(Photo removed for reasons of copyright.)
A Mexican Tree of Life
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Alejandro Linares Garcia
June has been a month of deaths not just among great authors such as Ray Bradbury, but even in my own family. My grandmother on my mom's side passed away later during the week I posted my last article here. She was 89. It was sad but it was expected since she had been slowing down a lot for the last year and was bed ridden since the beginning of the year. So it has been a very busy last couple of weeks for me with the planning and contributing to the funerary events. That's why I have been off the blog for the last couple weeks. (By the way, that's why I decided to write this entry this evening, Monday, instead of my usual scheduled day of late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. I didn't want to go much longer than two weeks without posting. I don't like leaving my readers hanging in mid air.)
What did Ray Bradbury and my grandmother have in common? I would have to say it was story telling. My grandmother was not a writer, much less a writer of English. Even though she was born here in this country, she was raised most of her childhood in Mexico. When she came back she eventually picked up on English, broken but good enough to communicate the basics. And so even if she didn't speak clearly enough when she would tell us stories of her childhood and even more recent ones of her adulthood, many of them very funny which she herself would laugh at as we laughed along with her, she told them beautifully. She put the emotion into them, especially when she would immitate people's voices. Emotion is a major element in almost all story telling, especially narrative. My grandmother wasn't the only great story teller in my family; there have been many others. But she was one of the ones who I believe influenced me to tell stories even if I tell them better in writing than I do in speech (and English is my first language, but, as far as story telling goes, I many times think I orally tell stories brokenly more than my grandmother spoke English brokenly!). And so I have that, among many other things, to thank her for.
I thought talking about my grandmother's story telling influence was fitting for the nature of this blog. But since this blog is also about art in general, and not necessarily just writing and story telling, I should also mention that she was a great artist. She was not so much a great artist in drawing or painting (her two oldest sons are the great ones in those) but in crocheting and, what I call, sculpting recyclable plastic, such as one gallon milk jugs, to fit what she crocheted over it. For example, she would sculpt a milk jug into the form of a swan which the crochet piece would fit over to complete.
My grandmother was a great singer as well. Most of her songs were in Spanish but I could still tell they were great by the very tone and melodies she would use. And, most of all, she was a great cook, especially of Mexican food. One of the things I looked forward to most whenever I went to her house when I was a kid was the great Mexican food she made, all from scratch. (Forget Taco Bell; don't even get me started on that!) She was always cooking and always serving what she cooked. Many times she wouldn't even asked you if you wanted to eat something; she would just make it and serve it to you. As far as her cooking goes, I think her greatest accomplishment had to be when she won the statewide menudo cook-off contest in Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. But my favourites were the tamales, which, as is traditional in Mexican culture, she would mostly make at Christmas but would also make at other times of the year. People would flee to her house from miles around just to buy her tamales at her and her second to oldest daughter's yard sales. If my grandmother had never married and had gone on to get a job cooking in a Mexican restaurant, I think she would've ended up becoming a Mexican gormet chef for critically acclaimed restaurants.
Perhaps I'm flattering based on my own biasness for my grandmother and her cooking, a biasness that comes from love. But I do know one thing: her cooking was gormet and critically acclaimed by us, her family. It was definitely critically acclaimed by me. I haven't tasted the genuine Mexican food yet that has beaten hers. And I don't think I ever will.
Is it just because I loved my grandmother that I'm saying this? Maybe. But love is also a major element in any art--whether fine art, literary art, culinary art, etc. And that's what gives art its spirit. My grandmother did precisely that. True art is made with love and it is received with love.
Rest en paz, Nana, y Dios te bendiga.
--Steven Arellano Rose, Jr.