I was driving back from a park playdate in the suburbs. Our chance presence in this specific part of town and my nostalgia led me to take a detour on our way home. My daughters, Abby, Katie and Lauren, were contently snuggled in their car seats with their pink plush blankets, holding their Barbie dolls, and happily watching the Frozen DVD. I turned into a subdivision—one I hadn’t turned into in nearly ten years. The road was bumpy and the sidewalk was uneven. I continued down the road that circled around behind a middle school. The school day had just ended and crowds of students and parents made their way towards the crosswalk. Gently pressing the gas pedal, I made it past the school zone. I’d reached my destination. The twins, Katie and Lauren, still engaged in their movie, my oldest Abby was looking out the window curious about our stop.
“Mommy, why are we stopping here? Are we going to visit a friend of yours?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I just wanted to see this house.”
“Why? Whose house is this?”
“It was my grandmother’s house.”
I pulled the car over to the side of the road and got out. I stood gazing at the front of the house. I closed my eyes and I could feel the sun blaring down on my shoulders. A slight breeze in the summer air brought me back to my childhood summers I had spent in this house. Laughing, eating popsicles, splashing in the pool in the backyard with my sister and three younger cousins.
I opened my eyes. The warm pink colored brick had faded and there were cracks and bits of mud along the stucco. Scattered leaves from the large maple tree covered the front yard. The sago palms off the front porch were large and overgrown. My grandmother had harvested them; they had been no bigger than a pineapple when she planted them. Now the feathery foliage engulfed the doorway.
It had been over ten years since I stepped foot in this house. I could still hear the sound of children’s laughter emitting through the hallways. The smell of homemade pork tamales simmering in the stockpot on her stove. Her house had always been filled with her children and grandchildren.
When I was six weeks old, my mother’s maternity leave had ended and she was returning to her job for the U.S. Treasury. My grandmother, elated at the birth of her first grandchild, graciously offered to take care of me during the day while both my parents worked. My mom and dad both flourishing in their careers worked long days, leaving me to spend countless hours with my abuelita and abuelito, as I called them in Spanish. When I was two years old, my grandfather passed away in a tragic incident. His heart-wrenching death changed her life though she did not let it change her spirit. She harnessed strength from the overflowing love from her children and grandchildren. Three years later my sister was born. A couple years after that my two younger cousins were born three years apart, and the last cousin came six years later. All girls—she now had five little granddaughters to love and care for. And that she did. Day after day, she would cook, clean, garden, paint, and write poetry—all while taking care of us. She did it all so effortlessly. Everything I learned about caring for children was from her. I’m not a great cook but I’d wished I’d learned how to make her delicious guisados. My passion for writing is without a doubt an inherited trait from her. She was so proud when I received my college acceptance letter into Georgetown.
“Go and get your degree mija, get a couple…your education is the most powerful thing you will ever possess.”
There are no memories of my childhood without her. Not a day goes by—in the nine years since she’s been gone—that I don’t think about her. Her voice. The soft folds of her arm. Her fluffy brown hair she’d let me brush. Her scarf I adjusted to cover her bald head as she went through chemo. Her big, brown, honest eyes I could always confide in. How I wished so much I would’ve been there looking into her eyes the day she left this world. Instead it was a phone call I received from my mother one morning, while I was home from work sick with the flu.
“Your grandma passed away this morning.”
My mother’s broken words rang in my head over and over. It didn’t seem fair that we had lost her so young. She never got to see me walk down the aisle or meet her great grandchildren. One afternoon while helping my Mom go through some of her things I came across a shoebox covered with a thick coat of dust. What was it? A long forgotten pair of dress shoes? I examined it closely. It was a box of keepsakes—letters, birthday cards and pictures from her granddaughters. It dawned on me that I would never buy another birthday card, or Mothers Day card for her again.
I clutched the box close to my chest. Then, immersed in grief for the loss of my beloved grandmother, I cried for a long time. After a few hours, the tears dried and as they did, I said a silent prayer of thanks for my wonderful grandmother, for the gift of having been her granddaughter.
Later that evening, after I fed the girls dinner, gave them a bath and put on pajamas, I walked into my closet and pulled out a shoebox.
“What’s that Mommy?” Abby asked.
“Remember when we stopped by that house today on our way home from the park? I want to show you some pictures of that house from when I was little.”
In the process of sharing my grandmother and my childhood memories with my daughters, I got a piece of my heart back that had broken when my grandmother passed away. My grandmother might be gone, but her life, love and spirit lives through me and it will continue to live on through my daughters.