Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grandma Maria and her Tea Towel

Grandson Mike Chavez and Grandma Maria Gallegos
My mom always told me how her mother, my Grandma Lola (Gallegos) Chavez, always used to open her door to relatives who needed a place to stay. My grandparents bought the house where I grew up, at 6804 Fifth Street in Albuquerque’s North Valley, in 1958, I believe. The three-bedroom, one-bathroom house, on about half an acre, was very comfortable. But also a little tight, according to my mom who shared that one bathroom with three brothers and the always-present relatives in need. One uncle, I believe, was a very sick alcoholic, and of course Grandma Lola wouldn’t turn him away. And then there was Grandma Lola’s own mother, my Great-Grandma Maria (Arellanes) Gallegos. My mom adored her, and fondly remembers sharing a bedroom with her “Grandma-ita” or “Mari-ita,” as her grandchildren called her because she was their little grandma.

I never knew those great-grandparents. Grandma Maria died in 1964 – the same year my Uncle Ralph was born. I knew of my Great-Grandpa Pablo Gallegos, who died in 1953, because he was a famous sheriff in Valencia County in 1931-32. My mom, Beatrice (Chavez) Gallegos, was too young to remember much of her grandfather, but she clearly remembers Grandma Maria.
Grandma Lola Chavez, Ralph Chavez, Mike Chavez, Grandma Maria Gallegos and Beatrice Chavez

She recently told me a story that gripped me for so many reasons. She talked about how her Grandma used to make tea towels, which meant nothing to me until she explained that they were small dish towels. The fascinating thing was how she made them. Grandma Maria used to roll and smoke cigarettes. She would send my mom’s brother, Louie, to Green Valley meat market to get her some Bull Durham tobacco. After smoking the tobacco, Grandma would take apart the small tobacco pouch and its draw-string. She would take the stitching, wash it and leave it out in the sun to dry. When she had enough, she used it to make her tea towels with embroidered edges.

My mom said her Grandma insisted that the towels she made should only be for their intended use. In other words, they weren’t keepsakes. But many years later, long after Grandma Maria died, our longtime neighbor, Ann Sealey, gave my mom one of those tea towels, which she saved as a keepsake, anyway. My mom said she still has it packed away.

The other reason I was so fascinated with my mom’s story was the part about Grandma Maria sending my Uncle Louie to Green Valley for the tobacco. I asked her if Sarge owned Green Valley market at the time. She said he did. I never knew if Sarge was short for Sergeant, but I have great memories of my own of my mom sending my brother and me to Green Valley to pick something up for her. We would hop across the chain-link fence in our back yard and walk down the alley to the market. At that time, in the 1970s, Sarge’s son and daughter-in-law ran the small meat market. But I remember Sarge sitting in a chair or bench at the front of the store. While we were on a mission for my mom, it was understood that we would also ask for candy (usually a Butterfinger) or soda (usually a Sunkist.) I was never sure whether his daughter-in-law, Cindy, was limiting our intake of sugar (maybe at my mom’s request), or we just didn’t have enough change, but I remember being dejected when we couldn’t buy our goodies. But Sarge usually came through for us, sneaking the candy and sodas to us as we walked out the door.

With that thought, and as Christmas approaches, I’m tempted to put my diet on hold and cruise by Green Valley market, which I think is still owned by Cindy, and grab some Carne Adovada and some jerkey to take home with me.

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