Arroo rroo rroo rroo
You coo gently as you hold me
close to your plush breast
rocking back and forth
softly singing me
into the sweetest slumber
Arroo rroo rroo rroo
I sing to you in my sleep
I carry you now
I cry for you
Arroo rroo rroo rroo
Your frail frame
struggles to speak
I stroke your silver curls
I rock you back and forth
Arroo rroo rroo rroo
I hear your voice powerful now
“Mija cuidate a tus niños. Te quiero mucho”
Arroo rroo rroo rroo
Now truly awake
I sing to my babies
Arroo rroo rroo rroo
I hold them close to my breast
I share with them
Your love of life
Your dedication to la familia
Your comida and your cultura
I am proud to carry you with me always
We were too loud, the fight called her attention. Green fire in her eyes, we needed it, no words, we knew what was coming. She had twenty grandchildren and we were all afraid to get the green look. “Los primos no pelean, ustedes son hermanos,” she used to say. Fierce as the warrior she once was, back in the '60s. My Abuela, Elena Galarza, was everything we were told a lady should be and everything a lady should not be, all at the same time. She was a teacher, from an almost unknown town in the forgotten lands of the Southern Dominican Republic, Enriquillo. There were no boundaries for the things she could do. She was an educator, but also a baker, a tailor, a writer, a builder, a nurse, an activist, and a mom of eight. She was in jail once, accused of conspiracy, just because she was ready to be a patriot if it helped this country to be truly free. The most resilient woman I ever knew, she even delivered her own baby once, with a mirror- Can you imagine that? That´s the kind of woman she was, willing to sacrifice for those she loved and what she cared for. She left Enriquillo looking for a better education for her children. She managed to send them to college and even helped several people from her hometown to get to college too, even if she had to make room in her house. She used to bake the best lasagna, sewed the prettiest dresses, built the strongest ceilings, and wrote the finest poems. But damn, she got mad as hell if we fought. Thanks to her I have three wonderful rules in life: I can do and be anything, education is everything and cousins don´t fight.
(The last time I saw my Abuela Lola was when we left Puerto Rico for New York. She sat alone in her home as we went to say goodbye. I never saw her again.
Love you, Abuela Lola)
Hidden by the shadows
of the late dying day
she rocked herself gently
on her old rocking chair.
Outside the living room door
a car’s engine purr
on a well-rested idle
sun streaks reflect on its chrome
like white moonbeams.
She could hear the commotion
coming from the side of the house
her grandkids and their mother
going through the final steps
of their new beginning.
Her little ones
that saw life for the first time
at her side
where they played Cowboys and Indians
and teased the nylon hair
of wide-eyed dolls.
Her little ones
that ran and laughed
right there on her porch
or around the rock-littered yard.
Her little ones
they were now older
and ready to move on
to other horizons.
One by one
they marched inside
like solemn soldiers
in a surrealistic land.
Through her veil of tears
she held them and kissed them
and gave them her blessings
and in her heart, she heard the sound
of shattering despairs
echoing within its chambers.
Hidden by the shadows
of her late dying world
she heard the car’s engine
roared with its mechanical curses
and then whisked them away.
Back and forth
forth and back
she rocked gently
as she cried softly
for the laughter of her little ones
she will never hear again.
My Abuela, Grandma Esther is what we called her to distinguish from my father’s mother, she was a force to be reckoned with. I remember being in trouble with her only one time in my life, not because I was so good, but because I argued with her about watching a teeny-bopper movie when I was thirteen and she thought it was too late. It was the last and only time I argued with her because we all knew it would not end well for us, so better to stay on her good side. My mother likes to tell the story of hearing my grandparents staying up at night, talking about their kids. My Grandpa would relay his concerns and Grandma would handle the discipline in the morning. My Grandma was tough because she had to be. At a young age, she immigrated from a small town in Mexico; Atotonilco, Jalisco. Once she arrived in the U.S., she hit the ground running. She helped support her family, eventually taking a job at a tiendita in Port Isabel, TX where she met my Grandpa. Since then she became and remained our reigning matriarch until her death, first as a mother to five, then as a grandmother to ten. We each clamored to take a seat next to her at church, knowing she would slip us a piece of chicle and squeeze our hands gently, three times, signaling I-love-you, to which we would respond with four squeezes of our own, I-love-you-too. I wonder what she would say about our world today. I wonder what she would think about my kids, her great-grandkids. She had a saying, “My children are my pride, my grandchildren my joy.” Perhaps she would say “My great-grandchildren are my pride AND my joy.”
Yanked from sleep by a perplexing hailstorm
Almost summer, accompanied by
Pandemics and fear of global warming
Dreaming about my grandmother again
Remembering the quiet aura
She held around herself and around me
Her favorite grandchild
Sitting erect smoking her corn-cob pipe
The sweet smell of Blue Bugler tobacco
Hovering in the apartment’s air
Talking about days on the farm
Or was it on the plantation
My head wants to know every story
Knows too that my heart cannot hold it all
The stories about the newly freed slaves
Creaking joints as she moves to rise
Gnarled fingers deftly make my favorites
Setting a spread for two of us
Parading my cousins past her, single file
All too afraid to look or speak to her
They’ve no idea what they have been missing
Loving arms, pendulous breasts pull me close
Assuring me that the world is safe, warm
Especially when I am with her
A love language I could not understand
So different than my mother’s incisive heart
But a love I could claim as my own one day
Wrapping myself around my grandchildren
I finally drift back to sleep
Smiling and secure with her by my side
I only have three vivid memories of Abuela. The time we flipped over her queen-sized mattress in our tight one-bedroom apartment on Dyckman St. We found tons of cake wrapped in napkins, different flavored Skittles, and chocolate wrappers spilling out of her pillow. The time I danced to the Thong song as she shook her head at me and prayed, holding tightly to the rosario she would say, “Díos perdonala que ella no sabe lo que ella hace.” She didn’t understand the lyrics, I didn’t even understand them, but the way my hips moved she said that wasn’t the way a girl from la casa should move. And three, her funeral. She was cold and didn’t resemble the Abuela I had known. Abuela was a religious woman. I didn’t know much about Abuela except she prayed four times a day and pinched us to teach us lessons.
I learned a few things from Abuela, 1. Never, ever, sit on a man’s lap. 2. Don’t touch Abuela’s fingerstick device (learned this the hard way) 3. never ever EVER dance el perrito in front of Abuela (this is where I learned Abuela and the fingerstick had one thing in common- whatever they pinched, bled). And 4. She didn’t fear death. Even though Abuela knew she would leave this earth soon, she still prayed, danced, ate all the sweets she could, and lived. As she would say, “Si me muero, muero felíz”.
Still to this day I have yet to meet a person that can pinch my skin the way Abuela did. I learned at the age of 4 you should always do (or in Abuela’s case- eat) what you love because happiness is all we take with us. I learned at the age of 4 that praying for someone is a form of love.
Nana is what we called you.
You did not say much about your family origins.
You did say a few choice words in Italian,
which would come out quickly when you were triggered.
The eggplant parm that you painstakingly spent days making
for my dad; (your son) at his request
You showed me.
You tried to teach me to crochet at my request
As you were the expert… me, not so much.
But, at least we tried.
My memories of you are these:
Watching you sitting in your chair rubbing your knees with Holy water
Telling me how they always pained you.
Your teeth in a glass…you told me that when you were younger
that you didn’t like them and had them all pulled out.
Back then they would use your real ones to fashion a bridge
Today that would be classified as hazardous waste.
Also, today, if you say to your dentist
that you want to save your child’s baby teeth, it is a big deal.
I remember setting the table for you and trying to be a help.
Maybe I would anticipate the time when you would
throw me a dollar or 2 from your coin purse.
Cash was scarce back then and a couple of bucks was a lot of money.
I recall when I finally became a mother and it was getting close to the time
When you would become a great grandmother and
You said you didn’t know if you were going to make it.
That thought was not even in my mind.
I think my face must have reflected what I was thinking,
As I have that kind of face.
“Nana, I said, you have to try.”
As if we could control something so serious and out of the depths of human ability.
She knew that I did not fully understand or that I could never imagine my life without her in it.
The day she died I was the most inconsolable person in the room…
Much to the embarrassment of my very reserved family.
I never remember feeling so much grief in my life and never will I feel it again.
Thirty years will never be long enough to have your grandmother in your life
Your favorite person
Grandma: you were and will always be the most brilliant person I meet
I am grateful for every single lesson you taught me
For every meal I shared with you
Every word of Yiddish and Galician spoken
Grief is a new feeling today
One I have been struck with before
But it has never hurt as much until now
I am glad you are no longer in pain
And you are on your way to heaven to dance with Grandpa and Kiki (RBG for those who don’t know you were all friends)
Please give them big hugs for me
It does not feel real
The house on Seaside Drive still feels full
Every single anniversary, birthday, and holiday spent in it
The smell of latkes, escargot, and chocolate mouse felt on my tongue
Poorly singing “Maoz Tsur” around the Menorah
I will now be navigating life without you, in person
I know you will always be holding my hand and are in my heart
But it is never going to be enough
I will always think of you when Frank Sinatra is playing
I loved listing to him with you
I am a Beanie God, but will take off my hat every once and while
So you can see my pretty face
And, this pretty face will never settle for just any woman
Most importantly, thank you for teaching me to read and write
You were my biggest fan
Proud that I am an author and spoken word poet
This poem and many others are dedicated to your, Grandma
It is not may your memory be a blessing
It always will be
Rochelle “Shelly” Yvonne Seigman Strauss
The greatest woman to ever live
a cataclysmic shift
for those who never met her.
only shame, secrets,
and half Italian grandkids
A “tan” boy,
with a lily-white mother,
and a tight-lipped father.
Seeing Abuela as -
a black and white photo,
and a grave in PR.
We can’t talk about it.
It was a heart attack.
“She was overweight.”
It’s easy for a dad
to cover for his mom
when her death hurts so bad.
An only son drafted.
A war in Vietnam starting.
A mother distraught.
If only she waited.
and saw him come home.
And existed, for those she never met.
Climbing up those stairs of New Lots and Watkins with the anticipation of seeing Abuelita was always something that filled me with so much joy, and made my heart race like I was running the NYC Marathon. You see, we lived in an apartment in Brownsville so it wasn’t that many stairs. When I went to visit Abuelita, it was a whole slew of stairs that made a bitch completely pant. I believe it was a combination of the excitement of seeing Abuelita and those damn stairs. In any event, I loved seeing her. Her beautiful skin so radiant and that smile that made you feel special as you entered the room.
Seeing Abuelita was like crossing over to the island on an American Airlines flight. It was like an entirely different world, especially when you were a part of the mezcla of an American father and a Rican Mama. So, when we went to see Abuelita, you better not forget that “Bendicion Abuelita”. That kiss and hug you were greeted with, was as sweet as a limber de coco that you would buy at the corner vecina’s house for five cents. That type of love no tiene precio.
A visit to see Abuelita meant a lesson in the kitchen. That day in particular I remember watching Abuelita make sorrulitos. The way her hands moved alongside that harina de maiz with a glistening of aceite, told a story. Abuelita would measure the ingredients perfectly without a recipe. Those sorrulitos would just melt in your mouth as you bit into one and your mouth would burst with the hot bubbly cheese. She would pair it with a cup of café colado. It was a bite full of love that only your Puerto Rican Abuelita could capture so eloquently in a sorrullito. A sorrullito that told a story that needed no words at all.
My Abuela was la luz de mi vida. She had an infectious, firework of laugh that you could hear from the end of the house. Both my mom and I have adopted that laugh. My Abuela laughed when my own hermanita fired me at age six from her lemonade stand. She laughed whenever talking to her family and friends in Ecuador. The story of my childhood always featured her sol vívido; I can hear her laugh echo from where she is now. It is music that I cannot abandon because it is etched deep into my heart.
My Abuelita Licha was like a Soldadera, a true Adelita. Yes, a true Adelita like the ones who fought during the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Interestingly, she was born on November 20th when Mexico celebrates the Mexican Revolution anniversary. Her brave, confident, and charming personality struck me as a young girl living in a rural community of Oaxaca, Mexico. Licha’s captivating nature served as an invitation to embrace everyday challenges with optimism and grace. It is important to realize that being audacious and confident does not necessarily mean being heartless. On the contrary, my Abuelita Licha taught me to be an independent and resilient woman but most importantly to love myself. She was ahead of her time!
Nonetheless, the lesson that compiles all her wisdom happened in October 2017, when my uncle Miguel died from cancer. With deep sorrow and admirable strength she buried the third man in her life because decades earlier, she also buried her husband and son Pepe, who was murdered in cold blood. As I watched my brave Abuela say the final goodbye to her son Miguel, I learned to be more self-compassionate during turbulent times. It is important to create a personal space to heal, to reconnect, to be in peace like in the cocoon stage, knowing in advance that this step is necessary to accomplish a better version of oneself.
Abuela Ana was like my very own Fairy Godmother. Born second into a family of 7 siblings. I quickly learned by around age 4 that the younger siblings were my responsibility if our mom was doing chores or taking a nap or even going out in the evening to play Bingo with her comadres. It was Abuela Ana who would take me to her home a few blocks away from where we lived and catered to me. At Abuela's, I had a bed all to myself and was actually treated age-appropriately instead as a small adult with adult responsibilities. Abuela Ana made me feel special and loved just for being and not because I was helpful and supportive all the time. I frankly don't know if I would have survived my childhood in Spanish Harlem as a gay child if it had not been for her unconditional love. All of this became even more poignant when I found out that she wasn't my biological grandmother. She was my father's stepmother. Yet she stayed a friend and support to my mom even after my dad left and started a new family. She was always our Abuelita Ana.
Mi Abuelita es una mujer poderosa, she is the pillar of the family, her name is Caridad and we call her Cariño. She had to grow up being tough and little by little is coming back to her tender self, she is becoming a loving Abuelita She raised me and my brother and I am who I am because of you Abuela
My abuelita era pura magia
Era de las dignas
que no muestran mucha emoción
No somos de las que se tiran y chillán
Son las que se quedan calladas
Y se ponen a trabajar
Alimentar a todos
No son las que hacen escenas como en las novelas
Pero de vez en cuando si dan cachetadas y chanclazos
Nunca tuvieron el lujo de sentir nada
Porque la vida les enseñó a valerse por sí mismas y trabajar
Porque los hombres se van o se mueren
Todo se lo guardaban
Las heridas muy profundas
De eso no se habla
A generation of stoic women
who suffered in silence
I wonder what you knew, what you felt.
Did you know that I could see your pain?
Did you know that you trapped the pain and the joy, too?
I feel you
I cry for you
Because even though the sadness was buried
It was always there
I have the therapy bills to prove it.
Entiendo abuela, que lo hiciste por sobrevivir
Por salir adelante
Entiendo abuela que me toca a mi sanar
para que la tristeza no me hunda a mi.
A mi te toca vivir
Mi Abuelita Zoila, rarely
spoke to us when she
arrived en el avion
desde Bogota. She would
nod and sit next to mi
abuelito who was even
quieter than my abuela
who would always instruct
my grandfather to hush, she
always spoke for him, even
when they visited my room,
although we didn’t hablar
the same lengua, yo naci
Americano y sentí her
frialdad cuando mi abuelito
Colombiana talked down
to me in Spanish. Para unir
el lenguaje gap, I would spin
canciones from Los Beatles
White Album. She would sit
on a chair cerca de mi and nod
her cabeza to the universal rhythms
of “Ob-La-D- Ob-La-Da.”
As I would turn over each side
of los discos, with each song,
I noticed her thaw, she was
not the frozen reina, I was
warned about her, ella era la
Silenciosa, rarely smiling,
I felt a change while we sat
in my room, barely hablando,
as I sang along to Paul cantando,
"Sing it loud so I can hear you, "
for the first time, I saw her grinning
as I sang, "Make it easy to be near
you," although we could not speak,
at that time, I only stuttered en
ingles, but seeing her smile, while
we connected to estos discos spinning
in mi cuarto, nunca olvidaré
ese día, exchanging giggles,
we no longer familia extraños
when our ojos y orejas unimos
joyously, la unica tiempo we
understood each other con la
música speaking for nosotros
con la lengua de los Beatles.
60 years ago, on September 18th,1958, my saintly grandmother Laura Casado (Born 1902) left us. And this now-retired teacher still sees his first teacher teaching him. Grandmother Abuela Laura holds a pencil in her hand - and in it, letters, her greatest legacy, yes, the magic of writing. In our South Bronx apartment after migrating again, she sits me down on our kitchen table next to the fire escape window. She teaches me, the little boy, to write letters. “Mira, coge este lapis y ponga me las letras. Take this pencil and put these letters on this paper.” Her grandson – me - puts a pencil very early in his hand; I put its point to paper. Abuela writes the letters; I reproduce them. Yes, I would be a writer. Yes, I would be a teacher. Her compassion followed me into the classroom. Copied her lesson with my daughter and my grandchildren. Her spirit yet hovers over me.
My grandmother Abuela Laura lives in my memory and heart, a lovely, dark woman, always smiling, with black hair straightened with the electric iron comb of those days, her large black eyes filled with purpose and determination. She holds a bible in most photos and raised and fed ten children during the Great Depression of the 1930s when the U.S. sneezed, and Puerto Rico caught a cold. Mami says Abuela’s spirit wakes her up one night. “El nene se esta ahogando,” the spirit says. “The baby’s suffocating.” Mami rushes to my room and finds me covered in bedsheets, gasping for air. Her presence haunted me for years and she still appears in my dreams.
Abuela Laura still bumps me on the head from heaven.
Yes, still feel her spirit and compassion hover over me and guide me yet
I know the secret sadness
I found waitin'
Behind my grandmother's eyes
It's the sadness of seeing too many things coming to pass
It's from seeing the cracks
That refuse to be touched
To be made anew
With picked up pieces
being place perfectly
With soft golden strokes
Until hopes are dashed again
It's the feeling of being steeped
In feelings conflicted
And the weight
The backlog of
Kisses that long to be felt
Desires that must
Be folded and placed
The joy they once brought
It's the sadness of
The burden of truth
That the sky
Will never stop crying
And there will forever be
Someone on your mind
Who is not in your arms
It's the resounding
Reverberating echo of a question
Is this really what the planets aligned for?
--Written after realizing my grandmother was depressed, like me. It made me feel especially good to have made her laugh.-
I learned that my Abuelita has breast cancer. Mentally and emotionally I am lost. If you must know anything about me, it is that I am and will always be a grandma’s boy. She made sure I was equipped with the finest ingredients. These ingredients are not produced by Goya and they are not found in stores. They are in the crema de harina de maiz she makes for me. They are in her morning prayers that she includes me in. They are often given to me in late-night conversations. These ingredients are honesty, respect, morality, kindness, and hard work to name a few. She sprinkled me with amor and wisdom. She taught me coritos and the power of prayer.
My Abuelita is five feet short, has the rosiest cheeks, and the hugs and kisses I received from her are heaven-sent. She was at the hospital when I was born; she brought me my first piece of clothing; she helped raise me. She is my second mother and I cannot tell you how orgulloso I am to be able to call myself her grandson. Grandma gave me my identity and she is the only one who can take that away from me. She taught me how to speak Spanish, she has given me her heart at no cost. She has given me her hands although they are worn out and tired. Her knees are weak, but her voice is so powerful that I wish she could speak wisdom into her knees so that she can convince them to walk with me through our memories.
I just want to let her know that cada paso que yo cojo ella siempre va a estar conmigo. Que la amare por siempre y que estoy agradecido porque me quiso como su hijo.
Abuela was born in Puerto Rico around 1942. You could never be too sure about their birthdates. I know of a few people born in the islands, either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, and they don't know their birthday. She never spoke much about her days in Puerto Rico, but I never asked her why. She used to have one picture from Puerto Rico in our family album. It was wrinkled, black and white, and she had one of the few smiles I had ever seen on her face. She sat in a decorative chair looking into the camera, her eyes youthful and vibrant. Two hands put a white crown on her head, and her hair was short but well done. There were few people in the picture's background, but no one paid her any mind. A queen lonely at her throne.
Even as Abuelo smacked her face daily, she continued to love him, spawning three daughters and a baby boy. He tried to hide from them, never realizing that the eyes that wanted to watch him loved him more than he ever thought. He moved them from Grant Avenue to Cypress Avenue, feeling an avalanche of agony.
Abuela was over and done with his booze-filled battery. When he couldn't hold his job as the super, the once scattered flurry of fights snowballed out of control. But she had enough. She had enough of shortchanging her children with tattered clothes and shoes too small that my aunts' feet would bleed when she walked—no more waking up the following day, cleaning her nose and the room that reeked of alcohol and an oppressive mix of cheap cologne and Avon perfume.
Abuela was done.
No more wiping tears from her children's faces.
When I think of Abuela, I think of her hands. Such an odd thing to remember about a person, especially your own grandmother. I realize it’s because I experienced her through her hands, hands that conveyed every word she trapped in her windpipe. Hands that buried every emotion in her body en el nombre de Dios Padre.
See Abuela was a strict Catholic who attended mass daily. She went on weekly apostolados faithfully with the church ladies, where they extended their hands in prayer over the sick and hospitalized. She offered money to every church initiative and gave her SSI check to the poor and needy with no questions. So this kindness about her puzzled me.
I did not understand giving openhandedly everything she had but withholding love for every minor infraction. I could not grasp hands raised up in praise, singing Aleluya to God, but turning around to tie the hand of a left-handed child because that was devil-like without any compassion. How the rosary was like an appendage of her hand, and that same hand would violently yank you off a chair. How she whipped up daily meals to nourish but force-fed every morsel down your throat until you choked and then knocked you across the head for gagging. Her hands trained to obey and submit were both holy and hell, a contradiction I despised.
Years later, when Abuela was ravaged by Alzheimer's and was but a spirit trapped in a deteriorating frame, her immobile hands became stones, permanent claws. Claws I could not reconcile with my childhood. I have released my childlike narrative of her. A woman who suppressed her voice and every sentiment because it was ungodly to feel. Today I pray her hands are held tenderly by her God for the rest of eternity.
Abuelita mixed things
Not just maza
Or agua florida in herba buena
Took photos of us
Holding Easter baskets with Matzah in our hands
Placed menorah ornaments on her Christmas tree
With several nativities under it
Dwelled in Sukkahs
Recited rosaries in church
Listened to Punta on Saturday nights
Virgen de Suyapa songs on Sunday mornings
She would scold you
Sometimes not miss
Hug you in the next sentence
Laugh with you
Her prayers protect me to this day
She would stand by the kitchen stove preparing coffee in a colador de café or expresso. The metal stove top ones, not the fancy ones of today. I can still smell the aroma, con galletitas de soda, the ones in the green tin, that also held rice. I still remember how she loved wearing red lipstick. I have sweet memories watching her make her arroz con gandules on special occasions or my favorite crema de maíz con leche (PUERTO RICAN BREAKFAST CORNMEAL PORRIDGE) on cold mornings, living in the projects. I would make tunnels in the cornmeal for the milk to travel. I often wear red lipstick only because It reminds me of her and I make my crema de Maíz for my now-grown children and grandchildren. And on those special occasions, I follow her receta for arroz con gandules, but somehow it’s still not the same.
For the first fourteen years of my life, I slept with my grandmother Fernanda. I try to recapture her essence by sleeping with her picture next to my bed. Many times it’s the last image I see at night or the first one in the morning. Missing her 56 years now. The only four photographs of Abuela that exist, reflect her sorrowful story. There was a time that I ignored the repeated stories she shared with me. Now, I yearn to go back and hear those words; one more time…..
Born in Comerio, Puerto Rico in 1885. In 1902, Fernanda seventeen, helplessly witnessed her mother die while giving birth. Abuela said that she was shocked at the sudden onset of her mother’s agony and profuse bleeding. She held her mother’s trembling hand and uttered,
“Mama ya! No llores,” but all that came out was “Ay, Dios ayudala”. The agonizing silence of death was broken by the newborn’s cry. This horrific scene left a permanent mark on Fernanda’s soul.
Subsequently, Abuela was responsible for the care of her four siblings and her father until she married Vidal in 1905. She was terrified of childbirth for herself and all other women her entire life. Yet, she went through the agonizing trauma for each of her ten children. What else was she supposed to do? Abuela told me these stories many times while we lay in bed.
This was only the first of unbearable tragedies. She also suffered the deaths of two of her adult children and of her young husband. She would lament and reiterate about her loses during the day even if no one was listening. Fernanda needed to give voice to her pain.
In retrospect, I see that she was trying to work through the agony of her experiences. I close my eyes and hear her anguish- laced words. As a mature woman, I understand why she stood in front of her Santos and prayed for consolation. Her wrinkled hands toward the sky, she begged for solace. I now understand why she would never laugh and why she never, ever danced or sang a song.
Your life was not in vain. Not at all. You are the root of that large tree with many strong branches. I’m just one of them, perhaps the one bequeathed your gift of storytelling.
Abuela, I tell your story so that you can find peace.
Small & wrinkled like the grapes
she once picked to dry
on large brown sheets
under the sun-drenched fields
of the Fresno Valley
Gramma Emma is our Queen of Magic
our tiny light-skinned abuela
with hazel eyes like moms
wears a chin-length gray wig
that’s tilted one way or the other
dressed in 70’s style
with a matching blouse
stretched tight over
a hard-earned protruding panza
ambles along in her
polyester perfection from J.C.Penny’s
We live for that moment
when a Formica table becomes her stage
when out of the depths
of her big black old lady purse
passed a handful of wrinkled tissues,
a dog eared phone book
stuffed with family numbers & addresses,
a treasured coin purse
with carefully folded green bills tucked inside,
strictly for emergencies,
from the midst of all that was true,
all we knew,
about our Gramma Emma,
appeared her bottle of magic
We three English-speaking grandchildren
watch with anticipated delight
for the exact second
when that small jar
of spicy green
or tangy red
New Mexican chili
perfected from decades of cooking
for ten hungry children,
a demanding husband,
extended family and church friends,
us grandchildren who only speak English
hold our breath as Gramma Emma,
who only speaks Spanish,
generously pours her beloved picante
into Campbell’s soup, McDonald's hamburgers, Chinese noodles,
and across All-You-Can-Eat lunch buffets
from Fresno to Sacramento
in her endeavor to add flavor to American food
My two abuelas have both known loss.
They each have had to grow up way too fast.
Fourteen with a plan to lighten up the family with a fair skinned man.
What she thought would change her life, changed the trajectory for others.
Eight kids later and only twenty two, she’s hit with the postpartum blues. She flew the coup, turned her back and left her children feeling lack.
Lack of a mother’s love, abandoned, and not knowing what to do. Abuelo married Abuela number two.
She was seventeen and pregnant, an alcoholic pedophile to blame.
A child herself with no way to provide for the baby steady growing inside.
They made a promise to each other on that day. Who could have known it’d turn out this way.
Loss of innocence, loss of self. Their true identities hidden on a shelf.
I feel so sad knowing the lives they led truly weren’t what they had dreamed.
I want them to know. I feel them, I see them, I hear them, I am THEM!
They’ve both taught me precious lessons in life.
My two abuelas are very different indeed, but both came to a new land for the “American Dream.”-More like a nightmare if you ask me.
I am grateful for all they’ve done and their sacrifices. My two abuela’s became a wife for a better life. Taking a chance, risking it all never really living fully at all!
Every day for them I live, I strive.
I’m healing for them, for me, for the future.
Bendicion Abuela, Te Amo……….
My grandma can’t remember my name
Oh how the times have changed
Days escape us
And nothing stays the same
She turns 90 next month
And she can’t help but cry
“My life flew by”
As tears fill up her eyes
She tells me with fear
Soon she will die
She prays to God
As she attempts to face
Her life has been lived
And that’s simply fate
We hold onto each moment
We have left
As time awaits
Childhood memories with my Wuelita are hidden deep behind the walls of my heart. Tucked away in a special box.
From the tender age of 6 months old all the way to my early teen years, my Wuelita would whisk me away to her native island of Puerto Rico.
Every year a new adventure … from town to town … beach to beach … mountain to mountain ….. historical site to historical site.. but nothing compares to swimming in the waters of El Yunque alongside the fish of the rain forest.
Little did this simple Bronx girl know that her Wuelita was creating an unforgettable archive of lifelong memories that would be etched in her heart forever!
My grandmothers: Maximina & Josefina... Partnerless powerhouse, take no prisoners, survivors, thrivers, creators. Launched under tension from PR to Prospect Ave and Spanish Harlem with their 4 and 11 children, they created and made their way to the factory and pen.
The Seamstress & the Poet
With needle & thread, stringing words together,
Fashioning garments that both clothe and tell the stories...
Leaning Back into wombs on an Island and
forward into the lives lived both in the here and there...
From the dirt roads & cobbled streets,
to the Bronx & La Marqueta...
All of the bits of them reside in me.
Cleverness, courage, beauty, tenacity
-all wrapped in their aprons for safe keeping.
to mix this Sacred with my now makes Magic
On my altar
It is said that "Real recognizes Real." Well, following that logic, my Abuela was among the realest I ever had the opportunity to meet. Taína features embracing African characteristics with a stare that would rival the confidence of any member of the Spanish monarchy. Her silence spoke volumes, her smile lit up homes, and her laughter fueled souls in a way that left chicken soup envious in a bowl thrown to the corner. She arrived in New York in 1964 from Toa Alta, but she didn't leave Puerto Rico behind. Nah… She brought it with her in her very essence.
My Abuela dreamed of living in the Coney Island projects once her daughters were on their own. She loved the beach and wanted to be able to go for a walk on her own to buy a hot dog from Nathan's. My Abuela lived in the Coney Island version of the complex that CMB occupied for those familiar with the movie New Jack City. Used needles in the elevator were in such abundance that they were not found; they were expected. The drug dealers were not delinquents to be avoided. Rather communal grandchildren who held the door for her brought up her groceries and warned her when she needed to stay in her apartment because "esta noche las cosas se van a poner caliente".
My Abuela was the first Ethnographer I was exposed to. She had a degree in navigating her community with a specialization in gang relations before such a topic brought in millions of government dollars for people who do little more than point fingers and judge our children. To say that my Abuela inspired me is only half true. She has passed on, but her spirit is still with me, so she continues to inspire me.
I was standing at the arrival gate, in my three-inch heels, next to my tall, handsome father on a beautiful, sunny summer day, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Cuban grandmother, Cachita, at the JFK Terminal, with other people huddled together. This visit was a turning point in my life. Cachita had stopped over in Miami first, visiting her childhood friends.
I imagined Cachita, as a small frail woman beaten down by Castro’s regime.
Not Cachita… She looked like a Hollywood actress, proudly walking tall, down the ramp wearing oversized sunglasses dressed in designer clothes, smelling of expensive perfume. The first time I met my grandmother, Cachita, was in Havana, Cuba in 1959. I was too young to understand the significance of us all throwing streamers down to the arrival of Castro’s parade, from her second story apartment balcony. My father, mother, two brothers, and myself, quickly left back to Miami a few days later…
The tension between my father and grandmother was as thick as the hot, humid air… After all the formalities, Cachita was quick to tell me that, she used to wear similar styled three- inch heel shoes like the one’s I was wearing. This is the only thing we had in common.She stated that she was only here on vacation. She had no intentions or the desire to defect. She felt that this country had nothing to offer her. Her second husband in Cuba was waiting for her to return. Living very comfortably in Cuba, she wanted nothing to do with anything in the United States.
My grandmother never wanted my father to marry a dark-skinned Puerto Rican woman. By Cachita’s standards, my mother wasn’t good enough for her son… This explains why Cachita’s name was never mentioned in the house hold and my mother wasn’t present when she arrived.
Doña Pancha, aka Francisca Ortiz Rodriguez, my Abuela. I didn’t call her Abuela. I called her Mami Pancha. She lived at 211 Johnson Avenue on the corner of Humboldt St. in Brooklyn. She was born in Puerto Rico and didn’t know what month or year she was born. She had no age. She was illiterate, an alcoholic, wife, mother, and grandmother. She wore cotton pastel house dresses with delicate little flowers that adorned it. She was not a delicate woman. Nor was she your typical grandmother either. She was not sweet, soft-spoken, or even very loving. She wasn’t like grandmothers I saw on television or read about in books. She chewed tobacco, smoked cigars, and could drink as much as any man. She was mean, especially when she was drinking. There wasn’t a single moment on any given day that she was not combative. She was always yelling and fighting about something. She was a woman that was always ready for a battle. During the summer she would sit on top of the metal garbage can in front of her building waiting for my grandfather to come home. She greeted the people she knew and liked as they passed by her on their way home from work. Sometimes, she would spot a man or a woman crossing the street trying to avoid her. Those people had either tried to cheat her or flirted with my grandfather. Either way, she no longer liked them. She kept her machete concealed with a newspaper, hidden in plain sight, by the garbage can she sat on. Everyone knew Doña Pancha. Some people liked her, some loved her, and some respected her. Other people thought she was crazy. I thought she was crazy too.
Without a hospital
Maria made it a few months
at one and a half, you lost Arnoldo
One more at birth
Can't imagine the hurt
pictures and stories
give me glimpses
I piece together
They say you complained never
Still raised 7 that outlived you
7… a Magic number
So what that makes you?
Abuela, Mother of Jaime ,
Rosa, Sofia, Ramona,
Carmelo y Gerardo
Viewing your legacy of descendants
Hope you’d be proud
Never met you but always knew you were there
Sometimes I think about how
How you stayed in Camuy and raised the seven
Protecting and defending against outside advances
While husband worked in a city oceans away
A life away
Praying he’d return someday
And he did
took you and the kids
From one farm to another
one island to another
Coming to the universe of New York
leaving everything you ever knew
he’d die just 9 years later
In foreign land of strangers
Sofia, with seven stomachs
And 3rd-grade education
taught herself English
Listening to radio, television
Carrying on tradition
Working with what she knew
Taking what's left, throwing it all in a stew
Enduring adultery and abuse
When he popped up with guests
She made them meals, had coffee ready in record time
Put ten fingers to use
Arepas y hallacas
Ate last at the table
Scraping the last piece off each chicken bone until through
You could see her
Outside in the yard and
Hose in hand
If cancer hadn’t come calling
I wonder where technology might have taken her
How I long to turn back time, take her out for just one night
and spoil her
Te amo mucho uela
for my existence
My grandma got sick in the Spring of 1995. Her name was Anna, just like my daughter, but I never called her grandma. I called her Momma because she raised me.
I read the bible to her day and night in the hospital, just like she did every morning when I was a kid.
Everyday before school, she read a bible verse and blessed the breakfast before we ate.
Sometimes she scolded me for cutting school. I had an attention disorder, but my test scores were high. So, she bought me new books every month and warned me to stay out of trouble. She was a proud woman who worked in a factory during the worst Jim Crowe conditions and never complained. She taught me the value and integrity of hard work.
Now, it was my turn to take care of her just like she took care of me.
Every sunrise, I opened the room window and her beautiful black skin glowed in the light. I often cried uncontrollably while reading, but I pushed through each verse anyway.
Once in a while, she made eye contact with me and it gave me hope.
One day, she started coughing up chunks of bloody matter. I screamed, “Momma don’t go. I love you”
Then, she looked in my eyes and whispered, “I adore you”. Later that day, she slipped into a coma.
My family forced me to go home and rest. So, I took my momma’s sweater with me to wash away the stains.
That night, in my dream, I saw my Momma wearing her sweater and she hugged me but the phone woke me up. I didn't answer it. Instead, I put on my momma’s sweater and went back to my dream to hug her forever
I always called my grandmother Mommi because that is who she always was to me. The story goes that when the time came for my mom to leave the hospital, my grandmother offered to help, and my mother gave me to her like a blessing wrapped in a blanket.
The exact circumstances are a discussion my mother and I never needed to have. I was always okay with that knowledge because I am from an Afro-Caribbean culture where grandmother’s helping to raise grandchildren was far from rare. What made my situation different is my grandmother Viola was my father’s mother.
Legend has it that my grandmother was born a warrior, found in a field fighting for life after her own mother died giving birth. Yet, no one ever said how she found mother’s milk, knew mother’s love or learned mother’s wit. People called Mommi Red Warrior. Maybe the name came from her skin the color of desert sand, hands often planted on her hips, and afro rippling gently in the wind. Elders said it was the spirits surrounding her like a halo of sunlight.
Mommi fought many more battles in her lifetime. In little moments private and public, she showed me how to be a woman in a world that did not love us back. Often, her kitchen table was filled with women seeking counsel, comfort, and cabaret. She worked on her feet, carried the blues in her hymns, and sometimes sipped a lil brandy to combat the coldness and cruelty of finding her way.
When the sadness of losing her overwhelms, I look in the eyes of my own granddaughters and see Miss Vi’s warrior spirit covering them like a halo of sunlight and wonder what superhero costume she wears in heaven.
My Abuela isn’t your average Abuelita. My beautiful dark-skinned chocolate Mamá next to my pale skin. It started way before I was born. Natividad got a knock on her door by a woman named Petra and she handed over my mother to Natividad and said, “Here this is your husband’s child” and walked away. Petra was a lady of the night and had previous children. She in turn committed suicide when my mom was 3 months old. Natividad in return raised my mom and never had children of her own. How must she have felt knowing she was holding her husband’s child with a chick from the street while she held the house down? She treated my mom as her own. Continued to raise my mom even after her husband died. She never made us feel like we weren’t a part of her. Everrrrr!!!
When my mom and dad decided to come to NYC from Puerto Rico I know it hurt my grandma. Natividad would travel to NYC to visit and occasionally lived out here on and off and showed us unconditional love!!! She would even hit my mom when she would mistreat us or hit us saying “Don’t do that.” My mom wasn’t as affectionate as my grandma towards me or my children and my kid’s other grandma was in their life but they stopped going where they felt they were not celebrated. They stopped coming around and asking and in turn, are now seen as the bad guys.
THANK YOU MAMA NATIIIIII for loving all of us unconditionally. I wish my kids would have gotten to feel your love. I talk to them about you all the time. Thank you for hitting me over the head when you forgot who I was when Dementia took over lol - my last memory of you. I hope you’re looking down and are proud of us- my Queen Natividad Garcia!!!!!
My Abuela’s name is Emma Rosa Baez. She grew up in a small town in Cuba during the 30s. Prior to Castro’s invasive, dictatorship efforts, my Abuela lived on a sugar farm with a beautiful train that passed through. After Castro took power, my Abuela’s sugar farm was seized. Shortly after, she fled from Cuba with my Abuelo to Mexico, with the majority of her family fleeing with her or shortly after. Then, she went to California and then to New York, AND THEN to Florida where she settled.
To this day, my Abuela won’t allow us to go to Cuba and I respect that. The Castro brothers reeked nothing but havoc on the Cuban people, resulting in my Abuela’s dislike for her own culture. My Abuela teaches me all she can about our culture and even gave me an original Cuban recipe book that her father gifted her mother. I treasure her to this day, my sweet Abuela.
My paternal grandmother killed herself when I was a baby! I was told she adored and loved me very much! She was born in Venezuela, had three children, and bought them to the U.S.A. She brought her children to the United States for a better life but thought her children weren’t headed on the path they were meant to and so one evening my grandmother told my aunt that she was sending her back to Venezuela. She told her daughter if she doesn’t leave she would kill herself! My aunt didn’t want to leave and told her no. Soon after she shot herself! I didn’t understand the depth of the story as a child but realize that now my beautiful grandmother may have been suffering some form of mental illness or depression. I wish I could listen to her tell stories of how she was raised, what she was like as a little girl! I would have loved to listen to stories about my dad as a child and hear the day he was born. I have pictures of my grandmother! She was beautiful and I was named after her! I saw her spirit one day when I was a little girl! I never saw her spirit again but felt her around when I was a teenager! I wish she was still with us and wish she knew my children!
I feel my grandmother’s spirit lift higher the more I find myself. Her unspoken words spoke too much to my spirit. I owe it to her to stand rooted, head lifted, and yes claim my space. She was ignored, shuffled to the side, tongue tied in Mississippi while they called her Cookie. Her Name was Coqui, not Cookie, beautiful Borinquen, thick curly black hair, caramel skin. How many knew who she was? No, it was not Spain that birthed her...La Isla Borinquen, Santurce to be exact. How many knew who she was or celebrated her? Funny how Eggun doesn’t allow you to just move on. The mecla of bloodlines never to be denied in her tight curly mane, her loving smile, where my father received his musical charm and flavorful walk. Not from Spain as they claim and tell me who she was and who I am. Her name was Anna Maria Morales aka Coqui because of the native little frog that sings in the moonlight echoing in her scratchy voice. As I heal myself, her spirit lifts high in the ancestral land. Indigenous...Here I stand pale skin, freckles light. arriving here to find who I am and where I am from and from all who I was birthed...but my Abuela deserves the light and acknowledgment of who she was, not who they said she was- coding her into a space not built for her. Her name is Coqui, not Cookie and I say it loud while she rests high knowing I will love all of that about her as she rests in peace somewhere in Mississippi......
My Abuela Carmen, who passed away during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, wasn’t exactly the friendliest person in the world. Hardened by a poverty-stricken life in El Salvador, my grandma put up with my Abuelo’s countless infidelities (and secret family) and rearing six children on her own. The story goes that in the mid-1970s, shortly before the violence of the civil war broke out, my Abuela left my father and his siblings (my tíos and tías) in the care of her sisters and started walking north. She walked through Guatemala and Mexico with little more than a prayer and lots of luck to her name until she reached Los Angeles, encountering dangerous situations along the way. (Roughly the same distance if you were to walk across the continental United States.) She then sent for her children one by one, helping them escape the violence of the civil war, and brought them to Los Angeles, where I was born.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this growing up. To me, my Abuela Carmen was the master maker of tamales, the repository of our family history; my Abuela who taught me to call the wind with a whistle and told us about the mythical creatures of El Salvador. The one who scolded and sometimes spanked but who could not be argued with; the one that gave us sweats for Christmas and got annoyed when we didn’t wear them as often as she wanted us to. She may have been prickly and distant but she loved us fiercely and unequivocally and accepted me wholeheartedly when I came out to her even when my own father rejected me. This is how I remember her: guarded, remote, perhaps even cold to some, but to me, I always knew where we stood
“He jumped out the back window with a swiftness avoiding the rage of his lover’s husband.” These were the words of my Abuela Cato. Catalina shared many stories with me but this one she repeated over and over. Her dementia took control of her short-term memory yet her wit and humor remained intact. She told this story with little emotion except for a smirk each time I would laugh at her humorous recount.
Saturday night Abuelo tucked his shoes under his lover’s cot. They were easily forgotten when her husband unexpectedly showed up. He told Abuela how he only had enough time to jump out the back window and he was not returning there. My fiesty Abuela said, then I will! After all, he needed those shoes for church.
When she appeared at the house she was told that she had no idea what she was talking about. Abuela pushed her to the side and scooped his shoes out from under the cot. Nothing else was said and Abuela returned with his shoes. She repeated this story with strength and pride; just like she trimmed her grass with her machete.
Years have passed and I recall this story feeling her presence. I remember her words and how she would always say, “ Aye mi’ja no sea tan pendeja y lee el Salmo 91.”
I have no doubt that her faith kept her going and her machete kept her safe. I am grateful for those summers spent by my Abuela’s side listening to her stories but mostly experiencing her unconditional love.
There I was, 14 years old, relentlessly trying to blow dry my unruly hair amid the most dramatic tropical climate I’d ever experienced. My grandmother and I were attending a party that night, and I desperately wanted my hair to be straight. One minute the sun was glaring and the next? torrential downpour, accompanied by thunder and lighting.
Mother nature did what she wanted when she wanted. I heard my grandmother calling for me. She called me multiple times with eagerness. I stuck my head out of the bathroom door into the hallway with my hair a frizzy mess. My eyes met hers at that moment. I can still remember her smile, and her eyes filled with excitement. She practically dragged me outside that day, in the pouring rain. My hands struggled to keep the minimal cover I had to shield my hair. The pipes from the roof of the house were expelling heavy rain. I was confused. Why am I outside in the rain? It wasn’t long until I got my answer.
My grandmother stood underneath the pipe, letting the rain soak her hair and her clothes. All I could think was- no no no! Before I could protest, my grandmother placed me under the downspout. Thoughts quickly ran through my head as the heavy rain splashed on the top of my head. My hair! I will look crazy after this, for sure! After taking a breather, I had the chance to look at my grandmother with her sister. She was laughing and practically dancing in the rain with childlike energy. Her happiness made me smile and filled me with unspeakable joy. My hair didn’t matter at the moment. Nothing did. All that mattered was what was happening right then and there and rather fight it, I joined in.
She never learned to read or write, yet she was the wisest woman I know. She told her doctor that she was a "bruta". When he asked her to read an eye chart she responded, "Ahora el bruto es usted porque acabo de decirle que yo no se leer!" She never worked outside of her home, but she was the CEO of her domain.
She was mild-mannered yet ferocious and fearless when it came to protecting her family. She abandoned her beloved homeland and came to establish roots and grow her family in New York City. There were magical moments when I would catch her dancing with her broom in the kitchen or drawing in her eyebrows and putting on her lipstick and "colorete". To this day I can clearly see her tying a knot in her stockings and then tucking it neatly behind her knees. She was humble yet proud of her beloved Puerto Rico and near the end when Alzheimer's was stealing her from me, she would keep telling me she wanted to go home to Portorro.
At the age of 92, she asked me to let her go and allow her to join her husband and the 3 children who had pre-deceased her. It was probably the only un-self act of my life.
I’m trying to reconstitute your scent
but only clips of your habits come to mind
Scenes that may cause recoil on first retelling
that were so familiar they’d become essential
accompanied by operatic voices whose words
were more meaningful when little understood
I miss you
The unconditional love that contrasted
with requirements too steep to be met
by a wee babe handled like a rag doll
in another’s hands who still thought
she was playing house
Even as her brutish bullying achieved
its intended effects forcing you to leave
the comfort of a warm room to console
you maintained your even keel
I wish you were still here to see me stout
to answer my barrage of questions
so many whys now meet with silent ends
but I know yours was mostly a rough road
though you hung on as long as you were able
You were my bedrock
A foundation I didn’t realize was such a refuge
Our relationship was simple and pure and
I was privileged to know the best version of you
an alchemist who transfigured pain into love
More than a decade ago, my lively great-grandmother, who we adoringly called Mamaguela, said “Mija, coje este pañuelo para que te acuerdes de mi cuando me muera.” I caressed the mildly colorful silk headscarf and thanked her for it. The pañuelo was important but didn’t become treasured memorabilia until she transitioned four years ago. I still hear her loving message when I wrap my hair into a pineapple. I feel as though I carry her love, legacy, and prayers on my head.
She migrated to the United States in the 1960’s and worked for many years in a factory before retiring back home to the Dominican Republic. This job allowed her to also bring in her daughter- my grandmother, and a couple of her grandchildren as well. Although my mother didn’t work in the factory with her siblings, she did “inherit” Mamaguela’s first apartment in Washington Heights. The same place where I came into my own since the age of five. Where I had my two sons and lived until I became a homeowner in 2017. The same building where my mother still resides.
Every time I traveled to the Island, I ensured I visited her on the first floor of her and my grandmother’s, two-story house. She and I would talk about life and the family back home while rocking back and forth in her mecedoras, whilst surrounded by her many stray dogs and cats. What a blessing to have had a relationship with my Maternal Matriarch. What an honor to still have a piece of her to wear as a demonstration of my love, gratitude, and connection to her.
Three generations later, I reap the benefits of the seeds she planted.
I remember the aroma
from Abuela Lola’s cooking.
during early afternoons
when soft breezes
began to cool down
another sun-drenched day.
Her kitchen was a sea of shadows- the air- a greeting.
Meetings between herbs, spices, salt pork, and manteca
embedded on the wooden walls.
I always stood by the kitchen door,
watching her and waiting for a taste.
And as my mouth watered,
she would scoop a piece of salt pork
nice and crispy-salty-
a piece of heaven.
She would blow on it
for a second or two,
and then offered it to me
for behaving like a well-mannered boy.
her dark African skin glistening,
brushing her long Taino hair
from her sweltering forehead.
While taking a sip of a cold beer,
she winked at me
as she brought down
a large sharp knife
to open a can of tomato sauce.
The grease sizzling.
The spiced smoke twirling upwards
like sacrificing incense
to the cooking gods.
Oh, the sweet memories
of Abuela Lola’s cooking
inside her tiny dark kitchen,
that taught me about love
in the aroma of her cooking,
and the small bites of salted pork.
she guarded us as we grew too big for foot tubs and bubbles in the bathwater we never knew she would disappear become iconic as Eleanor Roosevelt or Mary McCloud Bethune but she did
and it would not happen any other way failing out in our eyesight like fog around the Smoky Mountains going back forty holy ghost years; life was always constant
she held her own like the palm tree across the street we would watch grow for incipiency we grew within her borders like oranges she protects outside her window from a freeze
she followed her husband from the migrant trails of Georgia, from the civil rights clay of Bainbridge in search of deliverance and forgiveness we follow her back through a hundred city limits
and fifty no name cities not designated by map we follow her back to the cemetery plot she cleans with her own hands, she was teaching me
she is speaking again
and yet to some this may not qualify
as historical or political and whimsical
or witty but it is the foundation upon which I stand.
They thought I was reading and not paying any attention, for the most part I wasn’t, but they were talking about my Abuelita and I had to listen. They were saying how she would look through abuelito’s things every time he returned from the Dominican Republic. How she would carefully search through his maleta looking for clues. One adult asked, why didn’t she go with him? My mom said it was because she loved NYC, the adult said maybe she was told to stay behind. They said Abuelita would open all the mail that came to her house, even if it didn’t have her name on it. One day she opened a letter that was for my grandfather, my mother said she cried and wouldn’t speak to anyone for days. The adult gasped asking, “¿Y que decia”? It was from a woman in Santo Domingo, informing him she was pregnant. I heard “Todos los hombres son iguales” and “Eso le pasa por estar buscando.” I was a kid, but I knew neither of those statements were ok.
My grandfather had a record store in St. Thomas that my mother and and her siblings worked in after school and on weekends. One day a woman came in with her sister with such laughter and personality that my mother never forgot her. Years later, when my mother came up to the states for college she met my father. And when he brought her home to meet his mother, it was that same vivacious woman from the record store.
This shows how unforgettable my grandmother Adele was and my memories of her are just as vibrant whether we were shelling peas while she watched her stories, eating maduros at the vecinas table while they joked about coming over on banana boats, her asking me to pour her a drink from her the various amber sets that shone next to her botanica of plants or snuggled in her bed watching gangster movies while Jesus portrait looked on from behind us.