Set me a task in which I can put something of my very self, and it is a task no longer; it is joy; it is art.
My mom was always a good artist. Anyone who comes from the Armendariz family is a good artist. Not just in the just the usual way - our art manifests itself in many different means that are nonetheless art. For example, my cousin Yvonne (an Armendariz) has a unerring eye for beauty and can compose beautiful photographs that make you "feel" what she saw through the camera's lens. It just comes naturally to her. My brother Oscar can design web pages with logic and balance. His desire for detail and ability to see and create in bits and bytes what no one else can see makes his work unique and sought after. He has that extra "touch" that one cannot put a finger on. Art after all, is not meant to be esoteric. It should be felt by anyone who is in contact with it. It should inspire and enable one to feel what the artist is feeling. Art is something to be shared.
My mom started out her education in the traditional way. After high school, she went to Art School. When I lived at home, she used to keep a large white Samsonite suitcase filled with old photographs and love letters which she would share with me from time to time. We would look through the memories, and after a while put the suitcase away. Rarely, would we ever get to the bottom of the suitcase where she had stored her portfolio of sketches. Though I may have glimpsed them once or twice, they are etched in my memory. They were a fleeting view of my mom's talent. The buds of a gifted designer. To this day, I know that her skill was extraordinary, and that she would have gone far had she continued on with her education and pursued a career in anything she chose.
But she chose to have a family. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, she got married, and to my gratefulness had two kids: me and my brother. She was the best stay at home mom a kid could ask for. We were happy and well fed and well educated and well loved. At some point, I can't remember when because it didn't make a difference in my secure little life, she took on a job as teacher's assistant. I know she did, because that's when her stories started. Some time when I was in grade school.
She was very happy and would come home and tell us about her kids and the principal and the other teachers. I learned about one teacher who was timing her pregnancy just right to make sure that her baby was born under the right sign in the right year at the right time. I think my mom found this amusing, but logical. I learned about the different people my mom admired. She was so happy, there wasn't anyone I can recall that she did not admire. I learned a lot about character through my mom and her experiences at school. I learned how she thought and how others thought. She was always very opinionated and enthusiastic. My mom is a good storyteller.
As the years went by, she formed many beautiful friendships. She came across quite a few fascinating and interesting people from all walks of life. Her stories were rich and colorful. The people she worked with were inspiring and quirky - all around characters worthy of a thick absorbing novel. Every day she would come home with something fun to share. These people helped form who I am as I listened and became inspired by these artists in their own rights.
Not only were there stories about her co-workers - the teachers and the teacher's aides - there were stories about the children she worked with. Their bravery in navigating the harsh high school world with their special abilities; their unique personalities; their triumphs and despair; the love their parents had for them; the love they lacked. There were the ones that didn't get so much of it, but had enough guts to continue on and pass that test or get to that prom whatever it took.
How fortunate my brother and I were to receive the complicated and colorful tapestry of stories that my mom wove throughout the years as she worked in the school system. I don't think I ever heard her complain about going to work once. Her life was fulfilled in spite of certain setbacks that tried to get her down - that tried to get us down. She was unsinkable. She rode above it all with joy and excitement every day. Her work was her art. She put her whole self into it, and received back a hundredfold. It overflowed to me and my brother.
So now though the canvas has changed, it is not time for her to put her palette, her brushes, her her quill, or her notebook aside. She has the rest of the world to paint. There are more stories for her to tell. Her home is her new studio. The world is her new classroom brimming with untold stories. She needs to get out there and bring them back to us. We demand it of her. Her capacity to show us the details that can be missed by the ordinary eye is the heart of her artistry.
How fortunate we are to know her and have her share her world with us!