This is my Mexican gramma. She was a BABE. I mean, she's still a babe, she's just older now. My gramma is an amazing woman.
She came to the U.S. as a bride of eighteen, married to a man who was over twenty years older than her. Her mother had been a socialite, but was cast out of polite society when she found herself in a family way. My gramma grew up poor and when a wealthy older American took a fancy, Gramma's mother pretty much sold her off.
My gramma only spoke Spanish when she came here and soon found herself pregnant with my Aunt Blanc. It was about this time that her husband told his son if he liked his new step-mother, he could have her. So Gramma found herself in a new country, unable to speak the language, pregnant and alone. She worked as a seamstress and did laundry at a retirement home where she learned English playing cards with the old people.
After my aunt was born, my gramma sent her to live with her sister Gloria while she continued working and sending money home. At some point she met my mother's father. I heard once that she learned to polka while married to my mother's father. I haven't been able to suss out any more information about how, where or when that relationship came about.
It's a wonder when we hear stories because when asked any questions she claims she can't remember. However, if one is very quiet and keeps ones lips tightly closed she will let little bits of her past slip out. When this happens I tuck it away and if I'm lucky I can get a few more details, but only if she's in the mood.
Once, not too long ago, I expressed how frustrating it can be when I ask her a history question and she says she can't remember it was so long ago. As soon as the words, "I can't remember that was so long ago," came out of her mouth she suddenly remembered she had two uncles who were train conductors. I snapped, "Gramma!" and she pursed her lips and said, "what?" with all the petulance of a five year old.
Then again she was telling me about how she didn't want to travel to Mexico because of all the crime. She said she wanted to die peacefully in her sleep like her grandfather...not screaming in terror like his passengers. I thought she was telling a true story until she said the second half and I laughed out loud. Then she tells me her paternal grandfather really did die in his sleep when he was 104.
My mother and a son came from that marriage, but it didn't last long, and she sent them both to Aunt Gloria as well. My mother used to say it was a shame she never learned to speak Spanish, but when I relayed that thought to Gramma she said, "what does she mean? Your mother didn't speak English until she was five."
Another marriage produce a second aunt and uncle. She married a fourth time before I was born and they were married until he dies. He is the man who was my grampa. Best. Grampa. Ever.
My gramma can tell a joke like nobody's business, and if she can stifle her laughter, we can even understand what she's saying.
She raised kids like a pro having raised the five she birthed, a few that came with marriage and a couple of stragglers in her parenting her career.
She is the consummate hotelier as almost every one of the children, grandchildren and other relations have nested in her home at least once in the last thirty years. Some of them have never left and will probably die there, but every family has one (or two or three) oddball, right? Laws, I hope so otherwise that's messed up.
She is also the great resource stretcher. She has used the same can of Tang orange drink for the last two decades. We call it "orange water" because she only uses enough powder to change the color. One Thanksgiving, many years ago, my uncle Billy wanted to go fishing and came over to ask if she had any turkey left over from the year before. She said she did and he could find it in the freezer behind the paintbrushes. Which is exactly where he found it. In the freezer. Behind the paintbrushes. Which explains why pretty much everything that comes out of that freezer tastes and smells like paint.
She is a master quilter. She hand sews everything and even quilts the top by hand. One of her quilts traveled across Texas as part of an expo and is now in a museum in San Antonio. She made me a quilt for my sixteenth birthday and I have learned the skill from her. I remember being at her house as a kid, watching her sew as she watched t.v. while my grampa snoozed in his chair. When it was time for bed she'd put the quilt aside, and turn off the t.v. As soon as the noise disappeared my grampa's head would jerk up and he'd grunt, "hey, I was watching that!" I miss that guy.
My gramma's one flaw is in the one area where other Mexican gramma's excel. She can't cook. When people hear about my Mexican gramma they are instantly envious of all the wonderful home cooking I must have grown up on.
Everything she cooks has an orange tint and we call Thanksgiving's entree "Gramma's Mojave turkey." One year my cousin asked which of the mounds of gray stuffing was the boneless mound. Gramma told her it was the one without bones. There wasn't one without bones.
We've tried to take over the meal making responsibilities, but we end up having to sneak food in because she won't let us help. She massacres the desserts with her little dessert knife and even though she decided to start using foam plates and cup (for easy cleanup) some years ago, she still washes the foam plates and cups.
She believes men should be revered and women belong in the kitchen, which my dad loved, but I had to nip in the bud after Mr. D and I got married. "He was capable before we got married and he still functions quite well," I told her when she told me to go fix my husband a plate the first Thanksgiving we spent there. The old ways were steadfastly ignored by the daughters but have been moderately re-applied by the granddaughters. We aren't our husband's servants, but we aren't above serving them either. If Mr.D asks for a bowl of ice cream while I'm up, I will gladly oblige him. If he sits in his chair and mimes a bowl at me, I'll probably break his arms. Moderation in all things, people.
My grandma is a spitfire, though, and she's made hard choices and lived under difficult circumstances, but her sacrifices are the reason I am a second generation American.
Everyone's tree sprang from another orchard. Keep that in mind.