When I was a kid I always enjoyed our visits to grandma’s house. I have many fond memories of my grandma, she was the best. I never knew my grandpa. Sadly he passed away in 1949, two year before I was born. His name was Angel Perez. As a child I got to hear several stories about him from my mom and grandma. From the sound of it he was a wonderful man and a good father. My mom said he was a quiet man with a gentle nature. He loved his family and always put them first and worked hard to provide for them. I only wish I could have met him, I’m sure he would have been an incredible grandpa.
My grandma made up for his absence. She was incredible! She was a kind and loving woman and had the sweetest smile. Although small in stature she was a giant of a woman and the matriarch of the Morales family. Her name was Josephina but most people knew her as Pepa. My older cousins called her Grandma Pepa but when I came along I changed that. Perhaps I had trouble saying Pepa, or something, I’m not sure, but to me she was Grandma Pepita. Oh I got corrected plenty but I persisted and in time, all the grandkids and those yet to come knew her as Grandma Pepita. I’d given her a new nickname and it stayed with her the rest of her life. It was even engraved on her headstone.
My grandma and I had a special relationship.(at least I like to think so) Maybe it was because I gave her the Pepita name, more probably because we were there so often. My first year of life we lived right across the street from grandma and practically lived at her house. Then when my dad came back from the Korean War we moved to Baldwin Park. Although it sounded far we still managed to spend a lot of time at her house. It was only a five mile drive to Azusa and my mom certainly didn’t mind the drive. We’d visit three or four times a week, sometimes more.
During the summer it seems like we were there nearly every day. In 1961 a few weeks after my 10th birthday we moved to Azusa and lived only a few blocks from grandma’s house. We could walk over whenever we wanted. I used to pass her house everyday on the way home from school. Sometimes I had the good fortune of sleeping over either by myself or with another cousin. We always had a blast! Yeah I spent a lot of my youth at grandmas, it was always so warm and comfy. I loved it there.
Communicating with Grandma Pepita wasn’t easy. She only spoke Spanish and we (grandkids) only spoke English, but we found a way. Back then our parents wanted didn’t want us to learn Spanish and only spoke English to us. The only time they spoke Spanish at home was when they were telling secrets. But Grandma was anxious to learn English so we would teach her English and she would patiently teach us Spanish. By the time I was seven I was pretty good at translating Spanish sentences to English, but my Spanish vocabulary was pretty limited. My grandma, however, was a quick learner and her English improved greatly. She was always so determined. Such an incredible woman!
I will always remember my grandma Pepita as a kind, caring and loving woman. That’s not to say she didn’t have a dark side, she did I actually saw it a few times. Believe me, you didn’t want to piss grandma off. She could definitely hold her own. But she was very religious and spent a lot of time at church. She both loved and feared the Lord and cared about everyone from the jobless and homeless living on the streets, to the poor souls in Purgatory. She prayed endlessly for everyone.
Although she professed a major dislike for animals and made us wash our hands the minute we entered her house (in case we’d been petting dogs) we knew that she often would leave food and water out for the stray dogs. She was a saint.
And she loved working in her yard. She lived on a large double lot and was up early most every morning sweeping, watering and raking leaves. One of the grandkids would come by each week and keep the lawn mowed for her but she did most of the yard work herself. Even as I entered my 20’s I would often see her outside working as I drove by on my way to Citrus College. Occasionally I would skip my class and stop by to lend a hand. She was always so happy to see me pull into the driveway. We’d finish up the work outside and she’d always reward me with a plate of her delicious refried beans, fresh homemade tortillas and a cup of yummy grandma’s coffee. (1/4 coffee, ¾ milk and a ton of sugar brought to a boil)
My grandma was a truly incredible woman. I think of her often. I can’t help but smile when I think about how proud she was of becoming an American citizen. How she could hardly contain her joy when she spoke of President Kennedy who she greatly admired, she had gone to Los Angeles and seen him in a parade. Kennedy passed within a few feet of her, it was a very special moment. And the third thing that comes to mind is hot afternoon in September when I had stopped to mow her lawn. After we finished we went inside and she began to prepare a meal for me. I remember sitting at the table and it being extremely warm. Grandma turned to me and said something she’d never said to me before.
“Hijo (I called her Pepita and she called me Hijo / son) Es muy caliente ahora, siento como un cerveza!”
I couldn’t believe my ears, my grandma wanted a beer but knew she couldn’t have one because she couldn’t go out. I laughed and reminded her that I had turned 21 two weeks earlier and I would go get it. She didn’t know the name of the beer she wanted but gave me a description of the can. She told me it was a silver can shaped like a barrel. I ran across the street to Benny’s Liquor Store and searched the beer case. Sure enough, there it was, from the land of sky blue water Hamn’s Draft, aluminum can shaped like a little keg. I grabbed the beer and headed back.
That afternoon my grandma and I had our first beer together. It was awesome. And my reward, was watching my little grandma tossing back her can of Hamn’s and taking a long, slow drink. She was really enjoying it. She then put the beer down on the table, thanked me again and surprised me with a long, loud, belch! She looked a little surprised as well. Pepita could burp with the best of them! We both had a good laugh and a great time on that special afternoon! Yeah I really loved grandma’s house. I’ll never forget that sweet woman. She touched my life forever.