My Abuela's house was always full of warmth. The wafts of steam and aromas enticed you in, and the food kept you there. Walking into the single story mission-style home that my Papi had bought when they were first married, the smells emanating from the kitchen made your nose tingle and mouth water. As I stood there, barely tall enough to see over her counters, I watched as my Abuela weaved her kitchen magic. Every action had a purpose, and every ingredient had a reason.
"Everyone is special, mijo. Everything has its season, and everything has its own time."
She was full of wisdom and love. Our favorite thing to do together was the shopping. Her list was long, written in a neat and elegant script, but in an indecipherable mix of English and Spanish. When we were out, it was as if she knew everyone and knew everything.
If you wanted the best cuts of meat, you went to Mr. Borla on 53rd, but he had terrible chorizo. If you wanted that, you had to go to Doña Mónica. Papi always joked that if Abuela died, he'd marry Doña Mónica just for her chorizo. For spices, it was Mr. Maceo of Maceo's Spice Emporium. He had the best chili powder, which Abuela always said was worth its weight in gold. Fresh fruits and veggies, you went to Salvatore's. Baking goods, like flour and vanilla, were gotten from Blanca Gomez.
Every now and then, Abuela would need an odd ingredient, but she had people for that too. For the good paprika, you went to Ms. Szervánsky, an old Hungarian woman who smelled of beets and cabbage. For oxtails, you went to Márcio Pereira, who everyone knew was sweet on Abuela, but she had enough tact to politely ignore his advances.
These were my grand adventures as a kid. Meeting these mythic figures, learning about the right kinds of fat, or finding a use for saffron. Watching my tiny Abuela barter and chip away at some prices, but not batting an eyelash at others. "Knowing what's fair, mijo, is important."
It was all a mystery to me.
When we'd get home, we would check things off the list. She already knew she had everything she needed, but it was for my benefit. Finishing that list always made me feel on top of the world. I loved her for it.
Abuela moved in with me last year. After Papi died, she couldn't stand to be in that house any longer. None of her children, including my mother, offered to take her in.
So I did.
When I told her that I wanted her to move into my condo in Santa Barbra, she was horrified. "No, mijo. Absolutely not. You are a young man, now is the time for girlfriends and wives and children, not old vieja like me."
"Everything has its season," I responded, repeating her words with memorized certainty. "Now is the season for me to take care of you."
The adjustment was hard for her. She liked the view of the beach, but didn't like my neighbors. She liked the church and the priest, but didn't like the cliques of elderly women there. "Gossips, all of them," she'd mutter.
We didn't have a routine, and that made her mad. She wanted to do my laundry, and clean the house, but I insisted she didn't have to. She felt useless, and I didn't know how to help her.
A few months went by, and I was on my lunch break. Walking downtown, I saw a flyer for the farmer's market. An idea formed, and I smiled as I went on my way. I had found the solution to our problem.
That night, after dinner was done and the washing finished, I laid a fresh notepad in front of Abuela. "What's this, mijo?"
"I want to take you to a farmer's market." That meant nothing to her, so I tried again. "We're going grocery shopping. Put your list together."
Arriving to the market, my Abuela was transformed. List in hand, she waddled to each vendor, asking pointed questions about their wares and products. She reminded me of a badger, digging its burrow with single minded purpose. The vendors adored her, this small lady with sharp words and a crooked grin. I was instantly six years old again, running after her, except now I could carry more bags.
This became our new ritual. Saturday mornings were market day. She had a renewed sense of purpose, and often brought treats for her favorite vendors, who in turn, often had special items they saved just for her. We'd have breakfast there, sitting at one of the tables under a large umbrella, eating chorizo, eggs, hot tortillas and salsa from a Honduran vendor named Inez. "Its not Doña's, but it'll do,"she said, taking a bite.
That was high praise coming from her.
Dupont Farms was one of the vendors, specializing in goat milk products such as soaps, candles, and cheeses. Abuela was taken with Georgette, the young lady who made her favorite lavender soap. I was quite taken with Georgette as well. It seemed every time I'd look in her direction, I'd do something to embarrass myself, whether it was dribbling lemonade out of my mouth, or walking into a mannequin. She'd always laugh and smile, and I'd blush and look away. It didn't take long for Abuela to notice, and formulate a plan.
One afternoon after getting back from market, Abuela started panicking. She had lost her list. "Its alright Abuela, I'm sure we got everything we needed."
She was hysterical. Inconsolable. She needed her list to cross everything off. "Abuela, we haven't done that in years."
"Mijo, go get it. I need it."
I drove back to the market. The vendors were closing shop, and packing up. I asked around to the regulars, but none of them had seen it.
"You wouldn't happen to be looking for this, would you?"
I turned to see Georgette, holding the list. She smiled. "Your grandmother gave this to me and told me to wait until you came back to give it to you."
Shaking my head, I looked to the sky, trying to not curse my Abuela to an early grave. I could almost see Papi's shrug with a casual air of, 'That's just her way.'
Taking the list, I smiled back. "Thank you, for keeping it."
"She's very sweet, your grandmother."
I rolled my eyes. "You've never had to take her to a doctor."
"Not a believer in modern medicine?"
"If it can't be fixed with a steam pot and Vick's, it's not worth coming back from."
Georgette laughed. "Farmer's market. Doctor visits. Does she live with you too?"
I knew it was meant as a joke, but my smile flickered none the less. Of the meager few dates I had been on since Abuela had moved in, that was always the question that ended them.
Georgette's laugh faltered. "Oh," she whispered, realization setting in. "She does live with you, doesn't she."
"Yeah," I said lamely, stretching my arms up in an attempt to act casual. "Yeah, she does."
This is it, I thought. The moment is gone.
"There must be a story there."
I looked at her, a smile rising to my lips. I raised an eyebrow, and her eyes twinkled. "Do you want to grab a coffee?"
"I'd love too."
Our Saturday mornings are a little more full. Georgette has started taking us to other markets, and she introduces Abuela as her best customer. Abuela just loves having someone she can 'talk shop' with as she rolls out dough or crochets. Georgette always listens carefully. I love seeing Abuela happy again. And when Georgette sneaks a look at me, a small smile on her lips, I feel pretty happy too.