Monday, December 30, 2013

Las Cien Velas: 100 Candles

My file cabinet at home, an ugly metal 4-drawer unit, contains much recycle-worthy paper and shreddable, outdated documents. Slowly, I've been making my way through the green hanging folders, into the depths of carefully labeled manila folders, down into the stapled bank statements, course syllabi, and graduate essays. The other night I unearthed some musty papers that made the Scientist sneeze when I began sorting through them. It's good to read, remember, and let go.

I discovered some papers worth saving, like the journal of writing from my first graduate school course (Women Writers and Feminist Theory), affirming letters of recommendation from professors, and peer feedback on some short stories that just may become publishable someday when I have time to edit them. Compositions written for Spanish 302, however, are destined for the recycle bin....after I translate them back into English first, giving them new life as blog posts. Here is the first, Las Cien Velas, written in my simple Spanish in 1997, translated today back into English:

Las Cien Velas: One Hundred Candles

In January 1996 I was in Denver, Colorado for a grand party. The invitation called it the Celebration of a Century--my paternal grandmother's one hundredth birthday celebration. Her nieces and nephews invited the whole family--cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren, aunts and uncles--and all her friends to celebrate the event.

My grandmother, Rose, was a short, formidable woman who had earned enormous respect from many in her family and community. Though strong and independent, she needed help from her family members because she had never learned to drive a car. All her life, other people had driven her to the store, to the homes of her sons, and to her friends' apartments so she could play cards. When she had no one to take her places, Rose stayed home and cooked. She loved to make desserts for her family and friends. On the night of her party, however, she was not permitted to do anything but be the center of attention.

We arrived for the dinner at a grand hotel, Loews Giorgio, on Saturday night. There were many guests whom I did not know, but Rose knew them all. When we entered, we saw her talking with several children. She told stories and shared memories. We greeted her and then found our seats at a round table on the other side of the ballroom. 

Grandma Rose was seated at the center table with my father, her only remaining living son, and with her favorite nephews and their wives. Of all the people in the room, she was the most radiant. She wore an aquamarine dress and was adorned with the articles of jewelry she always wore: diamond earrings and a gold necklace with a small gold charm. She wore only a little makeup to bring color to her lips and cheeks.

After we finished eating dinner, the waiters brought out the birthday cake which was colorfully decorated with 100 tall thin candles. Rose's eyes sparkled in the candlelight. She closed her eyes, made a wish, and then blew out all the candles (with a little help). Afterwards, her oldest nephew, himself 85 years old, stood up to present her with a gift. But first he asked,
"Which would you rather have, Rosie, a kiss from your favorite nephew, or a check for five hundred dollars?"
She did not hesitate, but held our her hand and responded:
"Give me the money."
Even at 100 years old, she still retained her sense of humor and made us all laugh!

Ten months after that trip, I returned to Denver another time, but not for a party. This time, the family gathered for Rose's funeral. There were fewer people at the funeral than had attended her birthday party. She left the world with little fanfare, having already given away most of her possessions and said her goodbyes.

[There is, of course, much more to the Grandma Rose story than I could communicate in my baby-Spanish. Before I forget any more Spanish, I will try to translate the other essays for future blog posts. Little stories are worth remembering and sharing. I hope you enjoy them. ]

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