Abuela Olga

Over the weekend, I said goodbye to my Abuela Olga, who taught me how to read, among other important things. Last night it was super hot in my room for mysterious, La Niña reasons, and as I always do when it's hot at night, I remembered a little piece of advice she gave me when I was five or so.

I often slept over at Abuela Olga's house when I was little. I would always sleep on the left side of her bed, because her house was full of three million relatives, and there were no spare beds, not even for an 'advanced in size' kid like me. Plus, her husband had died many years before and when I wasn't actively sleeping on it, she tended to use that side of the bed for storing a large host of impermanent, transitional objects like knitting and yesterday's newspaper. Back then, the electricity went out all the time in Santo Domingo…like three or four times a day. Abuela didn't have a generator to power her air conditioner, so if the electricity went out at night, it would get really hot, and I would lie there sweating and being chubby and angry.

One night, Abuela noticed how frustrated I was, because obviously I was tossing and turning like the self-involved little jerk I was, and she told me, "Ana, if you stop thinking about being hot, you'll stop being hot."

This is usually the part in the story where the narrator would be like, "My grandma was so wise, and I learned something that day." 

I did not learn anything that day. Instead, I started rage-crying. She got me a glass of water and a wet rag to put on my forehead. She was a very practical woman, really. Eventually, the overpowering smell of menthol in the room lulled me to sleep. She was seriously asthmatic and she was always putting on Vick's Vaporub.

Anyway, many years later I actually would realize how valuable and how strangely revealing that little piece of advice was. You can get over almost anything if you put your mind to it.

Sometimes it seems to me like my grandmother (my mom, too) was so much tougher than I am. She had to be, you know? Her husband died tragically, and at a young age, as did her sister (who was actually killed by a bus on the way to see my Abuela), and she ended up raising about ten children, only three of whom were hers. Nobody in my family thinks of her as a survivor, because she wasn't as tough as my great-grandmother, and she expressed herself in a particular language which sounded a lot like constant complaining. Nevertheless, she had a surprising tendency to just muddle through difficulty when everyone expected her to fall apart. A few years ago, out of the blue, she won a pastry contest and started a successful little pastry business. She worked until a few months ago, which I think says a lot about the sort of person she was.

I'm not someone who really believes in an afterlife in the traditional sense, but I do think that people live on in the memories of those whose lives they touched, and in that way I think Abuela Olga will remain among us more than most. Although we weren't very close these last years, I'm so grateful to have had my Abuela, not just because she was such an example of backbone, but because she gave me my mom. I know everyone thinks they have the best mom in the world, but in my case it happens to be true, and I have my Abuela to thank for it.


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