SARAH GRACE VILLARREAL
Last night I had a dream, I dreamt that I saw my Grandpa. He was looking for something on my desk. I could only see him from behind but I knew it was he, I just knew. I could tell by the way he crumpled the papers that were strewn on the top.
“What are you looking for, Grandpa?” He turned around when I said that.
“You, I’m looking for you.”
Then I woke up.
Mari kept playing the image of her grandfather over and over in her head, as she got dressed for her cousin, Elena’s wedding. She hadn’t really thought about her grandfather in a long time, which she realized made her feel guilty. If she was being honest with herself, all thoughts about her grandfather made her feel guilty. She was never as close to him as her other cousins. She loved him. She liked the smell of his pearl snap, plaid shirts. She loved his warm hugs and his deep laugh. And she loved when he made caldo de res (beef soup).
She paused as she thought about his caldo de res or how she’d pronounce it kahl-dough, day race. The thought made the pit of her stomach contract and her cheeks turn red. She quickly searched for her pearls.
“Pearls are classy,” she thought to herself as she clasped the pearls around her neck. What a weird thought, what a weird day. Her phone rang.
“Yes, Mom, I’m leaving early. Like, right now,” she held her phone between her face and her shoulder as she clasped the back of her heels.
“I don’t want you to rush, you have a long drive.” Her mom’s voice came muffled out of the phone.
“Three hours isn’t that long, Mom.” Mari dumped her purse out on the bed and started grabbing only the essentials, (lipstick, tissues, keys, ID, credit card) and put them in her small formal handbag.
“Not for a Texan, but you’re not really a Texan,” for some reason her mother’s words stung.
“Yeah, well I’ve been living here for 10 years, mom, I am now. Look, I have to leave, like now. I’ll be there, and on time, okay. See you soon, I love you.”
“I didn’t mean it in a bad…”
“Mom, I have to go,” Mari closed the door to her apartment and headed for her car, and the wedding.
Mari and Elena weren’t the closest of relatives — she wasn’t Taylor, or even Pete, but she was nice enough when they’d see each other at Christmas and the occasional summer visit. Mari took a deep breath and practiced her last name in the best Spanish pronunciation she could muster. Montemayor, Moan-theh-may-yord. She said it over and over.
“You don’t speak Spanish?” She’d get the shocked reaction from Hispanics and Anglos alike.
“Do you speak German?” She had asked her boss once.
“Well, no. My dad never spoke it.” Her boss’s answer was pretty standard, but since she was Latina, they judged her.
Mari drove up to the church with 2 minutes to spare. She rushed in and took her seat next to her mother.
“Mom, the music hasn’t even…”
Suddenly, some emotional string music began to play. Her mother just gave her a look. Mari giggled and shrugged. She made it before the bride walked in and that’s all that mattered.
The ceremony continued as usual. The bride cried, the groom cried, all her aunts and uncles and cousins cried. The ceremony ended with cheers and singing and continued with hugs and kisses from reunited family.
“Mari, I haven’t seen you since you were baby.”
“Mari? Mari? Oh, are you Gloria’s daughter?”
“How’s New England, Mari?”
“You’re next, Mari!”
“Oh I remember, Mari, you had that cute gringa accent.”
And on and on it went as Mari made her way with her mother through the crowd of relatives and family friends.
At the reception, the seating arrangement wasn’t bad; she got to sit with her Aunt Priscilla and Uncle Joe and her cousin Taylor. Taylor and Mari were the closest of all their cousins. Growing up, they visited each other at least 3 times a year, probably because Priscilla and Mari’s mother were twin sisters. In between visits Mari and Taylor wrote letters to each other, called each other, played video games together. When Mari moved to Texas for undergrad, she and Taylor lived together. They were like sisters.
Dinner began and in came the Mariachis. Their loud trumpets and strumming demanded the attention of everyone in the large hotel ballroom. These were not the Mariachi from the north; they wouldn’t be playing “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Oops, I Did it Again.” No, these were as authentic as you get this side of the Rio Grande.
Taylor leaned in to speak, “How much you bet they’ll sing ‘Volver’?”
“You know, they probably will. I mean it’s not that weird at a wedding, right?” Mari had heard the song many times before, and knew it was about love lost but didn’t get Taylor’s disdain for it.
“Eh, it’s not even that, it’s just like, I don’t know, overplayed, you know.”
Mari shrugged and, sure enough, the familiar string progression of “Volver” started. Taylor sighed and rolled her eyes. Mari chuckled. She actually liked the song. It reminded her of her days down in Texas with her family.
Vicente Fernández – “Volver Volver” | Source: © vicentefernandez/YouTube
“Hi Mari, hi Tyler.” Aunt Rosie walked up to the two cousins giving both of them a kiss on their cheeks. “What have you girls been up to? I haven’t seen you since last Christmas!”
“Oh you know, the regular, work, life.”
“Oh, thank goodness that song is over, you know I wish they’d play some of your abuelo’s songs,” Aunt Rosie interrupted.
“What do you mean by ‘Abuelo’s Songs’?” Mari asked.
“You know, the ones he sang back in Mexico. Oh, the audiences loved him,” Aunt Rosie sighed.
“Like, at bars? I know Mom talks about the great voice but, like, I didn’t realize he would perform,” Taylor sounded as surprised and confused as Mari felt.
“Bars? Oh no, he performed in theaters. He made records. Didn’t you two know?”
“No!” They said in unison.
“Oh, he had a beautiful voice, everyone loved him. But when he met your grandma, he left that world and moved here.”
“Why didn’t he keep singing? Taylor asked.
“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?” Mari said mostly to herself. She felt weirdly isolated, more so than before.
“Hey, they never told me either,” Taylor reminded Mari, but Mari hardly noticed her as they headed back to the table.
How could her mother keep something that big from her and how did she go her whole life not knowing?
“She’s got to be joking,” Taylor said, just before they sat back down at the table.
“Aunt Rosie doesn’t usually joke like that,” Mari said.
Mari’s mother was already at the table when she and Taylor got back.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Grandpa was a some sort of mariachi rock star in Mexico?” Mari tried to keep the question light, even though her mother saw through her act.
“I wouldn’t call him a mariachi rock star. But he did do some performances and he recorded a few records.”
“Why am I just now hearing about this? Does everyone else know? Why would you keep that from me?”
“I didn’t know,” Taylor said leaning into the conversation.
“Okay, does everyone, except me and Taylor, know?” Mari tried lightening her tone, but she felt like everyone at the table could see the smoke coming out of her ears.
“I just didn’t think about it I guess, it was just one small part of your Grandpa, he was so much more.” Mari’s mother put a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m just shocked.” Mari was genuinely shocked. All day, all weekend, she felt like she didn’t really know anything about anything, especially about her family. Who were they; was she even one of them? Who was she? The swell of an identity crisis started clouding her vision.
“I didn’t know, either,” Taylor chimed in again.
Mari could feel her vision turning red as she turned to Taylor. Taylor had no right. She lived here, she spent more time with this family — heck, she lived with their grandparents when they were sick. Mari was miles away from knowing this culture, this history, and mostly this family compared to Taylor. Just as she was about to put Taylor in her place, the trumpets began to play a familiar melody.
“This is one of Dad’s songs,” Aunt Pricilla said.
Suddenly a rush of memories came flooding back. Mari knew this song. Her mother sang it to her every night when she was little.
“This one? This song? It’s Grandpa’s?”
“Yes, one of his more popular. We lost the recording a long time ago.” Aunt Pricilla answered the question Mari meant for her mother.
Mari took a deep breath. She was still confused by the whole situation, but she didn’t want to miss hearing her childhood lullaby performed by the Mariachis. She let the melody dance in her head.
“How do you know the words?” Taylor asked her.
She was so lost in the song, a song that she carried with her through the years, that she had not realized she was singing along. She ignored Taylor, at least for the rest of the song, to gulp in this part of her identity, her history, and a connection to her grandfather she hadn’t realized she had.
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