“Where are my guns?”
My mother, Rosemary, has two brothers, a younger and an older one. Toys tended to get passed down, so it seemed fitting to a five-year-old Rosemary that her older brother’s toy guns and raccoon hat now belonged to her. One day, Rosemary was getting ready to watch Davy Crockett and engage in epic cowboy vs. Indian fantasies when she noticed her guns were missing. Placing her trusty raccoon hat atop her head, Rosemary set out looking for them.
“Where are my guns?” she asked her mother. My grandmother, Margarita, was originally from El Salvador and she had made her own way through life and found herself in Huntington Park, near Los Angeles, with three kids. Margarita was one of the strongest female figures in both my life and my mother’s (for better or for worse).
“Guns are for boys,” she said, implying that my mother’s search was unnecessary. My mother tried to process the response, but it was no use. To Rosemary, her mother was being ridiculous.
“Where are my guns?”
I know toy guns are a tricky topic—so allow me to sidestep that issue, because my opinion on that is irrelevant.
My mother and grandmother never really did see eye-to-eye. My grandmother had her ways, and though she pursued a career in nursing for a long time (it’s what got her to the U.S.) she still told my mom to find a nice man and not bother going to college. My mother’s response was similarly dismissive to the story of the toy guns. I think when dealing with Margarita, Rosemary tended to shrug it off and assume her own mother was a little crazy.
Before my mother and father were married, they ran into some relationship issues. My grandmother’s advice to a grief-stricken Rosemary: “Just act really important and the men will come crawling.” I’m pretty sure that’s not feminism, but it is universally acknowledged that when someone ignores you, you want them all the more.
When my grandmother was my age and studying to be a nurse in El Salvador, she befriended a woman doctor. El Salvador in the 30s was not exactly lady-doctor friendly, and this particular woman doctor was the only one at the hospital they worked at and so they were subject to harassment. And not just any kind of harassment. One afternoon, when my grandmother and her doctor friend were getting on the bus, the doctor reached into her purse to pay, and ended up finding a severed penis in her bag. One of the other people who worked in the hospital had gone into the morgue, taken the time to slice off a dead man’s dick and then place it in this woman’s bag. The things people do to send a message…
I know my grandmother witnessed a lot of female oppression in her time. Not to mention her own mother had Margarita when she was only 14 herself. My great-grandmother wasn’t married, and continued to have children by different fathers. Margarita, the eldest, grew up quickly. Despite this setback, my grandmother ended up becoming very successful as a nurse with dreams of becoming a doctor. But when she got pregnant with my uncle, she left her career behind to raise a family (one thing that never seemed to sit right with her). Maybe it made her bitter to see my mother have those opportunities. Maybe she saw more of my grandfather in my mother than herself. Who knows? I’m pretty sure my mother has stopped trying to figure it out and gone back to her initial “Woman, you crazy” conclusion.
I feel pretty damn lucky to have been born to my parents. They have been purely positive figures in my life. My mother told me once that she made a point not to be like Margarita with me, another point of which I am grateful for. Although, I think some of Margarita’s feistiness has carried on to her descendants – my mother, myself and my two female cousins (fear girl’s writer/editor Siena is one of ’em).
We don’t get to pick our family, and certainly not our parents. But we do get the rare opportunity to decide how we treat our children. My grandmother was truly blessed in many ways—she escaped El Salvador, married a wonderful man, and got to see her children and grandchildren grow up around her. But on two accounts I feel sorry for her—the first is that she pushed my mother away from her in many respects. And second, that she never fully fulfilled her ambitions beyond motherhood, that somewhere along the line, her society knocked her down hard enough that she just stopped. And I wonder, if Margarita had had a mother like mine, if maybe that would have made the difference.