Saturday, April 17, 2010

Abuela's Gifts

Sivje over at Goosegirl sews is having a giveaway and the immediate entry was this:

what is your favorite "gift" you have received from a grandparent or another person who invested time and love into your life? By gift, I mean wisdom, a skill lovingly taught, a story shared, or even a physical gift like a locket or book or some other special item.

Well, I couldn't limit my writing to the small comment box. I have a bit of an overview, but here's the real story:

My grandmother, Hortencia ("Tish" to her close friends, grandma/abuela to me) was the epitome of back in the day. If you watch Mad Men, then you know the era in which my grandmother grew up and she fit the bill to a T. To me, she's an icon. She is a quick learner, self taught in most things and excels at every thing she's tried. And she's an itty bitty bit of a woman, but definitely a force to be reckoned with. Anyway, after she graduated from high school (at the tender age of 16), she attended a college to learn to be a secretary (administrative assistant in nowadays terms). She wasn't far along in the program when she met my grandfather. Three months after they'd met, they were married. This year they will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. a-m-a-z-i-n-g!

I spent the summers of my childhood in her presence. I know I might have mentioned it before. However, I have to admit that every summer I had a bit of anxiety going there. Uncertain if my parents would return, it also didn't help that my sister told me that Mexicans would come and kidnap me and mom and dad would forget about me and leave me there. After the first day, my anxiety would abate and we'd fall into a familiar routine. We'd be up by 7, eat a cereal breakfast M/W, oatmeal on Tuesdays, cantaloupe on Thursdays, and eggs on Fridays. No cheese with the eggs. No sugar with our cereal. And only a handful of times were we awarded with ice cream with our cantaloupe. It was a rare treat, but I still dream of that meal. At 10, we'd watch The Price is Right. Then, we'd watch The Young and the Restless while we helped her dust or fold linens. Lunch was promptly at one. We'd have a nap until 2. Once we were up, we'd hang out in the back room which was a spare bedroom/sewing room. I'd fall asleep to the machine whirring and when I awoke, I'd hear it still whirring. I was always amazed by what she would accomplish during the time I napped. There'd be a stack of fabric when I put my head to the pillow and when I awoke, there'd be a new blouse, dress, or even a skirt for me.

She had air conditioning, but didn't turn it on. She didn't have ceiling fans. Even though she lived in a desert,  an occasional breeze would greet us, forcing the curtains to happily dance in the sunlight. She insisted we wear socks indoors so we wouldn't "catch a cold." On Sunday's, we'd get up early and we were always in dresses and usually we'd wear pristine white gloves. And Grandma, whoa, was she a looker. Her beautifully designed and made dresses rivaled Chanel. True story: she designed and created my aunt's wedding gown. She was such good friends with the women at Cloth World (do y'all remember that store?) she gave them one of the bridal photos. Well, they had it posted and a major pattern company wanted to buy the design from her. She wouldn't sell it. It was a one of a kind and that's the way she wanted to keep it.

It was in that back room that my real learning blossomed. I say real learning because my folks would always send us workbooks and we were also tasked with looking up new words in the dictionary to improve our vocabulary. Those lessons happened in the morning immediately after breakfast. Yet, in the afternoon, she taught me to crochet, embroider, and sew. More than that, though, she taught me patience, too appreciate and look for the small details, and most importantly, not to take shortcuts. All wonderfully crafted items are meticulously made with pride, love, and full of craftsman's details. The first year, I made potholders and learned to hand sew. I had to master threading a needle before I could sew anything. Each year, I steadily honed my skills. I didn't practice the remaining 10 months out of the year, so you can imagine my learning curve. But after a week I'd have dusted off the ol' skills enough to where physical memory of the task would take over. The last summer I spent with her, I'd crocheted a pair of baby booties, embroidered several hand towels, made some adult booties for my parents, and had several new Barbie clothes. All of those clothes were sewn by hand. Grandma was afraid I'd sew my fingers together, so it wasn't until much later that I would actually use a machine, despite her teaching me all about hers: how to thread it, the different feet she'd use, and proper posture while sewing (that one clearly didn't stick).

She was over the moon when I told her of my own creations in Home Economics. I had stopped sewing for many years and only recently took it back up. I also picked up my crochet hook(s) and have bought a new embroidery hoop with several accompanying flour sacks screaming to be decorated. Again, she's ecstatic that I have taken it all back up.

Over the years, we've kept in touch and I do find a high level of comfort talking to her. While being fiercely independent, she waited on my grandfather in no way that I've ever again witnessed in real life. I've seen it on TV and in movies, though. Anyway, she reinforced that I could be anything I wanted to. I remember asking her why she always followed Grandpa. Meaning, why would she serve him and wait to eat until after he was done? Why did she do ALL of the chores in the house (including ironing all of the sheets and underwear)? Why did she walk behind him? Why didn't she work? I was even more confused after she'd left a fairly lucrative position in the department store and didn't go to university to learn more. Her answer was simple: "I was married and it was my choice to make that sacrifice. I had a choice and so do you. All mothers and wives provide for their families in some way. One day when you get older you'll know what I mean. And I hope you'll know that kind of great love." Those words echoed and burned into my brain like law.

Even more years after that, I called her to let her know I was getting married. A few months prior to the wedding, we went for a visit. Initially Grandma acted as the translator since she speaks English and Spanish with serious ease. This was the first time Don met my grandparents. Immediately, they fell in love with him. Despite the language barrier between he and my grandfather, they were fast friends over food. My grandmother's cooking can unite opposite sides like no other. It's no wonder why the great nations of the world don't break bread with our grandmother's food. I'm certain all of our issues would be resolved. I digress. While Don and Grandpa were discussing salsa and construction, Grandma pulled me aside to the back room. She went to a drawer and pulled out a hunter green jewelry box. It was old. She handed it to me and said, "Here's your something old and borrowed." I tenderly opened the box and inside was her mother's double-strand pearl necklace. The clasp on the back is an antique setting, an unpolished emerald backed with an intricate gold starburst. I wore it proudly on my wedding day as you can see below.


Less than two months later, was my birthday. Grandma gave me my traditional birthday phone call. On that call, she not only gave me my additional birthday blessing but she gifted me with the pearl necklace. Saying, "Now it is no longer borrowed, it is yours to keep." I don't remember her mother, but she talks of her often. While the path I've chosen to take is far different than the one she's chosen, I remember her wise words. I have been blessed with the great love of my life and have sacrificed differently, but I finally understand what she meant.

Thank you Sivje for giving me this opportunity!

1 comment:

Goosegirl said...

Oh Bianca, I know I would love your Abuela too. You have honored her greatly with your writing. I think it is beautiful. She sounds like a truly wonderful woman and I am so glad you have each other.
Thank you for sharing your grandmother with me.
Sivje

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