So, a couple of days ago it was the Day of the Dead.
I’ve always liked Halloween and the DotD, and I’m not really sure why. It’s morose, if you think about it. For someone whose first real, personal experience with death was a classmate killed in Afghanistan — Rest in Peace, Michael Montgomery — it’s odd that I’d groove on a holiday that celebrates that Time After Death.
Disclaimer/NB/FYI: I am not religious. Like really, let’s not even go there. Like the first thing I will do is set up a scientific postulate and attempt to prove it using anything but syllogisms. I totally respect religion, and I’m frankly envious of it in some cases, but I simply don’t have the ability to have faith. It sucks. Just sayin’.
My grandmother died today.
Being, as I am, the child of four parents, I had (appropriately) four grandmothers. I also had four grandfathers. My stepfather’s father died before I ever knew my stepfather, so that doesn’t really come into play. My stepfather’s mother died when I was 20. She stopped sending letters and that’s how we figured it out. My father’s father died a month before I was born, locked in a freezer by accident and then died from pneumonia — I have the original telegram sent. My father’s mother died when I was about 14, and her legacy is amazing cooking and a kitchen that I would love to reproduce in my dream house. Also, a faint smell… I can’t place it yet. Something like old roses and lilac. Everyone has a grandma that has *that* smell and she was it.
My mother’s father died when I was in my early 20’s, a conservative old bastitch who liked deep sea fishing and lived as salty as the sea he fished. My mother’s mother died from emphysema and a distinct distaste for food which I will never understand, probably disappointed that neither I nor my mother became debutantes. Still, she had good Christmases (until I moved to Washington). My stepmother’s father died in March of 2002, I know this because in April of 2002 I found out I was pregnant and conception date tied with the day he died. He was an old-school bastitch of a different kind, an engineer, a showman.
This leaves my stepmom’s mom. The grandparent I’ve had the longest.
Her name was Maria. She was born in Argentina.
She never quite got the handle of the english language — she always spoke a broken sort of english, reserved in privilege for a woman who moved here in her 20’s — was it 30’s? — with her husband and two children (she would have a third, my Uncle Sergio, once ensconced in the States). She cooked like no one else — seriously. As I told my son, if it was Nana and Bobby Flay in the kitchen, Bobby Flay should just get out because he had no place. When my cousin Marisa and I were growing up, she’d make Doll cakes for our birthday — like go get a Barbie, and make an entire dress for the Barbie out of cake. Whatever cake you like. The dresses were intricately decorated — I mean, frosted — and the flavor was amazing.
She made my wedding cake. She grew the Calla Lillies for my wedding bouquet in her garden, and flew them up with her from California for my February wedding.
She made empanadas and fresh pasta and bread that made you want to stuff yourself until your eyeballs popped out. It didn’t matter that she lived 90 minutes away: you’d drive there to get fed. You weren’t allowed to clean up, you were barely allowed to stand, ever. Her bottom-floor bathroom was all pink tile.
It didn’t matter what you did, or what you wanted to do, in your life. She was proud of you. It didn’t matter what sort of pitfalls or challenges you’d encounter. She knew you’d meet them. She had that quiet confidence that a grandma has, that refuses to be refuted, and that will silently quell any sort of fears or nervousness you’d get.
I didn’t visit her once I knew she was going downhill. I’m a coward, I admit it. This woman was so vibrant and outgoing she’d have a million sewing projects going at once, be halfway through reading her bible for the forty-third time (Grandma had holy water in her entryway), and be cooking 8-dozen ravioli for my uncle and his political party cronies. I couldn’t imagine her invalid in any sense. It wasn’t right.
She isn’t anymore.