Reading Through Grandmother's Cataracts
If my grandmother were still alive, she would have turned 97 in a few days. In her late eighties, she was confined to a wheelchair, although she made a lot of effort in trying to stand and walk on her own even months before she died. At the twilight of her life, Lola’s passions were simple: watching her great-grandchildren play by her feet, fruits in her oatmeal, and paying attention whatever I was watching on TV.
She was particularly happy when I was tuned in to wrestling; I’ll bet my last peso that you’ve never seen a more enthusiastic 92-year-old fan of Shawn Michaels.
I wonder if Lola – who never learned to read or write – would have been proud of who I turned out to be.
Mom and Dad kept most of our old books in her room. I spent many a weekend afternoon going there to look for something to read. I thought that Lola was sleeping, but when I walked back to my room to read, I saw her looking at me with a faint smile on her face. That was the same reaction she had when I took time to study, and not watch television.
Lola opened a book and couldn’t make anything out of the text: only the pictures printed on them. All her prayers were recited from memory. Poverty, war, and the priorities of society gave Lola the right to an X-shaped scrawl as her signature. If there was anything that hurt me the most as I saw my grandmother age, it was the fact that she couldn’t hold a pen or pencil correctly. Or that she couldn’t make out the blanks and typed text on documents she had to sign. She was definitely one smart cookie, but life didn’t cut her that slack to get an education.
I can imagine what a grand dream it would have been for her to learn how to read and write, but that’s a dream she never denied to her children. When she was still strong enough, she took care of us and insisted that adal – learning – was far more important than anything else in the world. We studied under her watchful eyes: from ABCs to 123s right down to political theory. We can’t and couldn’t take that for granted: she put such a premium on it that doing otherwise would have been betrayal.
For a great part of school, we learned and studied because of her.
After insisting on doing chores, she would sit on the couch and try to hold pens and pencils. Pretty soon, her X-shaped scrawl turned into letters, and she finally had a proper signature. In her eighties, Lola started to make sense of the letters on the TV, and turn them to words. At her advanced years, there weren’t many opportunities for Lola to read and write – her eyesight was getting in the way of everything else – but she finally set out on doing what was long denied her.
We live in better days today, where women can learn to read and write regardless of their status in life, and gender need not be a barrier to education and literacy. Lola probably wouldn’t have understood whatever I’m writing these days, but I’m sure she would have appreciated whatever I turned out to be. In a family where there’s no shortage of lawyers, doctors, accountants, nurses, government officials, and engineers, one writer – no matter how terrible he thinks of himself – doesn’t seem to be so bad.