Through our lives we encounter people who change us, change the way we think, live, or feel. Good or bad, we learn from them. We learn from their mistakes, their stories, their outlook on life and decisions. I have had the privilege of knowing some pretty wonderful people. I love stories. I can sit and listen for hours to every little detail of an event and ask for it to be told again because I want to feel like I’m there. I have sat down with one person in particular and had the most amazing conversation. I don’t want to call this an interview because interviews can be so impersonal. But more or less I consider this person a friend and a story teller. This person asked that I use her maiden name, and that is all that I reveal about who they are. I will respect her wishes and offer you what she has offered me. Pieces of the past.
Sitting down in Connie Pavon’s home is like sitting down in a Mexican pottery class. Beautiful yellows and greens fill the walls and tables. She brings me past her bedroom, which is covered in oriental vases, pictures and dishes. She likes variety. She offered me coffee and cake. I love cake and happily accept.
So I know a lady is never supposed to reveal her age, but can you just this once?
I’ve never hid my age! I’m 85 and I don’t look it.
[laughs] You most defiantly do not look 85! You have lived a long life. Any regrets?
I’m old. I’m sure if I sat and thought about it I would have a few, but then again you can’t go through life in a regretful state of mind.
True. So this is more like a reflection piece. A reflection of your life.
That sounds kind of scary.
Really, how come?
My life has been filled with scary moments. Struggles, and heart-breaking events. Reflecting on them is not something I like to do. But I will maybe one more time.
I promise not to pick your brain for every single thought, but maybe you can start and tell me a little about your familia and where your life started.
As a young girl I traveled back and forth to Mexico and California, then finally settled in Iowa. My father was in the army in World War I. He came here to work for a railroad company and got his citizenship by joining the U.S military. He brought my mother over from Mexico, and they had three kids including me.
Do you remember your visits to Mexico vividly?
I can remember the tastes and living environment. I can remember getting sick a lot. I got so sick once I almost died. My mother and father did not take me to see a doctor but did bring me back to Iowa, and I was deathly sick for about a month. A few years back I went to the doctor, and they found a virus in my stomach that’s been making me sick since I was a child. I had chronic stomach problems, until they gave me medicine.
Why didn’t your parents take you to see a doctor?
I can only guess that we were so poor, and they thought home remedies would cure whatever had been wrong with me. People did not know things that people know now, if that makes sense.
I understand. So how was your life growing up as a teenager?
I grew up very close to my family. After the army my dad became a farmer, and I worked really hard in school. I loved Iowa, but after I met my husband I made the decision to move to Chicago with him to try a career as a teacher’s aide. My teenage years were almost nonexistent. I didn’t get to be young and do the things girls do now. Girls now are different from when I was young. I do not see them acting right. I worked for my family. I worked hard to be a lady and take care of myself. I had to grow up fast. I got married at seventeen.
How did you meet your husband?
His mother and father knew my mother and father.
So were you completely in love?
I was at first. But after I moved to Chicago with him, things started turning bad in my life. My husband started cheating on me. He caused me a lot of pain.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. Did you have any children?
Yes, I had seven boys and two girls.
Wow! Big family! Did life with your husband become easier after you had children?
Not at all. My husband started leaving on weekends. Disappearing altogether leaving me at home. I would have to work two jobs to support my children. When he did come home, it was a bad experience for me. He would beat me and sometimes the boys.
That’s awful! How come you did not just make him leave?
Divorce wasn’t something you did often back then. And as a Hispanic woman, it was common a lot to listen to your husband and do what you were told. It’s how I was raised. It’s how a lot of Hispanic women were raised. He eventually did leave me for good. But I pretended everything was okay in my life. I would write to my mother and father, and I didn’t want them to worry about what was going on with me. I told them everything was fine. My husband was quite the ladies man. He was very sweet to all the ladies in the neighborhood, but behind closed doors he showed me a different side.
Did you ever remarry?
No, but he did. He moved to Texas and was put in jail sometime later for beating his new wife almost to death. No, I would never remarry. I’m Catholic, and it’s just not the right thing to do. Jumping from man to man. Once you say I do, it’s forever. And if a man leaves, a women is supposed to stay celibate and pure.
[laughs] I’m getting schooled here! Enough about that, can you tell me something in history you lived through?
JFK. Martin Luther King. Ritchie Valens.
I love Ritchie Valens! (God rest his soul.)
I cried when all three died. Everyone did. The boys in the neighborhood used to sing Ritchie Valens’ songs to their lovers. I remember his music blaring from low riders.
Now that’s a nice memory.
I can remember being downtown with my sister one summer. We were shopping for new dresses when a women spit on me as she walked by. I got called names sometimes. I wasn’t always treated the greatest. I was refused a pair of shoes I wanted once. I’d get angry and that seemed to be the person’s chance to kind of show everyone, “See! See how Mexicans are! Trouble!” But I felt disrespected.
Of course you did! Now that’s a not so nice memory. Anything else that stands out?
Vietnam.It reminds me of how things are today.
I can remember bodies being brought back by the truck loads. I can remember families being torn apart. I can remember the pain on my friends’ faces when their men were not returning alive. Nothing has changed. I think it’s important that we respect our military. I think it’s important that we understand no matter what day it is, what year it is. Pain of losing someone is the same, and war is scary. But we must have a heart for the ones that we call fallen soldiers, and their families.
Any other good memories you would like to share?
Christmas. Christmas growing up, even now is the best. And I love all the food I get from my family. I love tamales the most. I wish I had some now, but it’s too hot to be cooking in this heat. I’m not young anymore. I can’t work hard in the kitchen like I used to.
Well I better wrap this up. I can’t thank you enough for sharing a bit of your past with me. I could keep going with the questions, but there is always next time. Any last words? Advice?
My mother use to tell me in Spanish, “For the ladies, wash under your nails, curl your hair and put some lipstick on. For the men, keep your eyes off a woman’s chest, its not something a gentlemen does.” But that’s simple advice for an old generation.
I don’t know, that’s still pretty good advice.
This generation doesn’t respect themselves enough. That would be my advice, respect your mind and bodies. You only get one life to live. So live it well.