Nana Rafaela always believed in the importance of visiting family, and that was also the case with people she called family but may not have really been.
“That’s your tio go say hi mijo,” she would whisper into my ear. I never questioned her introductions, but as I turned older, I began to second guess the number of tios and tias that were really in my family. They must have had some kind of family connection, but not everyone I shared a hug with was probably a brother or sister of my parents.
Either way, to nana Rafaela, everyone had some kind of family connection. Most people do in small towns. At least it feels that way. So, there were plenty of family and houses to visit.
Nana never learned to drive. Tata was her chauffeur. He worked at the smelter. She worked at home. When she needed to get around, she waited for him or one of the older grandkids to get her from one place to the other. Trips to Wal-Mart or other grocery stores were common, but not as common as a visit to a tio’s house.
When I drive around my hometown, I pass by the houses I visited with nana. Where I live, many of the homes were built in the 50s and 60s. They have long front yards that begin with gates and end with metal doors that open up to wooden doors that open up to small warm living rooms.
Because it’s a border community, Mexican influences are everywhere. Some homes are fully tiled, no carpet in sight. Yards often have little chapel-like structures in reverence of the Virgin Mary. Family names hang on doors, mailboxes, or decorative tiles that include phrases like Mi Casa Es Su Casa.
Sometimes, little crosses made out of husks or something that feels homemade hung on entrances. There is always some section of the house, or garage, our outdoor storage room that looks like it is being renovated. Most homes in these parts have a handyman in the family.
What I remember most of these visits is how nana Rafaela would tell long stories on the ride over. As a professional car passenger, she knew how to fill up the time. Stories about the…