My Grandmother’s Last Family Reunion

I went back to San Luis Potosí in 2014 to visit family and do a little bit of touring and sight-seeing.  I hadn’t been back to my native country since 2002.  Since I left Mexico, I’ve only went back to visit my relatives and my country four times; that’s four times in twenty years.  To some people it may not seem like a lot, but to others it may seem like enough.

For me, visiting my country four times in twenty years was enough, until my grandmother passed away.  When I sat down and thought about those four times, I went back to visit her, I now feel it wasn’t enough.  When I found out my grandmother passed away, I felt guilty.  I wished I had gone to see her more often.  I wished I still had the opportunity to go and stay at her house and spend time with her.  I wished I would’ve video-taped her or recorded her voice so that I would remember her and not forget her.  I wished…

I now understand that I was hurting and in my hurt I wasn’t able to see the facts and realities of the situation.

The reality was that my extended family didn’t have a good relationship with my mother and sisters.  My grandmother didn’t have a good relationship with my Mom and therefore it affected our grandmother-granddaughter relationship.  The day we left Mexico, my Mom and grandmother didn’t speak or say good-bye to each other.  I did say good-bye to my grandmother and it pained me so much because, even as a child, I knew then that when we saw each other again it wouldn’t be the same; things would change.

When I saw my grandmother again, twelve years later, I barely recognized her.  Time and aging completely changed her demeanor, her appearance, her heart.  She was so fragile that when I hugged her, I thought she was going to crumble.  I wanted to hug her so hard but was afraid I’d break her bones.  Her eyes were now gray in color, as if they had been covered by a layer of clouds that hid the beautiful honey-gold color of her eyes I remembered.  The beautiful golden curls and thick hair from my memories was replaced by a thin and silver collection of wispy hair.

I remember her standing in the foyer of her house one Sunday afternoon, after I arrived in Mexico.  She looked at me as if trying to remember who I was.  Time and age had changed our bodies so that we couldn’t recognize each other at first.  Twelve years might not seem like a lot, but for us, it was like 120 years had passed by.

I was so overwhelmed with joy and sadness when I hugged her that words refused to come out of my mouth.  A knot in my throat prevented me from speaking.  I wanted to cry and jump out of joy at the same time.  I was overjoyed to see her once again because she meant a lot to me.  I loved her so much and came all this way to see her, but at the same time, I was sad that she didn’t look the same way as when I first left her.  Her body wasn’t the same and I knew it was a matter of time before she passed away.

Where did all this time go? Is there a button that we can press that can stop time?

That Sunday afternoon my family and I had a pleasant family reunion.  There was no confrontation, no feuds, no explanations, just seeing each other again and a lot of questions without answers.  All I know is that this was one of my biggest dreams come true; to see my grandmother once more and enjoy a meal with her.  To be able to hug her and tell her I loved her.  To be able to sit next to those family members who we didn’t meet eye to eye, who said hurtful things, who gave us grief in the past, now all that doesn’t matter anymore.

We ate, we shared anecdotes, we took pictures, I gave grace before the meal while seating on my late grandfather’s chair, where he always sat to eat his meals… I was in a complete bliss!

This would be the last supper my grandmother and I enjoyed together.  Ten months later, the Lord called her home.

I was so surprised by her passing away so soon.  I couldn’t believe it at first, I was sad, I was angry and overcome with all those feelings that follow the loss of someone we love.  But after a while, God gave me healing and perspective.

Before I left my grandmother –another Sunday afternoon before leaving Mexico– I made it a goal to go up to her and give her a big hug.  When I hugged her, I was taken back to the time when as a child I left her house to move to the U.S. and wondered if I was going to be able to hug her again or if this would be the last hug.  I said good-bye and walked away, and I was about to walk out of her house when all of the sudden, I felt that one hug wasn’t enough.  If I could I would’ve given her a thousand more, but I turned around and saw her standing by the door of her foyer surrounded by other great grandchildren and my cousin, and I went rushing back to her and gave her a second hug.

Those of us who leave our country behind don’t really know if we will be able to see our far-away loved ones once more.

Perhaps that second hug was our actual good-bye on this earth, the hug where we said to each other: “This is for your departure grandma’ because I will not be here to give you one last hug before you leave.”

Those who lose a loved one know that feeling, of wanting to go back in time and give more hugs, more time, more I love you’s.  I went through this myself.  But whenever I find myself feeling this way, I am reminded of this truth: God is good for He granted me what I asked Him for; to see my grandmother one last time before she left his earth.  He gave me an opportunity to see my grandmother one last time, hug her and tell her how much I loved her.  And this is not a final good-bye.  Even though I can’t see my grandmother physically on this earth anymore, I see her in my dreams, I feel her close to me when I am cooking or gardening, the things that she enjoyed the most.  She is still with me.  We will see and hug each other again, just like we did during that unforgettable family reunion in 2014.

I love you, Abuelita! ¡Que en paz descanses! 

My Dear Grandmother we will see and hug each other again in the name of Jesus Christ.
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Two Places Dear to my Heart – la Plazita and el Andador

Do you have a special place where your mind brings feelings of nostalgia and yearning about what once was? That one place where you find yourself returning to often in your dreams? It might be the place where you grew up, a certain neighborhood or a house.  For me, this place is a little corner short distance from my grandmother’s house.

Everyone calls that place La Plazita or the little town square.  This place is not just a little park; it is actually connected to a very long road that everyone in the neighborhood calls el Andador or the walking strip.

Present day La Plazita or the little town square in San Luis Potosí in 2019

Many years ago, when the city of San Luis Potosí was founded in Mexico, the main mode of transportation was the railroad.  The railroad put the city of San Luis Potosí on the map.  The railroad also helped this city thrive.  From 1910-1950, San Luis Potosí became an industrial city.

The railroad built in San Luis Potosí was long and interconnected with many main roads.  My grandmother’s house was located along one of those main roads.  The railroad tracks ran parallel to my grandmother’s house.  The tracks were so long in my time living there, I never saw where they ended.  This railroad is not as important as it once was and as result it is no longer in use.  In order to put this once-thriving, unused railroad to good use, people from the city created an open market known as el mercado along its former route.  The open market sets up every Sunday and sometimes on Saturdays.  This open market is as long as the railroad.  People who want to sell their products just come and set up their tents and tables and start selling.

The railroad is also the path I followed to go to middle school.  It connects to the street that takes you to the middle school I attended.  Right on that street there is a particular small park or resting area where people gather for different reasons.  Some people wait there for public transportation and young kids go there to play.  It also serves as a meeting place for middle school students.

This is the place I refer to in my post The Point of Convergence where I often visit in my dreams.  La Plazita is very dear to me because it is the last place I remember as we left my hometown, riding away in a cab.

La Plazita the last place I remember when we left our hometown. Photo taken in 2014

I have never asked my sisters or my Mom what they remember from their experience of leaving Mexico behind.  For me, it is La Plazita.  It is the place where I was once happy as a preteen.  The place where my best friends from middle school and I would meet and spend time together.  It is where we watched other kids get into fights, where we watched people wait for their public bus or take a cab.  Where many young teenage couples broke up or made up.  Also, the last place I looked as we were leaving San Luis Potosí and watched with a longing and sad feeling wondering if I would ever come back to this place and see it again.

It is not a fancy place or touristy attraction.  And although its aesthetics might not even be pleasing to the critical eye, for me, it is special and has a lot of spiritual and emotional meaning.

El Andador is also important to me as it is symbolic of my time living there in this neighborhood.  El Andador is where my grandmother used to take walks with her dog to distress herself.  When my grandfather was alive, I watched him cross these railroads every sunset always going somewhere alone.  I often wondered where he went.  Perhaps he was taking a walk, just like my grandmother, as an outlet from all of his problems.

el Andador or the walking strip is where my grandmother used to take walks

One day, God allowing, I will go back to these places.  Although I know I cannot go back in time and change the past, I can create new memories with my daughters in those places where I was once happy growing up.

la Plazita and el Andador in San Luis Potosí in 2014

 

 

 

In Memory of my Stepdad

As I was writing the next entry for my blog, I received a phone call from my sister in Illinois.  She was calling to let me know that my stepdad was in the hospital in Chicago and he was in need of a lung transplant.

Just when I had my eyes set on what I thought God wanted me to be paying attention to, He drops something else on my lap, saying, “I want you to pay attention to this first.”

At that moment, we didn’t know if my stepdad would receive a transplant right away, so I began making preparations to travel to Illinois.

I was very upset at the news.  Why now? When I was just beginning to write about my grandmother, who passed away almost four years ago.  When I was just beginning to write about the time when I lived in Mexico looking for that closure I didn’t have when I left there.

We didn’t know if my stepdad would be able to receive a transplant fairly quickly or if he had to wait a bit longer.  He called me to wish me “Happy Birthday” at the beginning of April, and every single day after that his health fluctuated between better and worse.

I had hopes that he would get better and that even if he needed special care after the surgery, we would have him alive and home.

The first week of April he seemed to be getting better and the doctors even said that he could come home.  He was released from the hospital on April 9th everything seemed to be going fine for a bit.  Then, on Friday of that week his health took a turn and had to be rushed to the hospital.

In the meantime, I wanted to wait for my entire family to be out of school and pack their things so we could drive to Illinois.  As a parent, packing and getting ready for a family emergency is so different than when one is single.  When we finally hopped in the car to drive seventeen or eighteen hours ahead of us, I was hopeful that we would make it on time enough to hug my stepdad at the hospital.  Unfortunately, my stepdad passed away that same Saturday night while we were still driving towards Illinois.

Hennepin Canal Park has fond memories of me and my stepdad running together

It’s been two weeks since his passing.  The hardest thing for me was having to go back to my hometown in Illinois to mourn for him.  I went to the stores there and everything reminded me of him: the local hardware stores where he liked to hang out, Walmart, McDonalds for his morning coffee, and going to work out at the YMCA.

Throughout all this, I remember most fondly that me and him shared a special interest, running.  He loved to run at the park and there was one particular park where we loved to go together to run.  After I left the military, I went back to my hometown in Illinois and continued my running routine.  One day, my stepdad suggested we should go for a run at this park called Hennepin Canal Feeder Bike Trail, which has one of the longest walking and running trails in Illinois.  I took him up on his suggestion and soon we began to go there almost every Saturday to run.

I see my stepdad and I running in this park like we used to.

One of the first things I wanted to do after his funeral and service was to go to this park.  It has so many memories.  I went there the day before I left Illinois, and I saw people riding their bikes and running and I began to picture in my mind me and my stepdad running together out in the horizon as we used to do.

I still don’t understand why things had to happen this way, but from my experience in walking with God for more than ten years, I do believe that it will be ok.  That I don’t need to know and understand everything right now, but when I am ready, He will reveal things to me.

I am grateful to God for this man.  He was a strong, God-fearing, gentle soul, with a huge heart and a great listener.  I will miss him greatly.

May you rest in Peace stepdad knowing that you are now with our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Point of Convergence

As the cab drove away from my grandmother’s house I wondered if I would ever see my grandmother again.  I thought about all the things I wasn’t able to fit inside my luggage: the streets that watched me walk every morning at eight o’clock as I made my way to the secundaria or middle school; the cool, misty smell of the eucalyptus tree leaves covered in morning dew that I enjoyed smelling during my daily commutes to school; the nice little-trimmed gardens shaped in geometric forms, protected with wire to discourage teenagers and others from vandalizing them; my new group of friends, whom I felt very proud of being a part of; my cousins, my dear childhood companions.  As I left all of these parts of my life behind, I felt something ripping apart inside my heart.

The knot inside my throat kept getting bigger the further the cab drove away.  I was committed to not cry.  I previously told myself that on this grand day no crying would be allowed.

What I didn’t know then, was that by actually holding back and swallowing my tears I was making the process of leaving my home even more hurtful.

There was no assurance of ever coming back to my hometown of San Luis Potosí.  Of ever coming back to see my grandmother and my extended family, of ever seeing my new group of friends again.  My Mom was determined to take us far away to a better place to begin a new life.  Her lack of emotion, so well-hidden throughout this whole process, actually helped me in my weakness.  I copied her stoicism and reacted to this big moment in my life the same way she did.

The cab driver had been driving for about five minutes when we passed a particular point in my neighborhood.  We were going by the intersection between a convenience store on my left and the park where my friends and I used to hang out every day after school on my right.  I was at the intersection between my grandmother’s house behind me and in front of me the possibility of a better home.  And just like that, that moment passed and we left the intersection behind.  Before I knew it, I realized that the cab had just crossed las vías or the crossroads, where trains passed every day.  I took a good look at my surroundings as if I didn’t want to ever forget that moment.  I wanted to take this place away with me by keeping it in my memory forever just in case I didn’t come back.

This place, las vías, became dear to my heart.  I didn’t realize how important it was until I began writing and recollecting my memories about this important event in my life.  I began to remember how it felt when I left my hometown.  I remembered sitting there, with my sisters and Mom next to me, yet feeling alone with my thoughts as the cab drove on.  At the same time, I remember making an effort to take a detailed look of my surroundings so that I could create a beautiful memory of what I once loved so that my mind had something to remember.  As I was doing this writing exercise and while thinking of my surroundings that afternoon, I realized that the point where I looked around to make this mental picture of my neighborhood, was the point where the cab had just crossed the crossroads, the point that divided the convenience store, my school and friends, my grandmother’s house from the place we were going to.

This crossroads was an important revelation for me in my writing process.  This is how the name of my blog was born, as I found myself retelling this story to my husband, he mentioned this crossroads was the Point of Convergence.  I said, what do you mean by that? He said, it is the place where you had to make an important decision in your life, the meeting place right at the crossroads of leaving your old life and meeting your new life.  That place at the crossroads became the point of convergence.  The point where all the things that were important to me where right at four converging points, my school, friends, my neighborhood, my grandmother, and now the new life I was about to begin in a new country of which I knew very little about.

When I think of this important event in my life, now twenty-five years later, this is what I remember from that event: saying good-bye to my grandmother, the cab driving away from her house and my strong feelings.  This is the place where I often come back in my dreams and where God showed me what this place meant for me.  It is the place where I left a piece of my heart because I didn’t know if I would ever come back or see it again.  It was the line where I had to become someone else and leave the life I was comfortable with behind.

As an older child just barely a teenager, I kept asking myself if I would ever come back to see my neighborhood and my grandmother.  To keep myself from getting disappointed by false expectations, I told myself that, since my Mom was in charge and she was honest with me about not knowing if we would ever come back, the answer was “no.”  Little did I know that one day I would let God give me the courage to uncover this yearning desire that I had suppressed for years and allow myself to come back to this exact place to pick up the piece of my heart that was left there.

I am grateful to God for helping me confront this area of my life, praise and honor to Him in Jesus’ name.

La Placita – the park where my friends and I used to hang out every day after school

My Grandmother’s Tamales

My grandmother’s tamales were the best! I know this might sound biased because she’s my grandmother, but since I left her house as a preteen, and had the privilege to taste tamales in different places since then, I have to say that hers are some of the best.

Since my family and I moved to the United States, we’ve become nostalgic of my grandmother’s tamales, which she would prepare right before Christmas Eve.  With every passing year since we left Mexico that nostalgia became stronger.  There is no doubt that food became the vehicle by which we connected with the memories of the Mexico we left behind.  Every Christmas we remembered that my grandmother used to make preparations for the tamales.  She would also make Mexican ponche (Mexican fruit punch).  Back in the day, those two items were the highlight of our Christmas in Mexico.

Tamales and ponche are two popular dishes prepared during Christmas in Mexico because of its practicality.  Despite being labor-intensive, these dishes can feed many people, especially large families.  Tamales and ponche are also prepared for Las Posadas and to offer to friends and family members who come to visit during Christmas time.

My Mom began to test her culinary skills the first year we moved to the United States.  I believe it was her way of coping with the homesickness and nostalgia of being away from Mexico.  She made tamales for the first time in her life, the second year we were settled in the U.S.  She was very pleased with how they turned out –and so was I– and continued making them from then on, every Christmas time.  I liked the way my Mom’s first tamales turned out, but the next ones were even better.  From then on, I saw how her skills for cooking Mexican food grew year after year.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” and for my Mom cooking became a necessity.  At first, it was a way to cope with her feelings of longing for Mexico.  Eventually, that necessity turned into one of her best talents.

My Mom wasn’t the best cook when we lived in Mexico.  As a single Mom of two daughters, she prepared basic dishes and sometimes she would even buy prepared food from the cocinas económicas, a place ran by women cooks who made a living by preparing wholesome meals for  working moms.  The food from cocinas económicas was really good.  These women really knew how to cook and were now using their skills to provide for their families by running these kinds of establishments.

It was not until we moved to the U.S. that my mother began testing her culinary skills.  It was here in the U.S. that she began to make more labor-intensive dishes such tamales, mole, home-made tortillas, and asado de bodas.  Those are some of the most difficult Mexican dishes to prepare because of the extensive list of ingredients and the time required to prep each dish.

I also think that my Mom cooked some of my grandmother’s favorite dishes to help us cope with the change that moving to another country brought.  She didn’t express verbally how she felt about moving away from everything she once knew, but I could sense that through her cooking she expressed to us how much she cared about our feelings.

Christmas in the United States became a little more pleasant and bearable for us as we had my Mom who would prepare for us my grandmother’s favorite dishes like tamales and ponche, some of her own favorites such as mole and trusco, as well as new favorites that she discovered in the process of learning how to cook authentic Mexican food.

Now that I have a family of my own, I like to prepare my own tamales and ponche during the Christmas season.  It has become a ritual for me.  As I prepare the masa for the tamales I remember my grandmother standing behind the table of her kitchen, kneading the dough with her arms and hands.  I also remember helping my Mom make tamales for the first time in the United States, about twenty years ago.  It was just me and her talking about our memories from Mexico while we wrapped the tamales together.

Out of that same longing that I continue to have of the Christmases of long ago in Mexico and the Christmases I spent with my family after we moved away from Mexico, I began my own tradition with my own family.  Now it is me who is standing behind the table kneading masa while I share with my daughter how I learned to make tamales.

Sharing with my daughter how I learned to make tamales.

A Summer Afternoon in Historic Downtown San Luis Potosí

In 2000, I went back to the place I used to call my hometown, San Luis Potosí.

I went back to visit friends and family although when you are young and lacking wisdom all you care about is having fun, laughing, and living in the moment.  At that time, I didn’t have the desire to spend time with my grandmother who still had good health.  I also didn’t care much about spending time with family members.

I did however, manage to spend a nice afternoon with my older cousin, the one who grew up with me from my earliest days, all the way until my family and I left the country.  I asked my cousin if she would go with me sightseeing through Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosí and she agreed.  I was always interested in history, folk stories, legends and the stories my grandmother used to tell us, she was a great storyteller.

It was a nice summer afternoon, as shown in the pictures.  Summer in this part of Mexico is dry and desert-like, similar to the pleasant weather in California here in the U.S.  The weather is so pleasant that most people choose to walk rather than use public transportation.

I wanted to take pictures of places that were important to me such as various churches, the main cathedral, the oldest university in the city, museums, theaters, and city hall.  I wanted to photograph anything that would remind me of the places I used to stroll around with my Mom and sister in those long-ago afternoons from when Mexico was still our home.  I wanted to one day look at those pictures and reminisce about the beautiful time we spent in San Luis Potosí.

I did reminisce about these particular places from time to time, whenever I leafed through my photo album.  After a while though, it remained closed for a long time.

Now when I look at these pictures, almost twenty years after I took them, I no longer look at them the same way I did before.  Now, I think more about that afternoon with my cousin and about the sort of conversations we were having, what did we talk about as we strolled around the city taking pictures? Did we get a chance to catch-up on the time that passed during those last six years apart? Did we laugh together? What stories of ourselves did we share?

Capilla de Loreto at Plaza de los Fundadores
Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí in the summer of 2000

The wisdom that I have now is not mine, it comes from God, I can’t take the credit.  And what I learned from Him is that although traveling and seeking to be a cultured and well learned individual is important to some, it is more valuable to spend time with people.  People you care about, people you love, people you grew up with and are part of your most treasured memories.  This is more important to me now.

I still feel nostalgic sometimes, and reminisce about a nice afternoon strolling around Historic Downtown eating a yogurt ice cream while window shopping in the streets of San Luis Potosí.

I will go back one day and walk around the same streets and the same historic landmarks I walked that summer afternoon long ago.  This time I will appreciate the times spent with friends and family more than the buildings around me.

Templo de San Agustín in San Luis Potosí
Inside Templo de San Agustín
Templo de San Francisco – Temple of San Francisco in San Luis Potosi
Inside Templo de San Francisco

A Fond Childhood Memory of Día de los Muertos

altar for Día de los Muertos in Historic Downtown San Luis Potosí

When I lived in Mexico one of my favorite holidays, along with Christmas, was Día de los Muertos. 

The first Día de los Muertos memory that comes to mind, is getting off the public bus with my Mom at el centro or downtown square.  People go to el centro to buy specialty items such as arts and crafts, fruit and vegetables, as well as other items needed for the altar de los muertos. 

There is an old saying in Mexico: “A quien madruga Dios lo ayuda.”  The English equivalent would be, “The early bird catches the worm.”  Many Mexican business owners and blue-collar workers live their lives by this mantra.  Many street vendors, whose livelihood depends on selling goods in these open markets, work hard to stay on top of the competition.  Getting to the market early in the morning, setting up their tents and displaying their wares before anyone else, sets them apart from the rest of the businesses.

That day, standing in el centro with my Mom, was a beautiful sunny, breezy, and chilly morning. I guess it could be no different than any autumn day here in the United States with one exception.  In Mexico, fall is a season of reflection and culturally it is celebrated in a very different way.  As I write this anecdote, right in the middle of October, I am looking out the window in my home.  It feels and looks like any autumn day in Mexico.  However, here in the States, the comings and goings of people start slowing down to a trickle; everywhere there is silence and calm.  People go to work and children go to school while daylight wastes away.  Then, when daylight disappears, people hurry inside, keenly aware that the cold and windy days are announcing that autumn is in the air and it’s almost time to hibernate for the season.

In Mexico, autumn is a time for reflection, but by no means it translates into sadness or boredom.

The following is one of my anecdotes of when I was a child living in San Luis Potosí, Mexico celebrating el Día de los Muertos;

“As I got off the public bus with my Mom, holding her hand the whole time.  All of the sudden, the air around me felt alive.  I felt the energy and commotion radiating from the street vendors gathered there.  I could feel their dedication and optimism as they busied themselves setting up their tables and tents.  They came to el centro to sell all kinds of goods for grown-ups and kids alike.

There were tons of colors everywhere, spilling from every nook and cranny in the market. It came from the papel picado decorating the streets everywhere with bold colors such as bright blue, red, orange, purple, and green.  The color also spilled forth, in red and yellow hues, from the different seasonal fruits on display; calabazas (pumpkins), squash, sweet potatoes.  And of course, the market was colored as well by the incomparable and unique flor de cempasúchil, the flower that represents Día de los Muertos.

I saw calaveritas de azucar (Mexican sugar skulls); one of my favorites.  You could buy calaveritas and have the seller write your name on them – there were chocolate ones, white ones, big ones and small ones, even cute, tiny ones.

The smell of copal and of freshly-made tortillas and roasted chile from the food vendors was a feast to all of my senses.  It made me hungry as I walked around with Mom looking at the merchandise from the street vendors.  The sun-tanned women with thick and brown skin, almost as tanned as mine, looked at me with a smile.  They asked if I wanted to buy a calaverita de azucar with my name on it.  I asked my Mom if I could have one and she agreed.”

Woman with Cempasúchil Flowers
Photo Credit: Jaime Cristóbal López

Walking around the streets of Historic Downtown San Luis Potosí, or any other city or town in Mexico, during Día de los Muertos is a jolt of stimuli.  All of the senses –touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste –were stimulated at once, creating powerful, fully-fleshed memories that are easy to recall.  That is how I am able to easily go to that memory whenever I want to.  I want to keep this memory forever.

So, whenever I see a gloomy, overcast autumn day here in the US, where I now live, I close my eyes and travel down memory lane back to that mercado.  I smell, see, feel, taste, and hear in my mind the joyful moments I spent as a child during Día de los Muertos in San Luis Potosí, and I sigh with satisfaction.