She was the last of her kind.. Rosie Oviedo was my grandmother Della’s best friend.
Together Rosie and Della double-dated, and worked in the packing house, at the steel plant and at Louie’s Mexican Restaurant. When Della died, Rosie took my mom under her wing and provided mom with steady guidance, a no nonsense approach to life, jovial resiliency, boundless generosity and Amazonian strength.
As kids we visited Rosie every week at her home in Santa Ana. We were always sent to the backyard while mom and Rosie gossiped at the kitchen table and drank their coffee. Her large backyard had an orchard, a swing set, vegetable patch and served as inspiration for Rogelia’s backyard in Rogelia’s House of Magic. But I remember knocking on the back screen door wanting to come inside and listen to them talk about family members or hear stories of the olden days, maybe even catch a tale about Grandmother Della. Mom never talked about her.
“I’m hungry,” I would say.
Rosie would scowl at me and wave me off. “There’s fruit on the trees,” she said in a Mexican drawl.
“Ah, there’s water in the hose,” Rosie said dismissively.
Mom would be staring into her coffee cup at this point refusing to meet my stare.
“I gotta pee,” I lied.
“Go outside,” Rosie would say, losing her patience.
“I gotta poop.”
“Alright, make it quick.” Rosie would get up and lift the latch to unlock the door so I could scurry inside and linger as long as possible to hear who they would talk about next.
Rosie was tall, intimidating and fierce. When I grew older and told her how she used to scare me, she laughed at the idea. She made burritos for anyone who visited. She was an amazing cook and her beans were legendary. She gave me the recipe for tamales in The Wicca Cookbook and got snappy with me when I didn’t know how to brown flour or when I asked for specific measurements. But then patiently explained so I could figure it out. Even though her bark was far worse than her bite, that initial snarl taught you to be tough and wait for the good stuff.
Over a decade ago, Rosie came to visit and looked longingly at my heavy laden orange tree. I asked her if she wanted any oranges and she quickly took the clippers from my hand and with a firm grip on the handle, climbed the ladder even though she was well over 80 years. It was like time melted. She recalled how much she used to hate getting caught up in the spider webs picking in the 40’s while oranges hailed down upon me and I scrambled to keep up with my beloved elder.
“love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation”