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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: Grandma, you a boss

As I was driving my 95-year-old great-grandmother to her doctor appointment, she pulled out two Ziploc bags of slightly stale Lucky Charms and made me eat some, chastising me for starving myself even though we had just had lunch at Chipotle.

I think this is something most grandparents have in common — our grandmas care too much. And we often don’t pay attention to or we forget to acknowledge just how hard they work for our benefit.

I mean, think about it. These women just never stop trying to feed you! I mean, I NEVER leave a friend’s house hungry. Ever.

And it’s funny how they conveniently forget that they already fed you half an hour ago, so while you’re still digesting the last elaborately cooked meal they made you, they come out of the kitchen with some new, mouthwatering concoction. Then another hour later when you plead that you really are full, they also miraculously go deaf and plop that third giant lump of rice and chicken on your plate anyway.

These women do all this preparation for us despite the troubles of old age.

I would say no, but it’s not that easy. Not only is the food blow-your-mind delicious, but how can you disappoint those wrinkly, genuine, ear-to-ear smiles? When you encounter one of those, the last thing you want to do is offend them by rejecting their hand-prepared meals.

And this grandmotherly hospitality doesn’t just stop at the kitchen.

As we were stopped at a red light once, my Lola (“Lola” is Tagalog for “grandma”) gasped and pointed out the window at a blonde woman in an expensive, bright green convertible. Lola was so concerned about the poor woman’s “broken car with no hood,” that she pulled out her last two dollars and demanded that I roll down the window so she could help the woman raise money to fix her car.

They may be frail and forgetful, but they have such big hearts and so much to teach us. In their generosity and kindness, it’s hard to imagine what a hard life many of them must’ve had.

As I watch this jolly old woman eat pancit — a Filipino dish similar to chow mein — I can barely tell that she only made it to seventh grade because she had to drop out and help raise her younger siblings. This nearly century-old woman sitting in front of me volunteered as a nurse at a U.S. military base in the Philippines during World War II.

If I didn’t ask, I would have never known that she was forced to marry a man at 18 who ended up beating her and abusing their children. I wouldn’t have known that she had to run away and raise her five children on her own.

It’s because of stories like this that I don’t like the idea of leaving grandparents at old folks’ homes. When I used to volunteer at a retirement home in Oakland a few years ago, I realized that sadly some of those senior citizens hadn’t had a visitor in almost 30 years.

I didn’t even know it was national Grandparent’s Day last month. If I knew I would’ve celebrated this special day with her.

The other night as I gave my great-grandma a bath, she said wistfully, “I used to give you baths, and now you’re giving me baths!”

Then she turned to face me and asked, “What year is it again? Nineteen eighty—”

And for the third time that day, I responded, “No, Lola, it’s 2012.”

I used to be annoyed by this chore, but now I cherish every opportunity I have to pay her back for the life she worked so hard to provide for us.

When I’m old and reaching senility, I hope I’m as caring as this woman sitting before me, now drinking coffee and watching her favorite telenovela drama on the Filipino channel. This woman who always — and I emphasize always — makes sure everyone she encounters has food to eat even if she hasn’t eaten herself. This woman who, I’m proud to say, I’m a descendant of.

JHUNEHL FORTALEZA likes to hang out with old people. She’d love to hear stories about your grandparents at jtfortaleza@ucdavis.edu

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