Thursday, May 8, 2014

Coming to America (part 1)...Tioga Times

This next post is the first of a series of posts. Enjoy!

I’ve often said that I have enough funny childhood stories to write a script for a sitcom. A long time ago, an old co-worker was actually the one who suggested it to me after hearing some of my anecdotes. I never had realized how humorous my experiences had been until I started sharing them with friends. During childhood they had been mortifying and downright embarrassing and/or humiliating but as an adult I can finally laugh about them and appreciate the hilarity.
My dad came to this country in 1965. My mom and siblings arrived in 1966. My parents were in their late 30’s and my sister was 12 and my brother was 17 when they arrived in the good ol’ U.S. of A. My family came to America (like most immigrants do) to make an attempt at the American dream. Within that first year of being here, my dad was able to rent a house, buy a car, start a business, and save up enough money to buy three airplane tickets and send for my mom and siblings. (Two years after being in this country, they bought their first home and the following year a Cadillac. I find it all pretty amazing!)

Anyway, I remember my mom and dad telling stories of their first months in the U.S. and how vastly different life was in this country. They had never seen grocery stores like ours with all you could possibly need to make a week’s worth of meals under one roof. In Argentina, you had to go to the bakery, the butcher, the general store, and the fruit and vegetable stand to buy all of your groceries. And you had to go every day.  My parents only knew a few people who owned cars in Argentina. Here, everyone had a car! For some reason, they had always heard that Americans ate canned meat. If you know Argentineans, we are big meat eaters! So this canned meat concept was unheard of and was definitely going to present a huge problem to my carnivorous family! Luckily, they discovered that the grocery store had a meat department and all was good.
Along with adjusting to grocery stores, my mom also had to learn to drive. I am told that about a year after she had emigrated, my uncle was the one who taught her because my dad had no patience for her. For my mom, learning to drive was the ultimate measure of personal success. Through the years, when family members visited from Argentina, they were usually amused and amazed at my mom’s fearlessness behind the wheel. They had never expected that kind of confidence from her. A very small percentage of women in Argentina knew how to drive at the time, so it was really progressive of her!

Mom practicing hand signals with my uncle in the passenger seat.

In 1976 or so, my parents bought a motorhome. A lovely brown and tan Tioga. They were the only ones in our family or among their friends to own a motorhome. It was quite the extravagant purchase and yet another sign that my parents had “made it”. At first, we only used the motorhome on weekends for trips down to Tijuana or to Las Vegas or to spend the day at the beach (You know…everything but camping). About two years later though, it became my mom’s primary method of transportation. (She went from not knowing how to drive to driving an RV hence the fearlessness I referred to.) Anyway, can you imagine driving a motorhome everyday as your main vehicle? It’s just insane! “I’m going to the big American grocery store in my big American motorhome!” WHAAATTT??? In her defense, she didn’t start driving the motorhome by choice. What happened was that she had a big auto accident (scary actually because I remember the police coming after school to pick me up in 2nd grade.) and her car was in the shop for a long time. So at first, the motorhome was supposed to be a temporary thing. But then it wasn’t. She loved that thing! And she went everywhere in it. And I mean everywhere. Every day after school in the pick-up line it went Toyota sedan, Ford sedan, Datsun sedan, Dodge pick-up, Chevy truck, Tioga Motorhome. At first, it was exciting. “Hey everybody! Look at me! We’re rich. We have a motorhome and you don’t.” Kids would ask me “Where are you off to?” “Are you going on vacation?” Uhhh…nope. Just going home. As the weeks went on and everyone started to get used to seeing the motorhome, it started... “You’re weird.” “Why does your mom drive a motorhome EVERY day???” “Do you LIVE in the motorhome?” I begged and pleaded with my mom for years to PLEASE pick me up in a normal car. Like the good Argentinean that she was, she would just say to tell the kids to go to hell and mind their own business. (In Spanish, what she said is actually a lot worse but I’m trying to keep it PG.) Did I mention that I went to Catholic school? Not so Christian-like.

Stay-tuned...lots more to come!

The one and only Tioga,
Our Cadillac (which in 1986, I learned to drive in)
and our little boat.

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