Monday, September 19, 2016

A Long Time Ago in a Far Away Land...

Today the protagonist of my story will be Bobe Etko. She was my maternal grandmother RIP and it's only now at this age the I can understand how amazing a woman she was and with how much dignity and integrity she lived her life. I don't remember her being all lovey dovey at least not with me, my older brother was her favorite grandson and with good reason, he was her first grandchild and on top of that it was her only daughter's son, I didn't come around for another 2-1/2 yrs. and I was the second grandchild, so she had a whole 2 1/2 yrs. to interact with my brother before I got here.

Even though I don't remember her being that demonstrative I remember how well she managed her life and helped her two kids, my mom and her son Juan.

My mom made it her mission in life to take care of all her family while they were alive and once they were gone someone else would take their place in her mission to take care of whomever needed her care until the day she died. Her mom was no exception, if she needed her help at the store she had there she was, if she needed help at home my mom ran to help her out and when she was in her deathbed it was my mom who cared for her until her life quietly left her hard working somewhat lonesome life.

My grandfather had passed away in his early 50s, she had to be the one to continue on with the store to finish raising her two kids and once they each went off into their own lives, she continued to help them, I remember her giving her son some money for a downpayment for his apartment. He was a doctor and his wife an interpreter and yet it was Bobe Etko who had to come and help them out with a downpayment.

She also managed to maintain a group of girlfriends that she frequented every week. They played cards or went to movies and they traveled extensively all over the world as a group. She went on trains and planes and even cruises. I always admired how well she dressed, how she maintained a good figure, I never saw her have to lose a pound a day in her life. She had very good taste and she would match her outfit with her jewelry, if the silk knit suit she was wearing was turquoise she would wear turquoise to match, so she had a good selection to go with everything she had.

Her hair became white at a very early age but she would go to the hair salon once a week to get her hair coiffed and her nails done, even in her deathbed when she had to be on oxygen because the one nasty thing she did most of her life was smoke cigarettes, even there she asked for her hairdresser to come and fix her hair and nails, She died of emphysema, as did my mom, same reason around the same age.

Her beginnings were nice, she had many brothers and sisters, a religious father and a stay at home mom who had many children to raise. Her grandparents were around them too, all religious family, I remember one of her grandmothers, Ita was her name, she was this tiny little white haired lady with a hump on her back, I saw pictures of her, she passed away as I was being born.

I don't remember how many they were, my mom told me many times but it's one of those things I forgot, she was born in Poland back around the 1910s, I actually have her passport somewhere that I'll recover one of these days.

Between her who was the youngest child and her oldest brother José aka El Tío Pelón there were 20 yrs. difference. I kept her passport after my mom passed away. My mom always kept everything she could of all those she loved who left her behind to endure life that in all sincerity was a very difficult life.

Bobe Etko came to America when she was 15 yrs. old. Seide Pépe (her husband and my beloved grandfather RIP) came first. The story goes that they were girlfriend and boyfriend in the town of Mlawah, Poland. Bobe used to work at this factory that produced grenades. I still have a hard time believing that but why would she say that if it wasn't true. Seide was enrolled in the armed forces in Poland, I'm sure it was mandatory at his age especially in those years of Pogroms and anti-semitism and who knows what other turmoil there was. He was a cavalry soldier and one day on this mission he was carrying his nephew who was a little boy, they were hiding in trenches from the enemy whomever that was at the time, in one of these humid trenches full of mold he contracted typhoid fever. This was the start of what eventually would kill him, it weakened his heart and he had heart problems until he died from them in his early 50s.

Seide was also a tailor, that's how he earned his money, so once he was feeling better physically he decided to leave Poland to find a better life for him and his wife to be. Even though they were very young that was a normal age to be in a relationship at that time.

He took his suitcase and got on a ship with his brother and they went off. The ship landed in Veracruz, Mexico, a lovely port. My mom used to tell me how when he got there without speaking the language or any money for that matter he would sell sox on the street and then use the money to buy fabric to make a coat or a dress or anything he could sell for more to invest and create more to live off and save to bring Bobe from Poland to start a life with him.

I'm not sure how long it took him but it wasn't too long, perhaps a year, so Bobe Etko got on the ship from Poland to be with Seide and when she got to the port of Veracruz the captain wouldn't let her off the ship because she was a minor. So they tell me that Seide got on the ship and asked the Captain to marry them.

I remember the picture they had of that wedding, she was so beautiful and young, leaning against Seide who was an incredible handsome man. She had this little bouquet of flowers that she kept because they were made out of silk and covered in wax. It's hard to describe but they were really beautiful. I remember she also kept the little dolls that were on top of the cake. They were so well made, their little faces were made on a little circular bead hand painted with these huge eyes and they were each standing on top of a little heart. I kept those too, who knows where they are now, I feel one day I will recover all those little things that were so important to my mom who asked me to keep them and my life has taken me to so many places that I lost track of all those wonderful mementos that mean so much.

Bobe and Seide eventually moved to Mexico City, they lived downtown, they started a women's clothing store in the heart of downtown, Creaciones Estela on the corner of the Streets of Tacuba and Motolinia, it was small but it was successful with her customers and the people who walked by.

She had beautiful dresses, coats, suits, scarfs, blouses, sweaters even gloves. At the beginning some of the things they sold were Seide's own creations then they started buying from factories. I kept the little coats Seide made for me when I was an infant, I had two huge dolls that used all my outfits he made me, not to mention the dresses my mom knitted. She even knitted some slippers for my Barbies, I can't imagine how she did that.

Some of my fondest memories are from that store. I used to accompany my mom when she went to help Bobe. I loved arranging the window displays, folding the clothes, selling to the ladies, grandma didn't let me do that too much, perhaps she should have, as a little girl I could have convinced the ladies to buy more. But what I loved the most about going to the store was taking my lunch pail, there were these stackable metal small pots covered with porcelain and held by two long metal rods on the sides that created a handle on top.

I would go to a restaurant a block away by the name of Café Tacuba. It was popular then but nothing like the popularity that it has now, over the years they even used the name for a popular singing group. I'd buy the menu of the day, it was the surprise of what it was that I loved the most, I could find things like Sopa de Tortilla, Chile Relleno, Mole con Pollo, Arroz,  Frijoles Refritos, Caldo Tlalpeño, Puntas de Filete a la Mexicana,  Enchiladas,  Camarónes al Mojo de Ajo, you name it, I loved it all, it was the Mexican food I grew up with and loved eating every day of my life, I still do funny enough. And then for dessert there was flan, or caramel pudding, churros con chocolate, ate con queso, pastel de 7 leches, crepas de cajeta, buñuelos, tamales dulces, chongos zamoranos....

Later on things changed, like life always does, Bobe had to close the store because the city decided to build a Metro stop right there in that very spot so the store that gave here the ability to live a good life and feel the freedom of being a self sufficient woman in a country that took her in when she was still just a child was now gone.

From that point on Bobe was never the same, she had lost very precious members of her family. She had to watch her son die in his 40s from a terrible type of skin cancer and also had to watch my younger brother die, no Bobe should have to experience that much pain in her life.

I'm so grateful that I had these people and these experiences in my life, that I come from their genes and their incredible strength, kindness, perseverance, powerful dignity and commitment to life and family. Those are the values that I hope to maintain, the ones that in my own way I tried to pass on to my children, the ones that comes from A Long Time Ago in a Far Away Land...

Hugs xoxo


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