Más Sabe El Diablo Por Viejo Que Por Diablo

The Devil Knows More From Old Age Than From Being The Devil

The devil: El diablo

One day I’d be somebody. One day I’d make enough money to stop wanting what everyone else had.  One day my day would come, and it’d be shiny and new, expensive, cherry red, big, with lots of rooms, a pool in the backyard, flashy, classy, the works, like those people in the telenovelas, just like the two and three story mansions in River Oaks we’d go trick or treating at every Halloween.  Racing to beat each other to the next house, grabbing handfuls of entire candy bars of chocolate, throwing them in our plastic bags of grocery stores like Fiesta and Krogers, pushing each other, fighting, laughing, and finally racing back to Pera and her van to hold our bags up in the air, measuring to see who had gotten the most candies.  On the drive back my brothers and I would stuff ourselves with as many sweets as we could before my father would make us sit on the dining room table, sifting out even the most partially-opened candies.

You see, every year the noticias would report that kids were dying, or at risk of dying, from eating sweets layered or injected with poison.  For my parents that meant anyone of us could drop to the floor and become unconscious, maybe even die, at any given moment: Ay Dios mio! Socorro! Auxilio! Alguien ayudenos por favor!  They’d tell us that we might not be able to go trick or treating this year, but we’d beg and plead until they conceded, under the strict condition that we not place any of the candy in our mouths until we made it back and let them make sure it was okay to eat.  We weren’t kids anymore – we were in middle school now, my youngest brother about to finish his elementary education – and we had never heard of any kids dying from eating Halloween candy, so what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them, we thought.  That became our excuse for everything: hurry up, we’re almost there; let me have one of those; I’ll trade you for this one; hurry up before we get home! 

Money was the only way to make it to the other side of poor.  That’s what I’d always seen, and it did appear the grass was much greener on the other side, at least from my perspective as a guerco tonto too big-mouthed and closed-minded for my own good.

When we’d go to The Galleria, people with money, even those from Mexico who barely spoke a lick of English, blonde and blue eyed, not brown and dark, even a few dark ones who were wealthy, were treated with respect, waited on, hand and foot, greeted at the entrance of boutiques, showered with compliments, spoken to with dignity.  No dirty looks, no being chased around stores, no feeling less than equal.  My clothes by comparison were ratty and old.  Whitewashed jeans, Payless shoes, scruffy hair, shirts and pants too tight for my growing body, both up and sideways.  After three years in our new lives, we still had nothing.  Our apartment number was different, but the furniture and everything else inside it, including our family, was still the same, the only thing that had changed was our view of our world.  The innocent kid who’d lie in bed promising my mother a shiny new dress and house to go along with it was gone, in his place a shoplifting son who everyday became more a criminal.  I’d tired of seeing them struggle, depending on faith to see us through, angry at the world, I’d decided the things I wanted would be mine.  And they were!  Only I hadn’t realized what the cost of them would be, or how just being me would get in the way of taking stuff.

One day I just couldn’t do it anymore.  My day never came, it still hasn’t, but we did make it out of Bali Hai Apartments.  By then, I’d seen enough, lived enough, struggled enough, to know whatever I had, or did not have, was not enough to change who I am.

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6 thoughts on “Más Sabe El Diablo Por Viejo Que Por Diablo

  1. Juan, I was a poor white kid. I grew up wearing hand me downs, and my dad was a truck driver. My most prized possession was a second hand purple velvet coat with fake white fur around the hood and the sleeves…

    I used to daydream as you did of one days and wanting more… and sometimes I still daydream of those one days and having my day to give my kids those things I know they day dream of too… and I am proud I’m getting there and it’s hard. I have a renewed respect for my parents and how hard it is..
    and even though I still wear second hand clothes and so do my kids, now a days it is more out of recycling and caring for our planet than being dirt poor like when I was a kid, but we are still poor, but in the ways that are important we are so VERY wealthy and that is what matters the most.

    1. Amie, it seems we have a lot in common, both from our pasts and our present! 🙂 It’s wonderful to know we’ve all grown up a little. Thank you so much for sharing that lovely personal account! Your words inspire me.

  2. Juan,
    What being “poor” can do is give some perspective. When my mom caught us envying people with money she said, few people can have both money and peace of mind. So few, you may go your whole life and count on the fingers of your hand how many you meet. Basically it’s like those rare creatures who have perfect hair all the time. That will probably not be you. You probably will have only one or the other. Which is the one you would rather have? She said don’t feel envious of somebody with a big house or shiny car, if that’s what they have to show for their lives, what they wanted to accomplish during their time on earth, that’s nothing to envy. She was absolutely right. By my age I can see a hundred different decisions I could have made and I would be so much better off financially today. But I would not go back and say no to anybody I said yes to. Nobody thinks they are rich. People are always comparing themselves to somebody who has more, and they feel bad they come up short. It doesn’t even matter how things are in reality. My daughter went to Bellaire High School and more than once one of her friends would say “I’m not rich”, like completely not even perceiving what our apartment was like that they were sitting in at that very moment, compared to their 3-story houses. I felt poor as a kid because I was the only one getting federal lunches in my class at school when everyone else could pack edible stuff from home, and my mom made clothes for us from cutting down the ripped-up stuff from 2nd-hand shops that they put in the big bin in the back for 25 cents for a paper grocery bag full. I didn’t perceive my house, my security, going a doctor anytime I needed, my parents’ ability to send me to a good school. My husband was poor as a kid in Mexico with no running water and his mom making THEIR clothes from used political campaign banners that she begged for! Then when he sees now, of how people in parts of Africa are living… he feels lucky. It’s all relative. I like reading your blog because I feel like you would understand how we could deliberately choose a small house in Sharpstown with 1 bathroom and much family sharing it, for our son to grow up in, and he better feel lucky to have it, because he is.

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