My grandmother's name is Maria. What I remember most vividly about my grandmother, whom I called "mama," was her garden. It was *her* happy place. She could spend hours planting and cultivating seeds and cuttings she'd trade with neighbors. These days, we'd call her a master Gardner.
I still remember the smell of the jasmine bush she planted that later grew into what looked like a tree. The mango and guava trees filled with fruit. The scent of the herbs and the size and various colors of her dahlias, my favorite flower. She loved her garden so much she even had her sewing machine under the lemon tree where she would make all our clothes. And it was under that same lemon tree that she cried when my mother came to bring me back to the U.S.
My earliest memories are of her bathing me in a tin tub in the middle of the garden. I remember her pulling the water from the well and heating it over a pile of wood that my grandfather would stack for her. She'd then put me in, pour home-made soap in the water, harvest squash leaves with log tubes, cut both ends to make a straw and have me blow through it to create bubbles in the water. This distracted me from her trying to wash my curly hair.
It was from this same garden that she would send me to cut herbs, flowers, and fruit to make her home remedies.
As I grew up, she would take me with her to the local river bed where we would do our wash, then forage for verdolagas (purslane), wild herbs and seeds that I would later put in an empty bottle with water and sugar, sit atop the guava tree, drink my “soda” and sing. At the same time, she worked her hands into the earth or into a pot of something, humming along with me. And as I watched, I learned.
My grandmother was strong-willed, determined and stubborn. It was a persona not many appreciated much in a small town in Mexico, but it was her way of surviving. Sadly, she acquired these traits when she suddenly found herself a young widow with two young children and a third on the way when her husband was ambushed and killed in a field he was keeping a watch on. She later remarried my 'papa', a local somewhat wealthy man, whom she experienced further tragedy with when he accidentally fired a celebratory bullet at their wedding - killing a man. Having served his time in prison for it, he came back to her, a poor man and thus strengthened her survival skills.
The house in Mexico
Maria's determination carried on to my mother and now to me. And now, I see it in my children too. I could write a book - but I will stop here for now.