It was my Cancerian younger sister Valerie’s birthday the other day and I was on my way to my brother John’s who had recently moved into my grandmother Mary’s old place. I saw this sign out front of the old church on Imperial Highway that I attended as a child. It was exactly as I remembered it, although obviously weather beaten. As is the case in many Mexican families, I was born Catholic and was baptized as a baby. My family later converted to Christianity when we lived in Lynwood, California. The church had a great impact on me and my folk. Brother Jim, the pastor of Church of Christ in Lynwood, was a former policeman who was a great speaker; he’d often refer to his time making speeches for Toastmasters Int’l. Whenever he’d mention the name, I’d often think of toast, the kind you put jelly, jam and butter on. Anyway, Catherine, a sweet, curly-gray haired lady who wore glasses and would speak with a friendly Southern accent, drove a Mercury Monarch and would often treat us kids to an ice cream cone at the local Clarks Drugstore. Mona, her room mate, was cheerfully cantankerous. She’d dig in her purse whenever she’d see me, looking for that stick of gum that got away that she could offer me for my chewing enjoyment. Catherine had a baby shower for my mom when she was pregnant with my sister Val.
It was more than just religion, though…it was about human decency, kindness and compassion. These people taught me something that will stay with my always: that we are all lights that must shine, even and especially in the darkest of times. Wherever my brothers and sisters are today, many of them from that old church long departed, the hope and love that they instilled in my young heart will forever serve as a reminder to me that we are all united in our unique individuality as well as in the guiding inspiration that is within each and every one of us.