Like many seniors my mom’s age, a lot ails her. Arthritis. Blindness in one eye. The inability to walk without assistance. Lower back pain that makes it difficult to stand.
But connecting with her past is often a temporary remedy for what troubles her. Ask about her 84 years of life and she’ll talk for hours.
When I was younger, I failed to appreciate the significance of these stories, the tremendous value they would have as I aged. Now that I’m older, I realize that these stories not only comfort her, but me as well.
For a moment, I forget about all my worries, my fears about the future. As she tells these tales, I’m transported to another time. In that moment, her connection with the past becomes our mutual escape.
Mom likes to talk about the houses she grew up in, in the Central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. There’s the one when she was five years old, which had a large kitchen with a wood-burning stove.
My grandparents kept a pig in a small, dirt-covered courtyard. Money was tight. They raised the pig and had it slaughtered, so they could eat the meat and use the fat for cooking.
She remembers a large lechuza (owl) made its home in the Pirul tree that grew in the courtyard. The owl intrigued and scared her. One evening, she and a group of neighborhood kids sat outside to tell stories. The owl appeared, flying above them. She and the kids were frightened, and thought the owl was bad luck.
“How I wish you could have seen that,” she says to me about this and other memories.
Mom is a storyteller. She doesn’t mind talking about events that could have been traumatic at the time.
Like the day a man in a suit approached her and her brother as they peered through a toy store’s window display. They were on their way home from dropping off my grandfather’s lunch at his work.
The man grabbed my mother’s hand and asked them if they liked the toys. He offered to take them to his sister’s house because she had a lot of toys, he told them.
Mom broke free from the stranger, and she and my uncle took off running. When they got home, they didn’t tell my grandmother about it. She would have scolded them for not heading straight home, my mom says. She laughs about it now.
There are so many more stories, so many memories. I worry I won’t get to collect them all. It’s a daunting task – every answer leads to more questions.
So I keep asking. And I keep taking notes, recording and listening, hoping that some day I’ll be able to piece it all together — a history of my family’s life here and in Mexico.