Post 69: Excerpt from The Rooming House Diaries

The second novel by Bill Mathis will be published in August 2019 by Rogue Phoenix Press. Available for preorder through Amazon as eBook or paperback around mid-July, 2019.

Diary 4

Katie and Krys Koslowski – continued

Lessons Learned (written by Krys Koslowski)

I was seven, it was late on a Friday afternoon right after we’d moved into the back apartment in 1958. I was sitting on the porch swing, reading a book, probably Nancy Drew. I was a voracious reader and read several grades ahead of my class. I was going to solve mysteries when I grew up, just like every other little girl in our neighborhood.

Hank and Mae were out, maybe to visit the cemetery with John’s grave who died in the war. Mom was dead-heading some of the lilies and flowers on the side of the house. An old car with ladders strapped on top pulled up and a small man with black hair, brown eyes and brown skin climbed out. He was young, that much I could tell. When he came around behind the car, I noticed his left arm hung down, just dangled, and his left shoulder bent forward.

He gave me a big smile and paused on the sidewalk. Very politely, he asked, “Who do I see about renting a room?” His voice had an accent.

I jumped off the swing and hollered, “Mom, there’s a man here who wants a room and he talks funny.”

…I finally struggled back with the glasses under my left arm, holding napkins between my fingers, my right hand carefully grasped the heavy glass pitcher with ice cubes bouncing around in it. I gripped a plastic bag of homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies between my teeth.

He was sitting on the steps, but jumped up and gently took the pitcher from me. Looking at Mom, he asked, “Is she always this determined?”

Mom had tears in her eyes, just a few, she wiped them and nodded. Then laughed.

“You know that’s part of our heritage, don’t you?” he asked. “Determination, hard work, quick thinking, that’s part of our blood.”

“Whose blood?” I demanded. 

What were they talking about? Why did he act like he knew something about me that I didn’t?

“I was talking about Mexican blood, that’s all,” he replied quietly.

Mom was turned around by the end of the porch, blowing her nose. “Krystina, could you pour the tea and give Mr. Rodriguez, Manuel, a glass, and a cookie on a napkin, please?”

“Please call me Manny. That’s all I go by.”

~ * ~

It would be years before Mom told me I was half-Mexican. More years after that before she explained the shock on her face that day was because Manny so closely resembled my father, Eddie Vargas. That he was the first person she told since being kicked out by her parents that I was half-Mexican. How proud of me she was that I didn’t see color, just a good man.

Several years ago, I asked Mom why she didn’t tell me sooner.

“Two reasons,” she replied. “One, in that day and age, when you were the daughter of an unwed mother, I figured you had enough to deal with without people knowing you were only half-white. Think of all the prejudice there was against the Mexicans back then, less than the African Americans, but still a lot.”

“What was the second reason?”

“You’d learned what I wanted you to learn. People are people, regardless of their color, background or abilities. Family is family regardless of bloodlines.”

I looked at her in confusion, then realization slowly set in. I am half Mexican, my daughter is in a serious relationship with a dark brown man whose parents were born in India, my son is a cerebral palsy quadriplegic who is gay with all sorts of friends of all colors, straight, gay, disabled, and able-bodied. Since she was young, my daughter has brought home strays and misfits looking for family. That doesn’t count the dogs and cats she snuck in. Our holidays frequently look like the United Nations. And on and on. All because Hank Sawicki dared to rent a room to an unwed, pregnant nineteen-year old in 1950.

Author’s Note: If you read, Face Your Fears, you will recognize the links between the two books. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

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