Chapter 2, the Torrent Continues
Jerri-Lynn was so tired that she could barely see. She ripped the red and white 5-day shut off notice from the front door. It had become a game, would the electric company win this month or would she be able to pull another miracle from thin air and keep the lights on?
She stumbled to the pantry and immediately checked the flour, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and a few other ingredients. She had enough on hand to prepare about 4 dozen baked sweets. If she sliced things down and sold them at $2 or $3 each, she just may have enough to clear the electric bill but little else. She wondered which utility was next in line for a shut off notice. She sighed figuring it would be the water company. She had already begun limiting the children to nightly baths and using as little water as possible to try to save every penny they could. She found it ironic that she made too much, according to state guidelines, to qualify for public assistance yet she couldn’t make ends meet and was merely surviving from one pay check to the next.
Life was challenging and hard even before Emelio died. Although Jerri-Lynn was told it was a malfunction in Emelio’s safety harness that led to his death by Mr. Jones, the corporate letter simply stated it was, “an unfortunate unforeseen accident.” At Emelio’s funeral, Mr. Jones had handed Jerri-Lynn a manila envelope whispering to her to keep it concealed, but he also encouraged her to use its contents to “sue those son of a bitches for everything they have left.” Before Jerri-Lynn could follow up with Mr. Jones he had been found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound near a downtown park. She couldn’t have afforded an attorney at any rate.
Jerri-Lynn’s two oldest sons had tried to help financially by getting odd jobs around the neighborhood to raise money. They would cut grass and perform odd jobs for the elderly in the area. But twice they were robbed at gun-point, so she had made them stop their pursuits. Besides, her 12 and 15 year old boys should concentrate on their education; she figured that was the only real way to get them out of their dangerous west side Indianapolis neighborhood. Maya, her 5 year old daughter, had been the surprise baby. At 38 Jerri-Lynn hadn’t intended to become a mom again. Emelio was thrilled and even more so when he saw the sonogram confirming Jerri-Lynn was pregnant with the little girl he’d always longed for. The pregnancy was not without complications, Jerri-Lynn developed pre-eclampsia and subsequently gave birth to Maya at only 34 weeks, with God’s grace the baby was alright and their life was made complete by the darling apple cheeks, large hazel eyes and squeaky laughter of their beautiful curly dark browned haired little girl.
Emelio had struggled through high school, eventually dropping out just weeks shy of graduation. He joined a street gang and began a dangerous path. Eventually he got himself involved in a botched armed robbery where he ended up accidentally shooting himself in the leg while trying to pull a gun out of his waistband in order to pitch it down a sewer grate. While in prison he studied for and successfully passed his GED. Then, through a grant program he was able to take technical classes in auto mechanics successfully earning his certification and once he was paroled he was able to take a job as an auto mechanic. Emelio had a deep passion for cars and with the popularity of a drag racing movie began to modify cars profitably on the side, so much so that he was able to significantly pay down the mortgage on their home.
Even with having less than five years left to pay on their mortgage the house hadn’t aged well. It would seem when one thing had been repaired then another thing would break or need updating. After a particularly harsh Indiana winter they were faced with costly basement repairs after an ice storm knocked out power and subsequently their pipes burst flooding the finished basement. They had no choice but to take out a $25,000 second mortgage just before Maya was born. Just two years prior to his death Emelio and some of the guys from his then auto repair garage had worked hard to put on a sunroom and back patio addition to the home, however, the project was leaked to a city official that issued a fine, stating the work had not been performed with proper license or inspection. The fine levied against Jerri-Lynn and Emelio was hefty and they would have to have the completed work torn out and completely redone by a contractor licensed and bonded. Fortunately, Emelio’s cousin, Carlos worked for the city as an attorney and cleared up the matter on their behalf. Just a few months later the auto garage Emelio worked for closed its doors and went out of business, Maya was born and Emelio began a new career direction in construction work.
Jerri-Lynn was so caught up in the drift of memories of times past she hadn’t heard the children come in.
“Mmmm. Something smells yummie!” said Maya twirling around in the kitchen with her long curly pigtails smacking her in the face.
“I’m baking some things to take to work Maya. So please don’t touch anything.” Jerri-Lynn said noticing Maya eyeing the sweets cooling on racks.
“Aww. Not fair. You never make sweets for us to eat anymore.” She said stomping out of the kitchen angrily.
“Sometimes life isn’t fair Maya!” Jerri-Lynn remarked.
Jerri-Lynn turned around to find Enrique, her eldest son hovering in the doorway of the kitchen. She couldn’t help but feel a rush of sadness at how much her eldest son had come to resemble his father.
“Did you see the notice on the door?” asked Enrique.
“Yes. That’s why I am making these sweets.” She said.
“Mom you should teach me to make these sweets. You work hard for us and you should be sleeping right now. You go to work in like five hours.” He said concerned.
Emelio would have been proud of how his “mini me” was turning out. She kissed his cheek causing him to frown.
“Tell you what. Some weekend if I can take off from work I will teach you how to make these. I promise.” She said.
“Do you have homework?” She asked.
“Yeah, a little bit.” He said.
“Then go and get your homework started, I will get off to bed soon. I’ve made noodles and veggies for you all make sure your brother and sister eat, brush their teeth and get to bed on time. Okay? And no YouTube or Instagram or any other social media stuff tonight, I don’t want you up until midnight young man.” She said.
“Yeah, yeah.” He grumbled walking away. Enrique was already 6 feet tall and his voice had every bit the voluminous depth of his father’s. Jerri-Lynn couldn’t help but think about what now seemed brief when he’d been a string bean with a cracking voice and shy nature.
Jerri-Lynn slept for less than 3 hours, got up and prepared two large Tupperware containers full of bagged sweets. The commute from their home to the brake factory was approximately two hours. She had begun working at Huang Power Break and Strut Company after her General Motors, Delphi plant closed. Before Delphi closed Jerri-Lynn worked in the pick and pull section where local mechanics would come and pickup orders. This is how she had come to meet Emelio. As she made final preparations before her long commute, her mind drifted back to the first day she and Emelio met. He had come to pick up a break order one humid summer afternoon. When Jerri-Lynn asked her usual, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Emelio responded, “You could give me your phone number.” The comment went right over Jerri-Lynn’s head and she began to reiterate their refund and return policy. Her rationale was that many mechanics inadvertently purchased substandard materials on occasion and were hassled about returns.
“That’s good to know, but I was kind of hoping I could take you out for dinner.” He said laughing. It would be the first time she would see his smile and deep dimples. Jerri-Lynn hadn’t dated much and was taken off guard. Emelio looked like a model for GQ magazine and Jerri-Lynn imagined initially that his asking her out must be a joke. She said yes and they went out the next night. They had been together ever since.
“Mom! Are you even listening to me?” demanded Estefan irate.
“I have a lot on my mind, so don’t you take that tone with me young man!” Jerri-Lynn said with her nostrils flaring.
“Uugh. I have a Zoo trip Friday. I need you to sign this permission slip and I will need to pack my lunch.” Estefan said sharply.
Estefan, Jerri-Lynn’s 12 year old son, had a similar sharp tongue and blatant in-your-face way of expressing himself similar to his paternal grandmother. Emelio’s mother, Gabriella, was a woman with little to no tact. “She isn’t Spanish! She is mixto!” Gabriella made no bones about her dislike of their match.
“She is beautiful mom. Her mother was Dominican and her father we think was African American. So what? Love is love isn’t it?” Emelio’s pleadings fell on deaf ears. To Gabriella Gonzalez it was either 100 percent Latino or nothing. Just as an act of spite Gabriella refused to attend Jerri-Lynn and Emelio’s wedding. On their honeymoon night Emelio got the call that his mother was being rushed to the hospital before they had even unpacked their clothing, she had a massive stroke and died 4 days later. At her wake Emelio’s aunt, Gina said Gabriella had died of a broken heart that her favorite son hadn’t married who she liked. Emelio was already charged with emotions and a heated argument followed. After that day Emelio spent little time with most members of his family.
Jerri-Lynn was summoned back to reality by Estefan’s screeching.
“Mom! Did you even hear me?” he demanded.
“Yes child, I will make you something to take to the Zoo and get you an Orange Fanta from the machine at work. You had best show some appreciation, sir!” she said glaring at him hard.
Estefan was even sharper with his tongue since his father died and Jerri-Lynn wondered if her son was having as hard a time coping with his emotions as she and the rest of the family were.
On the way in to work Jerri-Lynn realized she felt even more tired than usual. Taking two cross-town busses just to get to work on time, touting large containers plus her work bag was a burden she would have to bare in order to make ends meet. She wondered to herself how much longer she could keep up this perpetual cycle of maddening tries to stay one step ahead of bill collectors.
As she walked up the hill toward the front glass doorway of the break plant she saw the usual lines waiting by the time clock inside. On one side were those on the assembly line; on the other side were those who were either in engineering, maintenance or the finishing department. She had switched from day shift to night shift after Maya was born. The night shift was purely assembly line work and it was much more physically demanding, unlike pick and pull which was typically open 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Jerri-Lynn was restricted to one automotive part on the assembly line…industrial hydraulic brakes. Unlike standard automobile brakes, industrial hydraulic disc brakes required high-torque precision parts and thus took more time and attention during assembly. The loud signal sounded, she popped in her earplugs and the line began as usual. She would pull down the heavy apparatus and bolt, rivet, inspect, polish, turn and inspect over and over this would happen until the welcomed break at 2 a.m. for lunch. In the short walk to the lunch room she could feel her lower back, legs and feet wrenching with pain. The factory was stifling despite the large ceiling fans used for ventilation, with the heavy linen like material of the company uniforms, in combination with being on her feet for 8 of her 10 hour shift already, she was soaked with sweat and dead dog tired. She had seen co-workers pass out from the sweltering conditions of the factory; one co-worker even struck her head and gouged out her eye when she fell into the riveter face forward.
“Thank goodness tonight I have aluminums.” Jerri-Lynn said to Carmen as she opened one of the Tupperware containers to setup for her sale. In the world of brake assembly, there are two essential types of primary mold materials used to make brakes, cast iron or aluminum.
“Aren’t you the lucky one? I have cast irons tonight.” Carmen said.
“Sorry.” Jerri-Lynn said trying not to yawn.
“I tried to call you yesterday but I got no answer. Oh, yum! You brought sweets.” Said Carmen.
Carmen’s husband, Reid, owned a small auto dealership and always seemed to be looking for a good auto mechanic. But before Carmen could get her husband and Emelio together, Reid’s auto dealership merged with three other auto dealers to make a gigantic dealership featuring any known brand including imports just west of town. By the time the merger was all said and done Emelio had accepted the construction job.
“Can I get three conchas?” asked Carmen.
As Jerri-Lynn handed over the sweets she couldn’t help but wonder where her nearly invisible waist friend would put such caloric laden sweets.
“By the way, I wanted to give you this.” Carmen said handing Jerri-Lynn a piece of paper.
As Jerri-Lynn scanned it she realized it was an entry form. A famous national baking brand was hosting a competition. The top prize for regional winners was $5,000 plus a chance to be flown to Los Angeles and appear on the live televised grand finale for a shot at the $25,000 top prize.
“Thanks for thinking of me Carmen. But I’m not a professional baker.” Jerri-Lynn said.
“It’s not open to professionals; it is only open to amateur baker’s preferably home cooks.” said Carmen pointing to this exact language on the entry form.
“I don’t know Carmen.” Jerri-Lynn said.
“You bring treats in all the time and you really clean up selling these creations here. Come on, why not? I mean at least you could try. Winning this could really help your family.” Carmen said. Jerri-Lynn took the entry form, unzipped the top of her uniform and slid it inside her bra strap for safe keeping.
The shift dragged on until finally it came to an end. As Jerri-Lynn tried to drag her aching body to the front door, Mr. Donald Martin, the shift foreman waved Jerri-Lynn over. As Jerri-Lynn walked toward him she knew she must keep things brief, if she missed her 8:04 bus there would not be another one for 2 and a half hours.
“Jerri-Lynn, I am sorry to have to catch you. Can I speak with you in my office for a moment?” He asked.
“Sure. But just briefly, I have a bus to catch.” She said. She knew there was a lead position opening on nights and figured maybe she was up for the “talk” encouraging her to take on a more senior role. After all, Mr. Martin was aware she needed more money. Plus, Mr. Martin had asked her once before a couple of years ago, but the hours wouldn’t work with her family needs at that time because Maya wasn’t yet in school.
“I’ll try to be quick. Jerri-Lynn you are a great worker. I haven’t seen anyone work as hard over the past 7 years that I have been here. You never take sick time, you are never late and several times you have worked over shift despite the fact I know you were exhausted. Your work is quality and excellently performed. But, Mr. Hmong was in the plant last night observing operations. He also observed you selling your sweets in the lunch room.” He paused, carefully searching for his next words.
“Mr. Hmong feels that your selling those sweets on company grounds is a violation of our no soliciting, peddling or unlawful sales policy. He asked me to give you a written warning, but I talked him into just letting me give you a verbal warning. You will still need to sign an agreement to cease sales on company grounds. Look, I am sorry. I’ve bought your sweets before and they are the best treats I’ve ever eaten. Just, sell them by the bus stop or at least across the parking lot out of camera view. I don’t want to have to issue a written warning on this because you know what comes after that.” Mr. Martin said concerned.
For Jerri-Lynn it was the same as a huge punch in the gut. She reluctantly signed the cease order and acknowledged no longer being able to sell her sweet goods on company grounds. She barely caught her bus and sobbed the entire two hour commute home.