The Queen of The Short Story
For years, I sat on the floor in front of my Abuela as she curled my dark hair around her fingers in the shape of ringlets, and told me story after story. Hours and hours of tales about life in South America, her childhood, her family, the people of her small village. Stories of saints and miracles and bulls on her father’s ranch that would get loose and chase her, and how she barely survived–only finding safety in a nearby tree.
She was the queen of the short story, and I was her rapt audience. Each story a fresh one, never repeated, and her words made them come to life. When she spoke, I’d see her running, her thick long braids trailing behind her. When she jumped for that tree branch to escape the bull, I jumped with her. I’d forget to breathe as she told me how she felt the earth shaking as the bull’s hooves pounded the ground behind her. I’d squint with her as the explained how he had come up over the hill with the noon sun behind him, blinding her until he was almost at her feet.
I’d stare straight ahead, fixated, as she combed my hair–her stories taking me someplace else, taking me to her life. Every time, I disappeared into the images she created for me.
Her stories never stopped, even as I grew older. I’d come home to visit from college and sit on the sofa next to her, and she’d start a story. She had such a treasury stored away in her mind, each adventure told with a magic that to this day, remembering them brings them back to life, as full of blue skies and green grass as when I first heard them forty years ago.
She never read to me out of a book, all of her stories were from her mouth.
We’re told in every single parenting publication there is, to read to our children. And I agree 100 percent with this practice, but I want my children to get lost in my life, as I did in my Abuela’s.
I’ve begun to tell my three boys more and more stories about my growing up, in bright detail. I tell them about the 10 foot long coiled up telephone cord that I’d stretch into the hall closet so I could have privacy with my phone calls. I tell them about the three channels that we had on television, and how you had to stand up and cross the room to change the station–manually clicking a too-hard-to-turn knob to a new show.
I describe the hot, muggy Milwaukee summers, and how my two brothers and I would go to the pool across the wooden bridge from our house. My grandmother would give us 35 cents each; a dime for the metal basket to place our clothes in and 25 cents to each buy a bag of cheese popcorn for when we’d come out of the pool, famished. One summer, we figured out that if we all shared a basket, we’d have 20 cents extra and could get two banana popsicles.
I paint a picture for my children, so they see a skinny, brown-skinned girl with hair thicker than a broom, sitting in between two brothers on a park bench alongside the chain fence of a pool, sunburned shoulders in the days before sunscreen, fingertips orange with cheese dust.
I want my stories to play in their heads for years to come, exactly as my Abuela’s stories still do for me.
Because it is this vision of a little girl with the flying black braids, running as if the devil himself is chasing her and scrambling up a tree with her heart in her throat–that is the picture of my Abuela that lives in my mind forever.