Thursday, September 03, 2009

Family Matters

For all the times the term gets tossed around these days, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything more pro-family than this:
Gregoria Martinez, 94, might seem like your typical grandma. She made quilts for her grandchildren, encouraged them to go to church, prayed for them, and gave advice.

Except the Texas grandma didn't have just a handful of grandchildren when she died Tuesday.

She had nearly 300.

Ninety-eight were grandchildren; 164 were great-grandchildren and 16 were great-great-grandchildren — all descendants of her own 11 offspring.

That's without counting her three stepchildren or any of their descendants — or the three great-great grandchildren currently on the way. The family purposely underestimated the total count, but felt if all were included it could be as high as 500.

Actually, they have been losing track. Now, with nearly half the family attending the funeral Wednesday, family members passed out index cards to update names and phone numbers while they had their chance.

Martinez's survivors packed the 500-seat St. Mary's Catholic Church in Quanah.

"Her numbers are pretty astounding," said Jesse Jalomo of his mother-in-law. "It's not no misprint."

The devout Catholic woman, whose husband, Ponciano, died at the age of 94 sometime after their 50th wedding anniversary, "could fill up our elementary school in Quanah with all the great-grandchildren and the great-great-grandchildren," Jalamo said.

And she knew practically all of them.

"If one of my sons would come up to see her, she'd say, 'Are you JJ?' He'd say, 'It's JJ, Grandma.' And she'd say, 'Are you doing right? Are you taking care of your family?'"

Family and faith were her two priorities — and she insisted on talking about both with everyone. But not by telephone. "She'd say, You come to see me, face to face. You want to speak to me, you come to my house, and you drink a cup of coffee with me."

She didn't preach about the benefits of large families, but did believe she was brought into the world to multiply.

"You know Catholics," said daughter Elva Jaloma.

When Gregoria was raising her children, she and her husband were migrant workers, traveling to Wisconsin to pick tomatoes and cucumbers, then back to Texas to pick cotton.

"They had 11 kids, and raised 14, and not one time did (they) draw a food stamp, a welfare check, or an unemployment check," Jaloma said of his in-laws. "They didn't believe in that. They said, 'If you want something, you work for it.'"...

Only in later years did both Gregoria and her husband work as custodians at a nearby hospital.

Long marriages run in the family, with many grandchildren logging 20-, 30- and 40- year anniversaries.

"They planted something very nice, very family oriented," Jaloma said.

Percilla Montes, 20, said she remembers picking pecans off the tree at her great-grandma's house and going to church with her.

"She always said that family was the most important thing, next to God."...

She spent time listening to her great-grandma. Listening, not talking.

"She was kind of stubborn. What she said, goes."

The theme of her life was clear to all: "Look, this is what it's got to be," she would say to each one. "You've got to have God in your life, and then have peace between you."
* * *
On a related note, hopefully no one minds a brief departure from the usual to answer the perennial most-asked question in the inbox: "How's 'The Boss'?"

For non-veteran readers, that's a reference to this scribe's maternal grandmother -- born an orphan and raised by Vincentian nuns in southern Italy, a widow on these shores before she was 40, left to raise seven kids (and work three jobs to keep food on the table)... and all the while (and long beyond) a daily communicant.

She's the greatest teacher, surest support, best example of true faith and truest friend I'll ever know... who'll see, Deus placet, her 94th year come November... and through it all, still keeps a firm, but even more loving, watch over her own.

Before anything else, thanks to everyone who's asked -- the question never ceases to bring a tear (or several) on hearing it. In a nutshell, it's good days and bad days -- unable to leave the house for the last four years or so, Boss can't really see anymore, either, and while her lack of sight and pains of movement make the 15-foot walk from her hospital bed to the kitchen table a struggle, most days she can still push herself to pull it off.

Her mind's sharp as ever; her tongue, too... God knows she wouldn't be herself without the latter. And for the most part, grazie Dio, she just amazingly keeps on, aided as ever by my Mom and her five sisters (the oldest of whom is 71), now going into their fifth year in residence, rotating on 24-hour shifts, each sleeping on the old couch alongside the bed when they're "on duty."

Given the challenges -- and, to be sure, their patient's (in)famous temper -- their work has often been anything but easy. But day in and day out, they've tackled it head-on, heroically, with nothing but love and never a second thought; just as she once gave everything for them, see, now they're returning the gift, keeping her comfortable, happy and cared for with everything they've got... and so long as I live, I know I'll never see a greater act of love, nor any better witness to the precious worth and dignity of human life, than this.

She can only see in shadows these days, and her short-term memory's next to nil, but "My glasses are dirty" is the only problem she'll ever cop to... and still, she can -- and does -- call us each by name.

The blessings might seem past, but in reality, they just keep piling up: in the days to come, the orphan who lost both parents before she was three will hear her yet another newborn carried through the door... but this time, it'll be her first great-great grandchild.

As the old prayer was "May you see your children's children," living to hold your grandchildren's grandchildren pretty much defies words. And it's the sweetest underscore of all that, for a woman who raised her six girls to be strong, give all, love richly and live faithfully, the path of descent through five generations is daughter-to-daughter, straight down the line.

The way things are, we have to keep reminding her of this. She usually replies by getting real wide-eyed and saying, simply, "You kidding -- it should be in the paper!"

By no stretch is this "the paper"... but hopefully, it's close enough.

All her life, she's only ever invested in one thing... and all the work, all the sorrows, all the giving, all the love has won her quite the yield: seven kids, 26 grandkids, close to 40 great-grand and, now, an imminent great-great grandbaby. But even as she bears the final Cross of a journey full of 'em, and hands over the last, most difficult sacrifice -- namely, the stubborn self-sufficiency which got her through all the rest -- one thing you'll never hear pass her lips is "Why me?"

In her self-admitted "broke English," all she'll ever say is this: "I did a little, and God do the rest... He been so good to me -- look what He give me."

That doesn't mean it's easy -- it just means it's all a gift, especially to us who're close by. And all I know is that I still need and rely on her more than I could ever express; that every day at her side is more a grace than the one before; that even in its rougher moments, life is what you want and make of it... and that no book or classroom can impart the lessons and values that come from being taught well at home -- in word, sure, but most of all in witness.

Over these years, I've never made a visit or a call without reminding Boss that she's being thought of and prayed for seemingly all over the map.

For all her selfless qualities, see, deep down she's never lost her painful childhood's craving for love and attention... and these days, every time she hears that she's got it in spades, it's like she's hearing it for the first time.

"How they know me?" she asks.

As ever, what matters isn't so much the "how" but the result: the simple, generous kindness of word and spirit that, in a word, is the best of this Church.

This is all a long way of saying a heartfelt "thanks" for the notes and prayers and how much they mean. For the many who've been so good to ask, hopefully it answers the question... and to one and all, every blessing of rest, peace, good times and safe travels over this Labor Day weekend -- God love you lot forever.

SVILUPPO: For the curious, weighing in at 8lbs, 8oz, the Boss' first great-great grandbaby was born before 7.30 Friday morning, 4 September.

Her name? Gianna Marie... and so, on and on it goes.