As a kid, I never really liked going to the Tijuana house. The place bored me, tremendously. Once was enough to take in the virtual museum of Ureño Saldivar family history all in. For some reason, I stayed away from this home for years, I think about six. There was no reason to make the trip, so I didn’t.
Now that I returned with Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni the house feels different. There are all kinds of locks on the doors to the bedrooms, but I doubt thieves would want to steal the real treasure in the house: old photographs.
The house always impressed me as a kid. It is three stories tall. The garage, master bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and apartment are all part of the top floor. The apartments on top floor and bottom floors are all rented out to various tenants. The middle floor features a large living room, a smaller sitting room and two bedrooms. I stayed in one of these rooms. Outside of the middle floor is a balcony I never went out on because it was rather cold. Every one of these rooms is full of 60 plus years of family memories as it has expanded from 2 to 10 to 80. Photos sit in frames and albums, recuerdos from weddings and quinceañeras made of yellowing lace and plastic figurines grace tabletops, and religious icons look down at you from their place on the walls.
The photos have always been my favorite. You could look at three different family trees on display in the house, but those are just names. The photos on display and in albums show a different perspective aside from sheer growth, the affection and love we have for one another.
My favorite set of photos is that of my young parents, tías and tíos holding their first born. All the pictures are the same size, look like they were taken at Sears, are reddened by exposure. In one photo, circa 1974, tío Beto and tía Ana hold their oldest, Elizabeth. She’s the cutest kid in the photo and the only one the photographer was able to get smiling. In the next, taken in 1978, tío Chuy and tía Luisa hold their eldest son, Eric. In the last, Danny sits between my mom and dad in a picture taken sometime in 1979. My mom is dressed in casual clothing and my dad still has his work uniform on with the name tag that reads Carlos.
I wondered if other tías and tíos took portraits as young families. Later, I found a similar studio portrait of tío Pancho and tía Martha with Nancy in 1986. The picture is larger, better quality and not reddened. I’d like to see similar photos with my Padrino José and Madrina Chilo holding Bibi; tía Socorro and tío Hector holding Sandy; and tía Eva and tío Manuel holding Evangelina.
My favorite snapshot is of my mom on her wedding day in between Chepe and Mamá Toni. She looks ethereal and has a quality I’ve never seen in any other bride: the ability to look gorgeous on your wedding day without a ton of makeup. On her face she wears a touch of blush, light blue eyeshadow and lip gloss. The blue compliments the white of the veil and small daisies. A 57 year-old Chepe kisses my mom on her left cheek while Mamá Toni is frozen less than an inch away from her right cheek intending to plant one on her sixth born. My mom’s thin lips are spread taut as her smile goes from from ear to ear. She shows off a gorgeous smile of large, straight, white teeth that I’ve inherited. She’s a perfect twenty year-old bride with her mommy and daddy showing that even though she just exchanged vows with her new husband and should “become one with him” and his family, she is still very much a daddy’s girl integrated in her family.
The photo reminds me of all the other beso photos I’ve taken. The best is the photo where Lori and I put Papá Chepe in the middle. On his face is a smile and look of joy equal to that of a young bride 25 years earlier. Affection in our family doesn’t get old.