My Grandma, a Costa Rican immigrant, has died

My grandmother, Flor Chinchilla, died yesterday. She immigrated from Costa Rica decades ago with my dad who was then about 5 years old. She was a small woman who barely learned English and could never operate a laptop or cellphone, barely a DVD player. She lived in a small house in Los Angeles that is floor-to-ceiling full of old dolls and pictures of my dad and my sister and me, tending lemon trees and caring for five little dogs. The stories that woman had to tell… The history she lived through… An African proverb says that when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground. It is the same with an old woman from Costa Rica, and the stories told and not told have left this world with her. I didn’t know her as well as I wanted, didn’t spend as much time with her as I should have, never had that conversation in fluent Spanish with her that I’d hoped for, never walked through Costa Rica with her as I’d intended. She was 75. We thought she had another decade in her. Time is not so kind as wishes. I’ll miss her. But it’s the living I’m worried about, my dad, her son, the young immigrant boy born in Costa Rica, who grew up in Hawaii and Los Angeles, who joined the Marines at 17 by forging his mom’s signature, who became a leader of men who built rocket engines to space, who stood with me once in the Oval Office of the White House and shook President George W. Bush’s hand, who cared for his mom and kept that old rickety house that she refused to leave patched together…that man’s the one I grieve for now, with Grandma’s passing. My dad’s a mountain of control. Last night, that mountain’s voice shook over the phone with grief. I’ll miss Grandma. Here’s to Dad, now the oldest living member of my family. Life has come into greater perspective.

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