Friday, August 12, 2011


My maternal Grandmother, Gigi, died a few weeks ago - it was not completely unexpected, but it was a huge shock to me to get the phone call. I shared this story I had written years ago with my family & friends. Be aware there is some domestic violence in this piece. I had originally writtten this very PC and changed it, but a few years ago I realized I needed to be honest & true, and the version which follows was how my Grandma told the story over the years.

If you were ever handed the warm, crisp yet soft, perfectly flattened sphere of a freshly made flour tortilla just turned out of the sartén (iron skillet) and rubbed down with real butter, which would ooze through your fingers, then you understand my dismay when I asked my grandmother to make some for dinner and was told that she had forgotten how.

"Excuse me?" I nearly choked. "What do you mean, you forgot?"

This was the woman who made fresh tortillas at least three times a day, more when we kids were under foot. She never used measuring cups or spoons, just knew how much in her hand was right. This was the grandmother who made dozens every month to mail to our poor cousins who lived in the god-forsaken state of Ohio where they couldn't buy flour tortillas. She had forgotten how to make the very bread of our lives? Yeah, right.

Well, we had all grown up. Our parents, her children, didn't bring the grandchildren around all the time. None of us lived at our grandparents' any more. With only herself and the old man to cook for on a regular basis they didn't need "so much tortillas", tortillas that are best eaten just as they are made. No making them to put in the refrigerator. No cousins in Ohio to send them to any more. They had moved out here with the rest of us and could buy them at any corner grocery store. Without the huge family always there for dinners or just to spend the day, she hadn't made them in a while. I protested that she could remember if she tried. Something you've done all your life would just come back to you. But she said only, "no, I've forgotten." End of discussion. End of an era.

So maybe, just maybe, I'll try my hand at it one day. But it won't be the same, not ever. I'll need a recipe, and that's not the way she did it. And I don't have the proper pan or that thing she had to make them stay flat as they cooked. So in reality, I won't ever make tortillas for my family. It's lost. All I have are the memories, and the story about the poor young wife whose tortillas weren't round.

This new bride tried to make tortillas for her husband for their first dinner. She couldn't get them to roll out round.

"Estupida," he hit her. "Can't you make tortillas? ¿Qué clase de esposa no puede hacer las tortillas? Las tortillas de mi madre son perfectas."

The next day, after he left for work she practiced making tortillas all morning. She tried so hard to roll her tortillas into circles, but it never worked. Finally in tears she called her mother-in-law.

"Mama, how do you get your tortillas so perfect? If I don't make mine like yours entonces otra vez su hijo will hit me."

"Mi hija, no llora. Ponga un plato en su masa y córtelo hacia fuera. Perfectamente!"

So the young wife rolled out a large tortilla as best she could and put a dinner plate over it. She trimmed it carefully and cooked it up. Finalmente! She finished cooking enough for dinner. Proudly she served her husband the round tortillas. He hit her again.

"How dare you have my mother make them for you!"


I wanted my Grandmother's cast iron skillet & the little cast iron press she used when she made tortillas. The press was long gone, it seems. But my brother's friend & my oldest daughter helped me get the skillet from the kitchen.

I wrote a lot in the days following Gigi's death, sending my rambling, stream of pain & loss words to two of my best friends. I won't be sharing most of that here, but I will be addressing this loss. My Grandmother was the main thread which held our extended family somewhat together. Her funeral was held a week before my deceased mother's birth date. The overwhelming sadness which had begun with the loss of my Grandmother was intensified with that anniversary. I will be writing about these things as I work on them, as I unravel and restitch my personal issues with both of the important women in my family & my life who are both gone now, leaving larger holes in my tapestry than the holes they created during their lives.

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