When I was 8 or 9, my Dad's parents moved in with us.
My Tata had some health problems brought on by driving the ice cream truck in the middle of a particularly brutal summer, and my Dad felt they'd be better off living at our house.
It was fantastic to see them everyday.
But it was hard too. Our house turned into a sort of revolving door of relatives and friends who came to visit quite frequently. It was hard to be on my best behavior ALL the time.
I was worried, initially, when they moved in, because I didn't know where Nana and Tata would sleep. I was relieved when they moved into my brother's room, but after a couple of months, I made my brother move into my room.
It is true that my Tata snored like a broken chainsaw, but I initiated the move mainly because early one morning, my Tata had gotten up to go to the bathroom or something, and he saw my brother was uncovered. He bent over to pick the blanket up off the floor, to cover him again, and instead he fell and broke his hip.
He did recover, and we went with him everywhere just like we always did. We'd speak Spanish to all his buddies downtown at the Plaza, and he'd swell with pride when his friends complimented him on his well-raised grandchildren.
Which made me, Little Miss Overachiever, try harder to be even more fluent, more smooth, and even better-mannered.
While my Mom is the one who actually taught us Spanish, I have to say, my love of the language and fluency came from my Tata.
I'm always grateful that he encouraged us to speak it.
There were other little things, too, that required some adjusting to. Because my Nana and Tata were the elders in the house, we had to defer to them. It was fun to do as we were told when it required lighting one of his cigarettes, but not so fun to do when we were required to give up our Saturday morning cartoons for Saturday morning baseball.
I'd sigh, roll my eyes, and change the channel when asked. My Tata would tease me, "Cuando ya no estoy aqui..." (when I am no longer here....) because as you may know, guilt knows no language barrier--and I'd have to sigh and apologize for being a brat.
Eventually, I learned to like el basebol. I have fond memories of listening to the game, sitting on the floor by my Tata's chair, reading a book and looking up in time to catch a good play.
This leads to the reason my eldest son is named Nolan. I'd first heard the name at my Tata's knee, watching a young upstart pitcher named Nolan Ryan. When it came time to name my son, that name just rolled off my tongue like it was meant to be. Perfect. I'd held it close to my heart all those years, and never even realized it until I chose it seemingly out of thin air.
Hey, I have a Ryan too.
As well as husband who also loves baseball.
So, in the end, I am grateful to my Tata for making me change the channel.
When we'd go on our road trips, 2 hours to the city, we'd have to listen to his station on the radio. I remember feeling resentful and being sullen about it, as Radio Viva didn't appeal to my pre-teen tastes. He'd chide me for not liking it, "Como no puedes gustar esta musica bonita? Cuando crescas, te va gustar mucho."
And he was right. I did like it when I grew up. I love it. I am always drawn back to Spanish/Latin/Mexican music. There have been periods of time when I haven't listened regularly, but all it takes is the sounds of a cumbia coming to me as a car stereo blares by to draw my attention. I like the words, the sounds, the way a lyric comes together. I love the big horn sound of mariachis, the costumes, the whole bit. Nothing makes me smile like hearing the opening grito of a good mariachi band. I am recently re-addicted and my iPod is now full of sabor--I've jumped back in with both feet.
I'm sure this knowledge would make him smile, too.
At the beginning of the summer that I turned fifteen, he had a stroke. He spent a couple of months in the hospital, until really nothing else could be done for him there, and we brought him home. My Mom, my Tia, my Nana and I took care of him. I'd do his speech therapy, and he'd glare at me as he reminded me that "no soy nino, no soy pendejo, porque 'ABCDEFG'?"
I waited and waited for him to bounce back, and he'd have good days, but he had a lot of bad ones. It was hard for him to be unable to do the things he liked, to be so dependent on all of us for really basic things, like shaving.
It soon became apparent to me that the growing feeling of unease I had was because I knew somewhere deep down that he wasn't ever going to be the same, not ever.
One day, I was particularly overwhelmed by the enormity of losing him, spent, sad; I went into his room and sat gently on the edge of the bed. He was dozing, and I smoothed his hair back, feeling the ache rise in my throat as tears fell down onto the blanket.
I looked away to regain my composure when I felt a hand grasp mine, squeezing it gently until I looked back at him. He was very lucid, moreso than I'd seen in quite some time.
"Mijita, no llores. No llores mas. Y cuando es mi tiempo, no llores."
Mutely, I nodded and attempted a smile as he reached up and touched my cheek. He brushed away my tears. I sat there holding his hand until he dozed off before leaving the room.
I never had another good moment with him like that again, no matter how many times I'd enter the room, hold his hand, and try through the strength of my will to make it happen.
He passed away that October.
I have had him on my mind alot lately, and it took me a while to figure out why. I've been listening to a song, and I was singing along one day when it hit me.
It's by Joan Sebastian, and it's called "Recuerdame Bonito." It's not about death, but the lyric is this:
'Recuerdame bonito, y por favor no llores...por favor no llores, porque me voy, me voy, me voy.....'
(Remember me (prettily) and please don't cry...please don't cry, because I'm leaving, I'm leaving, I'm leaving...)
When my Tata died, it was the first time someone I'd loved so much had passed. I just couldn't understand how science had failed me, that he was gone, the whole finality of it. I didn't see then that I would carry so much of him with me, always.
He's with me everyday in the little details that make me me.
Funny how it's taken me this long to figure that out.