It’s been a difficult week in a lot of ways. On the same day my mother was heading in to the hospital for surgery, I found out my grandmother, Margarita Negron, had passed away. She was my last remaining grandparent.
Today I’m supposed to be working on a project I’ve assigned myself. I’ve started it, but I keep stopping, my mind wandering away. I think I know why. I usually keep these sorts of things to myself, but as I sit here, I keep thinking of the same thing.
I have lots of memories of my grandmother. But one is strongest. For a short time when I was young, my family (all five of us) lived at her house. We were having a new home built and the old one had already been sold, so we needed to live somewhere for a few months in between.
In the mornings my grandfather would make us cereal. He’d pour the flakes into a bowl then pile it high with sugar. The man liked his sugar. I think there was more of it than cereal, though this could be a young person’s skewed memory.
But my grandmother, she made the most of the other meals. Lots of fried chicken. Lots of pastelillos.
My grandparents were from Puerto Rico. My father was born there too. When my dad was three, they moved the entire family to Buffalo, NY. They spent enough time there to see their children, all five of them, set off in the world as Americans, most with children of their own, before returning to where their heart remained, in Puerto Rico.
There my grandmother, who I suspect never enjoyed speaking English in the first place, didn’t have to anymore. And I wish I spoke more Spanish – I took it enough in high school and college – but since my father preferred we grow up as purely English-speakers, the language was never spoken in our home, and I never became fluent.
So, even when I did see her, which wasn’t often enough, it was difficult for me to communicate with my grandmother. She didn’t speak a lot of English; I didn’t speak a lot of Spanish.
But, God, I remember those pastelillos. They said more to me than she probably ever could have.
For the uninitiated, a pastelillo is a Puerto Rican meat pie or turnover, sort of like a meat-filled Hostess-like thing. I’ve been looking up recipes today, and most of them call for ground beef. But what I remember of my grandmother’s is that they were made of pork. Pork and olives.
I know it was the olives I loved. I have ever since, and I’m quite sure the first olive I ever had was inside one of my grandmother’s pastelillos.
So, in honor of her, I leave you with a video on how to make a pastelillo. It’s beef, so it’s not quite right, but they look similar, which is enough of a reminder for me right now.
I’ve never tried making them myself before. But my aunt has the recipe. My sisters, too, I think. I’m going to have to get the pork and olive one. Even though it’s not something that fits my diet anymore, I think I might have to make them at least once, sometime soon. Just because.
Oh, and my mom is doing great. She’s not even taking any pain medication. She’s tough like that. Always has been.
Beautifully written, Chris. Love this!