I have had the pleasure to meet MANY incredible women over the span of my life. When I began this project, I wrote out a series of thought provoking questions and one by one-interviewed each individual. What I quickly learned was that despite differences we all have a commonality. The journey has not been easy, but through every adventure each woman was blessed with strength and a stoic grace. As each of these women told their story, I was in awe to be in the presence of such wondrous beings.
My grandmother was an absolutely amazing human being with an impeccable story. She was born in Texas to migrant parents both from Mexico. Her first language was Spanish and she wouldn't learn English until she began attending school. At a very young age, both of her parents passed from Tuberculosis and she went to go live in an orphanage-separated from her 9 brothers and sisters. She spoke of enduring abuse, while there until she was adopted by a couple who had lost their own daughter. Sadly, her stepmother realized she couldn't replace the loss of her child with my grandmother and returned her back to the orphanage the very next day. It wouldn't be until some time later that the woman I called my great-grandmother would adopt her. What one would have hoped was a happy ending, turned out to be childhood with continued abuse that no child should ever endure. My grandmother tried to confide in my great-grandmother only to be scolded, accused of telling lies, and told to stop with the charades. I don't know all the details of her childhood but I do know that the abuser who she referred to only as "the bad man" passed away and with his death-stopped the sexual abuse. Eventually, she would meet the love of her life -my grandfather- in high school. He was the knight in shining armor that saved her. They married and had 4 children, and their legacy continues on today through their 9 grandchildren and as of now, 5 great grandchildren.
As a young child..I adored my grandmother. She was my favorite person in the world. I had a "Going to Grandmas" little blue suitcase that had enough room to pack for one evening. I loved staying the night at her house and how she would make me pancakes served in her circular Tupperware container in the morning. It was at her house, I discovered that over easy eggs are delicious and can be made to be more than just scrambled. I can still hear how her tennis shoes squeaked along the linoleum floor when she walked from room to room and the sound of her laugh when we would watch "Golden Girls" together. I miss the smell of her sewing room and hearing the opening of her wooden sewing kit. I remember the popping sound of the Danish cookie lid to see what was actually inside and what should have been a tin full of cookies, was just more sewing needles and thread. (Luckily for me...there usually a tin in the kitchen that actually had cookies. :) I loved how her face squished when she thought something was inappropriate and how she pronounced the "h" sound in the word "white". I remember one time when I was 9 or 10, I was upset with my mom and I threatened to call my grandma to come pick me up. My mom said "GO for it" and when I did, a shocked Dee Dee made me hang up despite my grandma offering to come and get me through my pre-pubescent tears. I loved listening to her speak Spanish-It was effortless and beautiful. She was never without a perm or dark hair dye. It used to crack me up how ridiculous she looked with all those tiny curlers in her short, grandma cut as she waited for her at home treatments to work. It never ceased to amaze me how she always had cinnamon Trident gum and how the house smelled like Spanish rice and tortillas. She lived around the corner from where I went to Catholic school and every once in awhile-I'd get SO excited seeing her on campus attending mass like a celebrity sighting. I knew a trip to her house on any given day meant cookies of some variety or a treat and hearing "I love Lucy" on tv. It's no surprise that to this day, I love dessert. (Lucy, I can take or leave...I still LOVE me an episode of "Golden Girls" though :)
As I got older, the personal difficulties that my mom shared with my grandmother began to shape how I also saw her. As a result, I pulled away from a person who was more of a figure than that of an individual. From my teenage years till my early 20's, I tolerated her and made jokes that went over her head to help pass the time when I had to be around her. When I was a teenager, she once asked me if I knew who Vanessa Williams was and how if I knew about how she posed nude. Making this choice ruined Vanessa's career you see, and grandma told me that being an actress meant that I should never pose in the nude....that I was lady. I laughed and said, "First, I don't plan on it thanks to my negative body image-compliments of you..and second, Vanessa has done pretty well for herself. so....let's change this conversation." At times, she had a rather unapologetic outlook that she projected onto others through comments on the physical stature of an individual. She was always focused on how "heavy or ugly someone was". I don't think I ever heard her tell any of us that we were intelligent or beautiful. Instead, she would remind us not to eat too much (while removing the centers of her bread rolls) because if we did-we would get fat, we wouldn't find handsome suitors. I was reminded how loud I was and just how men didn't like girls that were too outspoken. It wasn't a good idea to be too opinionated-men didn't like that either. Her traumatic and historically appropriate negativity for women of her time unknowingly rubbed off on the elder members of my family and subsequently, trickled down onto me and my cousins. It wasn't until my mid 20's when I was a mother myself and I learned she had been diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, did I begin to make an effort in getting to know the woman that was Linda Rios and not just "Grandma". Every Monday, I would go over to her house and she would make me and my eldest daughter (and eventually my 2 older daughters) dinner. Over time, I began to treasure our time together. I realized that there were some perceptions imposed on me in my awkward teenage years that were far from the truth and I was able to develop a new found love and appreciation of her. Her comments about weight and unintentional negativity were reinforced by the fact that this was a woman who never sought out therapy to come to peace with a horrible upbringing. She was childlike and naive. It makes sense, emotionally her growth was stymied from an incredibly young age and with the conditions she had lived under, it is truly a miracle how she became the woman that she was. During our dinner years time, my mom and I were going through our own trials and every time I went over to grandma's house she would always ask "How is everything with your mother?" When I would respond that not much had changed...She would always respond the exact same way..with a giggle, encouragement for positive change and the same exact sentence/variation of the same sentence that I will always hold near and dear to me. Eventually her condition worsened and she would move from the home she and my grandpa purchased in the 1957 to a nursing home in Murrieta to be closer to my Aunt. I wasn't able to see her the way I had become accustomed to, but I visited as often as I could. As her Alzheimer's began to take over her brain, she had trouble remembering who my kids were or what my husband's name was but she would always remember to ask how things were between me and my mom. When I would respond...She would giggle, encourage and say her famous sentence. It was reassuring to me that she was still in there despite my needing to remind her several times what certain things meant or how we would have the same conversation 3x within 5 minutes. I remember the day when she didn't know who I was anymore...but it wasn't until I waited in our conversation for her to say her famous sentence and she didn't say it, I knew the end was near. I said goodbye to her as she went to her scheduled lunch and started sobbing with my aunt as It had finally hit me,
her body was present but her spirit and mind were gone.
The day she passed, my mom had called to tell me she didn't think Grandma had that much longer. My aunt promptly called soon after and put me on speaker to talk to her. Grandma was no longer able to speak but she could still hear. Her breathing was labored and her heart rate was irregular. I told her that I was going to get there as soon as I could but in the meantime, I told her how much I loved her. How I was sorry we missed out on so many years together, but how I appreciated our final years together and getting to know her as an adult. I told her how much I admired the person she was and tried to be..and how she did an incredible job raising 4 children when she didn't have a childhood of her own. I told her to say hi to grandpa and how I hoped that she would finally be at peace and to watch over us all in Heaven. My aunt told me when I spoke to her, that her labored breathing calmed in those moments and that her heart regulated itself. When I said goodbye, I had hoped I would see her one last time but learned her irregularity would begin again and she would pass a few minutes later.
I'll never have the chance to ask her these questions for International Women's Day but I hope that in someway, I have shared what an inspiration she was to me and how she deeply touched my heart. Her journey started as a hard road but she is a testament to what the human heart is capable of under the most difficult of times. Thank you for your time, Grandma. I think of you when my kids ask for Trident gum and whenever I hear "Over the Rainbow". I hope you and Grandpa are enjoying re-runs of "I Love Lucy" and eating pancakes in Heaven. I miss you and I love you always. Love, Emily
*I have since learned as of posting this that my grandma did go to some therapy when I was a young girl. Her family was from Spain and my mom and my grandparents moved to Orange County in 1967.