I don’t remember much about the woman, only that for some inexplicable reason, I really loved her. To me, she is always going to be the little woman who wandered around the yard with a hose, watering plants of various shapes, vitality, and sizes. I watched, as over time, her walk became a shuffle, and her shuffle developed a humped back when osteoporosis settled into the joints of her spine. Her compromised stature never dissuaded her from going out and taking care of her duties. She pressed on here and there, making her green babies grow into impressive specimens that thrived through the dry season of Sinaloa’s tropical dry-forest climate.I knew she was somebody important when she could get away with swearing. “Que chingados quieres?” What the fuck do you want? As a youngster, this left me wide-eyed. Not even my mother swore aloud with that zeal.
Her position solidified itself into the category of utmost respect, never to be questioned or doubted early on. My mother’s constant grave and whispered warnings about what to do (and not do) around my abuelita fed into the mystique. She was the utmost authority in my limited sphere of the world. Now that I’m older, I laugh about it. I remember her sitting aristocratically in a rocking chair reading the newspaper and commenting on the happenings of the day. She spoke with the airs of an expert, even if she’d never heard of trade-deficits or transnational agreements before. Yes, that was my grandmother. Some days, she’d saunter briskly out of her room (bent shuffle and all) with an unequivocally sexy French beret on her whitening head. This simple fashion statement, undoubtedly in my mind, made my grandma really damn cool. (You’ll never see other Mexican grandmas strutting in one of those, that’s for sure.) I remember having not visited for a few years and showing up to see at her usual occupation, shuffling around watering plants. Something was different. I took a closer look and saw that her right-hand was slightly deformed. I couldn’t figure out why. You do not, however, ask grandma questions. You take her orders and obey her requests. I don’t know how I broached the subject but I eventually found out what had happened. In her usual garden wanderings she had taken a bit of a fall and had broken her wrist. What did she do? Well, she didn’t want to be a bother to anyone so she simply kept it to herself and let it heal on its own. By the time anyone discovered her injury, the break had already begun to mend. I remember her using the same crooked hand to stir around her staple: beans. This memory, of using her crooked hand to stir the ingredients of a shallow pan with a wooden spoon is most vivid. I was mesmerized by the beauty of a crooked, arthritic, leathery, sun-spotted hand swaying rhythmically like the hands of an orchestra conductor. It is with this same crooked hand that she would wield a butcher’s knife and lob off the ends of fresh corn before husking them for tamales. The same hand that she would use to make her nightly herbal teas. The same hand that she would use to tease her grandchildren…Yes, it is true, there aren’t enough records in my treasury of fond memories.
Beyond that, her legacy is vast. She was pregnant 20 times. Out of those 20 pregnancies, 14 children made it to adulthood (some were stillborn and some died of infant diseases she didn’t know were curable). This is quite an accomplishment for someone in rural Mexico’s 1940s and 50s. There were no doctors around in the earlier days. The older kids took care of the younger ones while she was busy navigating her myriad months of motherhood . Perhaps the reason I never really got to know her is because I was born and raised in a different country. The 1,200 mile journey to reach her was the highlight of my family’s life every summer. My 4 older brothers and I would get, for a month or so, a taste of what it’s like to be raised by grandma (an evolutionary gift we were mostly denied).
I still haven’t fully processed her passing. A part of me still expects to find her wandering around her garden, tending to her green babies. Another part of me mourns because she’ll never get to see the rest of the things I accomplish. (Look grandma, I’m on Everest! Look grandma, I’m freakin’ married! Look grandma, my new scar from living a little too much!) Even though I was raised far away from her, I can see the inheritance of her bloodline clearly. I too, have the stubbornness of a bull and tough it out when injured. I’ve picked up her bean-stirring skills under my mother’s tutelage. I have the intimidating, steely, silent resolve and furrowed brow of every woman in our family. G-ma, you might be gone… But I still love you.