Memory lane: Part I
March 31, 2009 § 1 Comment
I was born into a small family, my mom, my dad and my older sister, in Cali, Colombia. Most of my memories revolve around where I lived and for how long. I can piece together a memory based on where I was living at the time. Although, sometimes I meet people and can’t place them. Not just their name or when we met but where. So many people look alike to me and all the friends I’ve made over the years get clumped into a big box in my brain. It’s nice in some ways to one day remember somebody and connect them somehow to someone I know where I’m living now.
That first year in Cali is memorable only through the eyes of those that cared for me. Our neighbors, and life long family friends, took care of my older sister and me quite a bit. They had two little girls, too. The oldest became my older sister’s best friend and the youngest became my best friend. We would later, upon our return to Cali, manage much more fun than a couple of one and two-year-old’s could. Tere, short for Teresa, their mom, was a second mother to me. She would bathe me and feed me and put me down for naps. She is still in my life and still calls me by my babyhood nickname, pedacito de mugre. I got that nickname because I was always getting into dirt. I would get dressed up in these cute little dresses only to play in dirt minutes later. They couldn’t keep clean clothes on me, which is why my nickname seemed so befitting. My sisters also have nicknames that Tere still uses in emails. How my parents would have managed without them I don’t know.
Moving around didn’t seem to bother me much when we were growing up. I kept thinking it would be neat to see more places and know more people. I don’t know that this was exactly the way I felt as a child but it’s the way I felt for a long time. When I was one, our family moved to the United States, to California. I don’t recall why. At some point we lived in southern California and my parents enjoyed having friends and colleagues over and we enjoyed going to the beach. We might have moved to California to be with my mother’s father. My older sister called him Bapa and that just stuck. He was getting to a point where he needed care so we went to live with him in Napa.
He had these great neighbors who loved to hang out with us. Why can’t I remember their names? This couple would take care of us from time to time. The husband liked calling us by our names, backwards. He called me Aliel. He did the same for my sisters and we always thought it was the funniest thing in the world. I also remember being at Bapa’s house, playing in his chair. He’d come into the living room and say, “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of a Colombian” and we’d giggle and laugh and he’d tickle us. Bapa would also take us out for ice cream, back when you could get a cone at Ralphs. He’d let us goof off in the car at stoplights but then we had to sit down when the light turned green. This was when there weren’t seatbelt laws.
Bapa also had a special affinity to my little sister. I remember him taking her to the bank and to run errands. She loved him so much. She also looks like him. Especially in the eyes. She has his sweet, honest, hazel eyes. When she smiles really big her eyes are the ones that turn to little slits. I probably noticed his affection toward her more than the affection toward my older sister because my little sister was new to our family. It was exciting that I could have a baby all to myself. Of course, now, with two little babies of my own, I can see the frustration of the older child as the younger wishes they could do more but merely sleeps and nurses.
We lived in Napa until Bapa died. He had a heart attack in his sleep and never woke up. My dad tells me that before he died, he was wanting to buy all sorts of crazy things for his granddaughters. He wanted to buy us a boat and a huge television set. My dad knew he was senile but didn’t want to treat him with disrespect so they settled on a television set. This tv was the one we took back with us to Cali a couple of years later.
We were 6, 4 and 2 at the time of Bapa’s death. I’m sure my older sister remembers things much more vividly. I remember, either through a retelling or my own cloudy memory, that when we went to Bapa’s wake my little sister was picked up to see him for the last time and got upset that she couldn’t see his legs and feet. I’m pretty sure the people at the funeral home opened the rest of the casket to show her he was all in one piece. Bapa’s funeral is something I only recall viscerally. I don’t know what was said but just the thought of his casket being lowered into the earth makes my body feel weak and tears begin to flow. The memory that bookends Bapa’s death is of my older sister crying a lot.