Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birthday Letter to Joanne Hudson

Sixteen year ago, during a hot Bakersfield summer afternoon I was sweating in the East Bakersfield High School gym with dozens of other hopeful girls auditioning to be an EB Blades cheerleader. The first day of practice a girl with a genuine smile and infectiously positive demeanor introduced herself and I can say even to this day Joanne Hudson is the nicest person I have ever met.

My sister, Joanne and I were among the precious few who made the team. I would soon discover I did not have the spirit and dedication to be a career cheerleader but I did learn many important lessons and make friends that I still have until this day. Four years later, the day after graduation I forwent joining my sister on a celebratory trip to Disneyland with my peers and instead traveled to Hume Lake Christian camp to begin a summer of manual labor for God.

Isolated from anyone I knew, working at Hume changed my life. This was before everyone owned a cell phone, updated their facebook status or tweeted. On my eighteenth birthday, without a single person wishing me happy birthday, I sat cleaning a clogged bathroom stall thinking that life could only get better. The next morning the most beautiful letter arrived from Joanne, she had no idea about my birthday, but sent me a letter to tell me how inspired she was by my journey to the camp and to keep the faith.

After college and a few jobs later, Joanne and I found ourselves back in Bakersfield. Moving back to your hometown is like cutting off your hair, you run your finger over the ghost of what you knew only to find it changed. Bakersfield and I are both different now but my friendship with Joanne is unchanged. Even though we are only minutes away from one another or she could just post on my facebook wall, Joanne still sends out her beautiful letters.

A friend once remarked that the one thing they miss about Bakersfield is Smith's smiley-face cookies and of course Joanne makes sure they receive one every birthday: because that is what she does, she sends smiles and joy via the US postal service. As we embark on our thirties this year I cannot be more elated to see what life holds in store and what new treasures will arrive in my mailbox.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gray Hair and a Grandmothers Legacy

My great-grandmother had a full head of gray hair by the time she turned thirty and every I regularly visit my gifted hairdresser to resist this genetic certainty. This gray haired woman’s name was Virginia Jiron and she was a proud Latina woman who worked her entire life. Committed to her faith, she was a leader in the Catholic Daughters and Rosary societies. 

I was only seven when she passed but as I have gotten older she has become dear to me because of our shared locks. As children, we traveled to Los Angeles from Bakersfield to visit my great-grandparents and I was always antsy from the long drive but the Virgin Mary statue in the garden made me enter reverently. 

My fondest memories include: a kitchen that smelled of lemon cleaner filled with collectable spoons and exotic candy, a bedroom with squeaky metal twin beds and pictures from around the world. This place contained the magic of a strong woman. In 2011 for my thirtieth birthday, my grandfather gave me a silver bracelet with the Mayan calendar for my birthday. As soon as I opened the box and before anyone told me, I knew the treasure belonged to my great-grandmother Virginia. It emanated her magic. Every time I need to be brave I wear this bracelet and think of her legacy. Today, to celebrate all mothers I wanted to re-post this message to remind us all to carry with us the legacy our amazing madres and abuelas left behind. 

* photo one is my Mom (Gina Hertz) and Grandma Virginia at Honey Cruz's kitchen table *photo two is our first holy communion with my Pops & Great Grandma Virginia

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shocked by Bakersfield Relay for Life

If someone told me this weekend that I would be hip checked over a chair in a midnight version of musical chairs; would walk in a crowd of hundreds wearing a borrowed pink snuggy; stop in mid stride and burst into impromptu line dancing with strangers I would never believe them. This weekend I had my first over night encounter with Bakersfield Relay for Life and left the event shocked by many things, the least of which is the record 2.4 million dollars that the event earned. The one thing that astounded me was the events ongoing nightlong festivities.

During the day Relay for Life is a spectacle as thousands of people visit booths that pay tribute to those who have been touched by cancer. There are quilts, photos, crafts and baked goods galore. Every participant is there because they want to help stop cancer and no matter how small your role, as a spectator or organizer you sense the power of the Bakersfield community to come together.

The new relay location is outside the city limits and without sound ordinances the DJ kept the party at relay going all night long. After I got my exaughsted four-year-old zipped into a sleeping bag I emerged from the tent to help with cleanup and say my good nights. The Kern county probation relay team needed one more board game player and asked me to join as they wait for midnight pizza delivery. With over 400 sites at the event, I was intrigued by the promise of pizza delivered at midnight right to our table. Rusty’s pizza showed up almost exactly on time with hot cheese pizza not just at our site but also throughout the event.

After we each shared a slice the cold set in and my sleeping bag was calling. The DJ announced that a musical chairs is a great way to burn calories and warm up, so invigorated by my pizza surprise I joined in and made it through with only one major bruise. Each hour there are different themes with an incredible eighties cover band the first few hours and then a series of random themes that include everything from sports teams to glow hour.

The reason we stay up all night is not just to punish our bodies but because the “relay” or walking of the track keeps going all 24 hours of the event. It is not easy to keep walking, even in shifts, on a cold night away from civilization and so everyone helps keep each other motivated. While we walked the track in the middle of the night we stopped on high school row at the West High schools booth for free smores. We saw dozens of folks watching the twilight movies while waiting for their hour to keep the walk going.

For the last few years my twin sister has pleaded with me to experience the overnight part of relay and I must admit that she was astoundingly correct, there is nothing like it. Thank you team Probation for allowing my daughter and I to stand beside you in this fight because it truly changed our lives; if you have never been to Relay or only stopped by to “check it out” you are missing out, I know I cannot wait to do the chicken dance at 4 am in a snuggy again next year.