I Remember Cousin Martha

by Antoinette Duran Silva

The first memory I have of my cousin Martha Alcala is at my cousin Linda Jurado's 10th birthday party. It was a Luau in Linda's backyard in the big house on 2nd Street which I always thought of as Grandma's House, even though Grandma died when I was 1 year old and so I never really knew her. I do remember Grandpa Jurado living there before he moved to El Monte.

The year of this party was 1962. Martha had turned 10 in December, Linda was 10 in January and I would be 10 in March. What I remember about Martha that night is that she won the twist contest. The twist was the big dance of the year as sung by Chubby Checker. How a 10 year old could dance so well I do not know. Martha just always seemed to have the ability to dance well.

I think that from that night on Martha, Linda, and I became pretty close friends. I lived at 531 N. Britannia Street just north of Brooklyn Avenue. Linda's house on 2nd Street was about five blocks away (west on Brooklyn to State Street, south on State Street past 1st Street and a short right on 2nd). I walked there often enough. From there Linda and I would sometimes walk to Martha's on Savannah Street. Quite a bit further away. South on State Street to 4th Street, east on 4th Street, past Soto Avenue until we reached Savannah Street near Evergreen playground, then a right up the hill. At that age, I thought it was a high hill, but it got smaller as the years passed. If we were lucky, we'd get a ride from Linda's dad, Bobby, or one of her brothers, Bebe or Tommy, maybe even cousin Tina.

Over the years we three spent many hours together. In those early days, I remember going to Evergreen playground where on one occasion we watched swimmers in the pool. I remember that I was baby-sitting and had my nephew Michael Rosado, age 3, with me. Imagine baby-sitting at age 10! It must have been miles to walk back to my house, which Michael and I did that day.

That summer Martha danced the Mashed Potato in front of my house on Britannia. Linda, and I thought we were surfers. We walked barefoot carrying a surfboard down Brooklyn Avenue. I'm not sure if Martha ever thought of herself as a surfer or if she carried that surfboard with us that day.

We all vacationed at Ventura that year. That may have been the year my Mom and Ophie rented a house while some of the other families were at the "old campground", before the caravan made the move to Emma Wood. I know Linda and Bebe were there that summer. This is the first year I remember going to Ventura. As the years passed I often went as Martha's guest.

Martha and I got along quite well. She was the only person who could get away with calling me "Toe" when we were growing up. Now, my husband calls me "Toe" and that's fine with me. I only remember one occasion when Martha was mad at me and I felt it. I was 15. We had made plans for me to visit for the weekend. I had someone in my family drop me off and I went in to Martha's house ready for a nice weekend. However, she did not speak to me at all! I lived in Whittier at the time, so I could not easily return home. I waited until the next morning, took my shopping bag and boarded a bus back to Whittier.

As we were growing up, we visited each other mostly on weekends or during the summer. When I was about 12, my family lived on Dewar St. near Beverly Blvd., and when Martha or Linda was over, we'd walk to Atlantic Square as a form of recreation. We'd have a coke and French fries at Thrifty's. If we had the money, maybe we'd even have a burger! Years later, when Martha, had her car, Atlantic Square was still one of our destinations.

If I was staying over Martha's, I remember that we often took a bus downtown. We'd go to the show, the garment district, or to Newberry's for what Martha called, "coochi nadas." I translated this as "a little nothing," what we'd probably call "a little something." I don't think I ever heard anyone else use this term at that time - but I still use it! I remember riding the bus with her to Bishop Conady High School once. She sure did travel a long distance to school.

I remember her making canned pizza on Friday nights-open the can, mix water with the powdered dough, knead, roll out the dough, open the can of sauce, spread sauce, top with cheese, stick in the oven, eat! Nice and simple. Sunday breakfast at the Alcala's was always a treat...lots of people and lots of food! Sometimes, however, I remember Martha and I going to Talpa for a tamale and that thick, rich, Mexican chocolate. Delicious. Sometimes, we'd even go to church. Often, we'd walk to her friends' houses. She always seemed to have lots of friends and I enjoyed their company.

When Martha graduated from high school, she went to work at City Hall as a clerk typist. When I went to college, I remember that she'd sometimes sneak some time to write to me. She'd send me a quick note asking how I was and making plans for a visit. Usually, I went to her house, but there were a couple of times when she visited me at Pomona College. Of course, we went shopping! In March of 1971, she wrote me the following letter:

Dear Cousin:

Just writing or shall I say typing these few lines to say "THANKS" for a very nice weekend. I had a nice time with you and I shall like to go back before you come home for the summer vacation, if you ask me. I am looking forward to this summer, I'll have my car and we can go to the beach and do stuff that we never did before but then whenever I look forward to something, it always turns out wrong. So let's not look forward for the summer and everything will turn out good.

Well Antoinette if you come home this weekend will you please bring my purse and my little bag. so i can have some money and my license and maybe we could go visit cousin Linda because i know she's mad at me.

Well i better go because the rest of the girls are starting to come back from lunch and i better start doing my work. just thought i would type this letter to you so you won't forget about me over here.

Your cousin,

Martha Alcala

We had a good summer that year. Martha got her orange VW Bug and she drove us to many places, including Ventura. Martha was a cautious driver. One day during this vacation, we were going shopping. She turned right out of the campground onto the highway and headed over the hill. However, we had not gone far before we saw the flashing red lights of a police car and Martha pulled over. Sweet cautious Cousin Martha got her first ticket for driving too slow!!

While I never knew how seriously ill Martha was due to the brain tumor, I noticed that I and others were accommodating to her wishes. Sometimes we'd be at a party and she'd suddenly say she wanted to leave and we'd say "OK" and we'd leave. We didn't ask questions. She sometimes had headaches but she rarely complained. There were other signs. At one point she gained weigh rather suddenly. In trying to lose it, she lost too much and became quite thin. She had difficulty writing.

One weekend while I was at her house, we were in her room and she was showing me a necklace. Suddenly, she told me that she wanted me to have this necklace when she died. I just remember telling her that she wasn't going to die. I remember wondering why she was talking like that, but I didn't ask.

I think it was already the summer of 1972 when we went to Ports O' Call Village and she went to a fortune teller. When she came out she told me that the fortune teller said she would get married and have children. Why didn't I believe this would come true?

I realized the seriousness of her illness on the day we were scheduled to go on vacation in 1972. That morning Tina, her baby, and Lucille were in a traffic accident. We were waiting to hear about it when Martha got a call to go see her doctor. She asked me to go with her and we went to the Kaiser Clinic on Atlantic Blvd. I waited while she went in to see the doctor. When she came out, I asked what the doctor had said. She told me they wanted her to go into the hospital that day. I asked what she had said to the doctor and she told me that she said she'd go in after her vacation. That vacation camping in Ventura was something she had looked forward to every year that I had known her and this year was no exception.

When we got back to her house, her mom, Aunt Laura asked what the doctor said. Martha told her and Laura asked what she wanted to do. Martha said she wanted to go on vacation. We also heard of the seriousness of the accident. I'm not sure if Tina's baby had already died or if we knew it was possible he wouldn't make it. As serious as this was, the vacation was not canceled. I was perplexed. This is when I realized the serious nature of Martha's illness. She wanted to go on vacation and so we did! Later, I asked Laura if she had known and she denied knowing.

At Emma Wood, Martha slept in the trailer with her parents rather than in the tent where I was. We woke up one morning to find out that she had been taken to the hospital. The last time I saw her, she was sitting in her hospital bed. I was scheduled to leave for my semester abroad and would be gone for three months. As was the nature of our relationship, we made plans for the future. She told me that her brother Paul had a new sports car and he was going to let her borrow it and when I got back from Spain, she'd take me riding in it. Paul was there, as was cousin Dorie. Always hoping for the best, I agreed.

The day I found out she had died was the loneliest day of my life. I was in Oviedo, Spain, when I received a letter from my sister Mary Helen. I read the letter, understood the reasons that I had not been told, and I cried. The Spanish family I lived with understood my grief, but they could not help me. Neither could my friends in Spain. That day, they were all busy or not home. I remember knocking on doors hoping to find someone to talk to. I remember sitting alone for a long time on a park bench. I went to the cathedral thinking I could try to talk to a priest. However, I knew my Spanish was not that good. Instead, I prayed and I remembered Martha and I'll always remember Cousin Martha.


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