This past weekend, my mother, dad, and I drove down to Brownsville, Texas. This little town on the very tip of the state, bordering with Matamoros, Mexico, is where I grew up. We moved here when I was five years old.
Growing up in a small town has a certain degree of charm. It can also be a nightmare. For me, it was more of the later. I was always a chubby little kid. Early on, I had to have glasses for my eyesight which I inherited from my father. And then we added braces to fix the bad teeth I inherited from my mother. All of this lead to an awful lot of bullying in my childhood.
It was generally there throughout my early years, but in fourth grade, it got intense thanks to a very bad teacher, Ms. Doyle. She was single you see and my mother befriended her and thought to pair her up with a gentleman friend of our family. Sadly, the match didn’t take. This created a tension in Ms. Doyle. I was too young to realize this was happening.
One afternoon, she asked me if I had completed my math homework as I and my mom walked past her during carpool. I told her yes, that it was in my notebook. AND I HAD. To this day , I can recall the page of carefully written math problems. But the next morning, it wasn’t there. Now, she had a habit of making us stand up if we didn’t do it, so I did ’cause I couldn’t find it. She came roaring around the desk, towered over me as I crumbled crying on the floor, telling me I was a liar and humiliating me in front of the whole class.
After that it was open season on me. If the teacher humiliated and ostracized me, then the other students felt justified in doing it too. In fact, when we were graduating form 5th grade and the school invited us to a pool party celebration, the bullying had become so intense I begged my parents to let me stay home. I felt that if I went, they would drown me.
In the midst of all this, there was a solace. My family and I attended Pastor Gene Loya’s church, Centro Cristiano Shamma. Here I found God’s love and acceptance. Most importantly, the pastor’s mother, took me under her wing. Her advice and comfort was a part of my life that I will always cherish.
Mrs. Loya is 103 years old now. She is the most beautiful lady and her fire and love for God is still burning bright. Her mind is a s sharp as ever, though her body has become frail. We went to Brownsville to visit with her and to take a time with Pastor Loya, whose advice in the midst of so much going on was a balm to my spirit.
Of course, we went and had dinner at The Oyster Bar. One thing about small towns… they don’t change. The same place mats that have always been there are still being used. I put them here because they are really cool.