Sunday, November 2, 2008

And speaking of souls...

I've found that as an adult child of aging parents, I have a number of duties that are expected of me. These range from dealing with my parent's rental properties, to finding a trustworthy cleaning lady to driving them anytime they need to go out of town. The last one I imposed myself. I'm just not comfortable with my 73-year-old mother driving anyplace more than 5 miles away.

So, because of this self imposed duty, it falls to me to drive my folks to see their closest relatives. In my mother's case, this means the grave of her grandmother who raised her. We go to her cemetery usually twice a year. As a kid, I can only remember going there once. We were there for another funeral, and I remember we had a hard time finding the grave because at the time of her death, my parents couldn't afford a headstone. At some point after I was well into adulthood, this was rectified, and she now as an adequate marker with an engraving of the Virgin of Guadeloupe and a picture of her from my mothers wedding. My mother used that picture because she said it was the only one she had of my great grandmother smiling.
We drive about 60 minutes so we can stand and admire the headstone and leave some flowers. Since my mother has developed arthritis in her knees, it falls to me to get down on my hands and knees to clean things up and arrange the flowers. I don't mind doing it. All I've ever known of this woman is from the stories my mother has told me. It's feels good to have a connection to Soledad, which was her name, but she was called Chula.

Over the years I've learned a lot about Chula. She was married at a young age to man in Mexico, but then abandoned for her lack of ability to produce a child. As an abandoned woman she "did what abandoned women do," is what my mother said. She had affairs, and was a quereida, or mistress of a Mexican General. This was apparently how my grandmother was conceived. She was Chula's only child, and her name was Cuca.

I don't know if Cuca was born on this side or that side of the boarder. Apparently in those days the idea of the Mexican boarder was kind of ambiguous. What I do know is that Chula and Cuca remained with the larger family clan. Chula had multiple siblings and they all traveled and worked together in agriculture. And this is how Cuca met my grandfather, working in the spinach fields of Chrystal City, Texas. The best I can tell, in those days, my grandfather was kind of a slacker. He was prone to "headaches" and would leave the field before the workday ended, but then would be well enough in the evening to serenade my grandmother outside her window. Apparently he was very handsome, but known as a ne're do well. My mother said that among the worst of his transgressions was the knowledge that he regularly smoked pot.

But love is love I suppose, and Cuca married him. It wasn't long before my mother was born in a migrant worker barrio. I don't know what Cuca's marriage was like, if she was happy, or really what kind of mother she was. She died of Tuberculosis when my mother was only two. What I do know is that after Cuca's death, she was buried in Chrystal City. I've been to her grave once. Cuca's grave marker is worn and nolonger bears her name, but is recognizable by a heart that is part of its design.

After Cuca died, my grandfather took my mother to live with his family. But, Chula, who had been abandoned as a wife and only had but one illegitimate child was not going to lose her only grandchild as well. Through a family member, she threatened to have my grandfather deported for being a pot smoker. He gave up his child to her and fled back to Mexico. And that's how it came to be that my mother was raised by her grandmother.

Chula's grave is in an older part of one of the California Mission cemetaries. Many of the graves that surround her are long forgotten. And, it occurred to me today, that when that time comes for my own mother, her grave will likely be many miles away from this graveyard. Chula's children will be scattered from here to Texas and likely beyond. But despite this, I know that Chula's spirit and strength are not lost. My boys who are the descendants of this abandoned woman who never gave up, have her shrewdness. And this, I know is her legacy. I'm sure of it.

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