Tag Archive | ancestors

My dear feathery friend

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all – 

Emily Dickinson 

Starting in October 2019, my staff mourned the untimely deaths of three young people.  We lost two young men to gunfire.  We lost a young woman to violence; her family has not wanted to mourn this loss publicly as the investigation has been pending.  It was terribly hurtful to see a mother give a eulogy for her child who will never reach 18. It has been awful to speak to mothers as they sob for their children who have been robbed of time.  I am fortunate to still have the ability to make memories and change traditions.  I still have time, that luxury that my friends who have lost parents and grandparents desire.  

Losing my Mama Chelia was sad but it also deepened my gratitude. She lived 102 years and she inspired her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with her tenacity, willfulness, brassy sense of humor, candor, and strength. Mama Chelia left us with many memories and gratitude at leaving us after a long full life.  

In December, we lost my Tia Nery to cancer.  She was the quintessential bon vivant. At family gatherings, she was always the first to dance and never one to shy away from taking shots, whether they were of tequila or pisco.   She never resorted to the bad habits of other aunties who body shame and pry as if they are owed these uncomfortable moments. I was always “mamita” to her. I always received hugs, kisses, and compliments.  My auntie stood out.  She dressed in animal prints and glittery tops and held parties with live bands in the middle of chemo and a pandemic. She was unapologetically going to keep living so long as she could.  Losing her means losing the spark of many a family gathering.  However what an example she set of being a woman who loved and lived to the fullest.  

Even in my grief and that of my friends, I can’t negate the blessings of 2020.  2020 revealed my priorities and my loyal support network.  I decided who was worth seeing, what was worth doing, why I and we are worth protecting and building up.  While getting through the challenging months was an accomplishment in and of itself, there were small yet immense moments of success and joy.  Friends welcomed beautiful and healthy new babies. I watched a beautiful Zoom wedding of a young couple as they began their life together.  I have so many friends who   reached deep down and started running, continued graduate school, moved home, or left toxic relationships.  It took these losses, this isolation, the frustration of building the damn plane as it careens out of control at times, to push me to embrace my vocation as a writer again.  Wrist tendinitis be damned, I am writing this book.  I’m dreaming my dream again, that my words might reach other eyes, minds, hearts.  

2020 was full of loss.  I can’t write that year, or any year, off as a complete waste.   When I was young, I had a nervous breakdown.  At that time, I thought it was the worst year of my life. I had to build myself back up.  I built a new mindset and ultimately, a new life free of misery.  I will experience grief and pain but I learned how to be mindful, grateful, and whole. I learned to never surrender to despair.   Our world has broken down but it will rebuild itself.  When it does, there will be greater joys.  All is blessing.  There is nothing we can experience that does not make us better.

Eulogy for my abuelita

For mama Chelia

My Mama Chelia was my kind of woman, She was my very own Sophia Petrillo, a tough broad with no fur on her tongue, strong fists and backbone, not a crybaby at all.  She was a woman unafraid to punch a man, unafraid to guffaw from her belly, unafraid to tell you exactly what she thought. She could slaughter a hog, plow a field, herd sheep, and cook for a houseful of relatives.  Until her eyesight began to fail, she would read her Bible and several newspapers daily.  As happens with many immigrants’ children, I was only able to visit Mama Chelia every several years.  Thousands of miles separated us. She didn’t get to raise me, cook for me, care for me,watch me grow from newborn to adult.  I wish that I had one of my grandparents in my life to coddle me, spoil me, shield me from the pain.  I grieve that loss of love,culture, wisdom.  I grieve her death but I also grieve her absence.  I always loved her and I always missed her.. 

My favorite memories  of Mama Chelia were made during our family trip to Churin.  None of us had ever visited.  We wanted to experience the hot springs; we hoped they might do my mother’s back some good.  After a grueling bus trip over unpaved roads, we arrived at the bottom of a dusty gray hill.  This can’t be it, I thought, as locals swarmed the bus with waving arms and shouted offers of lodging.  Men and women offered rooms or beds in their homes. They offered meals and warm blankets.  They shouted out prices in soles and American dollars.  I pulled my bag out of the luggage compartment while my parents discussed next steps.  I looked uphill .  Wooden signs along the path indicated that the town plaza was up past where I could see.

“We’re not staying with strangers. I’ll find a hotel,”  I told my mom in Spanish.  I started walking up the hill and half dragged my wheeled suitcase over rocks, gravel, and dirt.  My mom panicked and asked my dad to intervene but I was on a mission. I looked for the best looking hotel in the town square and chatted up the front desk clerk as my family entered the building. 

“A su madre, que elegante,” Chelia said.She kept making similar exclamations as she admired the hallway and her room. She was impressed and consistently made comments on how nice everything was.  

When we visited the hot springs, we decided to enter the community bath.  Mama Chelia took to the hot water. She laughed and chatted.  When another family entered with their grandfather, Mama Chelia got quiet.  The old man seemed nervous and uncomfortable. He entered the water reluctantly. Mama Chelia responded by suddenly splashing the old man several times.

 “Mira este chibolito”  The old man cowered but everyone else laughed and laughed. 

The man ‘s daughter said “Ay, que graciosa la abuelita.”  

On the bus trip back to Huacho, my mom’s back pain got the best of her. She began to weep silently as she struggled to find a comfortable sitting position.  Mama Chelia watched her, at first with curiosity and then with exasperation.  She told my mom she was going to slap her upside the head for being a crybaby.  When that failed to get a different reaction, Mama Chelia held my mom close and rubbed her back, shoulders, and head. I have to admit  it made me tear up.  My mom didn’t grow up with Mama Chelia. She moved in with her maternal grandparents as a toddler. But I know that hug meant so much.  

One of my last memories of Mama Chelia are from the summer of 2014 when I celebrated my birthday by taking my immediate family to Peru.  How wonderful to watch Mama Chelia interact with M.  I loved seeing Mama Chelia  smile at my daughter, how she told her to take a cuy home.  She told her how to feed it alfalfa and how it could have lots of babies and my daughter could raise a whole brood. My little brown daughter smiled shyly at my little brown granny.  These beautiful brown women who are the bookends to my life.  My roots and my blossom, the origin and the continuation of a long tradition of strength and sass.  

How lucky I was to experience these memories with Mama Chelia.  She was a light, a fire, a beacon home.  Her eyes told you she was no fool. Her smile told you she was not cruel.  Rest well, Mama Chelia.  Put up your knife and broom. Put away your dishrag and pan. Here there are no husbands, no warring children.   Sit. Have some cancha, some sopa, un te.  Rest now.  Te lo mereces.