Abuela Estela, as I affectionately called my grandmother, slept in the adjoining twin bed of my upstairs childhood bedroom when she came to stay with us. Our thin, cherry-colored, summer bedspreads matched. Bed sheets had to be tucked and pulled tightly – military style. Dividing our parallel single beds stood a cream-colored nightstand with a black-swept antiqued finish. My mom had painted and distressed all my bedroom furniture on a plain pine canvass of dressers, desks and bookshelves. The red and black wall-to-wall tightly woven carpet juxtaposed my rosy-pink lemonade walls. My furry stuffed animals shared space on my many shelves with my colorful Childcraft Encyclopedia Set and my treasured amateur international shell and stamp collections. Nag champa incense smoke occasionally drifted and mysteriously comingled with the fragrance of Jean Nate eau de toilette body splash. Perhaps these became my gateway scents into the world of Chanel #5, fine perfumes and the early warning signs of the outright obsession I have with aromatherapy today.
The only other time my grandmother had traveled at all was when she was sixteen and crossed the Atlantic from Italy to Argentina circa 1928 via an ocean vessel that must have rocked and rolled along the waves at an excruciatingly slow and frightening pace because she dreaded all forms of voyaging. Coming to the USA to visit her son and grandchildren was a sacrifice for her. It was an enormous undertaking and a courageous feat. She was comprised of and exuded fear, worry and more layers of trepidation and terror from every pore. Her panicked anxiety and agitation over everything defined her and was clearly evident in her twitching body and trembling voice.
I watched her. Her signature crimson matte lipstick made her tan complexion glow and she wore it at all times like a monogram. She limped and rocked from side to side due to a bad hip she refused to have surgery for because she was afraid of being put under anesthesia and the knife. Occasionally, she winced and let out a small yelp from the pain if she walked too much or too far. Her youthful loveliness visibly stood stalwart behind her midlife lines and flaccid skin.
I understood and comforted Abuela with all the compassion and patience a pre-adolescent could muster. Nightly, I cuddled up and read from my Illustrated Children’s Bible to soothe me before bedtime. I had to turn my head and look away while my Abuela undressed and put on her nightgown. She was extremely modest, embarrassed or both and required this of me and deemed it highly important to our evening regime. Whenever I forgot, she chastised me with a severe and loud plea to turn away, “por favor.”