Today my grandmother came walking into the kitchen as I was preparing dinner for the family and said to me (in Spanish as she doesn't speak The English,) “I don’t understand your mother. She doesn’t cook with oil! Whoever heard of such a thing! She never cooks with oil, no wonder her food is never any good.” I laughed, but then I thought about something: Abuelita has lived through one world war, one civil war (during which she married,) another world war, moving across the world, and cultural changes that would (and have) felled lesser men. Maybe she’s got something, maybe we should be cooking with more (olive) oil.
Did you know that she took one look at my pregnant belly and told me I would be having a baby immediately? A handful of hours later my water broke.
Abuelita will monitor everything you eat in front of her. You will need to eat double of everything to satisfy her. Just pass on the menudo soup, trust me on that one.
A frequent topic of conversation is my two unmarried sisters. “If you don’t start making sure you’re home by 8:00pm, no man will ever want you. No man wants a girl who stays out late.” “You’ll never get married unless you can keep your rooms clean and make a decent meal, which you can’t, so no man will ever want you.” “You need to put on a little weight, men don’t like skinny girls.” “Why do you dress like that/have your hair that way/wear those shoes? You’ll never get a man looking like that.” Hey, she could be right.
You would not believe the stories she has to tell. How my grandfather would get to come home during the civil war; lucky if he brought some oil or flour for bread. How she’s lost everyone but us. She worked so hard her entire life, true backbreaking work, like being a seamstress. I remember once I was changing the laundry and she just looked up at me and said, “I remember when we used to have to go down to the river to wash our clothes. You would use the rocks to help clean them. Sometimes I look at those machines and I just think they are amazing.”
When my mom lost all her hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows, as a result of her chemo, she worried most what abuelita would think. We didn’t tell abuelita about the cancer, it would have been too much. Instead, one day, abuelita looked closely at my mom and said, “You don’t have any eyelashes or eyebrows. See? I told you that if you wore too much makeup they would fall out.”
“You were right,” my mom answered, “I should have listened.” And with a self-satisfying humph, abuelita went on her way.
A few years ago on her birthday I asked her how old she was. My mother has been 29 for years now, so I wanted to hear what Abuelita had to say about it. Her eyes twinkled with mischief and said “25.”
I said, “Really? That’s interesting, I thought you were 92.”
“Oh, no! I’m 25,” She giggled.
“Well, if I’m 24 and your daughter is '29,' how can you be 25?”
“A miracle of God,” She said laughing, “It’s a miracle of God.” Indeed.