Friday, June 01, 2007

My Other Grandmother

We called her Grandma. She was born in the States, but I gather that when her mother's family settled in Texas it may still have been Mexico. She grew up in a rural area near Brownsville, on the border of Mexico, and married a wealthy merchant 29 years her senior, aka Grandpa (how he came across the border on horseback with an Indian servant, having been disowned by his father is another story).

Grandma was bilingual. Now that i'm a stranger in a strange land, I can empathize much more easily with both her and my mother. At least i haven't had to undergo the added humiliation of raising kids who are native speakers of German and tease me about my funny accent / word choices. We were merciless and i definitely have bad kharma in that regard.

The thing I've been thinking about lately is how much effort Grandma made to read out loud and sing songs to us in what was for her a foreign language. Now I wish she'd also sung songs in Spanish, or even spoken to us in Spanish, but in those days of course, no one recognized being able to speak Spanish as an asset. I remember she had this enormous book of Grimm's fairy tales that she would read to us and she had quite a repertoire of English songs, some from the 20s and some old standards. Looking back, I find this kind of amazing, considering that it wasn't her native language. Our other, WASP, grandmother was educated, but tended to be so obsessed with being the perfect housewife and doing all that sewing that she never read to us. Probably she didn't feel confident about her singing. Grandma also kept a large neat house, cooked wonderful meals and sewed lots of dresses for us, but she didn't do any other sewing.

Lately, I do understand this reading aloud in a foreign language a little better because i find that i like to read to little kids in German. It's one of the few times i can be sure i'm not making any mistakes! Also, of course, kids are just happy to be read to, even if your pronunciation or intonation may be slightly off.

I think Grandma had rather subtle taste in colors. I remember when i was about 10 being invited to visit my friend Louise's grandmother in Longview. She lived in an old house with a wraparound porch, surrounded by a yard full of magnolias. You could smell the magnolias through the windows. As I was unpacking my suitcase, explaining that these dresses had been made by my two grandmothers, Louise's grandmother said she could guess which had been made by the Mexican grandmother (a flashy ice blue beaded number). I was amused by this. In fact Grandma's contribution was a shift in a simple, heavy dark green cotton---one of my favorite dresses of all time.

1 comment:

mlhall said...

Thanks for sharing another piece of family history. I'm struck once again by similarities in these stories of Texas families. In my case it was my great-grandmother who told us stories and sang us songs, only her childhood language had been German. The stories, I came to realize much later, were often popular German folktales.