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Family Reunion 2007

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Thursday

Quote of the Day: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?”

- George Bernard Shaw

After sleeping in “The Dungeon” which is what I call my aunt’s basement with the full range of appreciation, we awoke refreshed. The rooms downstairs are cool, dark, quiet, and so comfortable that you might sleep until noon and not know it until you look at the clock.

It’s WHAT time?!!!

Here are the Boohers…

Upstairs, my aunt and my mom…

… were busy making preparations for the big dinner. We were having the entire family over for a big Mexican feast before going to the funeral home for the rosary.

When people started showing up, it was a continuous déjà vu as people from my childhood came through the door with tortillas, chile, beans, sopa, Spanish rice, and more deserts than you could shake a belly at.

We were thankful that after all these years, we could still gather to enjoy a big meal.

When I was a kid, I lived with my mom in OKC and it was a one hour drive from there to Perry Oklahoma where, decades later, they would catch the OKC bomber. But when I was a kid, Perry was a place where all my Mexican family would gather for enormous family reunions. My grandmother was one of 13 children so with so many branches from there, you can imagine that there were a lot of family running around.

It is one of the best memories of my entire childhood and a later version was being played out today as I saw relatives from my past walk in and share a meal.

There was my great Aunt Ramona who looks just like my grandmother a few decades back…

My mother’s other two siblings were Aunt Maria and the “baby,” Uncle Nick…

My great-Uncle Phil was the “Junior” of the family and was brutally handsome when he was young. But he was also the disciplinarian uncle of the family and my mom was a bit frightened of him when she was a child. He looks exactly like his father, my great-grandfather…

His sister, my great Aunt Virginia, was my version of the frightening disciplinarian. Don’t get me wrong, I love this woman like my own grandmother but all of us kids joke about how she used to yell at all the kids when we were little. Just that very discipline oriented aunt with a big heart but no hesitation to yell at you if you were out of line. You wouldn’t know it because she’s this sweet little old lady now but back then, look out!…

Then there is Uncle Joe. I love my Uncle Joe.

You know there is always that uncle that always gets drunk at the reunion and ends up being very social? And they are almost always named “Uncle Joe?”

That’s Uncle Joe.

A reunion was not a reunion until Uncle Joe got drunk and was dancing on top of the picnic table to blaring Mexican music and you could see it, even as a kid, that he was having the time of his life every time. He was a one-man party and everyone loved it when Uncle Joe would….be Uncle Joe.

This is my cousin Christine who is 4 days younger than my older brother.

Why do I point this out? Because here is how it goes. My mother and Christine’s mother were cousins (their mothers were sisters).


(Becky is on the right, with her daughter and granddaughter. I know, they could all be sisters. I’m thinking vampirism.)

So Christine was one of the kids that ran around in a pack like wild rats at the reunions. She is also a good representation of why I always thought I would marry a Mexican because along with all my other cousins, she was a gorgeous brunette with olive skin. I thought my toughest decision as an adult was going to be which of my gorgeous cousins I was going to marry when I grew up.

Back to the story, my mother and Christine’s mother, Becky, were pregnant at the same time and both liked the name “Christopher” so they agreed whoever had their baby first would get the name.

My Bother was born on December 10th and won the name.

Becky had her baby on December 14th. And named her “Christine.”

Classic.

Unfortunately, I had to keep myself down to one plate for the simple reason that I had to cram myself into my blues for the rosary. I didn’t want to look any more bloated than I already felt and trying to resist the offering of authentic Mexican food was like trying to stop the incoming tide.

Tide of chile.

You see, it used to be tortillas. Everyone made their own version of tortillas and you could tell whose was whose just by the thickness, size, taste, etc. Of course, my grandma’s were the best of all but all my cousins probably say the same thing about their grandmother’s version.

But now, it seems to be the chile (chee’-lay), or what people might call salsa, is the big identifier. Everyone who came through the door had their jar of homemade salsa and every one of them could set asbestos on fire.

My Uncle Phil made me sample each one, saving his to the last so I could see that it was obviously superior than any of the other offereings.

As I dipped a tiny corner of a tortilla into his jar and put the minuscule amount in my mouth, my head burst into flame and a scramble for a Dr. Pepper and the rest of the tortilla was immediately executed.

I tried not to get carried away but I was having a great time talking. I was talking to my elders for the first time from the perspective of me being an adult.

And I was talking to my relatives that were my own age who I had last talked to when we were kids. It was a bizarre perspective with both flavors.

I looked at my watch and realized that I had to get downstairs to change into my blues. By the time I returned less than 10 minutes later, every single person in the house was gone. How that house emptied like that was unreal.

When we got to the funeral home, everyone was there and obviously, the mood was somber. I continued my conversations with my distant relatives and was actually having good time, almost forgetting why we were there.

After yesterday’s debacle with Frontier, I did not have the chance to view my grandmother in her casket. We had a few minutes before the ceremony started and I found the priest who had wanted to see what I was going to present as a eulogy.

I guess he had been burned in the past with not checking the content of the eulogies and one time something very inappropriate was said which upset the family. I am grateful that he made me write it out because I normally just speak from the heart without notes but this made me focus my thoughts and it being so emotional, I needed the structure.

After he OK’ed what I wrote, I asked him if I could go see my grandmother before the ceremony.

I was not prepared.

I thought I was. I thought I would be OK but the moment I stepped in front of the casket and saw my grandmother, it hit me like a freight train.

She looked beautiful. She looked asleep. She even had her hair done and her glasses were on which pretty much did it for me. Tears shot out of my eyes like sprinklers.

As I cried by her casket, I couldn’t help but feel she could have sat up and started talking. She looked so natural, so alive.

Just asleep.

But she wasn’t. And the contrast between her looking asleep and knowing she was gone was too much for me to handle.

My grandmother was Catholic so the ceremony was classic Catholicism full of ceremony, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, chanting, and Hail Mary’s. I was not particularly fond of all of this so I sat quietly and tried to absorb the fact that my beloved grandmother was gone.

My cousin Sharon gave the first part of the eulogy and didn’t make it past the second word before starting to cry. Her brother Kary and sister Jen joined her at the podium as she gave a heartfelt, very beautiful list of some of the reasons she loved her grandmother.

It was then my turn and I approached the podium above my grandmother’s casket.

My plan was to give the speech extemporaneously and only referring to the notes if I got stuck. But it became immediately clear that the best I could hope for was reading it right off of the printed sheets and being at least understandable.


I made my way through it and by the time I was done, everyone I looked at in the audience had streaming tears. But I could only sneak peeks at my audience because looking into their saddened faces would have prevented me from completing the task at hand. I heard crying and one time I caught a glimpse of my mother on the front row looking like she had been struck by lightening.

Here is the eulogy I gave.

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Jason Grose, and this is my grandma. You wouldn’t know it looking at me but grandma called me her “Silly Rabbit” She had nicknames for all of her grandchildren and somehow I got stuck with that one. OK, Silly Rabbit it is. My Marines would kill for such information.

As I look out today, I see something I know my grandmother would have cherished; a gathering of the people she loved. Each one of you have your memories, your stories, your details of why my grandmother was special in your lives.

This is a couple of mine.

120 miles.

It’s 120 miles from Oklahoma City to my grandma’s house. And when we would make that trip, for two hours my brother and I had our noses pressed up against the car door glass in anticipation of arriving.

When we did, Mom would not even have a chance to stop the car as my brother and I flung open our doors and jumped out of the moving car, leaving the doors wide open and a very concerned mother back in the vehicle.

We so loved coming to see our grandmother and it’s a testament to her love that her home was a sanctuary for us despite the lack of what you would normally consider a place that drew children. There were not big toys and few small ones. There was a TV but most of the time only with a smattering of channel offerings, few of them that would keep a child’s attention.

We had no neighborhood friends here, no computers, no video games. But what we did have made us long to come back and stay for as long as would be allowed.

Mexican food!

Actually, food was just a fringe benefit. The love that was showered on us from grandma was the actual draw. Her attention was more desired than any diversion, any game, any entertainment and she gave it to all of us freely and in copious amounts.

When it was time to leave, tears rolled down our faces even after we had passed the city limits. My brother and I cried unashamedly, heartbroken that we had to leave our grandma.

That is my classic example of what my grandmother meant to me and my brother but if you will indulge me, I want to share one more important realization I had recently.

60 miles.

Perry Oklahoma is only 60 miles from Oklahoma City and when I was a kid, most of you will remember the enormous family reunions we had there. We would take over the block with the kids running every which way, through the ditches, and roaming in and out of every house. The women would be in all the kitchens cooking, talking, and laughing. The men would either be in the living rooms or outside talking politics, smoking, and yes, arguing.

Music was in the air, as well as the love we all shared for “The Family.” People were dancing. Only peals of laughter broke through the blaring Mexican music.

But I have to admit. Since my grandmother was one of 13 children, I was not all that sure who some of you were. Our family tree has so many branches that I was lucky to pick out even a small portion of any of your actual relationships to me.

But that did not matter. What I did know was that we were family, I was related somehow to all of you, and I was loved.

I was recently telling someone this exact story and it was at that time that I made a sudden realization. I realized it as it was coming out of my mouth and I almost felt like an audience member hearing it for the first time.

The reason I loved this family so much was simple. The reason I felt comforted and loved by the mass of you sitting in this room stemmed from a single source.

I loved all of you because you all have aspects of my beloved grandmother. Some of you bear such a resemblance to her that it’s hard to look you in the eye today. Many of you talk like her. Many of you have the same mannerisms as her. And yes, all of you exude that unconditional love I so valued from her.

So I guess you could say that my grandma was a collection of everything that is good in those of us gathered here today. I love my grandma and I will miss her deeply for the rest of my days. But I can take some comfort in knowing that she is not gone. She is just spread out evenly among who I see today.

I stand before you a Major of Marines, proud of my 20-year career and the two decades of wearing this Cloth of our Nation. I have been to war and I have forged men of steel to defend this great nation. At my unit, I am simply known as “The Major.”

But I hold another title in higher regard than any of that.

I AM a Silly Rabbit and I AM the grandson of Sanjuana Candelaris Terronez Garcia.

Free Advice for Today: “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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