Today I walked into my great grandmother’s home. A one bedroom Sears kit home built circa 1920 in which she, Eliza Cooper Ruiz, and her husband, Roberto, aka Tata or El Tigre (because of his amber colored eyes and, frankly, his womanizing) raised three sons and a daughter. Their only daughter, Della, was my grandmother, my namesake and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, my guardian angel.
A long time ago, I made a pact with my deceased Nana. Whenever she was nearby and wanted to communicate with me, she should send the scent of old photographs. Since I had never met her, my only link with her and this magnanimous Californio family chain was through black and white, sometimes sepia, photographs. I declared this vow with her on Halloween, 1990. The year before, at 22-years of age, I had visited her grave on her birthday November 12, and for the first time in my life I saw her name in print. Until that moment, she had been almost a figment of the imagination – too grand to be possible – too large to be real – too angelic to emulate. I bawled, chills running up and down my body.
When Halloween came around the following year, I wanted to visit her grave, but I lost the courage. I remember how the Santa Ana winds blew that evening as I cursed my cowardice. I drank beer and willed myself to break into the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Instead I rocked myself soothingly as I sat on the hill at the end of my grandfather’s large backyard, the home he had moved into after she had died and the home I then rented from him. The crazy warm wind blew, viscerally connecting me to where she was buried only a mile from where I sat. I made the vow then. Whenever you send the scent of old photographs, Nana, I will remember you.
Today I found that even though her childhood home no longer exists on Lemon Street, it had been moved just a few blocks away. I expected that this small craftsmen home would be in the back, the grandmother unit. I walked up to the porch and noticed a historic plaque. I knocked on the door. Jack Olgivie opened the door. I had met him through Anaheim Historic Society events. I re-introduced myself. They invited me inside. They told me I was standing in the original house. I collapsed onto the couch – or davenport as Grandpy would have said.
Chills ran up and down my body. I didn’t smell old photographs, but perhaps now that she was becoming more tangible, her effervescence can become something more. I heard the echoes of kitchen table chats with coffee and side of juicy gossip. I could only stay a few minutes.
But I will be back on Thursday for another visit, this time with Aunt Elaine, Della’s daughter.