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My Mother
By Taylor Negron

My mother taught me about the dualistic cosmology of things -- a view of the universe as a battleground of contending forces. And she taught me that kindness has rewards, and that there is nothing for anyone who wallows in apathy or anger, and that imagination and invention are the keys to a good life.

Her labor with me was induced by the bite of a black widow spider and I entered the world with great severity and trauma, exhausting everyone. To this day, whenever my life explodes, my mother says, "Goddamn spider."

Both my parents are New Yorkers and left the tenement streets of the Bronx and came to Los Angeles in the late fifties, when West Side Story was real. Mom has the knife marks to prove it.

"They used to break the bottles on a fence and chase me home, all the way cutting the back of my neck. Look where they got me."

The scenario was straight out of one of those Warner Brothers B pictures that she used to let me watch with her on Saturdays on the Fabulous 52.

I was just a kid, and the story of her scars terrified me.

"They." Who were "they"? Could they find us here at my grandmother's bungalow in Echo Park, with its palm trees and dry scrubby backyard? That sorry, bulging bungalow that smelled of freshly ironed drapes and mint, where a distant chicken sang behind an ivy wall.

My grandmother was a lefty, and her house in Echo Park was often filled with people who had been exiled from many places -- Socialists and Communists, violin soloists. For a while it was filled with lesbians who had fled Fidel Castro's Cuba.

I used to tell people that my family "absorbed lesbians during the Cuban Missile Crisis." My mother didn't like me saying this in front of my father; it was too much for Dad's ears.

But those lesbians were a big part of my childhood -- a good part…and a scary part. They would arrive midday wearing camouflage military gear, and sporting masculine pompadour haircuts. Sturdy and unwavering, they had no time for children. I would see their thick legs pass me by from my vantage point under the dining room table.

The Lesbians would arrive with hot bread in thin paper bags. The Lesbians would produce sticks of sweet guava paste and butter while my grandmother poured strong cups of coffee. After they feasted, the meringue music would begin, and all the ladies would start to dance, taking turns whirling my mother around the living room floor. Tossing her shiny brown hair back off of her shoulders, my mother would giggle, the flan would jiggle, and for a Proustian moment all was right in the world.

When I remind my mother about those times, she laments, "Why the hell do you have to only remember The Lesbians? Ugh? Do you remember the skiing? The leather jacket and the gold chain we got you? No! But you have to remember Connie and Irene…Jesus Christ."

Now Mom was not a butchie -- she actually was boy crazy. During World War II, she worked in a factory that manufactured medals of honor for soldiers. She attached the medals to gold braids and ribbons, and placed them in velvet boxes to be sent overseas.

What no one in the factory or the federal government knew was that my mother was writing her name and address on little pieces of paper and sticking those pieces of paper into every velvet box.

I asked her if she ever met anyone that way. "Yeah, after the war ended, there was a knock on the door and it was a tiny Filipino sailor, looking for me. I told him I was my sister and that I had gotten married."

My father was a charismatic sportsman who played short stop for the Watts Giants farm team and lived all sports.

The gloves he wore as a middle-weight championship boxer hung proudly in our garage, the ancient cracked leather reeking of a million bloody punches.

Growing up in the permanent summer of Los Angeles, I used to tell the change of seasons by the change of gear in the front room: baseballs meant summer, footballs meant winter and jock straps meant Indian summer and in this, a time of shellacked baguettes and Virginia Slims, with the help of my mother, my father did very well. We moved into a great ultra-modern Tudor house in the hills of Glendale, California. Glendale, which is so boring it makes Burbank seem like Berlin in the early '30s. And it was here, like Mildred Pierce before us, that we had our new family business! The first batting cages in the Verdugo hills.

The pitching machines sat under a gargantuan chain link cage and spit out the balls at lightning speed. Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford. Fifty cents for twelve pitches.

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