Shared Stories: Lessons from Grandma

Maria Gutierrez was the first-born of five children.  With the help of her sensitive grandmother, Maria overcame feelings of frustration brought on by responsibilities and hand-me-down clothes.   Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Maria Gutierrez
I wish I had said, “Thank you, Mom, for giving me four siblings.”  My first impressions were emotional reactions – feeling threatened by the presence of a new baby every time Mom came home from the hospital.

There were five of us by the time I was six. I felt neglected and overwhelmed with my role as a “babysitter,” obligated to help Mom care for my siblings. I helped with changing diapers and giving bottles.

During first grade, Grandma bought me easy, first-grade story books describing how siblings live in harmony.  My grandmother and God used these readers to change my feelings from rejection and resentment to acceptance.

During our childhood years when we lived with Grandma Delfina, she asked her sons, our uncles, to teach us baseball, volleyball, and tetherball skills. My siblings and I enjoyed playing volleyball with our neighborhood friends. 

Grandma and Mom gave us permission once a month to invite our friends over and enjoy at least two hours of a baseball or volleyball tournament in our large, asphalt backyard.  We each made a point of thanking Grandma Delfina with a kiss and a hug.

One evening, when I was thirteen, I was sitting all alone in Grandma’s downstairs dining room with tears running down my face.  I was gazing at four, large black trash bags filled with used clothing that Aunt Alice had given my sisters and me.  Since my cousins were larger in size, I knew that the used clothes would not fit us.

Surprisingly, Grandma Delfina walked in holding two grocery bags. I helped her carry one bag upstairs to her kitchen. She said, “Elena, I have something to give you that will make you happy.” I followed her to her bedroom, where she handed me four fashion magazines.

“Look through these magazines. You might find some outfits that you and your sisters would like. I am going to teach you to sew with the used clothing your aunt gave you.”

I hugged and kissed her for her understanding, moral support, and this ray of hope.  I saw these magazines and I could envision my sisters and I wearing those outfits.

Her kind gesture and compassion motivated me to major in Home Economics in junior high school.  The first class I registered for was Clothing and Domestic Skills, which consisted of basic sewing and effective housekeeping skills.

\Very early on Saturday mornings during our childhood, Grandma would gather us and show us how we were to help with household chores Grandma was affectionate, loving, and patient as she walked us through our chores.

We were rewarded once a month for our good work. Grandma would stop the Helms Bakery truck on Fridays and let us choose our favorite donut or cookie.

Grandma not only taught us domestic skills, she also taught us patience and love.  

Every year, one week before Christmas and one week before Easter, Grandma Delfina would invite my sisters (Carmela and Genie) and I to her upstairs kitchen to make sugar and chocolate cookies and cupcakes.  

I was in charge of mixing the ingredients for the cupcakes.  With the help of Grandma’s red hand mixer, I mixed the water, oil, eggs, and flour.

Then my sister Carmela would slowly pour the batter into the lined cupcake tins.  Once they were baked and allowed to cool, my sisters and I decorated the cakes with multicolored candy chips and candy glitter.

Grandma allowed us to each pick one cupcake to taste.  The cupcakes tasted so good that they made our eyes water and we gave Grandma a Thank you kiss and hug.

These were just a few of the many lessons that Grandma taught me.

Thank you, God, for giving me godly, virtuous women who taught me acceptance, gratitude, creativity, baking, sewing, cooking, domestic skills, patience, and love.

I pray that with God’s help, I will pass on these skills and virtues to my nieces and nephews.