Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
The Linares family can confirm the old saying. Though the family of six has watched as their modest house in Homestead has fallen apart around them over the past few years, it is the one thing that has kept them together as they faced their father’s debilitating illness.
Pedro, 49, originally from Michoacán, Mexico, was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia three years ago, a blood disorder in which the body doesn’t produce the proper amount of platelets, the cells that help the blood to clot. If Pedro gets a paper cut, it could take hours to stem the bleeding. On the surface of his skin, little purple islands of subcutaneous blood periodically emerge, sometimes evidence of an inadvertent bump into a chair, sometimes just because. He knows his condition is bad on the days when he sees blood in his urine. And on the days when he cannot muster the strength to get out of bed. It’s unclear if his condition is the result of leukemia or an autoimmune disorder.
Pedro left Mexico in 1985 to work odd jobs in construction in various states until he finally settled in South Florida. He went back home to Michoacán in 1996 and returned with a bride, his wife Jorgina, whom he had known for years but was ready to make a life with in the U.S. Pedro scraped and saved enough by 2001 to buy a house.
The house was built in 1982, and had the original bathrooms and kitchen, but it had good bones, and the couple, who then had only their two oldest children, Mariza, 18, and Pedro Jr., 15, thought the house would grow with their family. The decision was wise as the couple had two more children, Yarizet, 9, and Lesli, 4, and the house was filled with the sounds of little kids laughing and the smells of authentic Mexican cuisine. Pedro kept working his construction jobs and Jorgina tended to the children and the home.
But when Pedro was diagnosed three years ago, it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to work anymore in construction. His condition is aggravated by exposure to the sun, and his treatments, a form of chemotherapy, leave him debilitated. “I had to drive myself home from therapy once and I almost passed out in the car,” he remembers. Jorgina soon found herself as the family’s primary breadwinner. She got jobs working in the fields in Homestead — planting, fertilizing, weeding. She was up before dawn and in the South Florida sun all day so she could bring in enough money to cover the house payment.
Then one day the bathtub in the second bathroom got backed up. The toilet wouldn’t flush. Then the sink began to overflow. All the family’s resources were going to keeping a roof overhead, so there was no calling a plumber. The tub soon was covered in a copper-colored layer of rust, the toilet bowl was streaked with black and orange lines. From the bathroom, a smell emanated, forcing them to keep the door closed. Pedro felt powerless to fix the problem.
Then windows broke. The sliding glass doors to the backyard slid right off the rails. Pedro Jr. had several growth spurts and suddenly the mattress on his twin-size bed, which, like most of the family’s furniture, was a donation from a local charity, could no longer support the weight of a growing boy.
“I can feel the springs through the mattress in my back,” Pedro Jr. says.
Zoila Silva, a family support worker at the Redland Christian Migrant Association, nominated the family because she saw how serious their needs were. The organization provides child care to migrant workers in South Florida and all of the Linares children have been through their program. Lesli is currently receiving their care while Jorgina works in the fields. “The family has so many needs because of Pedro’s illness. It is so hard for Jorgina, she has so much on her plate.”
With Christmas on the horizon, the Linares family is having flashbacks to last year’s holiday festivities: After mustering the strength to get through Christmas dinner at his sister’s house, Pedro and Jorgina knew that they were going to have to head straight to the emergency room. He had sat slumped on the couch all evening, exhausted, but determined to give the kids a festive night. “I just kept thinking, ‘I just need to get through dinner and we can get home and put the kids to bed,’” said Pedro. That incident was the most recent flare-up of his disease, but, most importantly, it was the first time their children found out about their father’s illness.
“They just never talked about it with us,” says Mariza, a student at Miami Dade College. “We were shocked, we didn’t know what was going on. We knew that Mom had gone to work, we knew that Dad was home a lot, but you’re a kid, so you don’t think to ask why.” Pedro and Jorgina had never mentioned his illness.
“My dad is really strong,” says Pedro Jr. “He wouldn’t show his weakness. They don’t talk to us about problems.”
Now the older children take pains to keep Yarizet and Lesli from worrying. “This is why I am going to college,” assures Mariza, “so that I can help my family and they don’t have to worry. My parents’ lives have been hard, so I have to do my best to help.”
For Mariza that includes waking up at 5 a.m. to take the bus from Homestead to the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College to make her 8 a.m. classes. It means doing her homework in public libraries and in the computer lab at school because she doesn’t have a laptop or an Internet connection at the house.
The family has done its best to cope with the house’s maintenance-related “idiosyncrasies.” Cardboard and duct tape patch broken windows. The broken sliding doors were covered with hurricane shutters. The second bathroom is basically no man’s land.
The Linares family’s Wish Book wish list includes a computer for the children to do school work plus funds to complete home repairs and to help cover Pedro’s medical bills.
But if you ask Pedro Jr. what his Christmas wish is, it’s very simple: “I just want my dad to get over this sickness. I don’t want to see him back in the hospital.”
▪ How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook @miamiherald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.