Both of my parents have roots in Houston; my mother's mother immigrated there as a child from Monterrey and my father's parents immigrated from Guadalajara. We spent most of our family vacations driving there, and then driving all over the city from one relative's house to another. That's the dominant memory of Houston for me, in fact, seemingly always past oil refineries.
For this trip I came to Houston as a somewhat autonomous adult, and it was a completely different city. Instead of camping out on a relative's couch we stayed downtown at the Magnolia, which was a fun place to stay. It's in a restored building in the historic district. They have a cocktail hour (which we unfortunately missed every time) and fresh-baked cookies with milk every evening. The staff was remarkably young but sweet and welcoming.
The city is still struggling to make downtown a viable urban center (instead of a collection of oil company towers) but there is a light rail that takes you to museums, Herman Park, the zoo, and Rice University.
The main reason we went was to celebrate my maternal grandmother's 90th birthday. After her father died in Mexico, she immigrated to the US (illegally!) when she was about eight years old. Her childhood was filled with tragedy right out of a Dickens novel -- it culminated with her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse getting squashed when she was denied entrance to a work/study nursing program on the basis of her Mexican background. It was the depression, and the administrator told her "we have to take care of our own, first." (Fast-forward to 1989, when I say "thank you, I will take that minority scholarship to college.") Grandma moved all the way to New York to stay with an aunt and find work.
Grandma raised my mother and her brothers on her own after her merchant marine husband took off to start a family with another woman down the street. Fortunately, she had a lot of family in Houston to help her. She worked as a telegraph operator for years to support her children. There weren't many single mothers in those days.
Grandma is a freckled redhead who always carries a parasol in the sun. When she visited us in Colorado we would take the bus to the mall (Grandma never learned to drive) where we would have lunch at Chick-Fil-A or Wyatt's Cafeteria and see a movie. If we were good, she would buy us a little Hello Kitty toy. At the end of her visit we would take her to her gate at the airport and she would tell us, "Say goodbye to your Grandma. I may kick the bucket any day now and you'll never see me again." She's been threatening to kick the bucket for years. This weekend she'll have a pacemaker put in and my uncle says he thinks it will give her another 10 years. She's a survivor.
It was thrilling to see relatives I hadn't seen in 15, 20, 25 years. All my cousins where were children when last I saw them are now adults, some with children of their own. Everyone looked great. I loved reconnecting and especially loved the warm weather, so I think we're going to have to start spending more time in Houston in the future.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Posted by Adriana Velez at 12:32 PM