March 23, 2000
On a cold December night in Racine, Wisconsin, I drank the last of my beer in a small bar. Not having anywhere to go for a while I fished in my pocket for money to buy one more beer. There wasn't another coin to be found in the empty pocket. Then I remembered the fifty-cent piece in my wallet. Before I reached for it, I thought long and hard. After much deliberation I dug it out and bought two more twenty-five cent glasses of beer.
Two weeks later, I was in Oconto Wisconsin negotiating the final verbiage of a contract between the local Community Action Program (CAP) agency and my employer, the United Migrant Opportunities Services (UMOS). This contract would put a Spanish language radio station on the air to serve the local migrant Mexican farmworkers. As most of the term and conditions of the contract were in our favor, I felt good about my accomplishment. I remember thinking Mom would be proud of me today.
When we were completing the meeting the secretary came I and told me I had a telephone call. Not thinking anything of it I excused myself and took the call. Much to my surprise, it was my sister-in-law, Juanita from Idaho. She tearfully advised me that my mom had a heart attack and was in the hospital. Juanita went on to say that the doctors were hopeful that she would be all right and that she would keep me informed of any developments.
When I hung up the telephone, a number of thoughts went through my mind all at once. The thoughts swirled around, seeming to collide into each other, my mind became cloudy, and I lost focus of so many thoughts. The one thought that did not swirl but stuck was the fifty-cent piece. It stood out like the shiny coin it was. That coin let me know that my mother would not live much longer.
I remembered back to how the coin came into my possession. The previous August I had gone home for a vacation. I spent two weeks at my parents' home in Blackfoot, Idaho. It was a good time because I had been gone from home for a number of years, first to the U.S. Army and later I moved to Wisconsin. My mom, one day teased me about being; una pluma en el viento, (a feather in the wind) you are here today but you are the only one who knows where you'll be tomorrow. She also told me something that disturbed me a lot, "When something happens to me you're going to be the lucky one because you won't miss me. All of your brothers are here and they see almost every day. But you won't miss me because you aren't used to having me around." When she said this to me I was taken aback. I couldn't think of anything to say to her. I gave her a hug and assured her, "Nothing is going to happen to you." I quickly forgot about her statement and continued to enjoy the time I spent with her and dad.
The day I departed Idaho for Wisconsin, my mom gave me the shiny half-dollar. Looking down at her I, half joking, told her, "Thanks mom but I've got money." Looking as serious as I have ever remembered seeing her, she said, "Take this. If you ever want to spend it go ahead, but if you spend it, and you will, remember where it came from. If you don't spend it; I'll give you another kiss." With that she gave me a bear hug and planted a kiss on my cheek. As we were in public, the hug and the kiss, embarrassed me to no end.
Here five months later I was thinking about that coin. Had I kept it, would Mom be all right? I was half-mad at myself because I had spent it. I was thinking this way until I received the second telephone call from Juanita. She said simply, "Your mom passed away a little while ago. Come home.
I never returned to Wisconsin. I stayed in Idaho to help my dad raise my little brothers who were still very young. As the years go by I still remember my mother's words and that coin, and I still wonder if things would be different if I hadn't spent it. The more I think about it the more ridiculous it is that her life was attached to that coin in any way. There were too many other factors involved in why she died young; too many children in too short a time, a hard life working in the fields, and the lifestyle of a migrant farmworker. In the end, she taught me a lesson; there are some things in life worth keeping and some things aren't worth the price, because to this day I've never wanted a beer so bad that I'll spend my last coin on it.
by Daniel Rodriguez
AMANDO ÁLVAREZ HOME
UNO / DOS / TRES / CUATRO / CINCO / SEIS
UNO / DOS / TRES
The Mexican Experience in Idaho
The Old Man
Juanito and the Library
The Coin (by Daniel Rodriguez)
UNO / DOS