Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Story

My Grandma on my mom's side had three kids and won first place in a water ski circus in California by the time she was my age. At 86 she still wins at Scrabble and can drink me under the table. My Grampa flew helicopters for JPL and was a talented painter and craftsman. At his memorial, his watercolors, carved gourds, wooden toys, and acrylic paintings were displayed while a sleazy man with a long thin mustache played the saw. My mom said this would have pleased him.

My aunt went to Spain when she was 16, ran away from the home she was staying in, fell in love with a Spanish boy and almost married him. Then she decided she didn't want to be that poor and left him to become a successful business woman in California. "Don't ever depend on a man," she'd tell me, "always be financially independent." She still travels the world. My grandparents didn't know what to do with my impossible uncle, so they put him in the army. He died in Vietnam before I was born. My Grandma still feels guilty. I have his 12-string guitar.

My mom broke with rebellious family tradition to chase after her dream of having a family, and lived in Mexico for 25 years to raise us in a house on the beach where all her jewelry was stolen and water was brought in by truck every month. "I don't know how such a sweet woman came out of this old body of mine," my grandma sometimes says about Ma. She is my role model for honesty and unconditional love and support.

As for my Abuelita (on my dad's side), the only way out of, or in to, her village in Veracruz was by four or five hour boat ride along the river. She told me alligators climbed the trees along the river, so she was afraid to walk under them when she was a little girl. After she met my Abuelo and moved to Rosarito, she taught herself to sew without using any patterns, to support her three children. I got her sewing machine when she died.

My Abuelo, a communist atheist Jew, arrived from halfway around the world already a bitter man. At nine, he was an orphan in Poland. At 30, he was on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War and was put in a concentration camp in Morocco. He escaped to New York by walking across the desert carrying water in a flat canteen he'd made out of tin hidden against his body, then catching a boat in Portugal. He hated the U.S. and so moved to Mexico, which he hated less.

My Pa is a complicated, likable, intelligent, and disturbed man. A womanizer like his father, whose name he inherited. He taught math and chess at my high school and bought me my first guitar for eight dollars off a hitchhiker. It's still my favorite.

My older brother has the same name as my dad and has inherited all the pathology that comes with it. He once told me we are two sides of the same coin: I am the light and he is the dark. He is a talented storyteller and a lucid dreamer. His chest hair grows in the shape of a raven.

My little sister has three first names: one in Spanish, one in English, one in Nahuatl. Intensely social, she had few friends for years. She is the best bareback horse-woman in town, unless I'm around, that is. Dirty jokes are her favorite.

My niece wears princess dresses and hair clips while she tries to catch lizards or plays with her Hot Wheels cars. She greets me every day and after long absences by asking, "We go rock climbing?"

All this filters through my fingers, forms the lens of my eyes, is the air of my voice. This is where my music and art come from. This is how I write.

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