Over the years, either as a student or now as a professor, I hear young adults comparing their childhoods and competing to see who was really poor.

By Dr. Anjelita Cadena


Over the years, either as a student or now as a professor, I hear young adults comparing their childhoods and competing to see who was really poor. Each one has their frame of reference as to what poor means. A fellow university student was saying that her family was so poor her family could only take two vacations a year. And I thought, that’s like my family, but my conclusion was different, that didn’t make us poor.

My memories tell me that my family was rich.    We had two vacations each year while I was growing up: one on our drive up north and the other on our return. When we were too young to help much, our trips were to Buffalo Grove, Illinois, just north of Chicago, with my grandparents and uncles in other nearby cities such as Mundelein and Palatine.  Since my dad was bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish, he worked

as a landscape supervisor at Rolling Hills Nursery and Garden Center. He also manicured lawns as a side-job with us as his crew. My sister and I would drag the full bags of grass to the truck and dump it in so dad could keep mowing. I remember being in the back of the pickup truck full of freshly cut grass and just smelling it.


We also helped him on harder jobs, handed him the burlap, rope, and nails he needed to wrap the roots of trees that he had just dug out. To this day, I love the smell of freshly mowed grass, the look of a nicely manicured lawn; I still remember the smell of burlap and dirt, funny thing, these memories, they add to our riches.

Once, on a business trip to Chicago, I used my memories. I found the spot where I-83 goes right through Buffalo Grove, where there is now an IHOP and shopping center, which is where we used to live, at the garden center, behind the barn, in a mobile home provided by the boss. I followed my memory of our school bus ride and found my first school,  Aptakisic Tripp Elementary, where we made our first set of friends and I developed a love of phonics. Finding Rolling Hills Nursery took more effort, but I did find it after asking around at a few gas stations and I stopped and asked for the owner, Don Sims, but was told he had passed on.  I  asked for his son, Billy, my mother used to watch him when his mom had to be somewhere.  He was the age of my youngest brother, but taller than any of us. They called a few people on their radios asking for Billy, saying that someone was waiting for him at the office.  While we waited for him, I noticed their maps of the original location and I was able to point out all the parts of the garden center.  One of the men was filling me in on happenings and changes, when this sunburnt red, blond hared, giant of a man walked in; I immediately knew who he was and he looked at me and smiled.  He said, “I was just telling my wife last night about my memories of running around with a bunch of barefoot Mexicans.  ”Funny thing about childhood friends, the memories are forever.

My brothers, sisters, and I disagree on many issues. The usual culprits are politics, religion, who looks older, etc. But when I look in the mirror and see my little brother’s eyes looking back at me, it makes me smile. When I look at my sister’s picture on Facebook and remember being in the same place in my life ten years ago, I want to talk to her.  This is the legacy that my parents will leave for us,  recuerdos, of good times, friends, and family. My memories are of riches and my riches are my memories.

I hope that I leave my children with a similar legacy.  What can we do to make sure we leave them a rich legacy? We can show them how to treat our elders and family members with respect and love. We can show them to love people for who they are, not for who we think they should be. We can show them to love themselves and their lives.

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