Ship, Sheep, Shit, Sheet

On Mother’s Day about a month ago I posted 5 facts about my mother, except they were seven.  So many people commented that I’ve been thinking they deserved a blog post. And since I’m just leaving San Antonio from visiting her, now seems the right time to write it.

Her mother, my grandmother, never married which made her life very difficult in 1930s/1940s Puerto Rico. I consider this a type of IQ test for my friends. I’ve actually had friends exclaim, upon hearing for the first time that mi Abuela never married. “How can that be???” (I know that’s unkind but it happens to be true.) Abuela, who died in 2003, was in my view a spectacular person. She never went beyond first grade in Spanish, so could barely read or write, but had a copy of the Catholic missal and would ask me to find the Sunday reading for her every week. (We were Catholic but really only liked to go to church on Palm Sundays, when you got the lucky fronds.) My mother’s father, my grandfather, whom I knew quite well, was an accountant (!) and much to my mother’s embarrassment, I guess, Abuela and he maintained a relationship for quite a long time. He was married twice and with his first wife had a daughter, Juana, my mother’s half-sister who was born 1 day earlier than my mom. (He was a man of considerable achievement.) I got to meet her once about ten years ago and they might as well have been twins. Juana noticed my reaction and said, “It’s frightening, isn’t it.”

Despite her limited English, Abuela had an unfailing grasp of the Bingo numbers, 1-75.

She never learned to ride a bycicle and regrets it to this day. So Abuela and my mother’s family hailed from Santo Domingo, a poor neighborhood of Caguas, Puerto Rico. Caguas supported two high schools, one was better than the other, and on my mother’s first day in high school, the teachers discovered that she and Juana, who were of course classmates, were half-siblings but worse, my mother was, gasp, illegitimate. So to avoid the embarrassment, the school administration forced my mom to go to the other, lesser high school, an affront she has not forgotten to this day. I think this is why when we travel we always book the very best hotels. I actually heard my mother tell a travel agent once that the hotel she was suggesting was not expensive enough.

In her 40s she went back to school while working full time and got her bachelor’s degree in accounting in five years. Mom has worked almost all her life. Abuela lived with us and took care of the kids. I understand there are studies now suggesting this is one of the healthiest ways for children to be brought up. Once she realized that she could not get the more senior positions as an accountant in the Department of the Army without a college degree, my mother resolved to fix that. My father, who had just retired from the Army, told her she’d never make it!! (My father had many talents but I don’t think he was cut out to be a student.) My mother even passed calculus, which never ceases to amaze me, whose math education NEVER went beyond high school geometry.

She got very upset during college history class when she discovered the British had burned Washington DC in War of 1812. My mother takes things very emotionally. (She’s a Cancer with a Pisces moon, so if you know anything about Astrology that’s like living in your own personal hurricane ALL THE TIME.) She’s lately taken to watching Fox News, which for her functions much like the warm Gulf waters.

She moved out on my father seven times but always went back to him. Three times in one year. I remember that well. My junior year in high school. It would hijack this post to get into too much detail about their relationship. When we visited our relatives in Puerto Rico, the women tended to sit together and try to one-up each other with stories about the sufferings they endured as the result of the actions of their men. I could tell going into these sessions that my mother always felt she was quite competitive, but truth be told she never could crack the Champion’s League.

As native Spanish speaker and accountant, caused her no end of problems that her pronounciation of shit and sheet are identical. Whenever some particular embarrassment occurred at work as a result of this issue, we invariably would sit around the dining room table practicing the difference between the two, which she just could never hear.  One “shit” was said in less than a second; the other “shit” lasted five seconds or longer, sometimes until she became short of breath. My mother really is a native Spanish speaker; I just pretend to be one. American idioms always were fun too. We spent another evening explaining to her what “screw you” meant.

Also her pronounciation of Ship and Sheep, but these are less likely to come up in tax conversations.

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4 responses to “Ship, Sheep, Shit, Sheet

  1. What a history of strong, determined women – great lineage I’d say (and glad I wasn’t one of those who asked how it can be….I learned the birds & bees early I guess 🙂 )

  2. Very interesting. Although not from Puerto Rico, my grandmother and mother have similar tendencies – my grandmother is from St. Croix. My grandmother’s determination was inspirational and her cooking even better; I had trouble understanding her version of English (smiles); and my mother tried to one-up other women with stories about the sufferings she endured as the result of the actions of my dad…he is still her one and only love after all these years – some things I will never understand…

  3. Love it! I only like to go to church on Palm Sunday and honor the hosanna king that came in peace and on a donkey!

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