WITCHING I LEARNED FROM MY GRANDMOTHER
This is perhaps the most personal thing I've yet shared on here, so perhaps tonight is the night for it. All of it, of course, is true.
- •My grandmother came from an obscure little country that hardly anyone comes from. Fewer people live there than in the city of Los Angeles.
- •When she came to the United States as a girl with her family, they changed her name and gave them all the name of their village for a last name.
- •She dropped out of school in the tenth grade to take care of her youngest siblings, as she was the oldest.
- •Her mother loved strawberries. One time, my grandmother, searching through other people's rubbish in the hopes of finding salvageable, came across one nearly perfect strawberry and a little framed picture of the Virgin. My grandmother, a great believer in miracles, took these home and gave them to her mother, who wept.
- •Though a devout Catholic, she was deeply interested in other faiths, and she spent much of her childhood attending as many services as possible at a great number of churches, synagogues, and temples. She could commune with the holy more easily than anyone I have ever known.
- •Her parents spoke no English, and so she, like so many immigrant children, was her parents' voice.
- •(Later, she and my grandfather, terrified and hoping for a good American future for their children, taught them none of their old language, but she sang me lullabies in it when I was born.)
- •She worked at a factory to put one of her younger sisters through secretarial college. Some nights, they would go to vaudeville shows with friends. My grandmother, perpetually high-spirited and incorrigible, heckled the performers one night until she was, to her surprise, not thrown out but instead invited to join the act.
- •She once told me that she was glad she and my grandfather had not consummated their marriage before he went off to war (this was spoken about very delicately) because she, nineteen years old, felt freer to run around and live her youth while he was gone, though she never (and would never have) slept with anyone else.
- •She lived with me and my parents (and whoever else had made their way through our open and revolving door) for most of my life until I moved away from home. We fought fiercely sometimes, and she taught me that you don't make up just to make up; you do it consciously and attentively and because you mean it.
- •It disappointed her that I didn't like much of the food of which she had brought knowledge over with her from that small old country, but we did often bake together, scattering flour and powdered sugar everywhere and yelling at each other cheerfully in the kitchen.
- •In general, she preferred the old magics—candles lit in dark chambers, incense swung from silver, mass spoken in a language you know more viscerally than literally—but knew and respected others. She believed that people were led to the best choices for them, and that those choices would be different for everyone.
- •She, oldest of seven, outlived all of her siblings except one.
- •I was somewhere else, a drive of ten hours, when she died. She had been sick for some time, but I had been prevented from coming home. On the day that I was to return, my father, who was coming to help me get my things and had stopped at a motel to rest, called me at six o'clock in the morning. He told me over the phone and I collapsed.
- •She left me icons and stones and letters and other powerful things. We knew her requests for her funeral: 'When the Saints Go Marching In' was to be played, we were to wear scandalous dresses and sky-high heels, and it was to be a raucous affair.
- •(She was always the life of the party, the type of person who danced on tables drunk or sober—she was a drinker in her youth but never touched it while I was alive—and who could get a laugh and a blush out of anyone. She was loud, uproariously funny, stubborn, and furiously charming. She was the person everyone knew. It was a very raucous affair.)
- •She taught me about names and about language and about doing things by feel and about everything that, it was claimed, could not be rationally explained. "I'm a witch," she told me, and she was undoubtedly that.
- •Her mind was curious and credulous and sharp and thoughtful and open, and her dark eyes shone. She knew how to coax the secrets out of stubborn things and when I, as a little girl, spoke to small rocks in her garden, she walked over and knelt down and talked to them with me.