When we first moved into this small, two-bedroom house off of Probandt Street in 1996, I didn’t realize it would be the place where we would raise the fourth generation of children to call 419 – as we affectionately call this house – home.
I grew up on Roland Avenue across the street from a cemetery, and a murky, brush-covered section of Salado Creek ran behind our house. After my father died tragically when I was a freshman at Highlands High School, the same school year I met my future husband, Phillip, my mother moved us across town.
Amid the chaos, I was the first from my family to graduate high school and went to the University of Texas at San Antonio for one year. After my first semester in college, I found out I was pregnant. My small, freshly-formed family moved to my grandmother’s empty house on the East Side. We lived there only two years before Phillip moved us to his grandmother’s empty house in Beanville.
Phillip’s grandfather Oscar built this house in the mid-1940s, about 20 years before the highway that runs behind the back fence line was built. After Daddy Oscar was widowed with two kids, he married his beautiful and most sincere of heart neighbor Lily. Grandma Lily tells stories of dirt floors, of how her brothers built a produce business at the terminals on Zarzamora Street after starting with just one truck. She was the only one of her siblings to go to high school and her only job working outside the home was as a seamstress during the war. Then she married Oscar, became a mother to his two kids, had a child of her own, and proudly made 419 their home.
When we moved to 419, Grandma Lily was back living next door in her family home with her sister. She moved after Daddy Oscar died of cancer.
Living next to family was a blessing. Nanny, as our children call their great grandmother, peeled and deseeded their grapes and made them special platters of food that could be consumed wherever they pleased. She did anything for her mijito and mijitas. And Phillip was the king to his grandmother and mother. For those of you who know Phillip, this explains a lot.
What did this make me? Well, I was the one who worked outside the home and birthed new life. The daughter. By 2000, we had three young children. Grandma Lily always wanted lots of children, and I gave them to her. My mother-in-law Yoli and Grandma Lily would babysit the kids every Friday. They were a godsend in helping raise our kids, attend to us, and shower us with love.
Our kids recall how Nanny was always in the yard. She continued mowing both lawns well into her 80s and could often be found carefully tending to plants and creating hardscapes by hand, slowly moving and pounding in pavers. Grandma Lily would send me to Bolner’s to cash checks for her so she would have cash to lend or repay in the complex exchange of supporting family. When she was still driving, we would fill up her tank with gas.
In 2010, after a good friend convinced us we could do it, Phillip took on the task of remodeling our home. Our three kids were preteens and still sharing a bedroom. With a very small budget, Phillip created a home for creators. Our friends from Tacoland and The Circle School helped us build our house. When drywall contractors ruined the wall where I measured the height of all the kids (and their friends), I cried. I began a new one.
Home is where creativity happens. I have never been particularly creative but, I hope I have served as a facilitator. I learned to parent, how to run a school, commit to a lifestyle, live paycheck to paycheck, and love so intensely it hurt.
A few years ago, as we were nearing our empty nest stage, Phillip and I, simultaneously, fell in love with Delain. It wasn’t expected, but it proved to be an absolute adventure. It took us a few years of figuring out how to operate as a closed triad. We navigated telling and gaining acceptance from our kids and parents. In our modern-day Brady Bunch, we have four grown children (each partnered), one elementary schooler, five parents, and three dogs. Empty nesting turned into creating a new and elaborate nest. Delain now carries on Nanny’s tradition of fussing in the yard. The fireflies, bees, and fruiting trees are flourishing.
I love the home we make together. We fill our walls with art. Art, music, cooking, and work make our home. Our street is quiet unless we make it loud. We have hosted countless shows and parties. So much music has been created here! We have seen the neighborhood change and stay the same. I run to the same Fiesta bakery for flour tortillas, we get burgers from Gyro’s, and go to Moore’s Feed for dog treats. Our taqueria is and will always be Eva’s. We lament the homeless and watch with hope and anxiety as parks and coffee shops move in.
I hope I have honored Grandma Lily’s house and that our children feel they have a place of unconditional love to call home. As the sound of traffic increases in the morning, the unmistakable highway signal that it is time to wake up, Grandma Lily still says “God willing.”