Monday, October 22, 2012

Yesterday I was poised to use this photo and bounce my entry off it, but one of the photos I took (in a series of seven) crashed and burned on my computer, saying that it was a file of an unknown type and couldn't be opened.

This scared me so I didn't want to even use my computer. WTF???

Once I found that my files were intact this morning, and that my computer was free of virus buggies, I thought about what I had wanted to say yesterday, and found that the picture of the eucalyptus leaves against the autumn sky was more apropos than I had thought.

I had been remembering my mother. She said, on numerous occasions, that her mother had been a great story-teller, sitting on the front stoop of their apartment building, telling tales to a small group of neighborhood kids who hung on her every word.

Hmm. What stories, Mom? What did she tell stories about?

I know she must have told stories of La Llorona, the weeping ghost seeking her drowned kids, because my mother told it to me. What hispanic kid never shivered in the night, hearing crying sounds on the air, wondering if La Llorona was coming to claim them to replace her dead children?


How many Mexican kids were in that tenement block in Bethlehem, PA, in the 1930s, to cluster around to listen to Josefa Palos tell stories? My mother never mentioned any other Mexican families living there. Mom mentioned Irish and Slovak families, racial epithets tossed as the immigrants sought a balance and foothold in America. But not other Mexicans. How could my grandmother have garnered an audience of non-hispanics, when she didn't speak English?

I know she didn't, because we (very infrequently) visited Uncle Buddy's house, where resided my uncle and Aunt Lucy, three of my cousins, and my grandmother Palos. She did not speak to me or to my sister, or my father; she spoke only to my mother, in low, nearly-whispered tones, in Spanish.

My mother claimed all her lucid life that she learned Spanish in school, because her mother insisted that she and her brothers all spoke English exclusively, to moor them in the country they had been brought to.

I studied enough of language and linguistics to know that was a lie, because even when my mother's mind began to fail, she was fluent in Spanish. In my high school years, she would not speak Spanish to me, saying that I had the accent of a Cuban. I took four years of Spanish in high school, acing every class, and another class or two in college, having exempted out of all the basic courses. Yet by the time I was twenty-five, disuse had paralyzed my ability to communicate in that language. Mom's disuse had no affect on her, ever. She was a native speaker.

See those chewed-up leaves on the tree? Our memories are subject to chewing, the mandibles of regret and remorse and denial munching up the files of what we think we remember. The leaves on that eucalyptus tree don't remember the leaf-cutter bees that snipped at them to make their nests; by and large, most of us have missing chunks of our memories that we don't know are gone, and sometimes, even when we have a visceral knowledge that they are gone, our mighty intellects furnish an alternative memory that seems to make sense.

Some day, I hope to actually meet my grandmother, and give her huge hugs, and jangle all her stories from her, unhindered by language. She will probably think that I am a pest, but then we will mount our horses, she upon her horse Liston, I upon Crow, and we will ride off on the hillsides to gossip about my mother's weirdness, and bridge the long chasm between our lives.

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