When Lisa Sanchez was a child, she lived in Idaho with her mother, who worked at the Simplot Factory in Heyburn. When her grandfather got sick with lung cancer, her mother moved the family to Arizona to help take care of him. Sanchez said it was her mother who kept the family together after he died. She told her good friend Donna Vasquez what it was like during that time in a recent visit to the StoryCorps booth in Boise.
“It wasn’t until years later that I did the math, that I realized my mother worked 100 hours a week, to support me, my grandmother, and eventually my younger half-brother. It just boggles the mind. How can somebody not just keel over dead from working that hard? But that’s what she did to provide for us. But one of the major sacrifices in her doing that was her absence. She wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with her children.
“So I remember now, now, with fondness and a lot of tenderness, I remember her rousting me awake at two or three in the morning on occasion. ‘Baby, baby, Mama brought you a Sonic burger.’ She’s trying to feed me a Sonic burger at three o’clock in the morning.”
“Mother’s guilt,” said Vasquez.
“Yeah,” said Sanchez, “Just quality time, she wanted to spend time with me. She worked from eight to five at a community action program as a receptionist, and then from 5:30 to 2:30, 3:00 in the morning she worked as a cashier at a Circle K and she cleaned houses on the weekends. So when was this person going to find the time to spend with her children? So she tried to carve out these moments like that that seemed crazy.
“But I remember one moment in particular that I believe forever changed my life that would be the kindness of my fifth-grade teacher, Luis Estrada.”
“This was where?” asked Vasquez.
“This was in Buckeye, Arizona, before we moved to Idaho. I would learn about this later. I didn’t know about this at the time but apparently Mr. Estrada picked up the phone and called my mother and said ‘your daughter has an ability with words, do what you can to encourage that.’
"Well I had no idea this conversation happened. All I knew was that all of sudden, my mother was sacrificing one of those precious hours of sleep to get me up early and sit on the edge of the bed and run spelling words with me. At ten, eleven years old, you don’t care why your mom is spending extra special time just with you, not with your grandmother, not with your little brother, with you.
"This is your special time. My little kid brain, all I could think was ‘mom really must like words.’ If this is what’s gonna get my mom to spend time with me, I am gonna get really good at spelling words. I just remember focusing on that, doing spelling bees.
"I realize now, wow, that changed my life. Because I don’t have a brain for math, math is really hard for me, but English, words, that’s been how I made it this far in life. You know I’m not the smartest girl in the world, but my mom helped me to get a toehold to focus on some aspect of education, some area of life and get really good at it, try really hard at this one thing.”
“Plus that teacher,” said Vasquez.
“You don’t have to be good at everything, but be good at this one thing. It forever changed the way I looked at her. If she ever felt sorry for herself, I never saw it. She always saw the opportunity in a situation.”
“I feel her presence more now, you know. Like I said, she worked all those hours. It was hard to get her. But being able to look back and see all the ways that she served me. Not by lecturing, not by telling me what to do, just by living her life to the best. And doing it with so much dignity and grace. Always putting herself in a position of ‘what can I do?’ Always in a giving position, not in ‘what can I get?’ but ‘what can I give?’”
When Lisa Sanchez’s mother was laid off from her day job, she started a Mexican restaurant in Burley called La Cita. Lisa was a waitress, her brother was a bus boy and her mother was the cook. This gave them many more hours together as a family.
Lisa credits her mom with helping her get her college degree in communication from Boise State University in 2007. She says her mother passed away in 2005.
StoryCorps is a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday people. Excerpts were selected and produced by Boise State Public Radio.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio