Grandma. What does that word conjure up for you? A gray-haired lady who always had a piece of chocolate cake for you when you visited her? An overly affectionate woman who never stopped slobbering you with kisses and pinched your cheeks until they were raw? Maybe an old lady who never remembered your name but you had to spend some time with her anyway?
My maternal grandma was called Bubbe. She spoke almost no English and my Yiddish was limited to the curses my mother “taught” me and a few phrases not useful in lengthy conversation. We visited her in a retirement home in New York, where I spent most of the time with my city cousins on the roof.
My paternal grandmother was Grandma Nellie. She was mostly a photograph to me. I only remember visiting her once and that was in 1939 when my father dropped my mother and sister off at the New York World’s Fair and we went to see her. I remember only a small room and a sweet-faced lady. But that might just be from the photograph.
So I have almost nothing of an experience with a grandma. How sad! Had we spoken the same language and had I been more cognizant of what I could have learned from her, I would have grown with a wealth of knowledge that she and my zayde took to their graves.
Yesterday I wrote about Salvadoran families and the cultural tendency to “marry” young. Salvadorans tend to locate closely as they grow giving members a considerably large extended family. They also tend to marry from within the community. This adds to the numbers in the clan. Young mothers have young mothers who had young mothers as well. Therefore, children can grow to be grandparents and still have a grandparent or two alive at the time.
Margarita’s grandmother came to visit us this morning. She walks with a cane and has an eye problem but she seems strong and alert. I imagine she’ll still be around when Juan or María have a child and Margarita becomes a grandmother. They, Luís, and Adriana have grown up with a great-grandmother and a grandmother on the family property albeit in their own houses. Juan’s paternal grandparents are nearby as well.
During the school year, I often fail to realize that the “father” or “mother” who brings a student to school every day is really a grandparent because he or she doesn’t fit my image of grandpa or grandma. It’s awkward enough when a kid’s mother doesn’t look old enough to date, but when some guy comes riding a child onto the school yard on his bicycle, I just don’t think of grandpa. It’s wonderful. I’m happy for all of them. There’s nothing like family and I’m enjoying the complexities of mine.