Katerina dances for Grandpa

Katerina with Abuelo Che

The combination of Irish and Mexican heritage is fatal in several ways.  Due to the blood that coursed through the veins of my grandparents, I was destined to either be involved in a rebellion or become a decent, perhaps even great, orator.  In either case, I was damned to be stubborn as the proverbial burro.

As of last week, I only have one grandparent left in this world. The other three have now left for the world of the spirits.  Although I am ashamed to admit it, it took me thirty years to realize how much of their cultures, their lives, their essence, have formed me into the young woman I am today. Grandparents have the extraordinary potential of loving a child into a magnificent human being.  My own grandparents were neither sinners nor saints but I knew I was loved and in turn learned how to love.

When I was 14, I went to go live with my grandparents of Irish descent. Forty pounds overweight due to the prednisone, recovering from rheumatic fever and with joints as big and red as drunken man’s nose, I lived with them for months at a time. Junior High can be brutal for all teenagers, not to speak of those who are just simply different. My grandmother’s gang of ladies became my gang of ladies. Due to her tough, first-generation Detroit upbringing, my grandmother was a complicated woman and never let me forget that life isn’t always fair.

However, she loved me in a way only a grandma from “the old country” could. My natty ugly hair was “magical” and should never be cut. Iron your underwear for luck. St Raphael never fails in times of friendship and true love. She taught me how to cut a rug, laugh until it hurts, love animals, the art of friendship, the power of family and gave me confidence about myself and my innate intelligence.  I still catch myself saying dirty words I learned from her.

Two days after she died, my clock stopped on the date and approximate time she died. I don’t know to chock it up to coincidence or not.

Ten (Ten!) years ago when my Mexican grandfather passed away from cancer, my father picked my sister and I up from the airport. We turn the radio on and Luis Miguel’s was covering Pedro Infante’s “Yo soy Mexicano”, my Abuelo Che’s favorite song and artist. We fell to pieces. However, it wasn’t until years after el velorio(wake) and el entierro (burial) that I began to see parts of my Abuelo Che through a different lens.

The way I devour book after book in both languages like he did, the long letters he wrote me weekly, when he would hold me and call me Pochita (Mexican girl born in the US) and laugh to himself, when he would ask me about how the gabacho (white guy, referring to my father) was and the strong, almost instinctual desire I had to return to Mexico.

His sense of equality and justice was so much a part of him, he was willing to pay the price, in some cases, a particularly high price. When I read the about the mass slayings of students in Guerrero, Mexico, I wanted to write him (because calling was not egalitarian enough for him) and ask him what God would let this happen. I know I would receive an almost thesis-sized handwritten response in the mail that would somehow make at least some more sense of this madness.

Although Halloween is rising in popularity in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos remains a sacred and beautiful tradition. Families come together at the graveyard, bringing the favorite items of their deceased loved ones along with food and drink for the entire gang to celebrate the lives of their deceased. Often, families will sleep at the graveyards overnight. Our loved ones’ bodies are asleep but their spirits and influences stay with us until we meet again.

This year, when my friends ask me what I am doing for Halloween, I tell them with a sly grin “I don’t really know.” However, on November 1st, I’m putting up an altar to my three beloved grandparents,  listening to their music, enjoying their pictures, eating their food, and wearing my grandma’s fabulous lace up 40’s shoes.

Gramps, Abuelo Che, Patsy, until we meet again, Slainte y Salud!




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