She was 16. Ever since her mother died 4 years ago, she has helped her father to raise her siblings in a rural town in the southwest region in Brazil.

Her mother taught her how to take care of the house and how to look after her bothers and sister. For as long as she could remember, she cleaned, she cooked, and she changed and washed soiled diapers. She was a ‘mommy’s girl’, always by her mom’s side helping on the household chores.

She wasn’t educated, but she had a house, a sick father and 3 kids to take care of.

Her father was a nice man, he worked hard to support his family and never got married again. He loved his wife, and he couldn’t move on, allowing depression and alcohol to slowly consume his life.

She was young, she didn’t have many dreams. She didn’t have time to dream.

Some evenings she was able to get out of the house and meet with friends in the village. It was nice to sit outside the church and talk to people while watching a few cars passing by and forget for a minute or two about her responsibilities. These days she also looked forward to see ‘Blue Eyes’. They met for the first time through their fathers who worked together on a construction site. Blue Eyes was generous, intelligent and funny. He made her feel special and he was the only one capable of bringing a smile to her face.

One day, Blue Eyes approached her and asked if she liked him. She nodded her head signing ‘yes’, after all, it wasn’t appropriate to speak with a man about feelings. Blue Eyes smiled and left.

Her father noticed she was getting too close to this friend, so without delay he approached Blue Eyes and asked about his true intentions. “I just turned 18 and I have an honest job. I would be honored if you give me your permission to marry your daughter”, said Blue Eyes without hesitation. The father gave Blue Eyes a deep long stare then shook his hand and said: “Why wait? Lets start the arrangements soon.”

A few months later, she was a bride entering a church filled with friends, family and acquaintances. The dream she never dared to have was coming true. Blue Eyes had never looked so handsome and she’d never felt so happy.

Soon after the wedding the couple started their long journey together. Blue Eyes was a mason without a permanent home. He lived wherever the job sent him to: as he arrived to a new site, he and the other men would build camps and live there until the job was done to then move again to next assignment. As a good wife should do, she followed Blue Eyes through his job assignments. She took care of the home, she helped in the construction sites, and she cut wood and fish to provide food for her family. She supported her husband in every way she could.

In the first year of their marriage she had two miscarriages, one of which almost ended her life. Blue Eyes realized that the workload was too heavy on her and decided to set a permanent home for them. It was a simple home with one bedroom just outside a small town.

After the move, she got pregnant again with her first of 13 children. Blue Eyes still had to travel to do his job assignments, coming home for a few days each month or so. To help with finances, she worked washing other people’s clothes (by hand), she sold homemade soap and homegrown vegetables. She raised her thirteen children mostly on her own. 

She raised chickens and pigs and once in a while she killed and prepared one of them for dinner. Every single part of the animals were used for something, she wouldn’t allow any waste.

She was rigid and demanded respect. She coped by drinking alcohol and she disciplined with punishment. She didn’t know how to be affectionate. She didn’t have time to. 

All of her children worked at early age, even before their teenager years to help with the  family’s finances. They all looked forward to the day their father would come home. Nicer days, more money for food and loving conversations.

As the years went by, the children grew up, and most of them became successful adults with their own families and stable jobs. She was accomplished, she had done her job.

Blue Eyes retired and was home permanently. They always lived a simple and honest life and enjoyed seeing their children growing up and making their own families.

They loved their grandchildren, each in their own ways: she showed her love by cooking, cleaning, disciplining, while Blue Eyes showed his love by playing, joking and buying candies. Blue Eyes was the funny grandpa,  she was the grumpy grandma.

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The kids threw them a big 60’th anniversary party. All the family and friends came to celebrate. She was happy and had a great big smile on her face. More years passed and she got sick, her body was fading but her mind was there. She survived cancer but the treatment was too hard on her old body. Slowly she saw her life slipping away, fist losing the controls of her muscles, her speech, eating became difficult. For years she depended on her daughters to eat, to shower, to dress. She was ashamed because she’d always taken care of herself. It was hard for her to accept help but she endured it until the end.

Towards the final years of her life her soul became lighter, she started to show more smiles and even deep affection. I remember her last day fighting to survive, struggling to breath while her eyes radiated her deep agony. I asked myself ‘why did she have such a difficult life?’ Since she was a little girl she worked, she took care of people. She worked by her husband’s side, and she raised 13 children. She died suffering, in pain. I really couldn’t understand why.

Our last moment together was in the hospital room where some of my aunts and I prayed and held her hands, asking God to end her suffering. A minute after our prayer, doctors run into the room and asked us to leave. Her heart was stopping and a few minutes later they called it. img_7241

Grumpy grandma was a warrior, she wasn’t a perfect mother and she could barely write her name in a piece of paper. But, she provided her children with food, clean clothes, and the life lessons that made them who they are today. All of her kids are thankful of her and today they laugh as they remember her stories including her rigid discipline. I never saw them complaining about her behavior, they understood that it was the best she could do. They knew she loved them deeply even though she never said it.

Today, her bloodline is spread around the world. Her grandchildren didn’t have to go through the same difficulties and they never had to worry whether there would be enough food on the table. Grumpy grandma lives in our memories and will continue to live while there is one of us to tell the world about her story.

 

 

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