Seven: The number of things about, my grandma Ita we never talk about.
“Seven," we say in low whispers even if we’re sitting in our living rooms. Someone might hear us.
Seven miscarriages, eight aunts and uncles including my one uncle, who’s alive.
“What happened?” I ask. “What was wrong?”
But I get no answer.
I imagine what it would have been like to have eight aunts and uncles. I imagine four aunts, four uncles, and my mom, their names, Lucilla, Margarita, Josephina, Guadalupe, my mom Leticia, Antonio Jr., Alfredo, Francisco, and my tío Roberto, all similar in age, only a year or two apart. Antonio Jr. lives in Denver. Josephina and Margarita live in Los Angeles. My mom, Tío Roberto, Guadalupe, Lucilla and Francisco all stay in El Paso. Alfredo lives in Houston. We’d have a family reunion every year and they would all come back to El Paso with cousins and husbands. I’ve imagined their whole lives.
Tía Joséphina, a lesbian, brings her partner, Mia, and daughter-in-law, Jessica. Tía José is very pretty, curly dark hair and light-brown almond eyes which glow against her cappuccino skin. My Ita says, “Pero esta tan bonita, no sé qué le paso a mija.” But she is so pretty. I don’t know what happened with my daughter. As if something had to happen to make her gay. We treat Jessica, like our cousin even though she isn’t really, unless she gets a snotty attitude about being from L.A. Then we just ignore her. We try not to giggle later when she gets pregnant at sixteen. “Oooo, but I’m from L.A.,” I say to my cousin Lucy, Tía Lucilla’s daughter.
Tía Lucilla has Lucy and Mario. Lucy is my closest cousin because we grew up together. My mom and Tía Lucilla are also the closest because they were pregnant with us at the same time. She is going through a hard time right now, her eyes always shiny, because she divorced Uncle Paco last year after being married for twenty years. My Mom jokes, and says, “Que aguante.” Such a tolerance for putting up with him. She always thought Uncle Paco wasn’t good enough for Tía Lucy. My Mom is just like that though. Even if they’re the best people, well-off, loving, romantic, they’re never good enough for her brothers and sisters.
Tía Rita—we call her that because the name Margarita is too long—has three kids, Marco, Alberto, and Antonio. They’re cool, have good jobs, Marco a bus driver and Antonio owns a dry cleaners. They both help Tía Rita, except for Albert. He got into trouble when we were all younger and is in jail for drugs. We don’t talk about that, though. It was very hard on Tía Rita and her hair went from jet black to a wiry silver gray in a year. Now she dyes it, but it looks harsh against her pale skin, highlighting the hollows of the heartache Albert put there.
Tío Paco, not the Uncle Paco that married into the family but our tío Paco, has been married three times. We joke and tell him the fourth time is a charm because of Ita and Tony, the fourth husband that stuck. We say Tío Paco is a mujeriego, a womanizer, because he has six kids, two from each wife. I’ve seen old black and white pictures of him. He was handsome. Now, he’s softened in the jaw, the skin hanging just a little like a balloon losing its air. Some of his kids, like the oldest Terry and Frank Jr., from his second wife, come to the family reunions and visit my Ita often. But the others don’t. They hate their dad, and although I can understand—because my own dad wasn’t around either—I still love my tío Paco. They look the most like him out of all of his kids, though, dark hair, brown eyes, light skin. I wonder if they hate a little bit of themselves, too.
Tío Prieto—that’s what we call Alfredo because he’s dark, dark like a cocoa bean—lives in Houston with his high school sweetheart. He is the only one of the siblings who hasn’t gotten divorced and has been married since he was twenty. He has two kids, James and Mercedes. They don’t really speak any Spanish. The rest of us at least understand, but they think they are gringos even though they are as dark as Tío Prieto Ita says, “Ay, si, muy gringos con el culo prieto.” Oh yes, so white with a brown ass. We laugh at them behind their backs and imitate the way they say things like tort-til-las and tah-cos when they aren’t around. Marco will say, “Who am I? Who am I? Can we have Tah-cos for dinner?” and the cousins all laugh. Tío Prieto gets mad at us but he smiles while he does it, so I think he laughs too.
Tío Tony, Jr., works for the FBI and doesn’t talk much about his work. It’s top secret. He’s always in black slacks and tucked-in polo shirts, with aviators, even on Sundays. He is the youngest of the brothers and sisters and lives in Denver. Tony is his dad, and Tony, Jr. his only real son.
When Ita met Tony he was a paratrooper. In their wedding picture he’s tall and towers over Ita in her powder blue dress suit, she looks even smaller than she is. My mom and Tío Roberto were 6 and 7 when Ita married him. I imagine Tony as kind and understanding, a dad to everyone; he had to be, because Ita always said Tony was the love of her life.
The family reunions are filled with music from ‘Chente and Amalia Menodoza, Juanga, and oldies from the aunts and uncles’ youth. We explain Pandora to Tío Paco every reunion, but he still makes comments like, “Wow, this is a good station! Can you record these songs for me?” The house filled with laughter, so much food, lots of drinks, and the clinks and clanks of always washing some dish, each branch of the family cooks a different dish for the reunion. Tacos de carne molida and asada, red enchiladas, rice, beans, ribs from the grill, macaroni salad, store-bought sandwiches that Tía Jose brings because she can’t cook (she fried an egg and left a big black greasy stain on Ita’s yellow kitchen wall), mole and fried chicken. We also make trips to Chico’s Tacos and Good Luck Café. They’d never visit El Paso without eating Good Luck tacos.
The smaller ones that are starting to appear—Mica, Ale, Carlos, and Temo—yell and scream while they play, or cry and run to Mom when something goes wrong. Ale, my niece, runs to my sister Angie the most. “Mom, they hurt my feelings,” she says tears streaming, her mouth so squished the words come out like mushed baby food. If a new boyfriend or girlfriend comes, sometimes they leave after falling asleep on the sofa, or worse, leave early because we are all too much for them, the noise, the jokes. When they leave my Ita calls them “Desabridos.” Tasteless and no fun, and she and Tony laugh as she puts her hand on his thinning leg. I imagine them laughing at this joke from the very beginning of their marriage, fifty years ago, if they were still alive today.
We spend the first weekend in May together, before it gets too hot in El Paso, eating and drinking, talking and dancing, listening to ‘Chente and Javier, our voices mingling to make music unique to our family, a symphony of English and Spanish, accents, jokes, stories, and laughter. I make the Bloody Marys for the tío’s and tía’s in the morning. Ita and Tony, when the whole family is together, joke and poke at each other like two teenagers She’d always wanted love and a big family to fill her house with noise and laughter.
But instead of eight aunts and uncles, it’s just, my mom, my tío Roberto, and sister Angie, her house quiet and filled with the echo of telenovelas and an infrequent-ringing phone.
“But Mom, seven miscarriages?
"No, just one. Tony's baby. My mom, well, she wasn’t the same after that.”
“I guess we’re lucky that you and Tío were already born then, huh? But the others? What do you mean not the same?”
“You know that last baby, your grandma wanted it so badly. She was married to Tony then—”
“That was her fourth husband, right?”
“Yes, Tony, she loved him. She always said that he was el amor de su vida, the love of her life. I think that’s why she was happy she could finally have the baby, but it was an ectopic pregnancy and she almost died. She always said that Diosito had punished her for the all the others, because this one she’d wanted the most.”
“Ay, mija, it was the fifties and your grandma was working two jobs, a line supervisor in a textile factory, before she hurt her back, then tended bar at The Azteca, right there off Stanton, at night, just to support your uncle and me. She wouldn’t have been able to support, all of us. No one knew about birth control then. She did what she had to do, and went to Juarez, para que la curaran.” So she could be cured.
Yasmin Ramirez is a native El Pasoan. She received her MFA from the University of Texas at El Paso. Yasmin stays active in the literary community and writes And Then, a weekly blog. Her short stories have appeared in The North Texas Review, BorderSenses, cc&d Magazine, Rio Grande Review, and Cream City Review among others. Just recently received an Honorable Mention for "Tastes Like God" in the 2013 Texas Observer Short Story Contest.
Bay Laurel / Volume 2, Issue 4 / Winter 2013