A House of Sticks by Belinda Vasquez Garcia

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“Mommy regrets only two things in her life- her missing eyebrows and ever marrying Daddy.”

I expected this to be a gloom and doom memoir, it’s not. Listen, bad things happen, there are hungry bellies and hearts, embarrassment, shame, deception, regrets but somehow I was laughing while clutching my warm little gut. Belinda is a kid after my own heart! I felt young again, but with an adult’s wisdom. I was a ghost in the halls of her memories. Her siblings all are living, breathing, spitting, kicking colorful characters! The adults are lunatics but the sort many of us can recognize in our own families, I mean- we all have a little dysfunction climbing about our bent old family tree somewhere right? The style of writing worked beautifully for me, I swear I missed being a kid. How did Garcia get so solidly planted back in the shoes of her youth? Her parents have some secrets, oh boy! But we most loved the damaged ones, don’t we?

From the fear of her Uncle’s visit with a dead body, I remembered the ridiculous nightmares that prey on children. We believe the garbage our older siblings say to scare us, the ‘harmless’ teasing. It was sort of fun though, wasn’t it? All the children have vastly different personalities and I couldn’t help but laugh at the antics each of them got up to. Please know that in the darkest moments, there is love and laughter too. It is sad and disturbing, but I don’t know much about perfect families- so I wasn’t necessarily horrified by her parents. Take the heavy parts, things that happened to Belinda, her reactions are very raw, honest and there are moments you will be disturbed. This is a life, and you have to find the laughter in the storms.

Her writing is lovely, “Once a week, a garbage truck barrels down our street, hitting potholes and farting garbage.” I was born in the mid seventies and grew up in the 80’s but we still played outside and were free to get into all sorts of trouble, something about the sentence with the garbage truck just reminded me of watching the adult-world going about their business  as we children were like street urchins until it was time to go home. It was a time you could feel like a parentless savage, and darn if we didn’t sometimes end up the victim in the schemes of older kids. This memoir is about Belinda’s world when she was young and yet the adults are very much present with so much brewing beneath the surface. Kids understand, and they don’t. It’s a confusing time.

On the one hand, her mother and father have a very bad relationship- he is not completely solid and Belinda’s mother suffers for it. I felt so much pain for what her mother dealt with, and hunger pangs when the kids didn’t have much, and anger that a man can be such a mess. Don’t get me wrong, there is heaviness in their steps- but I honestly spent more time laughing. I think I just fell in love with little Belinda. This is a favorite memoir now, it will be interesting to read what other people feel about it. The horror of that other family her father abandoned … the slow fading of her father who one day just vanishes from her life as well, why is he unable to be still? Why can he not be pinned down? And her mother lives the saying ‘I made my bed, now I must lay in it’.  As Belinda inhales what remains of her father (the Pinocchio man) I am hungry to know what happened after he left.  It will be continued in “After Daddy Left Us” and I can’t wait!  Fantastic!

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