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By Lauren Smith
From a troubled first marriage to surviving alone with her three kids while her second husband, Arnold, served in the Army for two years, Trinidad Nerio has learned to take the good with the bad.
"Life is life," Nerio said. "We've had a good life. Arnold is a good man ... the best in Saginaw."
Nerio was born in 1918 in Piedras Negras, Mexico, part of a family of 10 children -- six boys and four girls. When she was 6, the family moved to Texas for two years, where the children learned to speak English.
"My mother would get so mad when we would speak English, and I would say, 'Well, Mama, we have to learn it here,'" Nerio said.
Later, when raising her own five children, Nerio had similar concerns about the impact of living in an English-speaking country.
"It's too bad -- the kids nowadays. None of them want to learn Spanish. None of my kids can speak Spanish. I tried to tell them that it's good to have two languages," she said.
After living in Texas, Nerio’s brothers decided to relocate to Saginaw, Mich., to work in a plant. Two years later, she and the rest of family followed.
Nerio eloped with her first husband at age 16.
"My father was so mad. He didn't speak to me for a year. I didn't care. When you're young, you don't care. Now I sit down and think about it and say, 'That was awful.' But what can you do? I turned out good anyhow," Nerio said.
Her father began speaking to her after she bore her first child, Jack, whom she named after her brother.
"My father was crazy about him," she said.
Another child, then a divorce, followed.
During this time, Nerio worked in a restaurant and went to a dance hall every Saturday night with her sister and two friends.
"It was a big hall. We did the jitterbug -- dances like that. They don't have them anymore," Nerio said.
There she met her second husband, Arnold Nerio of Texas.
"He went with a bunch of guys. He used to take them in his car because he didn't have much money. So, he'd take them, and they'd pay him for gas. He used to say that he didn't get much money at work and that he had to pay his car and everything. I said, 'That's good, finish paying for it so we can get married,'" Nerio said.
Nerio's 10-year-old daughter would often accompany the couple on dates.
"He's a good dancer, so I learned too. We used to have a lot of fun," Nerio said.
It was at a dance where he proposed.
"But I've got two kids," Nerio recalled replying. His response, she said, was, "That makes no difference to me."
At the time of the proposal, she was 22 and he 19. Nerio remembers people teasing her about the arrangement because she was older.
"'Oh, that little boy you married!' they would say. I said, 'Oh, shut up.' My dad really liked him. Arnold started talking to him right away after we got married," Nerio said.
The two were busy establishing a new family and buying a home when the war began.
"It was just a small home. We both worked because I always liked to work, and we paid cash upfront. We didn't think anything of the war. We had just bought the home when (the Army) called him in 1942. He didn't want to go because I was pregnant, but they took him anyway.
"He used to write me and send me money because he knew I had all the kids. He used to say how he missed me. They were good letters. He's been a good man," Nerio said.
While Arnold served in the Pacific Theater, Nerio continued to work in a restaurant to support her family.
"There were no Mexican people, just white people. I liked restaurant work because you see a lot of people and talk. You can't talk to people when you work at a plant. After Arnold came home, I quit," Nerio said.
Arnold returned after two years, but lived with the family for only two weeks before getting recalled to serve.
"I was so happy the first time I saw him. I was at home alone with the four kids. When he came back the second time, he went to the hospital. I asked him if he had to go back again. He told me no, that it was all over," Nerio said.
During Arnold’s service in the Army, Nerio had her fourth child, Armida. She recalls her husband's initial encounter with his child.
"He was so happy. He said, 'My little girl!' She was little. She was a little devil. She was a pretty little girl, too. Our last child was a boy, Junior. He's just like his dad. We made it. My kids turned out real well," Nerio said.
Arnold would tell Nerio about his experiences in the war.
"He said it was bad. He said guys that were shot, they used to pick them up and throw them away. It was bad when the war was on. I was worried all the time -- and then with the kids. They missed him a lot at first. He was so young, but it's all over, forgot," Nerio said.
For being the black sheep of her family, her life and the lives of her children have been good, says Nerio, adding that Arnold raised her children from her previous marriage like his own.
"You know how people talk when you get a divorce. I was the only one in my family that eloped. My sisters all had big weddings. But all my kids turned out good. I never had problems with them. They all called him 'Dad,' and they're all married now. We've had a good life," she said.
Her oldest son, Jack, is a retired plant manager, and her oldest daughter, Gloria, works for a telephone company. Her third child, Menlinda, is a preacher; Armida became a teacher, and her youngest son is a supervisor at Michigan State University.
"All my kids turned out to be bosses. I said, 'Gee whiz, I was never a boss when I worked,'" Nerio said.
Nerio and Arnold have lived in Saginaw and been married for almost 60 years; they’ve had a good life together, she says.
"Anything I want, he gets it right away. He's a good man. My mother lived with us for 10 years before she died, and he was really good with her. She liked him a lot."
Nerio has 14 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
She says a way to happiness is to marry a good man, but adds that, unfortunately, they’re hard to find these days.
Mrs. Nerio was interviewed in Saginaw, Michigan, on October 19, 2002, by Elizabeth Aguirre.