03 February 2011

My Tower of Strength: My Mita

It was the summer of 2004 and my once beautiful and strong grandmother laid in her bed barely able to breath.  As I stared at her fragile body, I could not believe that this was once the woman who bore eleven (11) children in Bluefields, Nicaragua.  Though she only had nine pregnancies, she had eleven babies - hard to even imagine having that many children in 2011...but she did all prior to 1941, the year her last child was born.  She had two sets of twins, fraternal and both boys.  She had five daughters and six sons....all carrying the last name Salazar Paiz.

My grandmother's illness was inconceivable to me, she was always such a fountain of strength for me and also knowledge.  My favorite pastime with her was asking her to tell me stories of her youth, her children, my father, and her life as the mother of many.  She loved telling me stories...she would immitate my father's voice both as a child and the deep voice he later developed as an adult.  I can still close my eyes, six years after her passing, and hear her voice telling me these rich stories.

Our last conversation was in the room at Hospice Care in East Hialeah Hospital in Florida.  They had done all they could for her fraile 90-something year old body - so she was perpetually on oxygen.  A woman who would, without the ability to speak English, maneuver her way through downtown Miami better than I'll ever be able to.  A woman who was left a widow at a young age with ten children, the eldest 16 years old, the youngest (my father) at only a year old.  I can't even imagine that with my five children!  How difficult it must have been.

Funny thing is that I hear stories from both sides of my family of how "difficult" my grandmother was all her life.  I must confess that I too one labeled her with this title as she lived with me and my husband and small child for three years.  The honeymoon period lasted about one year and the last two were difficult ones.  I spent my time referring between her and my then husband.  One day she decided she was leaving our home, a very hard day for me!  When I brought her to live with us, it was because she had been sick and alone.  Being that my father, her youngest son, had died many years prior - it was my duty to take her with me so that I could care for her as best I could.  But that was only three years before all of this took place and I could not believe that she was going to leave me....it was a surreal feeling, one that I did not want to face.

With my grandmother's passing, I felt like my father was completely leaving me.  I was able to hold on to his memories some with her stories.  But now that she was going to a better place, those memories would also go with her.  Something I was not ready to face.

One day, I showed up at the hospital with pen and paper and ready to write down as much as she could remember.  As I drove there with my young son, age six, I prayed that she was lucid and able to speak to us clearly.  Many others would come visit and she didn't recognize them.  There were also moments when she would look at my son, Guillermo Manuel, and call him my father's name, "Pablito Emilio."  There were moments when she was convinced that Guille was my dad, Pablo.  As I turned the corner into her room she greeted us with a big smile.  Guille always drew pictures to bring to his Mita, a name I gave her when I was small and my father tried to get me to say, "Mamita" but I would only utter, "Mita" and so it stuck!  Her smile could light the room up!  I know she was more excited to see Guille than I, but that was fine.  That was the day I came armed with paper and pencil.  I wanted to jot down as much information as possible, before all of the memories would be gone with her.

"Mita, usted se acuerda de los nombres de algunos de los hermanos de mi abuelito? (Do you remember any of the names of my grandfather's siblings?)", I began.  She did remember most of them, "Juanita, Cassimiro, Pablo, Pilar, Fernando, y tu abuelito (your grandfather) Lisandro," she uttered in her raspy voice.  A voice scared by many years of smoking, a habit she kicked when my father died unexpectedly in 1979.  There was doubt in her voice, "creo que esos eran todos los Salazares (I believe those were all the Salazars.)," she said, "talves me olvido de uno mas, no se? (perhaps I'm forgetting one, I'm not sure," she reassured me.  So I jotted down as much as I could, names, dates, etc., whatever I could get her to remember.  I was so excited that I would be gathering this information so that I could pass this along to my son and his future siblings!  She had something to look forward to, our visits and conversations about the past which seemed to bring her life, the memories - the happy and sad ones!

Unfortunately, our visits going down memory lane where cut short.  She was less and less lucid as I would visit and some visits she recognized me but was not interested in our conversations any more.  She never did loose her fervor for Guillermo's visits!  As time passed and the end was closer, she called him Pablo more and Guille's name became non-existent.  Guillermo loved it!  I spoke with him about it one time on the way home and he did not mind her calling him his grandfather's name.  The grandfather he was never able to meet.  Who would have thought that a child would have enjoyed his great-grandmother more than his own grandfather?  But this was the case in our family...my father's life was cut short at a mere 33 years of age (more on this story later).

Because my grandmother's lack of oxygen, she was slowly but surely less with us than not.  For some reason, even when she didn't recognize anyone else in the room, she always did know who I was...but she didn't interact with me.  Most of the time you'd ask her, "Mita, quien soy yo?"  (Who am I?) and she would pretend she knew, it was like a little game for her until she stopped pretending and her glare was blank.  All of this ws way too much for me.  I was pregnant at the time with my son Josef Nicolas-Pablo, and I began experiencing heavy contractions every time I visited with my grandmother.  Watching her leave me was too much, too emotional for me.  Mita leaving me was reliving my father's death and I couldn't handle it!  My OB doctor made me choose between saving my son's life in utero or visiting Mita....it was the hardest decision I've ever made.  But at the same time one that made me happy that how I would remember her was not the Mita of her last days on Earth but instead of the plump Mita whose smile could light up a room!  Today, I wish I would have spent more time with her....can't change the past...but I can share with my children the insights and wisdom she left with me.

Mita is alive good and well in my heart!  She is my source of strength when I'm down...yes, she was a tough cookie but heck you kinda have to be when you are widowed with ten children - right?  Mita was my tower of strength...she was an amazing grandmother!  She made the best pancakes on Sunday morning and always had white Chiclets in her purse to share...her stories will always live with me and I now share with the world....the life of the Salazar family, their legacy and descendants...as I chase castles in the sky!

1 comment:

  1. Regardless of how things ended, how wonderful that you had Mita in your life.