The First Time I Saw Her

The first time I saw her name in print was on her grave. I was 22 years old. She is my namesake, who had greatly anticipated my birth, but died a month before I was born, and two days after her 44th birthday: the same age I am today. And yet my grandmother’s legacy has lived with me my entire life – making her a saint, sometimes martyr, always an enigma larger than life.

What I know of her was she was loved dearly by grandfather whom she met packing lemons at Villa Park Orange Association. She laughed most with friends Rosie and Annie with whom she drank tequila in Tijuana. She always wore lipstick, her favorite color was navy blue and she was a sharp dresser: the visage of someone who carried herself with dignity and aristocracy inherited from our ancestors. She was the one to tell her daughters about the china, silk, and horses the family once owned.  “We are Californios, not Mexicans,” she had said on more than one occasion.

She felt the ironic, painful twist of fate the day she stood on the train platform in Anaheim in her finest heading down to the Del Mar Racetrack when the dark skinned elder in the ragged shawl asked her for directions in Spanish. Her friend chuckled and whispered sardonically, “You can’t hide who you are. You will always be a spic.”

It’s quite amazing the hole that is left when someone so important to your life, the link in a long family chain, is replaced by other people’s stories and none of your own.

Reconstructing the history of the citrus packing culture for my current job with the Anaheim Packing District leads me to her and the town she grew up to see if I can find a story all my own.

I found her picture in the 1935 annual in the history room this week. She was one of the only dark haired beauties in the freshman class. She’s brooding, but also looks shy. It’s the only picture and the only yearbook there is of her, as she gave birth to my uncle the following summer. I wonder if she were pregnant at the time of the picture? Did that affect how she stood with eyes looking up through her eyelashes, rather than directly at the camera? Who was she? I’m driven to find out, to find new pieces to the puzzle.

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