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  • MJ Rodriguez

Lessons learned on the island


Jellybean and Martha

Lauren Shoaf who owned Island 26 lived with his family in a big house next to the school. Some of his children attended school, but one son was too young, so he came over to play with us during recess and lunch. Maybe because I was the only girl close to his age, or because I was so adorable, Little Lauren wanted to kiss me. He chased me all over the schoolyard so that I was unable to play, and since I wasn’t interested in a courtship, I told the teacher on him. Miss Nell had a solution to the problem: I should stay inside. That was so unfair! Later when his family came to our house, Little Lauren chased me all around the gas tank. I went inside to tell Mama, and she had a solution. Stay inside. I was so mad. He misbehaved, and I was punished. I hope it is not considered unforgiveness, but I have never forgotten the injustice done to me by these adults. If I had been more of a flirt, perhaps I would own my own island by now.


I hung out with second-grader Jellybean who was a year older and much wiser. She taught me some important things. We took our lunch to school, and one day we visited the school out-house during lunch, she made me spit out the food I was chewing. “If you eat in the bathroom, you’re feeding the devil,” she said. I believed her, of course, because she was older. And wiser.


My dad moved us to the island to truck patch, and the memories I have are of my parents and older siblings working in the fields picking strawberries and other crops including cotton. My twin and I were in charge of our two younger brothers, and we pulled them in a wagon across the rows of vegetables. It was tough work for a couple of 6-year-olds. I remember going to the cotton patch with Mom and Sally. I’m sure my other siblings were working too, but I was so focused on a young Mexican boy flirting with my pretty blonde sister Sally, I didn’t notice. I’d never heard anyone speak in a different language, and I was quite intrigued when the cotton pickers conversed in Spanish.


One day Dad sent all us kids to a neighbor’s house, and when we returned home, we had a new baby brother. Even my older siblings did not know Mom was pregnant. We were never allowed to say the word, pregnant in our home. It was during this time my twin brother Marvin and I discovered we were different. You know, he was a boy and I was a girl. Mom made sure we understood the differences were to be kept private. How different from kids today who know and talk about everything. I wouldn’t trade the innocence of my childhood for anything.

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