Yesterday readers commented on the lovely pic of Minga and her great-granddaughter, Grisel. For those of you who like to keep straight who is related to whom, Minga’s daughter Teresa is Grisel’s grandmother. Teri’s daughter Jennisbel is the mother of the two girls, Grisbel and Grisel. So the family tree looks like this: Minga — Teri — Jennisbel and Jose, who are parents of Grisel and Grisbel. Both girls have the nickname “Gris”, and I have no idea how they know which one is being called. But they seem to.
The pic is especially poignant for me, as I wrote in the comment to Louise, because I know Minga’s history. She grew up without a mother or father or siblings, quite alone in a rural culture that prizes family almost above all else. Now, she has 57 direct descendants. When she steps out with Grisel, it is her way of saying to the villagers with whom she shares a community, “These are my people. This is my family. I belong to this child, and she to me.”
For some people, life starts out relatively easy and gets harder. I think of a Rochester friend and her husband, both professionals, both interesting and good people. All three of their children ran aground on the way to adulthood, and two remained in difficult straights well into middle age. One of those is dead. These were kids who had lots of advantages, a more than middle class life. For a whole host of reasons, the arc of their lives didn’t work out, and that remains a source of anguish for their now elderly parents.
Minga’s life started out hard, and lonely, and unstable, as her mother died and she was passed to a grandmother who also died, then to a series of aunts. Her life now, at 75, is much better than at any time before, even with her kidney disease. She has her home. She has family. She has more financial security than at any time before, as her nine grown offspring chip in monthly to support her. She has my visits to look forward to, with the new experiences and tangible comforts — like the new rocking chair I bought her — that those visits bring.
We don’t get to pick the arc of our lives. But I’m glad for my Panamanian sister that life is good, and my heart smiles when I see her in her beautiful white dress, standing beside little Gris.