During a recent retreat in Ahmedabad, India, our group was asked to think about a gift or blessing from our lineage that we are grateful for. In other words, what has been passed down to us from our ancestors that has served us and others well. I pondered this question for a few moments and then it came to me as clear as day…
I was taken back to my childhood, when as a young boy I would make the 100-plus mile trek with my family from my hometown of Vaughn, NM north to Espanola, where my grandmother lived. This was my dad’s mother, Eva Lopez, a woman of incredible strength and character who brought eleven amazing children into this world. Her husband, my grandfather, Jose Inez Lopez, died in 1975 at the age of 79. I was two years old and don’t remember him, but some of my earliest memories were of our family traveling north to visit Grandma Eva in her humble adobe home.
I can’t recall specific visits, as there were many, and they all seem to meld into each other the more I think about them. Although specific moments escape me, larger, underlying themes and feelings remain strong and vivid. As we drove the narrow roads through the village of Santa Cruz, a place where my father and his siblings walked to school and rode their bikes, I was always reminded of simpler and safer times. Although I did not grow up here, things felt very comfortable and familiar. As we drove into the dusty driveway, located across the street from the cemetery where my grandfather Jose Inez was buried, a feeling of calm and serenity engulfed me. This felt like a stable and safe place. We never knocked and always entered the house through a narrow, brightly lit porch. I never missed an opportunity to run my hands across the white plastered adobe walls. I was amazed at how cool the room was regardless if it was the dead of winter or the height of summer. There was a distinct smell too, a mixture of dust, wood and always some combination of foods, usually beans and chile.
Once in the house we would make our way to the kitchen where my grandmother would be cooking or cleaning. She would stop whatever she was doing and greet us all with a warm hug and smile (Pillar #1). We would exchange a few words and then take a seat at the table where we were quickly given a plate and silverware. We knew that nothing more would happen until we were fed. (Pillar #2). If food wasn’t simmering on the stove she would go to the refrigerator and retrieve some tasty leftovers from the day before when other family members or friends had visited.
Our time together included a hearty meal followed by coffee and conversation. As kids, we would find our way outside to ramble around in the orchard and ditch. Her home sat on four acres and was lush with fruit trees and ample room for hyperactive children. After what felt like hours running through the property we would return to the house to enjoy a snack of sweet bread or fruit. My parents and others who may have dropped by during the day were either still in the kitchen or living room sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company. At the end of the day I always managed to find myself inside seated either next to one of the stoves or one of several couches listening to my aunts and uncles speaking in a mixture of English and Spanish. Oftentimes I would nod off as their conversations took on a rhythmic and melodic tone. So comforting, so safe.
As always, our visits concluded with someone mentioning the time and the need to return home. We would all get up and spend what felt like an hour wrapping conversations, saying our goodbyes and hugging each other. The visits would come to an official end when grandmother would embrace us, bless us and thank us for our visit. (Pillar #3). I never realized the importance of these moments until years after she was gone.
Thinking back, I reminisce on those ordinary yet very profound visits and I understand the lesson. Every time we arrived at that small adobe home, three subtle yet very important things happened. We were always greeted, we were always fed, and finally we were always thanked for coming. As I pondered this question about my lineage in this new and beautiful land of India, I was magically transported back to my youth as I felt the loving gaze and embrace of my abuelita. I wish I could tell her now just how much those three small acts have meant to me but I cannot. What I can do though is honor her legacy by asking myself how I can greet, feed and thank all those whom I have the privilege of meeting and serving.
Featured Image: Eva Lopez and Jose Inez Lopez (Photo: Joe Lopez)