Remembering Abuela

Women

Marian Veronica Moran

How appropriate it was to walk into my grandmother’s house on a Saturday afternoon to the radio playing Ave Maria in the living room. It was a few minutes past two o’clock. Warm, natural light filled the living room as I sat cross-legged on the rug, shuffling through images of my great-grandmother, Marian. I am always amazed by her beauty. Her features were striking, demanding more attention. I swear people fixed their posture when she walked into a room. She had a light, frothy laugh like foam on coffee. And her voice exuded strength. I always thought it perfect to record an audio book.

Marian loved to read, she’d go through five or six books a week. As a child I longed for this ability. I remember marveling at the stack of library books beside her chair. Its height practically created an additional side table next to her. As a child I couldn’t fathom a life so dedicated to books. I couldn’t fathom spending so much time reading and never getting bored. And if she wasn’t reading, Marian completed crossword puzzles out of newspapers, sketching letters into each box in a slanted, feminine script. Marian’s handwriting was passed on like a gene to my grandmother, my mom, and now me. It keeps each of us bound to the generation before us. When my mother is not with me, I can write her into my company. And this moves upwards, through the threads of four generations. Each daughter can write her mother into existence. Sometimes, for no purpose at all, I write our names in descending order. Marian. Christine. Erin. Kelly. To me, it reads like a prayer.

Last autumn, all three women (Marian, Christine, and Erin) visited me at college during a weekend when turtlenecks and vests emerged throughout campus. We walked around the old, character infused buildings. Academic halls. Dorms. The library. I remember how appropriate it felt to show my maternal bloodline my all-women’s college. It felt appropriate because of my gratitude to them, for embodying strength, for raising me in an atmosphere of authentic womanhood.

We came upon a grassy area near a pond. A bridge stretched across the water that led to a paved section with benches for students to read or relax. The branches of a soft willow tree swayed above us. My mom noticed that a young girl was having her senior pictures taken by a photographer nearby. And with the combination of gumption and determination, my mother kindly asked the photographer to take a picture of us in front of the pond.

IMG-2469

That night, on our way back from dinner, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons began playing on the radio. And because she is fearless and never misses an opportunity to sing, I remember listening to the union of Marian and Frankie’s voice the whole car ride back to campus.

It can be argued that Marian was, and still is, Frankie Valli’s biggest fan. In 2011, Marian rushed the stage at one of his concert’s at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. I’ve heard many retellings of this moment throughout the years and what I’ve gathered is that Marian abandoned her velvet seat and headed down the aisle toward the stage. Once arriving, she caught Frankie’s attention. He knelt down, lowered his head, and allowed my great-grandmother to profess to him her admiration of his music.

“Give us a second,” Frankie asked of the audience. Marian held Frankie’s hand. She probably kissed him on the cheek as well. I imagine the crowd being dumbfounded. A murmur of curious voices probably filled the theatre. Who is this woman? Does she know Frankie? 

This is my great-grandmother, Marian. No, she doesn’t know Frankie, she’s just fearless.

To conclude my tribute to Marian, here is a poem I wrote in memory of her fruitful, well-lived life.

Grandmother in Spanish

Dear Jacob from sixth grade English class,

Marian died. She read herself to death. And I thought you should know.

Remember Marian? I told you about her when we were diagramming sentences on looseleaf paper.

She’s the grandmother I called abuela. Remember? She lived in Mexico, near Los Flamingos.

I showed you the picture my mother took of her: a flower in her short grey hair, fingers wrapped around a cold glass, a white blouse.

My mother told her where to place the flower,

told her where to turn her head and smile.

I told you about the stingrays, the heat. 

I told you about the hotel’s peach walls and the gecko my mother found.

In the evenings, we watched episodes of Full House in Spanish.

The palm branches and crochet hammocks.

The freckles on my cheeks.

 

A year before she died, Marian asked that we call her grandma instead.

It had been years since she’d left Mexico.

I had to train myself to say grandma,

repeating the syllables, picturing them in my head.

But like a stubborn vocabulary word, it wouldn’t stick. 

 

On May 25th, Marian’s lavender bedroom filled with family. 

The priest anointed her palms, placed a crucifix on the nightstand.

I watched my mother say goodbye. Thank her for the bountiful memories.

 

Then it was my turn. I kissed her forehead, touched her fingertips,

one of my tears landed on her nightgown.

I could smell the traces of coconut in the cotton.

I could feel my freckles darkening,

the sun beating through my skin.

I could see the flower in her hair.

 

I pressed my lips to hers one last time

and called her abuela

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