I can still hear it—the sound of the old car horn and the commotion in the house as my sisters and I scrambled toward the door trying to make it to the car before it drove off without us. It was the same ritual, or shall I say “ordeal,” every morning before school. Mom was always up before the rest of the family, getting sack lunches and breakfast shakes ready for us children—too many children to count on two hands—a dozen to be exact: six boys and six girls. So many bodies in the house running in many directions, yet one thing was certain, all school age children must converge at the “old clunker” by 7:00 a.m.—no exceptions and no excuses.
Dad, for whom punctuality was non-negotiable, was waiting in the car fifteen minutes before take-off. My brothers would be in the car with him—already having drunk down their breakfast shake (a blend of milk, bananas, raw eggs, cinnamon, and chocolate powder)—“el chocomil,” as we called it; which was my mother’s “Spanglishised” pronunciation of “chocolate milk.” The old car horn would start blasting five minutes before leaving time and the girls would run toward the door at high speed before being stopped by mom who insisted that we not leave the house without having had our “chocomil” and half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We’d quickly drink it down and run toward the car with our PB&J in one hand and our sack lunch in the other. With mom’s blessing behind us and dad’s punctuality lecture ahead of us, we’d tumble into the car and finish getting ready. So began the morning rounds of school drop-offs at three different schools: elementary, junior high, and high school.
I smile now as I think of those tumultuous days in which our neighbors must have thought we were quite the spectacle. Actually, years later they told us they used to enjoy watching us because we always seemed to be having so much fun. Those were materially slender days, yet heavily endowed with timeless lessons. During those years we sometimes felt that we were missing out on things that some of our friends had—a nice car, fashionable clothes, the latest gadgets, outings, movies, etc. Yet dad would explain that while he and mom could not promise us great material gifts, they would work without rest to provide for timeless riches. They helped me to understand that our faith and education were gifts that “. . .no thief could ever break in and steal”; that true knowledge would never grow old; that wisdom from God would never wither away, and that only relentless faith could walk me beyond all passing things.
I have, long ago, outgrown my childhood clothing and discarded the toys. New cars have become old in a season. But the lessons I learned from my parents during those slender years have not grown old; they continue to feed me.
Like two fine bakers, my parents did their part in molding the batch—at times with gentle strokes, waiting for the dough to rise, and at other times turning up the heat so that the bread would bake rather than petrify in place. Their hands must have been scorched many times by my lack of understanding and gratitude. Yet they show no sign of regret for any sacrifice in raising their dozen. Thank God that gratitude is always in season even when long overdue. It’s never too late to say a “dozen thank you’s.”
By Sister Inez, O.C.D.
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