Recently I got the news about my grandmother’s cancer progression; times such as this, make you pause and reflect on life. My Nonna or abuelita (grandmother) has been like a mother to me. When I reflect on life, I realize I did not make it out of the abuse alone. Although I never told my grandparents about the years of abuse, I feel Life in its infinite wisdom and love, put certain people in my path to give me strength. They were there to fuel my stubborn spirit, to teach me courage and to teach me to stand proud of my perfectly imperfect self–I am self made. However; the strength to rebuild myself, the same strength that carries me through and helps me stand up after every “dark night of the soul” was planted in me by some very special people; people whose words were very much reflected by their actions.
Interestingly enough, these people who impacted my life for the better, were old (My grandfather, my step father’s mom whom I also called grandma and my grandmothers) perhaps there is truth when people say to me “You are such an old soul”–maybe they are right, maybe that is why I have always felt so comfortable around elderly people. They are as honest as little children; all the masks are off, all the desire to please people has gone and the desire to be themselves is intensified with each passing day. You always know where you stand with the elderly, therefore I have always found them safe; no games, no pretenses, just beautifully raw people.
Although I grew up from place to place and school to school, whenever I was able to spend time with my grandparents, I cherished it all. While others would ran to play, I would stay behind and listen to their life stories, life lessons; it matter not I had heard some of those stories over and over again, to me they were the most beautiful stories; stories which held so much wisdom.
There was a difference of age between my grandparents but no ne could deny they were well suited. There was so much love and rawness to their relationship; it wasn’t a life without its “troubles”; however, they showed me when two people love and really care for each other, they figure it out–walking side by side, taking turns to carry one another as they heal their wounds and fuel their strengths.
My nonna Elizabeth has always been a woman I admire; strong, determined, proud of who she is; imperfections and all. She has never been one to mince words; what you see is what you get. Although to most adults she may come across as cold and detached, she is actually one of the most loving souls I have ever encountered. By observing life I have learned the most loving people in this world usually seem cold to others; they are not the most agreeable nor do they care to be. Life has thrown them some great punches and toughened them up; after all wisdom isn’t born from living a safe and “happy” agreeable life.
When I look at the commonality between the beautiful souls who impacted my life, I always see people who didn’t care to be liked, they were not congenial; perhaps this explains why I don’t resonate with congenial people. These “cold” type of people hold the most beautiful seeds of wisdom, and today I would like to share some of the things my nonna Elizabeth taught me….
Family isn’t blood.- When my grandparents got married, most of my grandmother’s family turned their back on her; to them she had married below her station. It did not matter how much my grandfather loved her, cared for her, understood her demons and fueled her strengths; all they could see was the difference of age and even though my grandfather was a stable man, in their eyes he wasn’t good enough for a person of my grandmother’s background. Life by then had already sent some heavy blows to my nonna, so she chose to walk away from her family and start her life. They didn’t just raised their children, they took in orphans and raised them as their own. Many of these kids have been kinder and more loving towards my nonna than her own family and kids; as such she always said to me “Family isn’t blood. Never , ever let anyone tell you your loyalty should be to those who share the same blood as you. Your loyalty above all should be to yourself and then to those who love you, to those who care for you. Family are those who walk beside you, those who although may not agree with all your choices, say their peace without trying to impose and then respect your life without trying to punish. In this life, you will meet real “family”, those who share your blood may or may not be included in this group–do not confuse DNA with heart”
Hard work always pays off.- When my grandmother left, she left with nothing but her name. My grandfather had been married before and divorced; he wasn’t left with much but he started all over again. By the time he met my nonna, he was “stable”. My grandfather was a rancher and out of his desire to prove to my nonna’s family that he was worthy of her, he bought a much much bigger ranch; he then offered the deed to my grandmother as a gift. Although my grandmother was touched by the gesture, she was also worried; that was a lot of land he had just acquired, which meant heavy payments. There was the real possibility that if they were not to keep up with payments, they would lose not only the new land but also the ranch my grandfather already owned. My nonna has always been considered a beautiful woman, but what made her more beautiful is her ability to work hard. She was not a “pretty little thing” type of woman, she worked hard at everything she did. I don’t ever recollect her simply staying at home doing nothing. She was always at the head of any task; she worked as hard if not harder than most men. My nonna wasn’t concerned with impressing her family, she wanted to prove to herself that she could be a partner, not a dependent. Her strength, youth and vigor combined with my grandfather’s guidance, strength and life experiences made them a great couple. I don’t believe in happily ever after but I am thankful that life showed me another side, a side where two people who love and care for each other can be great partners. My grandparents didn’t just keep their lands but thrived; they did not steal from anyone, they did not beg, everything they got was due to their hard work.
Perfection doesn’t exist.– My grandmother taught me this lesson in so many areas of life, from the shallow superficial ones to the really deep ones. I remember when a couple of girls were making fun of me because I used to swim in the river whenever I felt like it. I would bet the boys over games of pool; a game my uncles taught me well, for we had two pool tables at the house and they would always bring their friends over for some friendly competition. Since my uncles were young and had no kids, they would treat me as their little sister and teach me all they knew. I would also play soccer with the boys because girls didn’t want to get bruised. I would helped transfer cattle and helped my uncles tame horses. These girls who liked to tease me all the time, kept telling everyone I was a “weird” person who no one should hang around, they made up stories about me and about every boy they knew and liked. At the same time they would contradict their own stories by telling me “no young man could like you, you are too much like a boy already”— of course they didn’t dare say that up close for they knew I would have had no problem giving them a black eye…sorry girls, I don’t do cat fights 😉
Times back then were different, “respectable” girls had to behave a certain way; always to match your “background”; in their eyes I was bringing shame to my family’s name, as such they did not allow their daughters to hang out with me (I wasn’t only hanging out with boys but had female friends from other circles, which they felt did not belong within “our” circle) One day one of these young “ladies” was throwing a big birthday party and I didn’t get invited, every other “respectable” girl did. The next day I was told how fun it had been…
“By the way, I didn’t invite you because I didn’t think you would have fun, with you being like a boy and all; do you even own a dress? Besides my parents didn’t think it was right to invite a girl whose parents don’t even want her, that is why you go from boarding school to boarding school and house to house”….I hit her.
That afternoon I told my grandmother about it and she said to me “You know perfection doesn’t exist. Those girls aren’t ladies, they are robots. They are mean because they wish they could do what you do. When they see you, they don’t only see a beautiful girl or the girl with the highest grades but also the girl most boys love and get alone with. They wish boys could talk to them but they talk and confide in you every day; remember it is easier to blame you than it is to look at themselves. You are not a boy, a slut or a “lady” by those girls standards– you are you–that is what makes you beautiful and a threat…while they want to impress boys, you don’t even try and you shouldn’t. Those who like you, should like you because of who you are, otherwise they are not worth having around. Perfection doesn’t exist, when you meet people who act like they are perfect ran in the opposite direction because they are full of shit” That lesson is something I try to teach my daughters each and every single day.
People make mistakes that is why there are second chances.- Big dogs were part of farm life. My grandparents asked one of my uncles to take one of their favorite dogs to guard the new cattle and spend the next while at the farm house, making sure the new dog got used to being there. My uncle left the dog at the farm and went drinking with his friends, the next morning my nonna found the dog dead…he had been poisoned and some things were stolen. My nonna loved animals, specially her dogs. When my uncle got home and was told what happened he was ashamed. My nonna was serious, straight to the point; she was pretty direct and you could tell my uncle felt every word. Afterwards he got ready to go to the farms; he was given double responsibility that day. I couldn’t understand why? After all he had proven to be irresponsible, why would she give him not tasks but serious responsibilities? On top of it my nonna was cooking his favorite meal for dinner. While I was helping her in the kitchen, I expressed my concerns. She said “He was given double responsibility so he may prove; not only to us but to himself; that he can be responsible. I am making his favorite dinner to show him all is good, mistakes are part of life; they don’t define you. A mistake is not a pattern; your uncle is not irresponsible, he made a mistake, it happens…now we get over it”
The coldest persons have the warmest hearts.- This is something I learned about my grandmother through many of her actions. My nonna was not one to smile a lot around people, she smiled freely around us because she felt safe. When asked about this, she would say “why do I need to smile a lot? am I a monkey? no. Those who smile at everyone are too immature to know who they are. They are afraid not to be liked and mask that fear under the label–I just like to be nice to everyone–The reality is none of us will like every person we encounter, we are under no obligation to do so. We can be polite but we don’t have to pretend we “like” each other. People complicate their lives trying too hard to be liked by everyone, as if everyone else had more value than them”.
One morning my grandmother was conversing with a priest, as they did this, a man with ripped pants, old shirt and broken shoes walked by. The priest asked him to attend mass so they may pray together. My grandmother asked the man where he lived and as we were saying goodbye to both, the priest said “Elizabeth, don’t forget to join us this Sunday so we may pray for souls such as this one” My grandmother’s response was “Thank you for the invitation “father” but I think he would appreciate food and clothes more than prayers”. That afternoon my grandmother went to the market and bought some shoes, clothes and then head home. After dinner she packed the things she bought, gathered food from our pantry and some dinner. My grandfather and I left the house with her; I didn’t know where we were going. We got to a dilapidated house where “rooms” were rented to poor people. We went in, my grandmother looking like a soldier. We knocked at one of the doors, the person who opened the door was the same poor man we saw earlier. She handed him the package and after looking around she walked out of the room, pulled my grandfather aside and then went back in. The man who was already thankful started tearing up after my grandmother asked him about his family. It turned out he had a wife and small children. There was no work in his town, so he came to where my grandparents had their ranch hoping to try his luck. My grandmother said to him “we have a lot of land, cattle, horses and other animals. It keeps us very busy, we could use an extra hand. Fair wage, food and shelter and maybe soon you can bring your family and get yourself a decent place.” I will not ever forget the look on the man’s face, he kept crying and thanking both my grandparents. When we left my grandmother went back to the market, bought kids books, clothes and then prepared a room at the house. He was to live in the house, like the orphans, as family. The things she bought were for the man’s wife and children, so he may sent it to them. One Sunday the same priest from before came to visit my grandfather for one of their theological discussions and my grandmother’s cooking; he was surprised to see the poor man at our home. My grandfather said “the ones who seem the coldest are the ones who care the most.” My nonna was no saint, she just knew what it felt like to walk away with nothing, to have others turn their back on you.
Our elderly are a treasure; instead of being eager to shut them up, instead of being eager to shove them to an old person’s home, we should take the time to listen and learn. They are better than any lesson you can find in any book. Young children can teach us about wonder and hope, teenagers about stubbornness and idealism and our elderly can teach us precious wisdom; imagine how much different life would be if we were “smart” enough to open our hearts and combine all these 3 valuable groups and what they can teach us. Life didn’t give up on us, it has strategically placed these 3 groups to provide us with the opportunity to wake up and reconnect with our center, to wake up to our own magick…all we need to do is listen.