For years, Robert Verdugo would spend Mother’s Day morning with his mother at Nicolino’s Garden Café in Sunnyvale.
“It’s been a tradition,” he said. “Our little tradition.”
The Verdugos won’t make that trip this Sunday.
Instead, Robert Verdugo will enjoy a relatively low-key and local celebration with his wife, Nicole.
His heart is heavy.
He misses his mom.
Juana Verdugo died in November, finally succumbing to a host of illnesses. In her final years, Juana had been put on dialysis because of kidney failure and underwent open-heart surgery. She would have been 58 in June.
“A whole bunch of stuff hit her at one time,” said Robert, one of two sons raised by the hard-working single mother. Robert’s brother, Anthony, is nine years his junior.
“We’ve learned to be tough. Just seeing what she had gone through with her health. She tended to take in a lot of pain and try to hide it. It was rough, but she was a strong lady.”
These days, her legacy as a single mother fills her physical absence.
While he struggled to understand the sacrifices and struggles of a single parent as a child, Robert talks glowingly about his late mother’ perseverance and passion.
“She definitely lived a hard life but always found a way to provide, love and inspire my younger brother and I,” he said.
Juana’s lasting impression on the world is of strength, independence and work ethic, Robert said.
Like many single mothers, Juana worked multiple jobs – and she wasn’t picky or consumed with pride when it came to the line of work. She worked in the food industry, processing and packaging honey baked hams, and later quality control for a computer chip company. There was even a stint as a security officer.
Those memories buoy Robert as he searches for permanent employment. He says he’s always been a hard worker – the first to volunteer for overtime and extra shifts – but even the busy and eager have been swept off their feet by the economic downturn.
Even in unemployment, he remains busy. His mother would expect nothing less. This week alone, Robert says he’s applied for a number of positions.
“She was always providing for me and my brother,” he added. “She busted her butt with whatever job she worked.”
The Verdugos were never flush with cash. Juana’s paychecks were just enough to cover rent and other living expenses.
Many of Robert’s memories from his childhood are the ones he never got to experience. Lavish vacations in postcard locations. Expensive toys. Fancy meals without fear of running up the tab.
“We never got to go out of town because of our income,” he said. “She would struggle just to put clothes on my back and pay the rent.”
Still, every payday without fail, Juana would find a way to treat her sons. Most times, it meant an ice cream date with mom.
Oh, how Robert misses their dates.
“When payday would come she would take me out for ice cream and get me a treat,” he said. “It made me feel good. I always looked forward to that.”