Two Women in my Family

My Grandmother and her sister. They were like la virgencita and la malinche. I know my analogy may not be completely accurate, but let me explain.

Two sisters.

The day my grandmother died, my dad reminded me that she was a “tough” woman. By tough, he meant that she had the reputation of a prude. She had only experienced two men in her life: her first husband and my grandfather who was her second and final husband. My father told me she had been a “tough lady” with a “tough character”. She was always “straight”. By tough and straight, he meant virgin-like. Or, the closest thing that a married lady can come to being a virgin.

When my grandmother was alive, I liked to make her feel embarrassed. So I would ask her about sex. It made my mom laugh a lot. Once, I asked my grandmother how many husband she had had. She said “two”. And I said, “so you slept with two men!? You indecent woman!” My mom and I started laughing because my grandmother would turn red. She was such a prude, I thought, and would laugh out-loud.

Her sister, however, was a different story. Her sister had been married 5 times and had always refused to wear white. She said white wedding dresses were for performers and she wasn’t an actress. She had had “many men,” and often bragged. When I was little, she would count her husband with her left hand and would announce the color of her wedding dresses for each ceremony: pink, red, teal, yellow, beige. In that order. When it was just my grandmother, her sister and I, they’d argue. My grandmother didn’t want her sister to “pollute” my ears, but I loved to listen because she was really funny and had many stories about things we never talked about at home. My grandmother’s sister never gave a damn and my grandmother was so shy.

My grandmother’s sister’s husbands all died. Except this last one who is a nice guy. She also lost her baby prematurely. She has worked hard all her life as a nurse. She would clean old men and women’s butts for a living and would never complain about it. When I was little, my aunt would make a lot of predictions, and I had thought she was a witch. She said she just felt things. I still think she knows a lot of things.

My grandmother was a devout Catholic–the virgencita-y-rosario kind. She always said I didn’t call her enough and when I did, she would say that she had just finished praying for me.

After my grandmother passed away, I began having so many questions about her life before she moved to the United States. About her first husband and why she divorced him. My father said she was a “tough lady,” so I know her first husband must have done something real bad. Once, she told me he drank too much (but I know there was more). My grandfather also drank too much, but he did it in secret and nobody ever knew until after his death. I began to understand why he often cried.

My grandmother’s sister is still alive. And she always visits us on Thanksgiving and Christmas and brings a giant bowl of black beans (when I was little, I had thought that same bowl was her cauldron, but it was only beans after all). I also wonder about all her husbands. And about how she felt after her baby died. I think she must have been a “tough lady” too.

My grandmother and her sister have secrets. Like all women do. My grandmother hid them behind piety and her sister behind impudence. Both were performances, I suppose. Yet, there is still so many scenes and dialogues left out…

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2 thoughts on “Two Women in my Family

  1. Thank you Ellen. I have moments when I just think about the women in my family. They never talk about “things,” so I wonder a lot. Through writing, I think it’s the only way to make peace with the things we will never know.

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