Here is what I know about my great-grandmother: she always wore red lipstick; when she was a young woman, she left her home to resettle up north; she married an Italian artist and gave birth to 12 children; and despite the chaos that must have been her life, she embraced it with sweetness and kindness.
I cannot wrap my head around the thought of having 12 kids. Up until recently, I thought I was open to the idea of having another child. I even picked out a name. The idea is romantic, until I snap out of it and feel utterly exhausted at the thought of having to do it all over again. I think about my great-grandmother and I wonder if she was the kind of mother that loved babies and wanted a house full of them, or if the lack of birth control and a sense of ownership that men tend to have over women made her voiceless in the matter.
I like the idea of her in the kitchen, cooking for her big family, wearing red lipstick. Such a simple statement that perhaps helped her stay connected to herself. Was the application of lipstick, and the minute or two it took to put it on, the only time she had to herself and the only form of self-care she practiced? I wonder what she would say to me, a mama to one kid who prioritizes long baths, daily yoga, massages, moon circles, and lots of time alone. I picture her holding my cheek, lovingly saying “that sounds wonderful, I am glad you have stepped into your own form of motherhood.”
And yet, for all my forms of self-care, try as I might, I cannot apply lipstick on properly. If I could spend an afternoon with her, I would ask her to help me pick the perfect shade and show me how to apply it on just right. And I would ask her to tell me all about her Italian husband, and any pearls of wisdom on men and marriage. I imagine her reiterating in her own way what I’m currently reading in The Queen’s Code: basically, how to communicate with men, a sacred art that’s long been lost.
And I would ask her to tell me all about her journey from her hometown of Guaranda all the way north to the capital of Ecuador. Without a doubt, her migration is what captivates me the most about her. She was born in a small village nestled in a deep valley high in the Andes, but journeyed on her own to Quito. I am utterly intrigued by her decision to pick up and go, and in awe at the courage it must have taken to do so. I would beg her to reveal to me her motivation, her drive, whatever it was that inspired her to make this move. Considering how perilous the move itself was.
I can tell you it was perilous because several years ago, I followed in her footsteps. I talked my uncle into driving my mother and I to that little village where my great-grandmother was born. It was a 4 hour drive through mountains and valleys and volcanos. At this point in time, the roads were paved, but even so the drive was nerve-wrecking. I can only imagine how much more dangerous this was when she traveled it all those years ago. And what did this young, illiterate and poor indigenous woman from the Andes do when she finally got to the big city?
For reasons I’ll never know, she took this leap and changed her fate and that of future generations. Then there’s my grandmother, who raised 6 kids of her own, and took care of me while my mother migrated north to the United States. Then there’s me: although I lived in New York for most of my life, a few years ago I made my own migration up north to Massachusetts, to a mill town that feels more like home than any other place I’ve ever been.
Traveling north is in my blood. Birthing my son in this land was in my stars. And I have my great-grandmother to thank: her adventurous risk-taking set into motion all that would unfold. All this time, the leaps I’ve made and the risks I’ve taken have served to embolden me because long ago, she decided to carve a new life for herself.
Photo credit: Augusta Rose