  and so on.

There is probably always a tendency to go it alone, to stay within yourself, to provide for your family, and not to waste time giving advice to others who might not do the same for you.  It’s true: I don’t have all the time in the world, and I’m often in a hurry with six tasks on my to-do-list for the morning.  But if I can help, if someone asks me, and if that day I can offer a practical suggestion, I’ll do it.  I’m certainly more likely to help a friend than a stranger.  And I’m certainly more likely to help someone who I think is a good character, rather than someone who seems to smile at me only when he or she wants something.

So from faraway I try to be a good son.  I simply want my parents to be safe and happy.  Today this is what my excellent parents did for me.  My publisher sent hundreds of flyers to my house, for a reading I’ll be doing in El Paso on Friday.  I won’t be arriving until late Thursday night, so my father and mother volunteered to take the package of flyers to downtown El Paso, to the El Paso Public Library, where they will be distributed by those running the Juntos Art and Literature Festival.

Of course, my parents drove to the other side of town in their Toyota Camry.  Of course, my mother found parking (miracles of miracles!) in the heavily congested area around the library.  Of course, I worried every single minute.  Until she called me on the phone (as they dodged traffic on I-10 on the way back to Ysleta!) and said the lady who picked up the flyers was very nice to them.  I need to tell them about the El Paso City Council's new ban on using cell phones while driving.

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