Heels to Flats: Life of Mom

By Amanda Castro-Crist

In this photo Amanda’s mother, Delia, is about 14. She is in the top row, wearing a white sweater (fourth from the right). Floydada, 1968.

When we were kids, my cousins and I would raid my mom’s closet and star in our own fashion shows. The dresses were all silk and lace and shine, fancier than anything I’d ever seen anywhere else in my real life, stuff the women in “Days of Our Lives” or “As The World Turns” would wear when they had an elegant event to attend.

We didn’t know where the dresses came from or wonder how they managed to occupy the same closet as her jeans, cotton T-shirts and blue Wal-Mart smocks. They just did.

Years later, when my mom, Delia, told me she’d worn the dresses to an upscale restaurant for dinners with her first husband, in – get this – the SAME restaurant where they’d film episodes of “Days of Our Lives,” I couldn’t reconcile that person with the one I’ve always known as my mom. How could she exist in a time when I, my brother, Johnny, and my sister, Charlena, didn’t?

“Her life started when we got here,” my sister says with a laugh.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

“We ruined our moms when we came along,” my friend Chris likes to say.

Maybe, just maybe, we didn’t exactly ruin her life.

At 62, her days of silk gowns and high heels are long behind her. Nowadays, she’s exactly what you’d picture if someone said, “That’s my grandma.” Not just in the way she looks – although she hits all those marks, too, with her bob of salt-and-pepper hair, comfortable shoes, the laugh lines that gather around hazel eyes, and the short stature and look of someone who was made to cuddle grandkids. It’s in the way her bedroom is filled with scrapbooking and quilting supplies, how her walls are covered with years of family photos and how she’s always planning the next meal she’ll feed to whomever is around.

She fills the role better than any other grandmother I know. Her kids, and their kids, are her life. We’ve been her life since she had the first one, me, 34 years ago in a dusty little town called Plainview at the bottom of the Texas Panhandle. She was 27, with one marriage and a life that spanned across three states already behind her. I was a surprise.

Delia with Amanda, her first-born.

“I was lying in the bathtub after work and my stomach moved,” she says. “I said, ‘Something’s in there!’ It was you.”

My brother, Johnny, followed three years later in Amarillo. After my dad left, it would be another four years of moving between San Antonio, Levelland and Plainview before we moved back to Amarillo and my sister, Charlena, came along in ‘91. Soon after that, her dad left, too, and until each of my siblings started having their own little ones, it was just us four, tackling whatever life threw at us.

“The thing I’ve done that I’m proudest of is the way I raised my kids,” she said. “There was something I was doing right.”

So maybe, just maybe, we didn’t exactly ruin her life. We hope we didn’t, at least – especially since she’s now lived more than half of her life under the column labeled “Mom.”

Yes, she says, we were worth it.

But surely, there are things she misses from the time before she chose that winding, rocky, unpredictable path that included us. People she loved; places she lived; things she did. What about all of that?

“I remember lots of things, I remember things from when I was little,” she says. “And other things, things that have happened when I was much older, I don’t remember at all.”

She was born July 21, 1954, in San Antonio, the youngest of two brothers and nine sisters and just a bit older than a niece and nephew who she also called brother and sister. She remembers her daddy, Viviano, who passed away years before I was even a thought. She was his favorite, which allowed her to get away with more than anyone else.

“Whatever I wanted to do, he made sure I got it,” she says. “I used to cry just to get the girls in trouble after they would scare me.”

Still, growing up in a family of 15 was fun.

“We used to do a lot of things together; that’s how I learned to do my cooking; that’s how I learned how to sew,” she says. “My momma used to make quilts all the time, make dresses, everything from chones to pants to shirts, everything.”

Her mom would buy 25-pound bags of flour to make tortillas, just to get the bags it came in. The fabric was basically a pillowcase.

“She would tear them down and cut them to make us some panties, and just buy the elastic to go on the legs and the waist,” she tells me.

Amanda with her parents.

“She … what?” I say, dissolving into laughter.

“Uh huh! Most of my panties I had were made out of pillowcases!” she says. “Wait! Don’t put that in your book!”

She’d make other things, too, things that are more acceptable to write about.

“When she cut out the little flowers at the bottom and made me a skirt or something, boy, I couldn’t wait to go to school the next day just so I could wear that skirt made out of a flour sack,” she says. “Try making something like that out of a pillowcase now. I don’t think so!”

I nod as I glance at my favorite blanket I keep on my couch, the one she made me a few years ago out of a quilt top and an oversized beach towel. It’s not a pillowcase, but you get the point.

She and her family lived in Floydada in the early ’60s, sleeping in the barracks with the other field workers. The whole family worked, weeding or picking cotton, pulling asparagus or working in the onion fields.

“Those were the worst of all,” she says. “You’d smell like onions all the time.”

Delia (left) with her three children: Amanda, Johnny and Charlena.

Her momma, Monica, worked in the house, cooking, cleaning and ironing. In the evenings, they’d sit around the table for dinner and then take turns helping clean up before heading to the living room.

“Then we’d all watch shows on TV – Bonanza, Gunsmoke, all those Western shows,” she says. “I remember me and my sisters Anna and Chavela were all madly in love with little Joe from Bonanza, and we just knew when we grew up, one of us was going to marry little Joe.”

It’s funny. I can hear the Bonanza theme song in my own head as she talks. I guess I know now why she always let us stay up way too late, watching the reruns on school nights.

She doesn’t remember the fight for civil rights happening across the country, or really, any of the things that went with it. But she remembers the day her daddy saved a woman, a black woman he only knew as a neighbor.

“She was going to the store or something and left her kids with my mom to watch,” she recalls. “She started the car and it started on fire – she couldn’t get out, she was stuck and screaming.”

Her daddy ran to the car and pulled the woman out, saving her life long before the fire trucks or ambulance arrived.

She remembers the trips to her grandfathers’ homes. Her dad’s dad, Felix, lived in Anson, just outside of Abilene, in a one-bedroom house.

All of Delia’s kids and grandkids: Thanksgiving 2016.

“He used to live in a little bitty house that didn’t have a bathroom,” she says. “We had to go to the outhouse, a little shed behind the house. It was scary to go the bathroom at night.”

When they’d visit, they’d all sleep in the living room, lined up on the floor next to each other.

“I remember he used to say, ‘OK, whoever lies down over here better make sure you close your mouth and don’t sleep with our mouth open. When I get up to go to the bathroom, I don’t want to step on nobody’s tongue,’” she says with a smile. “He always said funny stuff like that to make us laugh.”

Going to her other grandfather’s house was an entirely different experience. Encarnacion was a full-blooded American Indian who lived in a huge house on a ranch, taking care of the animals and land owned by a man and his wife who lived about a quarter-mile down the road. The gabachos couldn’t say his name, she says, so they just called him John.

The 10 bedrooms stayed empty until they’d visit. Her grandpa mostly kept to a living room the size of two regular rooms and the kitchen. The kids would fill the house, picking their rooms and hoping to be one of the lucky ones Grandpa John would hand a coffee can full of coins. He didn’t like paying with anything but paper, so the coins would end up in the cans, one for quarters, another for dimes, a third for nickels and the last for pennies. Sometimes enough time would pass between visits for him to have a can for each grandkid – other times, only the first few to line up would walk away with a small fortune.

In the barn, they’d search through the hay meant for the horses and cows and walk out with hands and buckets filled with an unexpected treat.

“The hay had peanuts! He would let us take the peanuts sometimes and we’d bring them to the house and mom would roast them for us,” she recalls. “He used to tell us, ‘You can’t have any more peanuts, I need them for the cows!’ They were good peanuts.”

Other days were spent chasing rabbits, going hunting or playing ball. They’d walk out to the big barn that was meant to hold airplanes and explore the two boats and a blue pickup truck that were housed there instead.

At night, they’d join the adults on the porch, listening to their grandpa’s stories and he’d laugh as they tried their hardest to count the fireflies.

“He’d say, ‘You’re not going to count them, they’re flying around!’” she remembers. “One time, he got up and said, ‘OK, everybody be real quiet. Don’t move, wherever you’re at, just stay still.’ He went into the house and came out with a shotgun.”

BOOM!

“He just pointed it at one of the cracks of the porch and he killed the snake,” she said. “It had 16 rattles, I remember it to this day.”

He was a special man, her Grandpa John, and so was her Grandpa Felix. But she never knew either of her grandmas. They were gone before she was born.

Grandma Delia and Urijah

“I remember going to school and the other kids would talk about their grandmas and I would cry because I felt cheated,” she says. “I guess that’s one of the reasons I try to make myself be so special to my grandbabies. I think grandmas are very special and I want them to think I’m a special grandma.”

They love her, these five new little ones, unconditionally, fiercely, protectively, just as she does them. Just as I’ve only ever known her as mom, they will always only know her as Grandma Delia.

“I’ll help, Grandma,” Jaylen, my sister’s 4-year-old, tells her, grabbing her hand as she struggles up the steps with her bad knees.

My brother’s oldest, 11-year-old Amalia Flor, or Flower as we all call her, is upset with me, I think.

“Don’t take Grandma,” says Flower, 11, after she asks again why my mom is moving to Lubbock with me this month.

Analea, 9, and the second of my brother’s bunch, says she loves the way her grandma flips the words in phrases, or adds extra words without realizing – something I think comes from having Spanish as her first language.

“She’s so cute, the way she says, ‘Panda Bear Express,’” Lea laughs. “One time, we were at Michaels buying craft things and she told the lady, ‘We’re going to do some bookscrapping.’ The lady just looked at her.”

Their little brother, Urijah, 2, doesn’t talk as much as the others, but he makes up for it with his giggles and shy smiles. He cuddles her close, laying his head on grandma’s shoulder and winding his fingers in the curled ends of her hair.

Sometimes, though, one of the littlest ones gets upset with her, like when she won’t let him play on her phone. He tells her to go. Go, go home, he says.

Grandma Delia and Jaylen

“Do you mean it, Levi?” she asks my sister’s youngest.

“No,” the 2-year-old says without hesitation, like she’s silly for even asking.

“I know you don’t,” she says, without a doubt in her voice.

She knows she’s where she’s meant to be.

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