Every Christmas Eve you can find Jovita Morales, my grandmother, in her dining room wearing sweatpants and an apron, making tamales and demanding help from everyone sitting at the table.
I’ve helped my grandmother make tamales before but it was usually because I was early to her house on Christmas Eve and she needed an extra pair of hands. This past Christmas Eve was different. I met her early one morning a couple of days before our traditional big holiday family get together. We spent the day prepping food and making tamales. It was also one of the few times I was able to talk to her alone without fighting for her attention.
I treasured the time we spent together talking. My grandmother makes me laugh; you never know what she’s going to say. She’s tough and makes no apologies about it. But she’s also one of the most thoughtful people I know. From her I learned to give unconditionally and love full-heartedly. She taught me to look presentable and care about my appearance, for my own sake.
This year her health took a turn for the worse. She’s been in and out of the hospital all year long. By the end of Summer 2014, she had major surgery, needed dialysis several times a week, and around the clock care. It has been a rough year for my grandma. She’s always been fiercely independent and doesn’t like others to care for her.
Jovita posing for the camera with her first born.
My grandmother has done so much for our family, I thought it would be nice to give her something in return. But I didn’t know what to give her. I wanted the gift to be simple but thoughtful. She’s had several long hospital stays this year so I also wanted to make something that she could take with her, if and when she goes back to the hospital.
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My grandmother has a picture of every single one of her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids in her house. A total of 43 different people! You can’t step foot inside her house without noticing all of the picture frames on the wall, mantle, coffee tables, and entertainment center. She likes collecting memories and puts them out for the world to see, regardless of how flattering or unflattering you may look.
I thought it would be great to make a scrapbook filled with pictures featuring her entire family.
My dad helped me gather old black and white pictures from my grandmother’s childhood, along with newer pictures she had hanging in her house. I made copies of the pictures and put them back where they belonged before she had a chance to notice they were missing. No easy feat!
Leila, my 3 year old niece, and I spent hours collaborating and decorating the scrapbook. Truth be told, Leila did most of the decorating. We wanted to make the book itself bright but not too colorful. Size and weight were also important because it needed to be light enough for her to carry. Luckily, I was able to consolidate a lot of pictures and didn’t need too many bells and whistles.
Leila helps decorate the scrapbook
Finally ready to deliver my surprise, I called my grandmother and asked her out for lunch. She gladly agreed. We found ourselves having lunch in a 1950′s style mom and pop diner. The setting and decor of the diner were perfect. I couldn’t have planned it better myself. My grandmother’s reaction to the scrapbook was priceless. Never one to mince words, she said she loved it and started telling me stories about some of the pictures in the scrapbook.
The focus of the scrapbook was to highlight the family my grandmother built. To me she’s much more than my grandmother. She is the matriarch of our family, the glue that keeps everything together, and the one who straightens you out if you go astray. She’s always been someone you can depend on. As she gets older, I realize she’s not going to be around forever but at least I’ll have my memories of her teaching me how to make tamales.
A very special THANK YOU to everyone who helped us make Jovita’s day extra special:
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