Monday, June 06, 2005

What I never knew...

When I look back, I realize how little I know about my grandparents. Lola Rosing died when I was still a child and my last memory of her is of a body shrouded in white. Her face, serene in sleep, is touched by the light that streams in through the open window of the bedroom that she and my grandfather shared for the entirety of their married life.

How can I put on a page, sound and sensation, touch and scents, the echo of her voice calling my name through the years?

My memories of her are intertwined with the sound of my mother's voice reminding me, remembering for me, while we leaf through the pages of photographs from long ago.

Always, it is grandmother on my grandfather's arm. Dressed to the nines, in silk and satin. My father says that I've inherited my grandmother's body. Maybe that's true. My mother says that I inherited her gregariousness. Perhaps I have, in part.

What I would give for the chance to be there, hiding behind the shadows, watching my grandparents dance to the sound of music from long ago.

What did they dance to? Did my grandfather's eyes sparkle with love and pride when he looked at my grandmother? Did he whisper sweet nothings in her ear while they danced and posed for the photographs?

"Your grandfather was engaged to someone else when he met her," my mother said. "She was wearing a green dress and driving her own car. Your grandfather was a doctor at Dr. Graham's hospital. He fell in love with her and that was the end of his engagement. He ended up marrying your grandmother."

But they were happy, and I am so glad that my grandfather had the courage to do this. Making the choice for love requires strength. Too many times, we allow protocol to dictate our choices and we end up living with regrets that we cannot speak about because in the end, we all choose our own paths.

Listening to stories, my memory is refreshed. I can imagine my grandmother filling the house with the sound of her voice. I can see how her strength of will, her courage, and her laughter, could be enriching, invigorating, and perhaps at times irritating to my grandfather. Did they quarrel? Did they disagree? Did my grandmother's penchant for extravagance drive my grandfather to lose himself in his work?

My mother says, "your grandmother was an excellent businesswoman. She had what we call, good PR. She could charm anyone and everyone and one time, when their bus was held up, she cowed the hold-uppers into submission with her demands to be taken to see the governor."

I can see her, larger than life, frightening these men with the sheer force of her presence.

And yet, my own remembrance brings to me the smooth touch of silk under my cheek, the scent of Ylang-ylang flowers, and the feel of my grandmother's arms as she presses me close to her in a welcoming embrace. Her voice has a lilt in it, a caressing tone that belongs to those who are visayan born.

My memories of her belong in a lush garden where she shows us her favorite orchids, dancing ladies, bandas, exotic blooms for which we have no eyes. Instead, we are drawn to the dwarves who populate the green, and we wait impatiently while she introduces us to them. In that moment, they cease to be painted stone. They become Sleepy and Dopey and all the other names that I have already forgotten.

This is my grandmother, Rosalina Ramirez Castro. She died when I was a child. All I have are photographs to remind me that she crossed the ocean too, that she traversed the rugged mountain roads to visit us at the edge of our world.

In my thoughts, I am back beside her bedside. I watch as they pick her up and lay her down. I do not shed my tears, but look around in wonder at all the faces filled with grief and I try to feel a loss that I do not yet understand.

Only now, when I am trying to remember, do I understand the wailing beside my grandmother's grave, and the tears that I see pouring down my mother's cheeks. Only now, do I grieve for what I never knew.

For we do not mourn for those who have gone before us. We mourn for our own loss and grieve for the generations who follow, for our children who will never know what we have known.

Raindancer 68


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