Friday, October 19, 2012

Rooster in the Fire

Keeping true to the theme of this blog I have again failed to post much at all. I did manage to publish a couple of pieces for Modern Latina. The articles center around motherhood issues - being a bit kinder to ourselves and being mindful of how we talk to our children. It's motivating to write for something besides my own blog, and scary too. Big questions come up. Just what am I doing with my writing?

For years I've been planning to write about my tough, caustic, slightly crazy grandmother. I mostly knew her as a mean old Portuguese lady. This was a woman who loved to pick a fight just for the sport of it. Without understanding Portuguese I could catch only the tone of her tirades but it's a sure bet she wasn't pouring forth compliments. As she aged her outbursts grew comical. The family couldn't wait to hear the latest Vovó Flora story. Yet I suspected there was more to her than a lifelong bad mood.

As I got older I learned more. About a youth marred by poverty and abuse. About her struggle for a better life. How her harsh words were a cover for shame of her past.  Her health and her sanity declined as she aged but this was a woman who grasped tightly to life. Stubborn will kept her alive 92 years. Even after the fire, a fire that mangled her body and left her blind and unconscious, she did not die. Not that first night, as the doctors predicted. Not the next night. Not until 10 days later, when the family decided the humane thing, the right thing, was to remove life support rather than have her awaken in this painful and wretched state. Her legacy was that fight, against her past, against anyone she suspected might take advantage of her, even against a force of nature than destroyed her body. I'm determined to honor that legacy by telling her story.

There is another side of my grandmother's story, one I understand as little about as I did this woman. My Portuguese heritage is something of an afterthought. I've always been American first and Portuguese by birth. I don't speak the language. I don't get the nuances of attitude and interaction that are part of the national identity. It's impossible to reveal the life of my Vovó without exploring the richness of the culture in which she was raised. The food, the music, the vibrant and comical and puzzling customs of a people few outsiders understand. It's a nation of idiosyncrasies, at once baffling and beautiful. The story of my grandmother is the story of Portugal.

So this is the challenge I set for myself: To uncover a woman and a heritage. To research what I know of her life and to discover the wonders and mysteries of a people. Like the legendary black rooster that sits in every Portuguese kitchen, there is a story of survival against all odds, of strength in the face of tragedy, of joy found unexpectedly, of redemption born of fire.

An old bird can be plucked, roasted, counted out and still rise to sing out once more.

Update: I've started a blog to capture the life of Vovó Flora, My Dead Grandmother.

Pin It