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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rita on the Rocks, No Salt

My Grandma died one year ago today. It was one year ago that I was in her kitchen after her funeral surrounded by people I didn't know but who knew me. One woman, a neighbor or church friend I think, asked me to take the trash out. Of course I told her I would. "Thank you, mijo," she told me. I started to cry because I knew that no person was ever going to call me "mijo" again. That was it. Standing in the kitchen of my now gone grandmother, a woman I had never met called me what my grandma always called me. The woman gave me a hug and told me I could call her anytime and she would be happy to call me "mijo." I thanked her and took out the trash. And I don't even know who that woman was.

This is a respost that I wrote for Mamo Rita one year ago. I miss her.

My grandma was born in 1922. Her parents named her Rita. I told her once that every time I took an order for a Margarita, I wrote her name down on my pad because that was the abbreviation. She thought that was the funniest thing. "Yeah," I told her. "Sometimes I write down your name ten or eleven times in one day." She loved that story. My Mamo is one cool lady. I never knew her to have a job but I know that she did have her own dress shop sometime in the 60's. There is a picture of her leaning against the sign. She's gorgeous in it. Her hair is dark and wavy and she is shielding her eyes from the sun. The sign simply says "Rita's Dress Shop." I always thought it was so cool that she had a store. I always wanted to know more about it but of all the times I talked to her, that was one of the things that never came up. Mamo Rita died February 18, 2011 and my chance to hear about her dress shop went with her.

I have a lot of food memories with Mamo. Her and my Papo used to take me and my brothers to Kips Big Boy every time we went to see them. It's funny that I don't remember what I ever ate, but I remember how excited we were to go there. When we would get out of the car the first thing we would do would be to run over to the Kips Big Boy Statue that was in front of the restaurant. We always had our picture taken in front of it and damned if I know where one single copy of any of those pictures are now. When I was at her house, it was like my own little Mexican restaurant. She would custom make whatever I wanted and I always wanted the same thing: tortillas. I would sit in the kitchen and marvel at how quickly she could make them from scratch. She would roll them out into a perfect circle and throw them on the skillet. She never used tongs to flip them; just her hands. She would reach into the pan and grab the edge of the tortilla and flip it and when it was done take it again and toss it onto a plate covered with a used piece of aluminum foil that she had pulled from her drawer. Sometimes she would make refried beans for them or a scrambled egg or maybe I would just eat them with butter and sugar. "Aye, mijo, how can you eat so many tortillas?" she would wonder. I could eat as many as she could make. "Aye, mijo, you put too much salt on your eggs, your blood pressure is going to go up. No salt. No salt." I loved salt and I would add more to my eggs just because it was funny to see her get so exasperated over a few sprinkles. She tried to teach me how to make them once when I was about 19. Of course she didn't have any measurements so it was all "about this much" and "about that much" and when I tried to make them on my own, they were a colossal failure. I couldn't even get them to be round. It's sad to think of all the things that we lose when someone dies. We don't just lose the person, but we lose the future with them too. No more tortillas in Mamo's kitchen when I go to Texas. When I ate the last one so long ago, did I relish it enough? I doubt it.

Another food memory I have with Mamo is how she always had ice cream sandwiches in her freezer. When I would stay with her, I would love to swim in the pool of her apartment complex and then come into the air conditioning and watch cartoons while laying on a towel in the living room. And eating ice cream sandwiches. "Can I have another one, Mamo?" "If you want another one you go right ahead," she'd say. "But aren't you cold? How can you be so wet and eat ice cream?" I'd run to the freezer to grab another ice cream sandwich and then plop down on my stomach and rest my head on my elbows. "Aye, mijo, don't eat like that. You can't digest your food if you're on your belly. Rollover." I'd roll my eyes. And then roll over.

I'm sad that she's gone. But grateful that she had 88 years here. Someone I know lost her six year old grandson just days after Mamo Rita died. My loss is sad, but her loss is tragic. It really keeps it in perspective. 88 years of a good life. A long happy marriage, kids, grand kids, travel and for years she got a new car every year because my Grandpa treated her like a Queen. No one loved Mamo more than Papo did. I am left with memories. The next time I am in my hometown and pass the pass Dairy Treet, I will probably stop and get a burger in her honor since it was her favorite. And every time I went home, I'd stop there and pick up two of them and go to her place and we would have lunch together. Maybe I will still get two and just eat them both.

Is your grandma still alive? Call her. Tell her hello. Ask her a question that only she will have the answer to. I talked to Mamo Rita all the time. I could tell her anything at all and she would tell me things too. I didn't want to hear about her sex life after my Papo died, but she told me anyway. We would talk about Survivor and American Idol and the weather. Every new year's eve I would call her at midnight because she loved that moment of time when we all look to the future filled with hope. I didn't get to do it the New Year's Eve before she died because she was too sick. I will miss talking to her. And why is it now, way too late, that I think of all the things I want to ask her? What was your wedding like? What was it like to live through the Great Depression? Why did you always name your Chihuahuas "Peanut?" But if I had one more question to ask it would be this one: can you please tell me anything and everything about Rita's Dress Shop? I really wanna know.

Mamo Rita 8/19/22 to 2/18/11

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Maria said...

A lovely post about your grandmother. My own grandmother was a child of Portuguese immigrants; I grew up in a town where I was ashamed of my heritage (I'm ashamed of THAT now). I never learned Portuguese. But, a year or so before she died, when I was in my 30s, I learned to ask for the traditional grandmother blessing. I will never forget the look on her face when I kneeled in front of her chair and asked for the blessing, which she gave. A simple thing -- "Grandmother, bless me" in her first language -- made her so happy. Why didn't I do more of that? Anyway, Bitchy, thanks for reminding me. Grandmas rock.

California Girl said...

I never had that type of relationship with my grandparents as they were really old or dead by the time I was born. My parents, however, have my great memories. I was raised by a lady who was my babysitter from the time I was born and she became my surrogate grandmother. She died at 96. I never lost track of her or stopped communicating with her and I am so glad. I spoke briefly at her funeral of a happy memory of her making shortbread cookies each Christmas. Food and love...

Workingdan said...

Your grandmother sounds like she was such a sweet lady. It's unfortunate that many of us don't appreciate our loved ones until its too late. I have many fond memories of my grandfather taking us fishing all the time. As I got older, I became selfish with my time and never called or visited. When he died, I felt so guilty. My grandmother is still alive but still, I am selfish and hardly ever see or speak to her. She has alzheimers and visiting her is hard when she asks the same questions over and over again. Sometimes she doesn't even know who I am and it makes me sad. My grandparents used to own a small grocery store. Some of my best memories was when we would go to stay with them. They lived in a small apartment that was connected to the store and late at night they would let us go over and raid the store. I would always get a chocola beverage and tons of candy. Thanks for sharing. I just might have to pay grandma a visit.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Beautiful post.. your grandma would be proud... You got the water works going when u mentioned that another called you 'mijo'... you definitely have a special place in that person's heart...

Mary A. said...

Usually you make me laugh out loud. Today you made me weep.

I agree the word mijo/mija is powerful. It says so much more than the English translation. As I have adopted South Texas as my home, I was honored when an older friend called me mija.

Love you mijito -- and thank YOU for you support! Gramma Rita is so proud of you!

Kelly said...

I loved this post last year, as well as today. I remember meeting tons of people at my grandma's wake (the line was literally out the door - I had no idea she had so many friends), many of whom knew who I was already and remembered things about me that my grandma had told them. It was then that I realized the depth of her love, and instantly regretted the loss of our connection once I became an adult.

Joanne said...

Lovely post. My eyes are smarting (don't make fun of me using that term) and my throat feels thick. I especially like the ice cream part.
I "half regular" like you and my mother's mom I never met as she never left the Phillipines and we didn't visit. My stepdad's mother passed in 2005 and I haven't seen my paternal grandmother in over a decade. But I do have fond memories buried somewhere in the folds of my brain. Mostly of visiting and seeing my paternal great grandmother in her small mountain town in Kentucky. My cousins and I would play in the "back yard" which was an embankment over a creek, right across from part of a mountain.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. I'm sure she watches you everyday and is so proud oc her mijo.

Lolamouse said...

Beautiful (re) post. Both of my grandmothers are gone, and I miss them. I wish I had asked them more also. This post shows what a terrific writer you truly are too and not just the funny stuff.

DawnStar said...

I seldom say that I am blessed; for I've had a difficult life so far. But half my life is over and I still think I am blessed to have had solo time spent with both my beloved grandparents.

You see, I was 'punished' by my family for not fitting in with my mother's household by being sent to live with her parents to take care of them. In other words, none of their 3 children wanted the additional 'burden' on their lives.

I wouldn't trade those 6 years for anything. At Oma's side I learned to cook all the great dishes of her family, how to season with your heart and fingers, not cups or spoons. I can still hear her cracking yet still musical voice telling me about this young man in her life or that place she liked to go and dance until her shoes wore out.

As for Ampa, his tales of war and the Depression left me appreciative of what I have, unlike so many Entitled people I come across every day. I smile now thinking of how curious he was about my first computer, amazed that we didn't have to keep the apartment temperature at glacial levels to accommodate it. Those talks while he held a flashlight so I could flip those lil DIP switches are with me every single time I upgrade my hardware.

He died, she moved, and the family booted me out of her presence, but not her words. Until the day 2 years later when she went to the hospital herself she called me every few days to chat. A tentative "Mija..?" when she got the machine, that I kept saved until the phone broke. How I miss them both, and how I regret that neither of my sisters even spent one day alone with them.

Thank you for writing such an eloquent tribute to the ones in our lives that only seem diminutive; and reminding us that if we let them they can the greatest Wonders that we experience in our lifetimes.

Unknown said...

I am lucky to still have my grandma in my life (she will be 84 this year). We just went shopping yesterday, and it's funny how as an adult, your grandma will still make you feel like a kid. Trying on clothes she still insist on coming into the dressing room, and she still fusses over my hair (get it out of your face!) and my colorful language.

My grandma is still very healthy and independent. I know when her time comes I will be devastated.

dirtydisher said...

I'm fascinated by the 'sportswear' part of the sign. You did not see that in the 60's. She must have been an inovator. For real.

Anonymous said...

Very touching post. I totally "get" what you mean by asking those odd ball questions NOW. At my grandmother's funeral in 2010 I saw an old b/w photo of her wedding party. And more than anything in the world I wanted to know what color those bridemaids dresses were. *sigh*

Mama D said...

I am a new reader to your blog, and have gone back and read every single one. I am a server recovering from knee surgery and have been out of work for 8 weeks. Thanks for keeping me company!
Lovely post. One of my greatest regrets in life was that I never knew my grandparents. It is such a special bond. I am so thankful my kids know and spend a lot of time with my mom and my husband's parents. My dad passed away when they were very little, which breaks my heart because they would have loved him.
Cherish those memories!