For the first twelve years of my life I knew and loved one Abuela. I had another Abuela; one that became a constant present in my formative years, especially when I was a college student, celebrating my accomplishments, being a special partner-in-shopping-crime during the holiday visits, and never, ever letting me go back to school without a new bottle of shampoo. That was Abuela Gloria, the life of the party, gone too soon, who I loved dearly.
However, this entry, is about the other Abuela. The first. The only one and only, Abuela Irma. I stress that she was the first one because for reasons only too complicated for me to understand at the time, she and my grandfather Eddie, my mom's parents, were the set of grandparents we were in constant contact with. And, I mean, constant. Every weekend, if not every-other weekend, holiday and summer vacation, my brother and I were shipped to Mayaguez, to stay with them. That was our second home growing up. The only other home we felt safe, loved, taken care off and were we knew we'd hit the jackpot with every visit to "THE MALL!" My brother and I agreed, so many years ago, that they were the only grandparents of our childhood. They represented a different life, a happy life and many of the happiest of moments around my mother's memory.
Thursday, November 12, red-eye to San Juan to see Abuela. My cousin called. After the fall that broke her hip and dislocated her 95 year old arm, they had to call 911 and take her to the hospital. Blood count low, lots of pain and not eating well. What more to do... I had to go. I went. For the next four days I sat by her side, only to leave her for a few hours of sleep and re-grouping.
The time for re-group came by means of sitting with my aunt, my mother's younger sister, and talk about life. Stories told many times before brought laughter and tears. Stories never before shared stormed through with rage, frustration and the temptation to resurrect and perpetuate pain felt so many years ago when my mother's untimely death changed all of our lives forever.
Abuela, we (including my cousins), all agreed was the strongest, most stubborn, pain in the ass from la playa de Humacao. She married one of the smartest, most handsomest from the near by, Naguabo, Eddie Ortiz and had three daughters. My grandfather, my favorite person in the whole world, was a college professor, scientist, who could have been the most renowned in his field, instead, settled for teaching and family. Their middle daughter, Geraldina, my mother, was like the Pipe Piper. Our house, Hamelin. Everyone gathered there for birthdays, weekend visits, joyous occasions, post-illness care.
From the other two sisters, five more grandchildren joined the party and on rare occasions, Abuelo Eddie would pack up his Toyota Corolla, with all of us in tow for what seemed the most exciting adventure of our lives. We'd go to the movies, shop, they both, in their own ways, taught us lessons still today, very much part of our core.
Abuelo loved Classical music. He played the mandolin, la mandolina, ever so sweetly, the sound of the strings and the melody that stemmed from them, embedded in my mind. I now realize that I have not heard a mandolina being played until I went to a movie, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. All I could do was close my eyes and not see the captain, the scenery, but be transported to the living room in the house in Mayaguez, where Abuelo Eddie stood and played, while smiling, winking in approval of my awe at him. He was my hero. The bust of Beethoven proudly displayed on the very top shelf of his bookshelf, where not only the Classics were featured, but volumes and volumes of the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference), American Journal of Physics and publications from the American Institute of Physics. His Ph.D in Physics diploma from Texas A & M University, on the wall. On occasion we'd pause to catch a baseball game... He a Cubs fan, I a Met, 'nuff said! ;-)
Abuela, in the kitchen, cooking, always cooking. Arroz con carne molida; arroz con salsita; lasagna, and the best, and personal favorite: piñon!!!--for those of you who are not familiar with what piñon is, think lasagna with sweet platanos instead of pasta, and seasoned ground beef, coated with egg and cheese. Heaven, I mean, heaven!
There are two great aspects of Jessica's life I owe to Abuela: my love for coffee and my opinion of bicycles: painful and unnecessary. ;-) I don't know how old I was, honestly, but I do have vivid memories of drinking coffee (really, sweet milk and a hint of coffee, don't panic!) in the bottle! So, I was young. As I got older, she knew that she had to brew some fresh coffee before I would have to ask. To this day, I make and drink coffee in the afternoon because of her. The bike thing, well, it's no big deal, really. For one I was never really interested in riding bicycles and that was perpetuated when Abuela taught me how to roller-skate! I had a pair of white, red laced, red-wheels, high tops that were awesome. She would hold my hands and pull from one direction, then push me forward the other direction until I could do it on my own. We started indoors. The hallway leading from the bedrooms to the living rooms was long and had a plastic (yes, plastic!!! LOL) rug so made it "safe" for me to master the skating with little damage to my knees or butt. After a few hours confident in my roller-skating skills, we ventured outside. To the sidewalks!!!!!! The sidewalk by their house was flat, not gravelly, and made it for a very smooth, and FAST, ride. I LOVED IT! A couple of bruised marks here and there well worth it. Gracias, Abuela. You taught me how to soar! And bikes, overrated. ;-)
Now here we are, you are still here, but in a lot of pain. Your body shutting down, your spirit saying "enough." Your strength, admirable. You buried a daughter, faced life after that and remained loyal to the memory instilled in us. When your Eddie left you, you were never the same. Ten years since then and the color of your hair turned silver gray, your walk, slowed down and your tears flowed more often then before. Yet, during every visit, you still found a way to tell us a joke, make noises like sheep --sorry, folks, cousins will get it!!-- take my hands and tell me how much they looked like mama's, while studying the birthmarks on my face, like hers, the keloid scars on my arm and chest. When I walked in wearing sunglasses and my hair back, your face lit up because I look like mama now. It made you happy, while it made you sad. You never let me leave the house empty-handed, including the $20 for gas, slipped ever so carefully and quietly so no one would notice. You have been a pillar of strength and even though I have not been there with you every day, all these years, I hope you I thought of you every day.
I wait for news now, as Thanksgiving looms near. I thank God for my brother, who traveled from California, and went to see you. I am in debt for my mother's sister and family, who have been taking care of you all these years, as they took care of Abuelo. My cousins who, with me last week, shared laughs and tears while with you in the hospital. Te quiero viejita. Nunca lo dijiste, pero lo escribiste muchas veces. Tus cartas (con los $20!) o tarjetas de cumpleaños me llegaban a la Universidad, al campamento, al trabajo- siempre. Te queremos mucho, Abu y Aba.... asi firmabas. Haz estado en mi corazón y lo seguiras estando... Siempre.