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A Family's Legacy

Risa Avalos: All I've ever known is this fire within questioning why I am here, and how do I face and meet life, to live out a meaningful purpose.


Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal must have been a comfort to the immigrants of our Great Nation. I can remember my grandmother, Tomasa, had a picture of him in every house she lived in — FDR positioned next to JFK and JC, Jesus Christ as her front runner in hope.

Both my parents were born in 1936, and I suspect the temperature of the time was hopeful that November gave way to the promised umbrella of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The theme of the times was hard back-breaking work. World War II loosened the tight purse of the Great Depression and sent our able-bodied men overseas. Our women worked in the factories and steered the household as their beloved wrestled with the fate of war.

My maternal grandmother went to work for Levi Straus while grandpa maintained the railways for the Southern Pacific leaving mom and her sister to tend to the kitchen and younger siblings. Navigating the stove, making beans, rice, chili and tortillas, potatoes and eggs were their main staples.

When supplies were rationed, they made do with what they had. There was little time for mom to play outside, play with dolls, sit and ponder imaginative tales of fantastic stories to occupy the wonder of a child's mind, and feed her creative heart.

By the time dad could manage his motor skills well, he worked the tomato fields alongside his parents, from early morning to late in the day. Not much time to make slingshots and find the perfect rocks and practice his aim. He hardly had the chance to dream up dragons and pirates, play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians and explore his resolve through play. School began when the harvest was over, where he could pitch pennies and make a dime on a lucky streak, to get into the movie house.


The five of us were born to my parents, Al and Terry, between 1961-1969. The theme of the era was about change. Our chores were lighter in comparison; we had refrigerators and bathrooms, packaged meats and potato chips, everyone had a television and American Bandstand.

In the seventies when school was out, it was common for children to play outside all day until the street lights flickered on. Running in fields of golden grass like it was forever, climbing trees, building forts, jumping rope, flying kites, rolling potato bugs and gazing at tadpoles was the way we learned about the natural world. As we traversed the outer playground of Mother Earth, we discovered and negotiated with our very own unique inner gifts, talents, abilities and skills, all in which give us personal esteem through play.

It wasn't until dad passed that I realized how much effort and consideration my parents put into our play. Our play was a priority for them; it kept us out of their hair, but it was more than that — they gave us a childhood. Dad would make up games that they'd played along with us, and he was a prolific story teller. Mom was actively creative, we never knew what mom was going to think up, it was part of our world, her creative world, that she let us in on.

I am clearly blessed to have Al and Terry as parents. I learned from them that when we give our children the time and room to play, we give them a childhood, the greatest gift for a booming heart and profound soul is through play. Now that's my kinda New Deal, thank you FDR, JFK and JC — Grandma's heroes. Perhaps play is the greatest way to pursue freedom and happiness.

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing" - George Bernard Shaw

~ Risa Avalos