The Tale of Two Grandmothers

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My two grandmothers are like oil and water. They are in the extreme opposite sides of the spectrum and, because of that, they've taught me a lot about how my life can play out.

Abuela Tati, my mother's mother, grew up in a small rural town in Puerto Rico, where she led a very secluded life.  Her mother died at the age of two and my great grandfather was a strict man.  She married at 15 and never studied again.  My grandfather had a bad temper and became someone else when he drank.  She was submissive, as most women would be in that situation, and dedicated her life to being the best mother she could be.  I always saw her as someone fairly sad, quiet and always feeling sorry for other people.

On the other hand, you have Rosa, or how I call her: Abuela Tata.  My father's mother.  She also grew up in a small rural town, not too far from where Tati lived.  She grew up with a strict mother but a lenient father.  A father that showed her immense love.  She was a good kid but never followed instructions.  "From as long as I can remember, I've done whatever I've wanted," she told me once.  She finished school early at 16 and worked at a naval base close to her house.  From a young age, she made her own money and claimed her independence.  She married young and had my father and my uncle, who passed away when I was one month old.  She remembers her married life as a great one, road tripping to other towns, going out to dinner and spending days at the beach.  She "separated" from her husband and from money that was her own, she decided to travel the world.  As a child, every few months, I used to get cheesy t-shirts and plastic figurines with locations I still dream of visiting.  Hong Kong, New Zealand, Chile and Norway to name a few. 

Both endured pain, as age grants us all, but Rosa had a fighting spirit since birth with self-confidence to boot.  Tati didn't.  

Both are still alive.  Rosa is in her 90's and recently told me how she had saved all of there vinyl records to listen to them when "she was old" but it still hadn't happened.  She laughs every time I see her, to jokes that sometimes only she hears.  She remembers her life from A to Z, still telling stories like when she got chased by a bull and had to climb a tree to save herself.  She recently overcame a one month stint in the hospital and is eagerly looking forward to celebrating another birthday on a cruise, a tradition she instilled on herself more than a decade ago.  She knows death is near and wish she can live more, but she is patient about everything. I'm not saying she has been submissive in any way.  She has been a tough cookie to swallow and is quite opinionated.

My dear abuela Tati is also alive. About six years younger than Rosa, she is physically healthy but her mind is slipping away.  Last time I saw her, she asked me the same question about ten times.  I patiently answered each time, but felt bad for her.  Everything she says is in a tone of pity and nostalgia.

The lessons they've taught me are simple, but for many, including myself, hard to follow.  Have a strong sense of self, appreciate the now and do what makes you happy (among many, many others).  Most of all, they have taught me that I can either live the life chosen or the life assigned.  I want to live the life chosen.

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