I haven’t read the Red Tent in a long time, but it is a book that I will always cherish– it’s about the importance of sharing stories, particularly for women. While the men were out and about finding ways to provide for their families, the women in the red tent were busy preparing meals and caring for all the children. While doing this work, the women would talk about all their trials and tribulations in life, and in this way they found comfort and learned from one another’s experiences. This is also how family legends were passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, I think this beautiful tradition is quickly being relegated to the occasional family gatherings– weddings, funerals and holidays– while the rest of the time we are all just too busy acting as hunters outside the red rent and coming home to focus on our own nuclear families. In my own life, I’ve seen this moment coming for some time, and today is the day, with the passing of my grandmother, that I will remember as the day we truly packed up the rent tent in my house.
My grandmother was born in 1915 to a poor South American farmer. She was one of nine children, many of whom she helped raise after her own mother, my name sake, passed away in her early 40’s. She came to the United States 45 years ago, and after I was born, she became responsible for raising me while my mother worked. Despite my pleadings, my grandmother never bothered to learn English or drive a car, and so I became her interpretor while we either rode the bus or walked everywhere together, and during those tirps she always entertained me with her story-telling abilities.
Everyone loved my grandmother, and I hated the fact (early on) that they all called her “Abuela.” I was her only grandchild, and I wanted the sole and exclusive use of that name, but she did not tolerate my princess hissy fits, so I quickly had to come to accept that I would have to share her with others. She went out of her way to help everyone, not just her family, and she volunteered at a local nursing home and our local church until just a few years ago.
For my entire 40 years of life she was convinced that she was going to die at any moment, and she never failed to remind me that death was the surest thing in life. Removing that fear is probably among the greatest gifts she gave to me. The other great gift she gave me was teaching me about faith and conviction: This woman dragged me to church every day until I finally started full time school, but that didn’t get me out of going to church on Sundays or saying my prayers every night. She prayed a rosary and read the Bible every day– that was her center, and despite all the eloquent arguments that I developed over time to challenge some of her beliefs, she never waivered in her faith.
She may never have understood the point in a lot of my endeavors– but then again, how could she? Her priority was always family and community service. She never graduated high school, did not care about fame or fortune, and didn’t derive much joy from fancy clothes or restaurants. Material things never impressed her, and I am sure that for many years she worried that I’d lost my grounding. In fact, some may say that perhaps she held on as long as she did until she was reassured that I’d found my way back onto the right track.
After her stroke two weeks ago, she never fully recovered, but even in the end she made sure not to ruin things for others, so she managed to make it through the holidays for us. Up til now, she truly is the toughest cookie I’ve ever met– even at under 100 lbs and only 4’9″ she managed to measure up beyond anyone’s expectations. So it is with great relief that before her death, I was able to tell her that I’d found my dad and reconciled with my mother. I know she was happy to see me learn to appreciate the importance of a family and how cool it is to be a big sister. I am so grateful that she got to see me become a mother, and that she was able to enjoy many years with my son, who will never forget his adoring “Tita.”
My guiding light may no longer be with me here on Earth, but I know she is still there lighting my path in the darkness outside our red tent. Her stories and her actions shaped me far more than many realize probably because I left the tent to become a hunter, but make no mistake about it– I carry that that red tent everywhere I go– it is packed up in my heart.
This is the eulogy I gave for my grandmother.
By Regina A. DeMeo