Marcela learned that her maternal grandmother, Ramona Carroforte, was going to live with them in Taos the same day Miss Gutiz gave her advanced Spanish class a culinary assignment: bringing a "grandmother's recipe" as their final project.
Marcela learned that her maternal grandmother, Ramona Carroforte, was going to live with them in Taos the same day Miss Gutiz gave her advanced Spanish class a culinary assignment: bringing a "grandmother's recipe" as their final project. Marcela thought that she would have to resort to her friend Feloniz's grandmother, as usual. As usual, too, she felt bad for her deficiency in the grandma department.
Her paternal grandmother had died long before Marcela was born. Ramona, her maternal grandmother, had moved to Miami two years ago but didn't speak English. Marcela's Spanish, despite Miss Gutiz's efforts, left a lot to be desired. Marcela was sure that, if her Cuban grandma had lived nearby, her second language would improve much faster. But their phone conversations were difficult, and Ramona didn't use email or Facebook. She didn't even know how to text, though that seemed to be a problem common to most grandmothers.
Marcela came home and, the moment she threw her backpack on the sofa, she knew something was going on. Chula, her German shepherd, was in a corner and came to greet her wagging her tail like she did every day. But there was a strange vibration lingering in the air that wrapped Marcela up like a rancid cloud.
She found out the reason at dinnertime. Her mother, Ana Cecilia, had made chicken soup and a salad. Her father had brought banana bread from Cid's, the local health food store. Once soup was served, Ana Cecilia announced, "Your grandma is going to live with us."
Marcela was so shocked that her spoon fell inside the soup bowl and the hot liquid spilled on the tablecloth.
"She's coming tomorrow from Miami," Ana Cecilia went on. "The office is going to be her bedroom from now on. If you have books, toys or anything else there, please take them out tonight."
Ana Cecilia talked without emotion, as if she were discussing the next day's menu, but Marcela, now 13 years old, had learned to detect subtle, and not so subtle, cues in the adult world. Her mother was uncomfortable and so was her father, who kept his eyes fixed on the salad he hadn't finished yet.
"But there is no bed in the office," Marcela said.
"She will use the futon."
Marcela nodded. She didn't dare to say that the futon was hard, small and covered in dog hair, since it was Chula's favorite place.
"The plane arrives at 1 p.m. tomorrow," Ana Cecilia said. "We'll be going to Albuquerque in the morning to pick her up."
Marcela's father let out a sigh.
"Is she going to be here forever?" Marcela asked.
Her parents looked at each other. Marcela thought they were buying time.
"Yes," Ana Cecilia said. Then she glanced at her husband and coughed. "Or, well, maybe forever. We don't know yet."
There was a long, unnerving pause. The soup got cold. Marcela placed her spoon carefully inside the bowl.
"Is this going to be OK?" she asked.
"Of course, honey," her father answered, way too soon and too eagerly. "You always said you wanted to have a grandma around, didn't you?"
It was Ana Cecilia's turn to sigh.
That night in bed Marcela replayed the dining room scene in her mind. Was it really going to be OK? She had seen her grandmother only twice. The first time was when Ramona had visited them in Albuquerque. Marcela was 6 years old and didn't remember much because her grandmother had gone back to Cuba in a couple of weeks instead of the three months her American visa allowed her to stay. But she had a clear memory of Ana Cecilia being difficult at that time, stressed-out and angrier than usual.
The next meeting happened when Ramona and her second husband (not Marcela's grandfather, who had died in Cuba) arrived in Miami, this time with permanent visas. That was two years ago, after Marcela and her parents had moved to Taos. Marcela's father couldn't accompany them because of work, so the girl and her mother had flown together to Miami.
Marcela stayed with her cousins and aunt, Tía Eugenia, a loud-mouthed Puerto Rican, while Ana Cecilia and her brother, Tío Luis, drove to the airport to pick up their mother.
"You are so lucky to have my grandma all for yourselves," Marcela told Eugenia and the kids.
"Do you really think so?" Eugenia laughed without joy. "Well, she's all yours. Take la vieja to Taos, with my blessings."
Marcela couldn't tell if Tía Eugenia was joking. Finally, her grandmother arrived, followed by a short, pudgy man with plastic-frame eyeglasses who didn't have much to say the whole evening. Ramona did all the talking and some of it didn't sit well with her daughter and daughter-in-law. The evening ended with a memorable fight between Ana Cecilia and her mother, with Luis acting as a referee and Eugenia keeping the children away, locked out in the apartment's small terrace. Loud Spanish curses filled the air. Marcela and her mother flew to New Mexico the following day. They didn't talk about Ramona again, until that day.
Now, Marcela couldn't help feeling anxious. She hoped her mother and grandmother got along better this time.
The Spanish version of this story is located here.
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