Blanca Ines Arellano is, and forever will be, my grandmother. I can remember my parents always sharing the story and laughing at how she was baptized into her new-found faith with the name Blanca Nieves – roughly translated as Snow White. Of course my parents found this ironic, but it took me longer to truly understand that her fairytale name didn’t mean she had or would live a fairytale life.
She was born into poverty with no knowledge of her father; raised by a single mother, whose own troubled childhood in a Catholic orphanage manifested itself through a strict and guilt ridden upbringing of my grandmother, her only child. Life was never easy for her, in her youth or even as she grew into adulthood, but one could never see that from the outside. She raised her children in the spirit of love and happiness and passed a strength onto her daughters that has been a guiding force for my life. Oh how I wish for the ability to sit and converse with her now as an adult. The foolishness of youth is almost always realized in hindsight and my wasted moments pass before me as scenes from a montage I can’t seem to slow down or stop.
My mind plays tricks on me and I find myself wondering if the memories I sift through are moments that actually occurred, or moments that I created from a picture or a story. Her journey into my childhood always began with a new Chard entering the world. We shared a room, she and I, but I found more ways to be annoyed by that fact than to relish the opportunity. She had a radio that she played all day, every day. It was set to a scratchy AM channel that she hoped would bring her comfort, in the form of Spanish music, from a land she missed desperately but mostly she settled for it bringing her a familiar language and Mexican Ranchero. I can see her resting in the afternoon with the radio laid next to her as I enter the room. My ears are bothered by the constant beat and I roll my eyes and puff out a sigh as I lay on my bed with my back towards her. She senses my annoyance and the music fades and the door is shut as I mistakenly accept her leaving as a victory.
Recompense came eight years later in the garage of a rented home along the beaches of Mar del Plata, Argentina. My grandmother was still the same strong and loving women she had always been only recently, a trial had begun and her life had darkened due to debilitating social anxiety and panic attacks. The small three bedroom house was bursting at the seams with eighteen people now calling it home and lining mattresses along any free space available. She was overjoyed to have her family finally united after a twenty year separation but, at times, an overwhelming panic would descend upon her and send her seeking solace in the vacancy of the garage. It was during one of those moments that I sought her out, wanting to express love and gratitude. I remember the dimness of the garage being caused by the presence of three small windows at the top of the door and her lying on a mattress in the middle of the room. I remember thinking that she was smarter than all of us, the room being ten degrees cooler than any other room that I had tried to use as a hide out from the heat and humidity. The radio was softly playing next to her. I lay down beside her on the mattress and she held my hand as we talked – her in Spanish, me in English; somehow we understood each other just fine.
I turned to that memory on a warm spring morning in Texas, ten years after I shared that moment with her in Argentina. I received a call from my mission president. My companion and I had returned from a jog and we were getting breakfast. It’s funny what time can do to memories that we focus on, I see everything is slow motion and as a silent observer from above: Sister Guynn and I laughing – the phone ringing – her facing changing as she answers and listens – me taking the phone and walking to the window as he talks.
The same gratitude I felt then comes even today, as I write these words, to think that I was blessed to know her. I know I will be with her again; I have no doubts. For now these memories will have to do.