Monday, May 28, 2012

Blame it on the Tamales

Grandpa and Grandma Chavez at Christmas -- enjoying a tamale
When my Grandpa Louie (Chavez) had an upset stomach, he used to say: “Me hizo mal los tamales.” In other words, he blamed it on the bad tamales, which was an inside joke referring to the day after his wedding when my Grandma Lola wasn’t feeling well. According to my Grandma, it was the tamales. But my Grandpa blamed her queasiness on the Champaign, mostly because my Grandma never drank alcohol.

That old saying resurfaced last month when I was visiting with family during my cousin Phoebe’s first birthday. I was telling my relatives about the 1940 Census that was released earlier in April. One of the surprises I discovered, based on math from reading the Census and other records, was that my Grandma Lola was pregnant with my Aunt Fran when she and my Grandpa married in 1941.

When I mentioned my discovery at the party, my Uncle Mike practically jumped out of his seat. He concluded it wasn’t the tamales that made my Grandma sick; it was her pregnancy. My mom was equally shocked, but for another reason. Like my Grandma, my mom had an unexpected pregnancy – with me. And she said her mother gave her such a hard time about it. She couldn’t believe her mother would treat her that way, given her own history. Of course, those were different times – in 1941, as well as in 1969, when I was born.

I also asked my Mom whether she had seen a wedding picture of my Grandpa and Grandma. She said the only photo she remembered was a photo of her parents with her Uncle Lalo in El Paso, shortly the wedding. I discovered through church records that they got married in San Fidel, outside of Grants where they lived. They must have taken a honeymoon in El Paso, before moving to Los Angeles, which is where my Aunt Fran was born.

Even with family stories and all of the research I’ve done, it’s always tough to know the circumstances surrounding most of the life-changing events of my ancestors. For example, in 1940-41, they were recovering from the Depression and heading toward a world war. My Grandpa had just lost his father a year before, and his oldest brother died four years earlier. Before he knew it, he was start a new life of his own. Unfortunately, another brother would die after they moved to L.A.

Following the death of his brother, Benny, my Grandpa was thrust into a difficult situation with the responsibility of two families – taking care of his mother and his remaining siblings; and his wife and infant daughter. His mother, Eliza, was a strong-willed woman. But I can attest that my Grandma Lola was just as strong-willed, some might say stubborn (of course I would never say that.) 
Eventually, my Grandpa and Grandma moved back to New Mexico, where my mom and her three brothers were born and raised. Great-Grandma Eliza and her youngest son, Lalo, remained in L.A.
My grandparents lived the next 60 years in New Mexico, moving from Grants to Albuquerque and finally to Farmington. They had some bad tamales, I’m sure, but all I remember were my Grandma’s wonderful tamales every Christmas – either at her house, at my Aunt Fran's, or at our house in Albuquerque.

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