Maria Teresa Paramo, my mother, was born on August 7, 1932 in Uruapan Michocan, Mexico. At a young age, Teresa (as Maria was known) was pulled out of school and never returned.
Teresa’s sister passed away from a goiter complication and her mother, Sara Guerrero Paramo, was so distraught that she was virtually incapacitated for the rest of her life. So at the age of nine, Teresa helped run the house and take care of her five remaining brothers and sisters. She went on caring for them until her early 20’s when she emigrated to Los Angeles to find more money for her family and to seek a life of her own.
Since she could not speak English and only had basic skills in Spanish, she took any job she could and ended up sewing leather gloves in a sweat shop in downtown Los Angeles. There were droves of people just like her at the sweat shop, looking to send money back to their families. And for all these people, men and women, there was only one bathroom. Teresa would never go to the bathroom at work so this caused her a lot of health problems.
But even at the miserable sweat shop pay rate, she would always squirrel away some money.
"Chuy," she would say, "If you make three dollars, spend two and always save one."
Her philosophy would never change and she lived it. She had to. Shortly after marrying my father, she stopped working (for a salary) and started having and caring for children. There were five us altogether and we all lived off of my dad’s custodian salary.
When my parents figured out that we wouldn’t be able to make it on the salary alone, they started selling at the swap meet every Sunday. The routine would be to go "yard sailing" on Saturday’s then bring the items back, fix/polish/mend them, then sell them the next day.
This was hard work and they did this for many years. One of the toughest things for my mom was not being able to go to church on Sundays. She was a devout Catholic and reared all of us in the Catholic faith.
When the time arrived for my dad to retire they also stopped going to the swap meet and then she was able to go to church on a regular basis. She would go to church and that was it. She would never help with bake sales or do the blood drives or do any volunteering of any kind. I’d ask her why she didn’t do those types of things (especially since I did) and she said that her only focus was her family.
I couldn’t quite understand how a person with so much love for her children couldn’t also share that love with others by volunteering. In some ways it made me feel that she was a hard woman. That and the fact that she was a relentlessly shrewd business person. She knew how to negotiate like nobody’s business.
One weekend I tagged along at the swap meet and a woman asked about the price of clothes in a big box. "Pity cents," my mother responded.
The lady smiled at her friend and "Oh, fifty cents!" and started digging in to the box with delight.
"No, fifteeeeen, cents" I told the lady, and now she was in total glee.
My mother game me a look that could have burned a hole through the side of a barn. For years she would tell me that I was bad at business and would cite that incident laughingly. I believed she was right. Years later, I wrote about that incident in my business school application and ended it by saying, "Honest business is always good business."
But when I thought of my mother, I also thought about her stories about how she would recite poetry at family parties. When she mentioned that I would see a fondness in her eyes that told of a million dreams that she never pursued. She gave up her life to take care of her family at a young age and continued doing so until just before passing away in 1998.
The three things she taught me was to be a gentleman, to not fight with my brothers, and to always take care of my family. She always put responsibility first, in front of her needs and wants. I understand that but have taken it upon myself to try to achieve every dream possible, so that I never have to ask, "What if?"