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thank you, grandma!
by albert garcia

Right off the bat you should know my grandma made the best tamales the world has ever tasted. I know, many have made that bold statement, and they are correct in their beliefs, but still, my grandmas tamales were the best. They had just the right amount of masa and the meat was always tender and delicious.

My grandma, Margarita Garcia, passed away a couple days before this last Christmas. It was a bitter sweet holidays but as we said our goodbyes at Rose Hills in Southern California, I felt very lucky to have had her for so many years. She was the last of the three Old Guard I was lucky enough to call my grandparents. My mothers parents, Maria and Jose Mendoza, passed away a few years back, but I was old enough to accumulate many memories of them and heard many stories about how they came to be my grandparents.

I heard the stories about my grandpa Mendoza leaving Loredo and hopping on and off freight trains on his way to Los Angeles, paving the way for his wife and children who would later follow. I heard how he played his guitar and sang in return for meals cooked on open fires along the tracks that cut through the plains of New Mexico and the deserts of Arizona.

Meanwhile my grandma Garcia was living in a small town in South Texas where her family settled after fleeing the revolution in Mexico. When she was young, my grandma also rode the train to Los Angeles, but she had a ticket, and arrived at Union Station to live with her aunt whose husband had just passed away.

One of my familys favorite stories is about my grandmas arrival in Los Angeles and her introduction to her aunt, known as Granny to the family. My grandma recognized Granny in the station, but was too scared, too afraid, too embarrassed to approach her. She sat anxiously holding the picture of Granny in one hand and the suitcase which carried all her belongings in the other. She sat in one of the big brown chairs, chairs I remember sinking into as a kid. Chairs I sometimes see in movies, and I think about my grandma sitting in fear all by herself in a station about as big as the little town she came from.

It was then, amongst the bustle of the people, while watching Granny pace back and forth in the station that my grandma stood up and faced the first of many challenges that would lead to the numerous great moments that made up her life. That day in the tall wide open halls of Union Station my grandma found the courage not only to approach Granny but to establish herself in Los Angeles, raise her two children, all while working multiple factory jobs and cleaning houses on the weekends.

Not too far away, my grandma and grandpa Mendoza were raising their five children, my grandpa making money with his guitar and his voice at Olvera Street. A few years ago when my grandpa started to give in slowly to Alzheimers, I sat with him and my grandma as they told me how they won a car at a raffle and sold it to buy a piece of property. I heard how the family traveled to see my grandpa off when he was called up toward the end of the war, and how he was on a ship in the Pacific when the war ended. I listened as my grandpa told stories, my grandma correcting him with ay viejo and then going on to tell me how she remembered it. They told of triumphs and tragedies, births and deaths.

My grandparents, like all of our grandparents, were and are walking volumes of stories and histories. They lived through eras called the Great Depression and World Wars. They witnessed change at an unprecedented rate and somehow found a way to hang on as the decades charged by with new hopes and dreams as well as new worries and challenges. They faced prejudice and racism. They persevered when many told them they would fail.

Because my grandparents never took vacations, because my grandma used her Christmas bonuses to pay for the property taxes, my parents had more opportunities. Because of the decisions and choices my grandparents made, ultimately I was able to attend U.C. Berkeley where I met my wife. In a world where we give away trophies and awards for trivial accomplishes and we rate our heroes on how much money they have or how many points they score, we have forgotten about the Margarita Garcias and the Jose and Maria Mendozas of the world, our Old Guard that stood tall and braved wave after wave of hardship in the sea of life, toiling in the trenches of the world day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and indeed decade after decade.

Because my grandparents boarded their trains and faced their challenges, I was able to get off my train in London and walk through the Bloomsbury district pursuing my dream of becoming a published writer. Its easy to say I am who I am because of who my grandparents were and because of how they lived their lives, but as I look at the fingers that are typing these words on a thousand dollar laptop with a degree in a frame above my desk, I cant help but think of my grandparents struggling and beating their way through life never tasting the sweetness of satisfaction in a glass of wine sitting in a brasserie in Paris or feeling the wonders of history in an ocean spray on a beach in Greece.

Truth is, I owe my grandparents more than I could have ever thanked them for, not just for existing as branches on a family tree that lead to me, but because of how they handled success and dealt with disappointment, how they lived their lives in a city as big as Los Angeles during a century as bold as the 20th.

My mom told me she said thank you to my grandma the last time she visited her in the hospital. She thanked her for the many years of memories they shared as mother and daughter in law. I wish I had been there to thank her for the tamales and the menudo and the frijoles y queso.

I wish I had been there just to say thank you one time for the countless memories and for the thousands of small things she did every day, never asking for anything in return.

What I can do is shout it out right here, right now as I am sitting at my desk in Northern California.

Thank you, grandma!

That felt good. I highly recommend it.


Most comfortable on a bar stool, Albert Garcia grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of California and the University of London. He lives with his wife in Northern California, loves to travel and writes with a Pilot Q7.

more about albert garcia


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