Friday, February 24, 2006

Who was Tati?

As with many Cuban exile families my parents both had to work when they came to this country. We were a two-income household in an era before that was as common as it is now. My parents were able to work and be assured that my sister and I were well taken care of because of Tati.

Tati was my nickname for my grandmother, my mother’s mother. Tati’s real name was America Romero. Tati was a tough lady. She started working when she was only 13 and she didn’t stop until the day a stroke left her in a wheelchair. She raised my mother, alone. My grandparents divorced when my mother was young. Then she raised my sister and I. And she also played a great part in raising my nephew and to a lesser extent my niece. That’s 3 generations of children she cooked, cleaned, and cared for. When she wasn’t raising kids she was quite a seamstress. One of the many jobs she had in her life was assembling military uniforms in Philadelphia. She would take bags filled with uniform components home and sew them together. This job offered her the flexibility of taking care of the kids while she worked. She was paid for each finished garment, which is an incredible incentive to do a lot of work. Incidentally she also babysat for other children while all of this was going on.

My earliest memories are of the five of us living in a 2nd floor, 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment in the suburbs southwest of Philadelphia. In my lifetime my grandmother never had any hair color other than gray, unless you count white. Tati loved us but not in the typical sweet grandmother type of way. She could be quite the disciplinarian at times. And she didn’t often express a lot of outward tenderness but there was no mistaking that she loved us. Her love was expressed in what she gave us. What always put a twinkle in her eye was the appreciation we’d show when we thanked her for something she did. Maybe it was sewing a Halloween costume or always providing that extra sweet something after dinner like natilla or arroz con leche. A habit I can’t seem to get away from to this day.

Tati also had hobbies. She collected stamps though not the way most people do. All of the stamps in her collection had been used. She would cut the cancelled stamps off the envelopes and store them in large scrapbooks. She also collected souvenir spoons. You know the kind of spoon that might have a slot machine on it that says “Las Vegas”. Well she had them from every country, city, or theme park we ever visited, with or without her. We could never come home without buying Tati her spoon.

Often she’d help my sister and I with our projects for school. Perhaps it was tracing a map or watering a pea pod. I had one plant that started as a kindergarten project that followed us to Miami several years later and that lived in my parent’s home until well after I left to college. Needless to say I didn’t water that plant once. It was all Tati.

Tati never learned to speak English but she learned to understand enough of it to know when we were talking about her behind her back. She always required us to speak Spanish in her presence. She said we’d need to speak it properly some day. Today I work in Spanish language advertising.

Tati was opinionated and argumentative. Now you can understand where I get it. At times her and I got along like oil and water. But we always loved each other. And though I didn’t agree with her on a lot of things, her counsel was always listened to even if her advice wasn’t always followed. She used to say, “when I’m dead you’ll remember me and what I said.” And now she’s dead and I can tell you that she was right about that and a lot of other things that I dismissed as the flawed opinions of a stubborn old lady.

Tati died last year before I started blogging. I’d never been with someone when they passed but I was with her when she took her last breath. Fortunately, I was able to tell her exactly how I feel about her before it was too late. Hardly a day passes that I don’t think about her. Tati, gracias por todo. Sin ti yo no sería el hombre que soy. Te quiero mucho.


Jose Aguirre said...

Great post Conductor! Many Cuban abuelas have proven to be very valuable in exile; including keeping our culture alive!

Val Prieto said...

Dude. You just totally nailed me. Im sitting here at the office crying like a freaken baby.

Alfredo said...

Very, very touching! Brings back memories of mi abuela Titi!

Robert said...

Very touching post, and very true to what all our "abuelas" have meant to us.

The Universal Spectator said...

Maria, my abuela, was very similar until dementia and heart disease took her in 1985. A great, loving lady that made the best damn french fries and arroz con leche I've ever eaten.

tocororo_libre said...

candela,asere la vida desgraciadamente es cruel y hay cosas que nunca podemos aceptar por muy normal y dolorosas que sean,solos nos quedan las bellas memorias de nuestros seres queridos que sin poder evitarlo perdimos.