Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Chela

This will be my wife’s first Mother’s Day without her mother, Maria Graciela “Chela” Wefald, who died last October after a brief and sudden illness. She was 84.

She and Verna were very close, so the past several months have been very hard for her; even more so as the holiday approaches. One woman told Verna, “My mother died ten years ago and I am still not over it.”

So Verna started informally planning about a week ago what we might do on this Mother’s Day. Boom! An idea bolted into her head almost instantaneously.

“I know what we’ll do for Mother’s Day,” she said. “We’ll have a picnic…at the cemetery and then play a game of P & M,” which was one of her favorite family card games.

Either Miguel or I joked that we would have to open the grave so we could retrieve the playing cards Maya threw in on the day of Chela’s funeral and burial.

Maria Graciela Wefald, who was born in El Salvador and came to the United States in the 1950s, was one of the most unconditionally devoted parents and grandparents I’ve ever known. Her selfless embrace of her family reminded me of my maternal grandmother (who died in 1999) and my paternal grandfather (who died in 1992).

Shortly after Verna gave birth to Miguel in 1998, Chela took the bus from San Francisco to our home, 30 minutes north, with a pot of chicken soup. She then walked nearly a mile from the bus center, more than ¼-mile of it uphill, to our shaded duplex overlooking San Rafael High.

I have several memories of Chela I’d like to share. Even into her early 80s, she routinely hiked 2-3 miles. She chided her family to eat their “green things,” which were vegetables. She called root beer soda “ruse beer”.

She and my father-in-law trekked to our home everyday, five days a week, when Verna was first diagnosed with cancer. They came for 9 months, and then thanked us for giving them the gift of spending time with their grandchildren.

She had a reverence for the cycles of life. She truly believed in the power of the moon as a healing force. She felt one had to be near the ocean during a New Moon to fully experience lunar intensity. One time, while Verna, Miguel, she, and I drove up the coast to Portland, OR, we stopped just before lunch so Chela could dip her feet into the Pacific.

She doted on all her grandchildren, but I saw her mostly with our two kids, Miguel and Maya. She actually played with them. She was always on the floor with Maya, building something or getting swept up in other imaginative play. And she tossed baseballs outside with Miguel or played board games with him.

She occasionally gambled in Reno or Tahoe, but almost always played the nickel slot machines.

She was very devout in her faith, but it was a quiet devotion. She always felt humbled and awed in church, but never expected any kind of religious reciprocity from her family.

Verna, her two brothers, and her dad had a musical photographic video made a few days after Chela died, and we viewed it at her funeral and at the memorial gathering at our home later that day.

Maya asks to watch “Grandma’s movie” several times a week, and usually Verna complies. She and I still get teary-eyed and we’ve seen it more than a dozen times. Chela’s death left a gaping hole in our lives and hearts. She is terribly missed but her legacy of devotion and nurturing lives on in Verna and, I hope, Miguel and Maya and all her children and grandchildren, as well as the great grandchild she never met, Lola Chela.

Rest in peace, Chela, rest in peace.

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