In the short time I knew her, my grandma was an extraordinary and influential person in my life.
She is present in my earliest memories. In the distant village(el barrio) of Chiriqui, where she had lived and my mother was raised. I remember her in the sweet bright mornings with the plentiful breakfast of salchichas(sausages) and huevos(eggs.) I can still see her grabbing mangos from the outside tree to make fresh juice, cleaning the house, and socializing with the neighbors.
Everyone in the village knew my mother, my siblings, and I as “Nena’s kids.”
I remember a specific time when we walked through the village to get paletas, waving hello to neighbors and stopping to chat to those with questions like, “how are the kids?” “How are your parents?” “How is so-so doing in school?”
I can still remember how sweet those paletas tasted- nothing has really compared since.
My abuelita also had a pet parakeet. He lived outside near the laundry area, which was not a washer and dryer but rather a classic hand washing and clothesline system. The parakeet hated all of us-except my grandma. He was a completely different bird with her. He would perch gently on her shoulder as she cooed and sang and he would affectionately graze his head against her cheek. My mom used to laugh and say, “ay mama and esa parajo.” But it was the sweetest sight to see. I wish I had the foresight then to snap a photo for momento’s sake but I can still see them sitting on the couch in the living room together with the sound of their sweet melodies.
She visited us twice in the States. I was overjoyed to see her. She loved spending time with us. It was perhaps during this time and our talks that I remember the most about her.
My grandma had a great sense of humor as well as strong opinions. I remember very clearly my grandma telling me to never discriminate based on race when choosing friends-to have friends of all different colors and backgrounds. She taught me a Catholic prayer in Spanish that I still know word for word today. She was active and she loved to run and play. She made the most amazing food; hojaldras and fried plantain were my favorite.
When the duration of her visit was ending, she said she wouldn't return to visit the U.S this time,” it's too cold here,” she said,” no one smiles at each other.” “I'm not used to this life-being indoors all the time.” Occasionally she would leave the windows or the door open to let the sunshine in-to feel the breeze. But I could tell it wasn't the same. It was an entirely different lifestyle, and it was suffocating.
This was the last time I would see her. I didn't realize it then but you never really do.
She passed away when I was nineteen and a freshmen in college. I always thought I would have the opportunity to see her again and it was very difficult to come to terms with the fact that I never would. My grandma had gotten very ill. There were a very scary incidents but after taking the recommended medication from the doctor, there was hope that her health would improve.
I remember the last time I spoke to her on the phone. She was in the hospital again and my family was worried. My mom quickly bought tickets but it was too late. My grandma died that morning, only a few hours before my mom arrived.
The inevitability and relevance of time became inescapable and I began to feel its weight as I’m sure many of us do as we grow older.
After her death, I became more engrossed with Panama. I felt like I was trying to recapture a part of my life I could vaguely recall, small tidbits here and there of my childhood and my first language.
As a person that grew up to have a very skeptical attitude toward religion, I nevertheless respected my grandma’s spirituality because to her, it was a way of understanding and bringing her closer to humanity.
My remembrance of my grandmother is not everyday but it is nevertheless poignant and special.
I catch her spirit in mundane and even inexplicable ways through the melody of an old Latin song, the vibrancy and freshness of the spring season, and the sweetness of mango juice. I hope to eternally honor her resilience, her beauty, and her spirit.