Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Go Lakers!

I’ve never had fine china or crystal. My cupboards are filled with a mish mash of comfortably used and familiar crockery. There’s the chipped Peter Rabbit bowl in which I mixed my children their first baby cereal, a favorite coffee mug my sister gave me…well, you get the picture. I won’t be asked to entertain the folks from Downton Abbey any time soon.

Tucked in the glass cupboard though stands an odd piece, odd even for me. It’s a tall drinking glass with a gaudy Lakers logo – basketball and all. It was obviously a gas station giveaway when gas stations still did that sort of thing. But there it is. And I find it so comforting knowing it is there and will use it when I need an extra dose of grounding.

I’m not sure how this glass came to arrive in our home, but a few days after our eldest daughter was born, my grandmother came to visit. One of the first things she did was march into the kitchen, select the Lakers glass and announce to the world, “This is my glass. Nobody drink from it or you’ll get old”. Although a strange pronouncement to many, this was expected in my family. Wherever Abuelita (little Grandmother) went, she claimed items. Drinking glasses or cups, a towel, a comb. After observing her for a bit, I realized she would scope out whatever item seemed seldom used, old or odd, and set it aside.

Abuelita’s reasoning was that she was old and somehow or another, she didn’t want us catching it. Standing at about 4 and a half feet, she would greet us children with a kiss on the top of our heads. If you were taller that her, then she would kiss you wherever her face met your body. That meant getting kissed on the stomach, arm, chest, or the hand. If you made the mistake of leaning down to get a kiss on the cheek, she would protest and then scold, “What? You want an old lady kiss and get old like this?” And she was a master at squirming from getting your kiss on her cheek. She’d offer us her forearm, a sleeve even.
Abuelita also shrouded herself with Maja talcum powder, in an effort to cover up her “old lady smell”, convinced that somehow or another her aging would speed up ours.

For the longest time I couldn’t understand my Abuelita’s fear and shame of being old. And then one day as I watched her playing “house” with my then 3 year old, I stumbled onto a possible explanation.
Perhaps Abuelita was not so much disdainful of aging as she was enthralled and protective of youth.

By the time Abuelita was in her late teens, she’d run off with a much, much older man and begun a family. The seven children she had came quickly, one after another. Before she’d had a chance to notice her own growing up, her house became even fuller with the sound of grandchildren. Abuelita went from being a na├»ve 16 year old to a grandmother in a blink of an eye. Is it any wonder she marveled at our youth? She finally had a chance to see it up close and study it, and there was no way she wanted to mar it. Even if it meant drinking out of a tacky gas station gifted cup or drying her hands on the rattiest towel in the house.

I love my Lakers glass. It’s a little piece of Abuelita who has been gone many years now. She left her mark on us all – all seven of her children, her many grandchildren, scores of great-grandchildren and now great-great-grandchildren.
The way our family rallies around each other, dropping everything for the one who is faltering. She taught us that.
The way our women are stronger than strong, determined, feisty and resilient. She gave us that.
The way we lean on God, confident in a faith we do not pretend to understand. She lived that.

It dawns on me that I am now the age Abuelita was when I first remember her in my life.
And so I drink from her cup.