Back to Catalina. She was the woman who fed me every morning before school. She would chase me down on the way to the school bus if I neglected to finish my orange juice. Knowing how much I loved my fresh tortillas, she would always make it a point to grab a few dimes, yes a few dimes, from the bowl of change I left in the kitchen for that purpose. She also would buy me “tuna,” a Guatemalan fruit like the prickly pear, that I always loved. (The Spanish for tuna oddly is “atun.”) Whenever I was bored–not golfing, swimming, or water-skiing; I hated reading–I would while away my time talking to Catalina. When I felt the urge to work outside, building a stone wall our dogs couldn’t jump over, Catalina would run outside to chide me, “Don Tomas, no!” I hated being called “Don,” master, by a woman about ten years older than my mother. When she saw it was pointless, she would join me and carry the stones in her apron.
Catalina could read and write probably at a third grade level. When men landed on the moon, she simply could not believe that those objects in the heavens, some of them, were solid objects a man could step on.
I once visited Catalina at her home during one of the rare days off she took. Her house was not a house. It was a walled-in area with an aluminum rippled roof over a portion of it. The only running water was a steady stream of water filled with sewage that ran from through “houses” uphill from hers. She had two grown sons but no husband as was customary for the underclass in Guatemala City. She had a couple men who would show up, “visit” her, and leave. I believe they had some ongoing connection, but these men felt no obligation to provide for her, not visibly. Instead, it seemed they would show up when they needed money.
When we left Guatemala to move to Argentina, my father made us swear not to tell Catalina. She obviously expected us to take her with us if we ever left wherever we went. She was crushed when she discovered the truth that we were leaving without her. I thought it was the cruelest thing I had ever seen. Looking back now, I know that Argentina would have been impossible for Catalina. Argentines are very proud of their ties to Europe. The country was settled much more along the American model, by pushing the natives further and further west. They feel no solidarity whatsoever with Central Americans, to call someone that would have been an insult. And they are quick to assert their superiority, vocally, with passion. It probably would have been crueler still to take her with us.
But, Catalina will always be my first grandmother!