Ask my Portuguese grandma how she’s doing and her response (delivered with a thick
accent) will almost always be one of the following:
- Still alive,
- Above ground, or
Hardly cheerful, but certainly honest. I wish I had the license for brutal truth telling she currently carries in her giant, practical black purse.
When she was visiting her hometown of Algarvia a few years ago, she ran into an acquaintance on the way to church. He was bent over with old age and barely able to walk. She said to him: “You’re still alive? If I had your health I’d rather be dead.” He passed away later that week.
That kind of earnestness can be tough – especially when directed at me – but I wouldn’t trade my avò in for a hundred ladies of Fatima.
Until I was about 14, I’d go to her house in Perkinsfield every day after school with my sisters. She’d serve us bean soup, giblet stew, bacalhau or shake n’ bake – always with a side of homemade bread and practical advice, washed down with coca-cola.
After eating twice our weight in her immaculate kitchen we’d watch Sailor Moon from her floral couches and play backgammon with our uncle John (a.k.a. João). Then she’d bundle us up, kiss us on the head, and send us across the yard to our house so we could get ready for bed.
Avò always says that family is the most important thing. When I think about how much she’s done for me, it’s clear she lives by that affirmation.
Spending time with my grandma today reminds me of the deep tunnels my family has dug into my heart. Some memories are etched onto my brain forever, squished tight against some kind of giant, pulsing affection node.
Love like that can never hold a stain or wrinkle – kind of like her table linens. So even though I no longer eat giblet stew, I’m grateful to be able to drive 15 minutes to her place for a cup of tea and a story about the old country.