While shopping around my collection of short stories, exercising my patience, and basically finding a normal groove to life after graduate school, I’ve found little inspiration in my writing. I toyed with two ideas, one being a book about a father and son based on one of the characters repeated throughout my collection. The second was a venture into the world of monster novels. No vampires or werewolves, but based on the traditional plot structure of Stoker’s Dracula, complete with monster weaknesses and magic weapons. I compiled research for the latter, but couldn’t write. The results: the father/son book has an intro., the monster novel has two chapters.
Then, I bought Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna. This was a book I’d been wanting for a while. I brought it home, poured a glass of wine, and sat in my favorite reading spot on the deck. One chapter in, I stopped. A name of a character in the book kept haunting me. Salome. I knew the name. It was familiar. I remembered. My Aunt Graciela had given me a packet in October. Actually, she gave one packet to most of her nieces and nephews. The packet’s contained photocopies of old pictures of my father’s family, the Castro family. Included are pages and pages of a family tree, and information regarding our family history compiled by my aunt through letters, diaries, and stories. The letters and stories belonged to my grandfather, Francisco, or Pancho. The stories came from various living relatives.
Salome. At first I thought Salome was the name of a grandmother, but Salome Tejeda was actually my grandfather’s grandfather. My great-great-grandfather. Salome means Peace. After reading the first few pages, I decided to keep reading. I’d forgotten about the packet. Soon I was lost in the story of how my grandparents met, the incredible obstacles they faced in Mexico and when they arrived in the US. Their love of music, of stories, and my grandfather’s poetry filled my heart. And yet, my only memory is of a small, white-haired woman, Grandma Dominga, who spoke only Spanish, who caressed my cheek with a firm but gentle hand. We never had a conversation. Oh, what I would ask her now.
I would ask her about the time she sewed a perfect colonial woman’s dress, whitened her hair with flour and attended the local Halloween dance in Lyons, KS. I would ask her about her beautiful garden, or what it was like to be the only woman who knew how to drive a car. I would ask her about her grandfather from Santander, Spain. And how she carried the burden of losing her father in the Mexican Revolution, or the love of her life, my grandfather, in a terrible accident at the grain elevator, and later, her youngest child in a car accident.
And I would ask to see the poems written by my grandfather. Poems he wrote for my grandmother and mailed weekly to Mexico, while he worked in Kansas, saving money to ask for her hand. I would ask him to teach me to play the piano and the words to all the old folk songs he knew and loved.
This is the story I need to tell. Theirs is the history I want to share. And while I am inspired and, as a friend described, radiating with the desire to write this story, I’m also a little sad. Sad that I never knew my grandparents. Until now.
I know they will be looking over my shoulder as I begin this journey, and I’ll be glad for their company. I hope I am able to share their story, just as Grandma Dominga shared stories while sitting on her front porch, the neighbors her audience, while Grandpa Francisco smiled. The Sun of Mexico has begun to rise.