The House on John Street
The modest, small, wooden frame house that stood on John Street, Houston, Texas, during the 1950’s where our Grandmother lived is no longer there. A large part of the multi-cultural neighborhood in Smith Edition was torn down in the 70’s by a freeway expansion. Time has not erased the memories of our childhood spent there at Grandmother’s house. The dark haired, dark eyed cousins, who lived and played there were a tight knit group bound together by their friendship, love of laughter and play. There were ten in all, Josie, Alex, Jessie, Vicki, Nita, Paul, Robert, Michael, Yolanda and myself. Occasionally, we were joined by Debbie, Junior, Larry and Dimpie, brothers and sisters from my father’s second marriage. We were friends, mentors and playmates. We watched each other’s progression of growth from children to teenagers to adulthood. We explored every nook and cranny of the neighborhood. The streets, gullies, and fields were our playgrounds. We sat for hours in the drainage ditch in front of Grandmother’s house on John Street and watched the world pass by. We speculated on J.Kelly, the handsome young man who lived across the street and wondered what his life was like. We watched Tony, the preening, tall, dark and slender young man who would gun past us in his black TBird to show off. When we heard the call of the bugles, we ran to the large parking lot at the North end of John Street behind the movie theatre and watched the Milby High School Buffs Drill team practice their routines. Out Aunt Lilly had been on the Drill team when she was a teenager. Every Saturday, we went to the movies for the matinees. A dollar went a long way in those days. We could buy the movie ticket, popcorn, drink and candy bar. We felt rich in those days. Sometimes, we would pile in the car with Aunt Lilly and go to the drive in and watch grown up movies. We felt so grown up. Cousin Vicki, Yolanda and Nita would invite the girls over for slumber parties. We shared our secrets, fears, hopes and dreams. We were proud of each other and celebrated each other’s achievements.
Alex went to work at the Rice Hotel coordinating events and shows when he was a teen. It is a business and career that he has to this day. Jesse was a good son and help to his mother. Paul the comedian and clown of the group would entertain us with stories, and silly antics that often drove us crazy with embarrassment or laughter. Robert was the star football player in high school and our hero. Michael was a quiet and contemplative soul with a beautiful laugh. Vicki always had a smile on her face. She grew up to value our Hispanic heritage and to fight against discrimination. I admired her because she had the courage to stand up for what she believed in. Yolanda loved to sing and play the piano. Nita was the baby darling of the family. We took turns hoisting her around on our hip and showing her off. She grew up to be a fine business woman and entrepreneur just like her mom, Aunt Lucy. Josie was wise beyond her years. My sister Josie told me once that I was the keeper of secrets, the story teller of the family. I have had a love of writing since the 4thGrade when I wrote an award winning essay, “What my Country Means to Me”. Our group was adventurous and daring. We filled up Alex’s car’s gas tank with $.50 and went on road trips in the adjoining neighborhoods playing a game of Chinese fire drill at the stop signs and stop lights just to annoy other drivers. We would stop random strangers and ask for directions. I can’t tell you who came up with these ideas just that we were all complicit. We would sneak away to Galveston and walk among the Tiki huts on the beach and watch the older adults dancing. One time, a small group took off on a trip to Six Flags without telling their parents and had a blast. They came back from their trip and told us how silly they had acted and how much fun they had.
The cousins come from a long line of strong, smart business women. We looked up to Aunt Lilly and Aunt Lucy as mentors and we aspired to be like them and to make them proud of us. At family events such as funerals and celebrations, my father, Henry would tell us all that we had to attend and stand together and support each other as the Mendez family. I didn’t appreciate what that meant until I became an adult. Family is everything. I left the house on John Street in 1968 when I became an adult and my daughter Angela was born. Like most of us, I became caught up in life and work. Eventually, I moved away from Texas to California in search of a better life when I turned 36. I didn’t realize that those close knit bonds we forged in childhood would slip away over time if I didn’t make time for them. It’s hard to face your own mortality and realize that we don’t live forever in this life. The time to let those we care about know how much we love them is now. Tomorrow is not a guaranteed. Cousin Paul has passed and now Vicki. Those formative years we spent together were special. The tight bonds we formed will never be broken in this life or the next. We were grounded by a sense of family, that we are all in this together, that we are our brother and sister’s keeper. I know in my heart that Vicki as well as Paul knew that we loved them and that we look forward to seeing them again with our heavenly father.
“Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13