Today, September 10, is my Grannie’s birthday. She was born in 1895. She’s the one person who influenced me the most. I’m sharing with you this letter to her...
My life is whole, as yours was, Grannie, though gaps show sorrow peeking through, a reminder of grief in an otherwise perfect world.
My love of books, quotes, and music, even the classical kind, comes from you. If only revealed earlier, I might not have squandered my youth on the corporate ladder, failing to reach the top rung. Trying to be someone I wasn’t and wanting to do it all, while raising my family alone. Emulating others’ looks, behaviors and aspirations isn’t what I learned from you. From you, I learned honesty, integrity, and caring for family. But your greatest gift was love of language. Like you, I write words and ideas on scraps of paper, old envelopes, book covers, or napkins.
You show up in most of my childhood memories. “Grannie, will you help me with my homework?” I often asked, and you never turned me down. “Go get the encyclopedia,” you’d say. “We can find everything there.” You’d share stories of the Mexican Revolution and your family’s run-ins with Pancho Villa, one of its most prominent figures, to make the story come alive. “The peons admired him for his generosity, but he was feared for his uncontrollable temper and incredible cruelty. To economize on bullets, he lined up three or four men, one behind the other, and killed them all with only one shot. He stole horses, cattle, and robbed banks. He was thirsty for money and for blood.” I listened intently to this and other tales, like when your family hid a little neighbor girl who had come to borrow sugar just as Pancho Villa‘s men were setting her home on fire.
I loved hearing about you and your sister Carlota being educated in Guadalajara, at El Liseo de Ninas, a school operated by Catholic sisters. You played a piano duet at an elaborate celebration in which Porfirio Diaz, President of Mexico, hosted U.S. President Howard Taft. The occasion welcomed dignitaries with ornate décor and fine food. The presidents shook your hand after the performance. Your life was rich with such stories, yet you remained always humble. How I wish you were here now to tell me those stories over and over again.
In a photo I cherish, I’m around three years old, sitting at your big dining table, holding a spoon to my mouth hand over top as a child does, my curious brown eyes looking straight toward the camera. You’re gazing at me from behind, standing in your pleasantly plump frame with smiling eyes, wearing a strand of black beads that rests just above the collar of your dress with a floral print. An apron circles around you and ties in back.
The table is carefully set, each place-setting perfectly arranged in the way I’ve always known. In the center of the table, facing me, sits a baby doll with short black hair and big dark eyes. The doll looks new, suggesting it might be Christmas Day. The doll’s profile is soft as she studies the little girl (me), and its white lace dress reveals the slightest bit of baby doll thigh and panties.
The essence of this photo is powerful. If only I’d stopped to ponder and appreciate the details woven in, yet unnoticed for years. I’d seen only you and me in that photo, Grannie. Now I see a story. A rich, vibrant, lovely story in a black and white photo. And a promise of my future.
Every New Year’s Eve, at midnight, you’d give me a small fancy glass, partly filled with Mogen David Concord wine, and we’d “toast” to the new year. What I wouldn’t give to enjoy a glass of wine with you now, Grannie, while talking about music, poetry, and worldly things.
You endured but never dwelled upon life’s tragedies—loss of your husband at the age of 48, leaving you with five children to raise—a son in college, three girls in high school, and a baby. You later lost a daughter to breast cancer and then succumbed to the same dreaded disease in later years. But you never let on that you were afraid, sad, or in pain. Your voice was cheerful, every word emanating from your heart, teaching me through your actions to be brave and kind. In one quote, you imparted “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” And you taught me to always make the best of things, reciting, “It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.”
People often said you could write a book. You wouldn’t have written a memoir of misfortunes, although there were plenty. No. You would have written a lovely book of inspiring quotes or an anthology of short stories about history, family, and the hope of prosperity. The very stories I aspire to write.