My Granny is having a hear attack.
The news were as sudden as they were inevitable. She turns 90 next week, and would kill me for publicizing that.
This woman has been a point of reference and an inspiration for the better part of my life. When I was very young, because she was a marvelous story teller. She could keep us under her spell for hours, recounting the adventures of Calentito, a made up character of a rather small white dog with black spots. I don’t remember any of the specifics. I remember we loved them. I remember once, not too long ago, asking her to tell one of my nephews a story, and watching how she put him under the same spell, more than two decades later.
My mother always highlights that the woman we know is not the mother she grew up with. Her mother, apparently, was stern and strict, and the main reason that my mother was the total opposite. She would throw clothes out the window if my mother or her siblings had failed to put them away properly. She didn’t mess around apparently.
The woman I know is very different. She is gentle, kind, and positive to the point of delusion. I always remember one of her last visits to Europe. She had a terrible leg pain which haunts her to this day. She was struggling to go down the stairs, from the TV room back to her bedroom, one step at a time, both hands on the hand rail, I walked slowly by her side. Then she stopped and turned to look at me,
“My leg is killing me” she said. And after a short pause for thought added “but it hurts the same weather I complain or not, so not much point complaining” and with that she continued her slow descent.
To me this moment summarizes who she is and her determination to enjoy life no matter what it threw in her direction. And things it threw.
Her father left them at a young age. Surprisingly she had attended college. I say surprisingly because not only did this take place a really long time ago, but it happened in Peru, where things are a bit more backward than in the West. She was number two of her class. The man who later became my grandfather was number one. She got knocked up and never graduated. This last part we only learned a few years back, and she would also kill me for publishing it, but alas, it reaffirms her will to enjoy every cup.
How they got together was every bit as unimaginative as how they separated; he left her for a younger woman; a woman she knew, a woman that had travelled in their care, the daughter of friends they had seen as a potential partner for their youngest son. This son, in turn, developed schizophrenia and suffered an untimely death after years of struggle.
And she smiled through it all. Or rather, in spite of it all. And I’ve always admired her for it.
I mean, I have no doubt that she cried and suffered, but the woman that I have known for the last thirty odd years was joyous and positive, and always had a kind word. She was good humoured, happy and grateful for what good cards she did have. Her home was a refuge for those in need, who would stay for months at a time. She supported a friend who fed street children in her garage, into what grew to become and amazing little NGO.
I regret every letter I did not send. I regret every phone call I did no make. I regret that she has not met my children, but most of all, I regret that they will not get a chance to know her.
She lives in Peru and felt too old to travel. I started having kids and it was too hard to travel. I haven’t seen her in years.
But we did email, and every now and then we skyped. Yes, the woman skyped, although she had blocked her camera so that she would not have to get dressed up for every conversation. She lived alone, did her own shopping and drove her own car until recently.
On one of her last airplane trips she came to visit me while I was posted in Colombia. I had a lovely apartment that looked to the green lush mountains in Bogota. While I worked she would read with the marvelous view and the sun in her face. At night we would talk. And oh boy could she talk.
After living a lone for some time it was a shock to the system to be welcomed by whom I endearingly called “the singing bush”, after a character out of the movie Three amigos which refuses to stop singing even after the its scene has ended and drama has ensued. But after I surrendered the old magic reemerged, it was like in the old days; she told me stories of her life that I wish I’d written down. Bits of who she was and what she had lived which brought so much more color to the woman whose warmth I so cherished.
And now I sit waiting, waiting for news from the opposite end of the world, a world that today feels too big. Waiting, wondering and hoping. Hoping for more time, enough time to make it there with my children, to see her laugh at their naughtiness, and them wonder at her stories. Wondering if I should keep waiting or cross the world in time to get one last story.
I wrote this yesterday. Today my mother arrived in Lima and was greeted by my grandma at the ICU with "why did you come here? I wasn't well yesterday (understatement of the year, she has been having a heart attack for two days now), but I refused to die."
God I love that woman.
PPS March 2011 I made it down to peru with my entire family, my kids got to meet her and she got to meet them. My sister came down as well with her 5 kids.