I grew up surrounded by a whole bunch of uncles and 2 aunts, but they were all basically still kids and young adults when I was small. So, most of the mature adults were WAY mature in terms of age. My Tias or aunts were actually either my great aunts or 2nd cousins. Growing up in Corpus in the late 70’s and early 80’s was an experience. Half the time, I wasn’t sure who was related to who or how because everyone was either primo/prima, comadre/compadre, or tio/tia. And those titles did not necessarily properly define who they really were in the family tree. Honestly, I was already an adult when I was still learning that half the people I thought were related to by blood were either “old family friends” or “from the neighborhood” and had no blood relation at all. But, hey, we are Mexican and we are all related some how it seemed!! Now most of the lessons on my “family tree” on my mom’s side came from my Tias. First of all, I was way into elementary school before I figured out that the names we called them weren’t even their names just their nicknames. We had Grandma Vita, Aunt Chata, Coca/Tisika, Aunt Fannie, Aunt Ester and my Grandma Tillie. And then there was my Aunt Janie, who is actually my mom’s 1st cousin, therefore my 2nd cousin. Sadly of all the women I just listed, the only one still with us is my Grandma Tillie. All the ladies listed before my grandmother were her sisters. And there are times that referring to them as ladies makes me giggle. They were some tough old broads and crazy as hell!! And I give them a ton of credit for who I am and who I wanted to be. They inspired me, scared the crap out me, disciplined me, loved me, shared their various views of the world with me and taught me that no two women should ever be alike.
Grandma Vita and Tisika lived together in my great-grandparents home (we all called it the Old House) and never married, but those ladies had a hand in raising a couple of generations worth of kids. Grandma Vita would make tortillas with butter and Tisika would make us laugh, but they didn’t put up with ANYTHING and if you got hurt doing something you shouldn’t – be prepared. They would patch you up without sympathy and tell you go ahead do it again and see what happens. We usually opted out on the repeat. They loved to have a house full of family. And man o man, Tisika was quite the smoker and she did enjoy her rum or beer while hanging out with her sisters. Grandma Vita was always the mother hen. Just typing her name puts a smile on my face.
Now, my Aunt Chata was the youngest and was frequently referred to as baby (a second nickname) by my grandma. She was married to a loving man and I happen to think super awesome uncle named Rey. They adopted two kids (which took me years to realize). Aunt Chata had false teeth and would take them out and bites us. Kinda gross but also really funny. She loved her kids unconditionally and loved all the rest of us the same.
Now, my sweet Aunt Ester took care of my Aunt Fannie who had a serious stroke when I was still very young, until my Aunt Fannie passed away. Aunt Fannie had been a nurse and when I was just a tiny baby, she decided to pierce my ears. To this day, when I wear a pair of earrings that just don’t sit quite right, I can hear my family telling me the story of how my ears got pierced and all I can do is wonder why Aunt Fannie couldn’t have made them a little more even. When we would go to visit Aunt Fannie and Aunt Ester, it was always such a great time. I would help to feed Aunt Fannie and get to see how a true servant loves and cares for someone. I have this beautiful image still in my mind when I think of Aunt Ester and how she would undo her perfect braids and then brush her long, soft, grey hair in front of her mirror.
Then, there was my Aunt Janie. She taught me some of my favorite cooking secrets and recipes to this day. I spent many days and nights around my Aunt Janie and Uncle Roger so that I could play and hang out with my awesome older cousins Lori and Mel. We were each one year apart and I was the youngest. God bless my Aunt Janie for taking us on the bus downtown to the stores to shop for clothes or to run errands. She would spend hours in the kitchen to make pan de polvo for every family members birthday, wedding, or baby shower. And I shared a birthday with her!!!
Lastly, there is Grandma Tillie….. She is a different kind of grandma. The lady could dress and walk and talk like a lady. She knew how to act in proper company and taught me what she could. But then the next day, she would be dressed in her raggedy, comfy fishing clothes and we would be headed to the beach to fish or out to the T-heads. After a hot day of that or working on her garden (she could grow some gorgeous roses), she would come inside to have an ICE COLD beer in (and this is important) a frozen glass beer mug that weighed a ton. She cussed like a sailor, taught me to play cards and encouraged my love of sports. She also encourage me to play the piano, would listen to me talk about my new favorite book or how I finally understood what Shakespeare was saying. She would remind me that I didn’t need a man and I could do anything I wanted.
These ladies were strong, bold, loving, compassionate, intelligent and street smart. I hope that one day my kids and nieces and nephews will look back at who I was and say “that Aunt Monie was a little crazy, but she always loved us” because that is how I feel about this broads.