I feel two things as I step over the threshold into Rosa’s home: cramped and welcome. Because the living room has been converted into a spare bedroom, the front door is inaccessible. My camera equipment and I come through the back, squeezing through the space between the open door and the refrigerator. Perched in her usual spot at the end of the kitchen table that guards the makeshift entryway, Rosa is the first to welcome me; her grand-daughter (and my point-of-contact), Leeanne, isn’t far behind.
Rosa’s house might not be the smallest we’ve ever restored through Community Powered Revitalization (CPR), but it’s close. Four generations share these walls at the moment, but that’s far from the home’s highest-ever capacity. At various points in its history, it’s been home to any number of people; from a single widow to nearly a dozen family members. The Pesina home is a refuge; a safe place for anyone and everyone who needs it. But it’s starting to fall apart.
We set up for our interview, my equipment monopolizing almost every square inch of the tiled kitchen floor. Danny, the youngest resident, is swept into a back bedroom where his toys and snacks can distract him while the adults talk for the next hour. Rosa apologizes for her English, which is better than she thinks. I apologize for my Spanish, which is probably worse than they let on. Leeanne graciously offers to translate for us, and we settle in to talk about the property that has held this family together for more than fifty years.
Aquí Se Pueden Trabajar
Leeanne has been her grandmother’s caretaker for years; starting from the time she moved into the house as a 12-year-old girl who wanted to stay in the Grapevine-Colleyville school district after her family moved down the road. She has an intimate knowledge of the family’s history: the first thing Grandma noticed about Grandpa was that he looked like Elvis. Suddenly, the Elvis calendar on the kitchen wall makes sense.
As Leeanne lays out the family timeline beginning with a rental property in 1962, Rosa pipes in: make sure to say that my brother-in-law, Lupe, is the one who brought us here. The couple came from Lubbock in the early sixties, chasing seasonal work. When he wasn’t welding at Hensley, Leeanne’s grandfather went North to work in the fields of Illinois. After five years of hard labor, they had enough to start their first mortgage payment at $75 a month. That’s when they moved from their rental home to the property Rosa owns now. At the time, the Pesinas were some of the first Latin-Americans in the city. Grapevine is roughly 25% Hispanic today.
“There weren’t very many Hispanic families in the late sixties and early seventies, from what I understand. But there were Hispanic families. So my mother, my aunts, my uncles, they grew up with the other kids of the other families. It became a big circle of ‘everybody knows each other and everybody had somebody to lean on’ in case, you know, something happened,” Leeanne said.
The local church launched a Spanish ministry, and the sense of belonging their outreach created — combined with steady work — convinced the Pesina family to stay in Grapevine for good. Rosa can still list every pastor who has ever ministered to her, in the order that they led the church.
“That’s when it became home and the roots really started. They had somewhere to worship and have that community with other Hispanic Baptists. That didn’t exist anywhere else for them,” Leeanne said. “They both came to Christ in the late fifties — mid-fifties, maybe — and it was very difficult for them to find a church. So when First Baptist gave them the ability to have that kind of community and camaraderie and friendship and whatever you want to call it, it anchored them more here. I really think that was a big part of it.”
Dios Nos Dice…
Over the years, the family grew. Rosa gained a reputation for loving her family and friends well; for keeping a home with open doors and plenty of spare room on the couch.
“It’s been the family home for the last four decades. It’s an emotional attachment. It is one of the things that her husband left her, that she is very proud of. To be a part of a community that cares about her as much as they have over the years — whether it be people from church or neighbors — she’s a staple,” Leeanne said. “Everybody knows where Sister Pesina lives. Where Hermana Pesina lives.
“If you fell on hard times, they’d welcome you with open arms. Never a question. Never a ‘why did you come back?’ It was always ‘absolutely, we’ll make it work.’ This isn’t a huge house but there was always room for you if you needed it. I think at one point, there were nine of us living here. I was in elementary school. My brother had moved out and lost his first apartment because he was young and made mistakes. My sister had come back with her two kids because they were young and made mistakes.
“We were all just here, but we all pitched in and we all helped. We all did what we could to make sure that everybody was comfortable. Grandma and Grandpa always made sure that we had a roof over our heads… That’s one of the things that makes this house so important. It’s always been a refuge for every single one of us.
“It’s not just family,” she added. “There have been people from the church that fell on hard times that needed a couch to crash on for a couple of days, and my grandparents were always willing to give that help.”
At this point, Rosa jumped in again: “…es lo que Dios nos dice en la Biblia.” That’s what God tells us to do in the Bible.
Salud y Familia
Hermana Pesina did her part in raising generation after generation of strong children, but eventually — as is usually the case — the time came for their roles to switch. Her husband passed away, leaving the home and its residents in a tough spot.
“She raised me, and then, in turn, I started raising her. It was like a little switch: she was the parent and I was the child, and then she got a little sick and I was the parent and she was the child. I started taking care of them when I was very young,” Leeanne recalled.
“After my grandfather passed, she got a little lonely. It was just her and me in the house for three or four years before my mom moved in to help me care for her. We started working in shifts; she went into a little bit of a sad spell after he passed. It got a little difficult for her to care for herself… with my mom came my younger brothers, and with those boys came a little bit of life into the house. You saw a little bit of energy come through. You saw a little bit of a happier grandma again.
“When Danny was born, that was when she came out of her shell again. That is the grandma that I always knew who was nurturing and loving… that came back, and it was nice to see her want to do these things for herself and want to do these things for her family and her grandkids again. Because it had stopped for a very long time.”
Leeanne has moved out of the house now; she and her husband are expecting a child soon. But she makes sure to bring the family around as often as she can. They’re part of a life-giving treatment for “Lela,” a woman who is at once their mother, their grandmother, and their friend.
Rosa keeps mostly to her chair in the kitchen, but that hasn’t stopped her from sharing in the joy of family. She jokes with her grand-daughter and plays music from her tiny radio to get her great-grandson dancing. She gives as much life as gets from the generations who come to wish her well.
Hasta Que Dios Me Llevé
The Pesina house is one of the smallest, most outdated homes in their neighborhood. But it’s undeniably vibrant. There’s a whole lot of love packed into all 750 square feet of it. Plenty of people have offered to buy the home over the years, but Rosa won’t entertain the thought.
“Desde que mi esposo se murió, yo estoy agusto aquí me quede. Esta casita el me la compró, y aquí voy a estar hasta que Dios me llevé,” she said. Since my husband died, I’ve been glad to stay in the house. He bought me this little house, and I’m going to stay here until God takes me.
“They both worked very, very hard to have something that was theirs, to be proud of,” Leeanne said. “These are the walls that hold all of the memories that we had with them. And that I hope we continue to have with her, you know, in the near future… she got worried there for a while, and it was hard on her. And watching it be hard on her was hard on me. I didn’t have the resources to do anything for her. I was taking care of her full-time and I wasn’t working. It took a toll on both of us.
“I was always the one that helped my grandpa; me and my mom. Any little repair that needed to be done; we’d go with him to the hardware store. We’d go get the paint… it was a team effort, and so when he passed away, things definitely started declining. I had nobody to help me.
“The house has been the same for twenty-some-odd years at this point. To see it turn around, the change, that’s what she’s most excited about… and feeling proud of her home again,” Leeanne continued. “To be able to do that for her, and let her have that little bit of peace — and peace of mind — less stress. Just for her to be able to enjoy her life and her kids and her grandkids. And her home! That’s a big deal to me. That I can give her that, that I can find people that can give her that… and to know that there are people out there that are willing to help me help her is an even bigger deal to me.
“Christ’s love is still out there, and that’s a big deal; it just reinforces everything that she taught me growing up.”
It only seems right to fix the outside of the Pesina home, given all the transformation that has happened within it over the years. On October 18 and 19, hundreds of volunteers will work to bring change to 28 homes just like (and including) Rosa’s. In the process, they’ll display the kindness that has come to define this community; one based on a deeper love than any of us could muster on our own. After all… es lo que Dios nos dice.
To learn more about Community Powered Revitalization and the families it serves, visit 6stones.org/cpr.