This Crazy Little Thing Called Love

First published online on May 11, 2010

What is it? Forget about the cliches. Put away the dictionary. Stop racking your brain trying to articulate a definition. What is it about it that sometimes makes us forget all common sense, throw out the rule book we have lived by for so long, turn off all the alarms that seem to be going off in our heads? Why does it capture our psyche in such a way that makes us forget about time, place and life altogether and makes us behave like fish traveling across thousands of miles honing for spawning grounds? Really now, akin to mindless fish? Yes, I am afraid we become like fish. No rhyme, no reason, just the forces of nature at work making us hone in without an apparent will of our own other than to get “there.”

If you have asked yourself why is it that we are attracted to certain people after spending just a few minutes with them and, yet, we go through great lengths with others to convince ourselves that we like them because we think they are a good match for us, then you are a smarter than the average fish. How so? You are subconsciously beginning to ponder whether the seemingly conscious choices we make are truly our unconscious guiding those choices. Got it? Let me try one more time. You are beginning to realize that perhaps our choice of a mate is more unconscious than we think, and that possibility should frighten you. It frightened me.

It frightened me, because I considered myself to be bright, educated, and thoroughly in touch with my emotions and drives. I considered myself emotionally present, fully aware and deliberate in how I feel and act towards others. I considered myself emotionally literate and articulate, but to think that I am no longer deliberate in my choice of a mate is truly frightening to me… as it should be to any of us.

As I began this journey, I also began to study the dynamics of love and relationships. Yes, there is something to the fact that our unconscious mind is guiding our choices. There is a theory of thought that postulates that our unconscious mind is actually seeking to heal the wounds of our childhood, hence we seek out and are attracted to people who are the embodiment of those who cared for us as children and wounded us to begin with, so that we can find the healing we so desperately need. I know it sounds like circular thinking but it is not.

For example, my father was largely absent while I was growing up, and his reasons for doing that are not what is at issue here, but the fact that his family longed for his presence is what created the lasting wounds in my childhood. I spent many evenings wondering where he was, what he was doing, who he was with and fretted much over the thought of him being harmed and that he would rather be with strangers than with us, his family who adored him. There were many nights I saw my mother with a furrowed brow and a tear or two rolling down her cheek. I knew, he was the reason for her sadness. I knew that she had given up college, a college scholarship and a career to marry him. I knew that she worked her fingers to the bone as a seamstress to make sure her children were well fed and lacked nothing. It was during that time when I began to have a strong dislike for being a vulnerable female, hated what it did to my mother and how helpless I felt about the whole situation; and at some point I made the silent vow that I would never need a man like that. I remember losing respect for how she remained faithful to her commitment to this dysfunctional marriage. Her relentless pursuit of her husband’s affections seemed so foolish to me. It defied logic -and- reason to me. Incomprehensible, simply incomprehensible to the logically minded person I was growing up to be, as I did not want to be as “emotional” as I perceived my mother to be.

So, I embarked into adulthood, exchanging love for career, happiness for knowledge, intimacy for safety in solitude. I remember watching the movie “The Fountainhead” with Gary Cooper during my first year in College. They showed the movie because the main character was an Architect who dreamed of building an incredible structure. The one line I remember from the movie was from the female lead. Gary’s character had been pursuing her affections, at some point he asks her point blank “What do you want?” and her response was “I want to need nothing. To need nothing at all.” I almost jumped out of my seat. That was how I wanted to be! Someone who would have no need for anything or anyone, which would keep me from getting hurt. It made so much sense to me! And I added that to my list of vows.

What I found after many years, as fulfilling and exciting as career, knowledge and solo activities have been most of the time, is that at the end of the day they leave me empty and still lonely. Nobody to talk to, nobody to share in my happiness of what I just learned or accomplished, nobody to cheer me on the next day. It is when we interact with others when we face our fears, discover our needs and overcome our shortcomings. Sometimes, it is this constant social interaction or friction that causes those rough edges to soften over time to bring out the best in all of us. I have been fortunate enough to have shared the better part of the last twenty years of my life with my best friend and her daughter who is now a freshman in college. It is this living situation that has softened my rough edges, unraveled many mysteries in my mind and gotten me to appreciate the value of our human connections.

At times it was difficult to explain to my family and extended family the type of relationship we had, but I knew that over time they would realize that there was really absolutely nothing to explain or understand. Plain and simple, we have been best friends, are best friends and will continue to be best friends until the day we die. No more, no less. Perhaps what has been difficult to understand is the fierce loyalty we have for one another. It has been a friendship with all the emotional benefits of a committed relationship that has provided emotional safety, encouraged spiritual growth and personal accountability. It is a friendship that has forced me to deal with my fears, face my shortcomings and learn that the only way to live a full and deliberate life is to step outside of myself and think of how others see the world which I had a such a difficult time understanding because I was so busy trying to protect my feelings. More than anything, it has been a friendship that led me to rediscover the value and significance of my mother’s values and emotional legacy, thus redefining the woman I am which is leading me to embark into a journey of defining the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. It has been the friendship I hoped to have had with my older sister, who passed away when I was barely sixteen years old, and the sister I hoped to be the one to walk me through the difficult moments I faced in life. God had other plans for my dear sister, Ruth, but I am ever so thankful HE gave me a sister from another mother in Linda. She became the sister I lost, and I became the sister she never had. And that needs no further explanation.

As part of the process of understanding myself and the choices of my unconscious mind, I had to look back at my choice of boyfriends. I listed the qualities I admired in them, the things that frustrated me, and as I did this, a pattern began to emerge. I could see that they were largely distant, unavailable, uncommunicative and unable or unwilling to provide the love and affirmation I so desperately craved. It was so frighteningly familiar to the image of one of my primary caretakers, my father. I also realized that the first time I noticed my relationships were not working was when I found myself trying to prove that I was worthy of their love, trying to prove that I was “the one” for them. Trying to convince them that spending time with me was much more fun than spending time with others. I was completely disheveled by the thought that I was a fish honing for that hidden unknown stream of fresh water that called to me, and I had no other choice but to get “there,” whatever this “there” place may be.

I realize, now, that my father’s behavior when I was a child was utterly selfish and unfair. Now, I see that my mother’s anguish was warranted. Now, I realize that my mother’s needs were valid. Now, I -really- see the wisdom of her ways, and I am thankful that she remained the only steady force in my life. It took my dad many years to come to that conclusion, but he is very thankful, as well, that mom was relentless in her love for him as we are certain that he would not be alive if it was not for her. He was fortunate enough to deal with his self-destructive ways head on, and the redeeming power of her unconditional love has done wonders for him. You see, he grew up believing that his mother had died of grief and sorrow caused by his philandering father. To a five year old child that meant she had given up on life and given up on her children altogether. As a man, he believed that women could not be trusted, and should not be depended upon in such a way. He believed that his happiness could not be based on a woman’s affections. He had learned to fill the void his mother left in his heart with shallow distractions which robbed him of the very thing he craved, unconditional love and affection. I realize now, that he was not able to give unconditional love and affection because he so desperately craved it himself. Yes, he craved that life affirming force we all yearn from infancy, yes, that crazy little thing called love.

As I began my forties, I came to appreciate what a testimony of love my mother’s life is. The way she loves is the way I have now learned to love and the way I deliberately want to love the one who would be my friend, my partner, my companion and ultimately my husband. You see, when mom commits to love someone, she loves and loves and loves until you tire of wondering whether her love is real and simply give in to her warm welcoming smile, her sweet embrace, the alluring smells of her wonderful kitchen concoctions and the comforting musical sound of her voice on the telephone. She loves wholeheartedly, unconditionally and never tires of it. She simply lives to love those around her which in itself is my grandmother’s legacy, my great grandmother’s and perhaps the one before that. As for my dad, he has become a love sponge that if you squeeze too hard or too long, begins to leak. What this means is that if I hug him too long or too hard every time I see him, tears begin rolling down his cheeks because he simply melts with the sweet embrace of the child in me who now, willingly and deliberately, loves him wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Yes, I am now becoming just like my mom, a woman who can’t help but love those around her.

I think my initial vow still remains buried deep inside my brain, but I am actively working on changing the emphasis of certain words. Where my initial vow was more along the lines of “I will never need a man like that” my deliberate choice now is “I will never need a man that behaves like that.” As I continue to cast my line, I hold steady onto the hope that I would find the one who would be worthy of my affections. I have a whole village cheering behind me on this effort, and you can be sure they will line up for the final inspection on my catch so as to give the stamp of approval. You see, as I learned to love the way my mother does, my circle of friends which I call my family of choice, expanded, and there is always room for more.

As I learned to love the way women in my family love, I have also learned that it is much more freeing to love without expecting nothing in return. No strings attached, no return on investment, no collecting of any debts at all. This, has made my outlook on relationships rather uncomplicated, if you cannot handle this unconditional crazy little thing called love, it’s okay. It’s just there because it is so much a part of my genetic and emotional imprint, so if it does not work for you, back in the water you go and I cast my line once again. However, as much as I see myself as the one doing the fishing, I am beginning to see that I am a great catch myself. And I know there is one great catch out there who has been in the open sea for some time who is now swimming thousands of miles, and very much just like me, he is headed for the same stream I came from. Headed for the place where our emotional imprint started and is willing to find healing “there,” whatever this “there” place may be.

Oh, to love and be loved in the way my mother loves and the way my grandmother loved. Oh to love the way women in my family love. That would be a nice inscription on my headstone, but I think I would want this one instead:

She lived to love those around her.
In the same way her mother, grandmother, and perhaps
in the same way most of her great ancestors did.
She loved wholeheartedly and unconditionally.
The way Her creator made her to be.
And she did right by them.
She did right by Him.
Indeed.

Eddie – The Puffer Fish

First published online on April 23, 2010

Note: The names have been changed to protect the guilty parties.

Balloonfish, blowfish, bubblefish, globefish, swellfish, toadfish, toadies, honey toads, and sea squab are just some of the names by which the Puffer fish is also known as. They are named puffers because of their ability to fill up their flexible stomachs with either water or air when threatened by its predators to the point where they almost double in size and have a spherical shape. Puffers are the second most poisonous creature in the animal kingdom after the golden poison frog, yet they are considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea. They can move their eyes independently and can camouflage themselves in response to its environment in the same way a chameleon does on land.

Now, why would people risk their lives to eat a poisonous fish? My understanding is that people experience light-headedness and numbness of the lips. The more serious cases of poisoning lead to numbness of mouth and lips, dizziness, vomiting, numbness of the body followed by a prickling sensation, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and muscle paralysis. To my great relief, puffer fish are usually found in tropical waters and not in temperate oceans (such as those of the Central Coast) or cold waters altogether; so, if I ever decide to do ocean swimming again, I would never be in danger of running into a puffer fish in our coastal waters. So what’s the point for this short dissertation on puffer fish?

The point is that as I browsed through some of “My Matches” on the free dating site, one of them caught my eye because its owner listed his profession as smuggler. I figured he was a smart ass and wondered what else he had written about himself. I knew I was headed for a wild ride when his profile page had a cheetah pattern as a background, so my hunch was that this fish was full of hot air. As I began reading, I was flabbergasted by the audacity, sarcasm and sheer cynicism splashed all over the narrative. It was amusing yet insulting, funny yet mean, hilarious yet pathetic… all at the same time. So the first thing that came to mind immediately after reading that profile was the image of a puffer fish. In a weird way, the puffer fish can be beautiful because of its shape and patterns, yet it’s poisonous! It can be so pretty yet so deadly. Amazing, yet an oddity. The puffer fish is an oxymoron unto itself! And that’s what Eddie was all about: an oxymoron, but in my book, he’s leaning a little bit more towards the moronic side.

So, here is what Eddie wrote about himself, and I think you will agree with my assessment:

Ladies! This is all I read: I want, I need, I am. The long list of demands of what you are looking for in a Man. Almost all of you Ladies are trying to fit us Men… in a Box, with YOUR expectations of how a Man should be. God already created us. So, please don’t try to recreate us…

Ya’ll been carrying this little box to fit us in since your childhood.
Throw it away! :)
You Ladies, especially in your late 30′s and up. If I may, you are single and on this site for a REASON. You couldn’t find the Man of your Dreams in your “Prime Time” and now your Box keeps getting bigger ?? :) Good luck!

Ladies, let me tell you a secret, come a little closer…ok. You know where can you find the Man of your dreams ?? Ready…. In your “DREEEEAAMS” Sorry, didn’t mean to yell… he-he!

Ask not, what your date can do for you, but what can you do for… Wait, I think I have heard this line before somewhere :)

It’s ok if you find a Man with one leg, just thank God he at least has one good one. That’s how you should be looking at life, look at the positive’s: Great Parking privileges? You guys can be the champions of the 3 legged races at the Fair? Your lover can easily jump out of the window if you hear him coming up the stairs ? Save money on shoes ? You guys Feel me??!! Bahaha :)

I have no problems dating a girl with one arm if I have to, this is how I would look at it: Ok, she has one good arm. She can easily open the refrigerator, grab me a beer and shut the door with one of her two good legs !!! :)

Don’t believe me? Ok, any woman out there with a limb missing or has a stone eye or perhaps a prosthetic leg, don’t hesitate to hit me up, as long as you’re a good Human being and a little easy on the eyes :)

Ahh yes, about me!
I’m not a player, I’m very cultured, animated and funny (in my own head ;) . Not here to keep fishing and releasing. I want to find a mermaid and keep it, and even buy a nice Aquarium for it :) :)

Looking for someone really down to Earth or any other Planet. Please no Drama Queens !

If you have a boyfriend ?? !! Not available till 2046, or dating 20 other Men, unnecessary exhibition or revealing of your body parts in your pic’s ? Please don’t email me, you can try SlutsRus.com or something.

Also Ladies, I weigh around 155lbs (all lean meat, baby!) So please let your total Gross weight be around there or less, otherwise it’ll be really hard to carry your Ass up the stairs :) :)

Peace Love and respect to everyone and Keep it real Sista’s :)

Eddie…

I laughed very hard at first, but as soon as I stopped laughing I was annoyed! I have to admit that I was amused by his twisted sense of humor, but I was disgusted at the same time. The sheer audacity of this puffer! I clicked away from his profile, walked away from my computer, made myself some tea and tried to occupy myself with some other project, but after a while I just simply could not put it to rest. I went back to his profile and re-read it. Yes, it was funny, very funny; but on the second read, I noticed he also had a list of requirements for the fish brained applicants who may foolishly aspire to be mermaids in his aquarium! And the part about where we can really find the man of our dreams? As if any thinking modern woman would even hold that notion, let alone use that term, in this day and age!

I could not help myself but to click on the “Send me a note” button. I started typing away as if I was in a trance. Clackety-clickety-clack. Clickety-clack-clack. A few more clacketies and a final click on the “Send” button. This is the note I sent.

Dear Eddie:
Your profile is hilarious and pathetic at the same time. You are definitely in the smart ass category! You had me laughing so hard… but after I stopped laughing, I was annoyed! You gotta ease off the cynical streak a bit or the only mermaids you will find are the ones with brains the size of a fish.

But, hey, I think you also have this lil’ box (list) for your would be “mermaids” that goes like this:

A good human being (basic should not be on the list, but fish-brained ladies need to be reminded)
Can close the fridge door with one limb (or flipper)
Down to earth or any other planet (the ocean falls in that category)
No drama queens (The fish brain requirement takes care of this)
No unnecessary exhibition of body parts in profile (Mermaids are usually topless, did you forget that?)
Total gross weight equal or less than 155 lbs.(I’ll give you that one)
As long as they are easy on the eyes (any man with good working gonads just needs a good pair of hooters in front of them and they could care less what the rest of us looks like!)

Now, you are 45 and still single? I think you are still on the “catch and release” mode, or perhaps you catch ‘em and they get away.

Yes, I am still single also, but it is by choice. Now I am in the catch and release mode until I find a keeper. I am determined to find a keeper.

Good luck on your journey from one smart ass to another.

I could tell he had read my email, but it took him a full week to respond. I was afraid to read his response, but in the end it was pretty mild mannered.

Thanks,
I think they should change the name to
Plenty of sh*t :)
A lot of wierd(sic) Woman(sic) on here :)

So, if you ever go fishing in the Huntington Beach area, beware! There is a puffer fish swimming in those waters who is an oxy(genated)moron. Now, imagine me holding my thumb and index finger about a quarter inch apart while I say that his ego is only “theeese beeeg.”

Oh, come on! Get your mind out of the gutter! I said HIS EGO!!!

Next: The Flounder Fish

The Catch, Kill and Feed-To-The-Birds Fish

First published online on April 19, 2010

In this quest of mine, to reel in the “Beeeg One,” one must catch and release a few fish. As you already know, I have only been casting my line for the last couple of months, but I already have a few interesting stories to tell. My fishing holes of choice at this point are two online dating sites. One of them is a free site, and the other one is a subscription site. Both of them seem to have a great variety of fish, and I have seen some of the same fish swimming in the same waters, per say, so it is interesting to see how the profiles differ on the free site from the subscription site. It is equally interesting to see the difference in the quality of fish from one site to another.

I had a very straight forward and whimsical profile on the free site, and I was getting a lot of bites out of that one; but I came across a very interesting fish profile that showed a great deal of thought and substance that made me take a second look at mine because it seemed rather shallow after reading his. So, I reworked my profile on the free service and waited to see what kind of bites I got out of version two. In the meantime, my profile on the subscription site was a work in progress. It had most of the information of the free site, but it had a more serious tone. That profile has had revisions on almost a daily basis. It did a tad better than the free one. I feel the fish biting on that one are a bit more sophisticated since it is a subscription site.

The nice thing about both services is that you can block anyone you want. You can block them from finding you, seeing you or emailing you. This would put any of your would be stalkers on ice. But, hey, putting them on ice means that they would be out on the fish market for consumption if I am to carry on with the metaphors. One of my online acquaintances suggested “Catch, Kill and Release” since I would not want some of them breeding. I thought a better category would be the Catch, kill and feed-to-the-birds as I figured that some of them are not, even, suitable for human consumption!

The fish biting were from all over the country and not just the local waters. There was one fish with a PhD in Psychology from Southern California, and his musings were so random, I was convinced he was bi-polar. Or maybe he was experimenting with prescriptions drugs. So, bi-polar fish went to the blocked list or what I call now the catch, kill and FTTB’s (Feed To The Birds) list.

There was this one fish who claimed to be from Colorado. He said he was a widowed Italian-American who owned a jewelry and antique store. He also said he was traveling through Africa, buying some antiques and jewelry for his store. After a few days of chatting online and learning about each other, he claimed to have been mugged while taking delivery of some antiques, and was in the hospital where his son was waiting to get some needed brain surgery. He said his son had been hit in the head by one of his assailants and was in a coma. The assailants also took his cell phone, his passport and all of his money. So, he needed my help. He asked me to wire him $400 immediately to save his son’s life since the hospital refused to perform the surgery without proof of insurance or payment. I did not know what to make of it, but my instincts told me that it sounded very much like a scam. I pressed him to provide a name, addresses or phone numbers of –any- of his relatives or in-laws in the states that could help him. I may have sounded heartless at the time, but after pressing him a few times, he could not. Yes, it was a scam alright. After I told him in no uncertain terms I would not be sending any money, he stopped chatting. So, the scamming fish went to the FTTB’s list as well.

Then, there is the one fish that I should have paid close attention to the clues in his email:

Seems like I have seen you around before. Don’t recall where. You seem nice w/a good profile & never been married & no kids like me is something I like. Should we talk things over?

What things should we be talking over? That should have been the question I should have asked myself. But I had already decided when I started this journey that I needed to be an equal opportunity dater. LOL! Smart or no smarts, rich or poor, tall or short, chubby or athletic, I was going to go fish! Seriously, now, I needed to have some face to face time before I decided to cut the line or not. But I should have –also- paid close attention to the clues in his profile:

A happy healthy positive attitude proactive man 50, who is tolerant and open minded. Loves nature from the mountains to the bottom of the sea. I love to be physically and mentally active whether hiking in the woods sailing, surfing on the waves or the internet. Progressive minded, successful, improvisational, a high mechanical aptitude, and with an intellectual capacity as well. I love meaningful conversation and sharing thoughts with others as well. Weekend get a ways [sic] and trips up and down the coast, a movie or even a quiet night in, is more than enough to enjoy a special womans [sic] company. Love to share music, entertainment, attraction, romance and quality time is most desirable. I am blessed in living a fortunate and privalige [sic] life of good health and mental well being that I would like to share with a SF. I am well liked by friends and would love to have a female companion in my sphere of influence.

If anyone needs to point out that he has “intellectual capacity” and “living a privalige [sic] life of good health and mental well being,” I need to drink very strong coffee when I read my emails first thing in the morning! I was so uncomfortable after the first five minutes of meeting him that I felt it should be in the FTTB’s list without a doubt because I felt very strongly, it should not be spawning. But I am getting ahead of myself. So, after his first email, I responded; and after a few notes back and forth, we agreed that we should meet on a Monday at 4 pm at the Starbucks in the downtown Center in San Luis Obispo.

Monday comes around, I get to the Starbucks, and I was able to spot him right away. He looked like he carried a few more pounds than his photo, and his hair was thinning a lot more, but hey, I needed to find out whether I needed to cut the line at some point or not. He was drinking a Perrier (at a coffee place?). I ordered my drink, and after I got it, I rejoined him at the bar facing the outside windows. After a few greetings, he asked me where I worked and what I did for a living and I started to tell him a little about my consulting business. He gets this half glazed (baked) look in his eyes and utters quietly, “Ohhhh, you are –really- smart.” At that point I knew we were not a match. I sort of started to look around to see if there were any hungry seagulls nearby that I could feed that fish to. I asked him a few more questions to make sure I was right in my assessment. As he began to describe himself, his job, his siblings and his place in the birth order, I realized his jacket was soiled as if he had come from a construction site, his hair needed a haircut badly; and I could not put aside the fact that his pupils had been reduced to tiny pinholes in his eyes, and he seemed to pause an awful long time to complete his sentences.

He indicated he was hungry and wanted to eat something light. He asked me if I wanted to grab a bite to eat, and I agreed to have a couple of tacos at Chino’s, the Mexican place right there at the downtown center in San Luis Obispo, only because it was right across from the Starbucks where we had met, and only because I did not want to be so obvious I wanted to sprint all the way back to my car parked around the corner!

We walked across the little plaza, got in line and placed our orders. He never offered to pay for my $1.79 tacos. In all fairness, as a modern woman, I did not offer to pay for his either. We sat down, and made some more small talk while he would stare mainly at the large TV screen on the wall while continuing to make long pauses in between words. The food finally came, and I ate my tacos as reasonably fast as I could without being obvious I wanted to sprint all the way back to my car parked around the corner. Yes, that was all that was on my mind at that point, but I could not help myself but be nice. I can be a smart ass, but I am kind to my fish even if I have a strong urge to… sprint all the way back to my car parked around the corner! I guess, my lesson from this particular fishing excursion was that of self discovery: I do care about people’s feelings, and would put myself out a bit to protect the innocent or the -clueless- as in this particular case.

I finally, was able to excuse myself by saying “It’s getting late and I need to wrap up a project tonight. It was very nice meeting you.” He answered, “Yes, same here. And if you want to get together again, feel free to email me.” “OK. I will,” I said. As soon as I got home he was placed on my feed-to-the-birds list. I have no plans to email him again, but I just did not see the need to hurt his feelings at all.

So there you have it. Yes, I am a nice person after all, even if I feel you should be in the catch, kill and feed-to-the-birds category.

Next: The Puffer Fish.

My Grandfather’s Mermaid

First published online on April 17, 2010

This is the eulogy I wrote for my dearest Grandmother who passed away on November 7, 2009 at the young age of 99 years old. She lived a very long life and got to enjoy life in ways that most of us wish we could.

I will always remember you Mama Fela.
Thank you for the many sweet memories you left behind.


Felicita Gonzalez Ramos

2/19/1910-11/7/2009

There are a number of notable events that took place on February 19th.
On February 19th of 1987 Ronald Reagan lifts the trade boycott of Poland.
On February 19th of 1986 King Hussein of Jordan severs ties with the Palestinian Liberation Organization more commonly known as the PLO.
On February 19th of 1985, Disney is welcomed into China.
On February 19th of 1945, 30,000 US marines land on Iwo Jima, and one of the bloodiest combats in the Pacific theater of WWII began.
On February 19th of 1913, the first prize is inserted into a Cracker Jack box.

But, one of the most important events in all of our lives took place on February 19, 1910. Felicita Gonzalez Ramos, always known to us as Mama Fela was born on that day. She was born in a humble house in Huacho, Peru. A small fishing village two hours north of Lima. She was born to Pablo Gonzalez and Sebastiana Ramos.

It is one of the most important events in our lives because without her, none of us would be here. She was raised by her single mother as her father, Pablo, died when grandma was a toddler. He died from injuries he suffered in a boating accident while he served in the Peruvian navy when grandma was an infant. I understand Mama Fela was about 2 yrs old when her father finally died of his injuries. She always regretted not being able to remember her father, and cried, bitterly at times, even as an old woman, over the father she never knew. She was mainly raised by her own grandmother, Serata, and would sadly remember being called “la huacha” the orphan. Her mother sent her to a private school run by nuns in Huacho, where they taught her to sew, knit, crochet and embroider. My mother remembers how she would lovingly embroider grandpa Victor’s shirts and handkerchiefs with his initials. So, it was in Huacho, her birthplace, where she met our late grandfather Victor Canales. He was about 19 and she was 16 when they decided to elope on horseback. Well, it was actually his idea and she was a willing accomplice, so off they went riding into the sunset. As customary, three days later, he brought her back, and the families agreed to the wedding and they got married. Together with her partner in crime, I mean, her husband, she bore nine beautiful girls. Three of them were lost at a young age due to childhood illnesses, but of the nine, six remained. And what a wonderful testament to her spirit she leaves behind in those six that remain.

The earliest memories I have of grandma, and the dearest ones to me, are that she was a working woman. Come to think of it, grandma was a working woman in her mid fifties in a Third World country, no less. That in itself was quite an accomplishment at the time. So, Mama Fela would get up early in the morning, before sun-up, and head to work at a large market in Lima, the capital. She “owned” a fish stand at the market, and sold the finest fish you could find. She knew her fish and she knew how to slice and dice like you wouldn’t believe. I saw her handle the fish a time or two when one of my aunts took me along to see her at work when I was around 9 or 10 yrs old, and let me tell you, she was a master with the filet knife; the fish did not stand a chance. I never saw Mama Fela get up in the morning, but I saw her come home every day. She would get off the “colectivo” a shared cab, per say, and stop at our house on her way home. Sometimes she would stop to drop off some fish she brought us home. Sometimes, she would just come in and sit on a chair by the front window of our house. It was the sunniest spot. My mom would make her some tea, and she would have some and doze off for a bit. Soon enough, she would get up and head home, which was just a block away. I never wondered, until now, why grandma would do that. Perhaps it was a place where she could have a little bit of peace and quiet before she headed home to deal with the drama of the day. These were the mid sixties, and they were filled with drama in those days.

In spite of the turbulence filled days of the sixties for Mama Fela, she gave me some of the sweetest memories of my childhood. As I mentioned, she would come home in the late afternoon, and by the time she came home, my heart was filled with anticipation. I could see her at the distance with her little purse tucked under her arm, her high heels clicking on the pavement as she made her way down the walkway to our house in her customary waddle. I was so small, grandma would tower over me. Then I would ask her, “Grandma, did you bring any fruit today?” and she would say “Well, let’s see what I have in my purse….” “A ver dejame ver que tengo en la cartera…” and she would take out the most beautifully red apple from Chile (Manzana Chilena), for those of you who do not know what a Chilean apple is, they are very similar to the Washington reds. On other days it was a humongous and juicy ripe plum, and some days a perfectly round and sweet-smelling, giant, fuzzy peach. Perhaps they were not so big, but to a child of five or six, they were gi-gan-tic. She would hand it to me with a smile. It was such a treat for me.

We all have different memories of grandma, and some of them are absolutely hilarious. There is the time, when she was living with aunt Ada not very long ago. This was the time when aunt Ada had the two chow dogs. Grandma gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and there are prickly things under her feet. She is worried that perhaps she is stepping onto broken glass, so she gingerly walks over to the light switch and turns on the light only to see these little white things scattered all over the floor. Upon close inspection she discovers they are loose teeth and what is left of the dentures she had put in a glass on her night stand before she went to bed which the dogs had promptly chewed up into little pieces while she was asleep.

There was another time when she loved to hang out at the Senior Center in North Berkeley. She would call the local Wescat shuttle which she called “la wess-ca” to pick her up and take her to “heel-top,” the local shopping mall that served as the transit center at the time, and then she would take the bus all the way to Berkeley. She made lots of friends at the senior center in Berkeley and enjoyed traveling with them when they organized day trips or weekend tours. They would go to Reno, Lake Tahoe or Disneyland. In one occasion, she told me about this castle she visited up on a hill that belonged to a newspaper owner and of the beautiful paintings and statues she saw. I think she was talking about Hearst Castle, in San Simeon. I can still see her tucking her purse under her arm in order to climb onto the Westcat shuttle, and off she’d go. She’d come home tired, but full of stories to tell of what she ate and saw.

She was very particular about the clothes she wore. Nobody could tell her what to wear or what to do. She had a mind of her own, and to say that she had a bit of a stubborn streak is an understatement. She was definitely a woman marching to the beat of her own drum. Nobody to answer to, nobody to give accounts to of anything, and yet she remained connected to her family and her Peruvian roots. She was in her own way, indefatigable in her beliefs and a woman with an indomitable will. When she made up her mind, she stayed on course until the end. She was not a woman to give up her position or beliefs easily. As a matter of fact, I have no recollection of her ever doing that. You can ask her daughters, and they could probably attest to this.

Although she was very strong minded, in a very quiet and subtle way, Mama Fela taught me not to care for frilly treats such as candy, ice cream or chocolate for that matter. As tasty as they may be, they are all artificial and short lived. Grandma had a much greater appreciation for what nature had provided. She taught me to enjoy the wholesome natural sweetness of fruit, and that after a hard day’s work, it’s ok to get yourself a wholesome treat and then some to share with others. I guess there is something to be said about working hard and waiting for your reward at the end of the day rather than enjoying short lived ones along the way. Grandma led a simple life. She worked hard, she loved with all of her heart, she was strong and relentless in her pursuits; and she was always generous with the fruit of her hands, and whichever form the fruit of her hands took, she was always, and I mean always, generous and willing to share with those around her.

There will always be a bowl of fresh fruit in my house filled with apples, peaches and plums when in season, but basically, fruits of all kinds for anyone to have. It is a daily reminder to me that grandma always gave the wholesome best she had to those she loved, and that if you work hard, at the end of the day you too can have your reward. I love you Mama Fela, thank you for always being so good to me, and showing me that some of the greatest lessons in life don’t always come on the pages of the daily newspaper broadcasting your accomplishments, but sometimes come through a simple act of kindness, like sharing a piece of fruit with a small child. It is the love you gave, Mama Fela, and the sacrifices you made that makes you unforgettable and not the titles you received, the offices you held or the degrees you earned. We will never forget you because your love, generosity and kindness will always stay in our hearts, forever.

Having a Fishing License

First published online on April 16, 2010

The first time I decided to go fishing, I was about 28 yrs old. My boyfriend at the time was a former boy scout and an avid fly fisherman in his youth. We had been dating for about six months, and as a wanna be Girl Scout, the thought of catching fish was exciting to me. You see, I grew up in a port town in South America. My childhood is full of memories of my grandfather, a fisherman who I imagined to have wrestled magnificent fish from the ocean with just a hook, line and his bare hands -daily- to provide for my grandmother, my mom and her five sisters.

I had always begged my grandfather to take me fishing with him, but he would smile and say in between chuckles, “You will not only beg I didn’t but also be chumming the fish from the side of the boat.” I imagined that maybe I would fall off the boat and in my thrashing, sharks would come around and scare off the good fish and upset my grandfather. He did take my older brother George fishing when my brother was about 18 years old. George is four years older than I. Grandpa told the story year after year of how my brother had packed himself a nice breakfast and lunch for the fishing day with him. How they got out to sea at 4 in the morning when it was still dark, and they pulled away from the port on his “Chinchorro,” a 20 foot row boat with an overboard engine, humming past the commercial fishing vessels, then past the cargo ships and finally the herculean Peruvian navy war ships and into the open sea.

They kept going and going for a few miles until they could not see the shoreline. No instruments, no charts, and not even a radio. All grandpa needed was just the open sea, the sky, the birds and a watchful eye for the right current. Grandpa always talked about currents in the ocean as avenues and streets. How certain fish can be found in certain areas because of this current and that current. Nowadays we know that fish are all part of the food chain that starts with the type of plankton that grows in certain given conditions that feed certain organisms that feed certain fish. So, some fish prefer to eat certain organisms just as we do and follow their food as it is carried by the currents. He learned this through keen observation of fish behavior over the decades starting in the 1920′s. His observation served him well as grandpa always managed to come back to port with a boatload of fish. Many fishermen tried to follow him and fish off his trail, and he was always willing to lead other fishermen and their boats to where the fish were when they asked him. But there were those who would be sneaky and tried to just tail him; grandpa would tell us in between chuckles, yes, always in between chuckles when he was proud of himself, how he always managed to throw them off his trail.

My brother said that on the day grandpa took him fishing, they saw sharks, “lobos de mar” (sea lions), porpoises and sea turtles. That day seemed unusually long for me, as it would seem to anyone waiting throughout the day. Our apartment’s front stoop and front window faced west, so the setting sun always came through the front window at the end of the day. On most days grandpa would come home around 4 pm from that general direction because he would get off the bus about a block away and almost always stop at our place on his way home which was around the corner. He would be wearing a broad brimmed straw hat to keep the sun away and carried a heavy bag on each hand. He would have all his fishing gear in those bags: large spools of heavy duty line, hooks, knives, weights, etc.; but he always made room for a few fish, or large crabs to bring home. When he would stop by our place on his way home, he would drop off some fish for dinner. Sometimes he would only make it to the corner because the bags were very heavy, so he would signal for me to come over and he would hand me a small bundle of fish wrapped up in newspapers. Sometimes, when he gave us too much fish, mom would share with some of our neighbors. Yes, we learned from grandpa to be generous with our good fortune.

When it got close to 4 pm on the day my brother went fishing with grandpa, I sat on the chair next to the front window waiting and watching the clock on our wall. There were times when it was so quiet I could hear the seconds ticking away. Finally, I saw the familiar silhouette of grandpa against the setting sun and then that of my brother next to him. When they finally came into our apartment, I took one good look at my brother, and he looked so sick, I wondered whether he ate something that made him sick. In between chuckles, grandpa told the story of how somewhere around noon time after they ate the hearty lunch George had brought, my brother had ended up losing lunch and breakfast over the side of the boat and “chumming the fish.” We all had a good laugh and I was very glad, then, that my grandfather never took me fishing with him. As usual, the fishing had been good for grandpa, and they brought home a nice big fish for dinner.

I found it very ironic that although my grandfather had been a fisherman for most of his life in my native Peru, and I had lived near the ocean for most of my life, I had never had the experience of catching a fish all on my own. So there I was, three thousand miles north of my native seafaring town, on my first fishing lesson off the pier in Avila Beach. I learned about lines, hooks and sinkers. I learned how to set the bait and most importantly how to cast a line. As I learned all these things from my then boyfriend, I reflected on the weathered calloused hands of my grandfather who hooked and reeled the fish with his bare hands. He would tell us how with certain fish, he had to wrap the line around his waist once, and brace himself against the boat so as to not lose the fish or the line, altogether, and wear out the fish before he brought it on board. He would mainly catch “Corvina” (White Sea Bass), “Bonito” (Tuna), “Lenguado” (Flounder ) and a small shark or two. The Bonito is a fine fighting fish, and would be the one who would give him a run for his money. I remembered sometimes seeing his hands bandaged, and I would ask him what had happened. He would tell me that sometimes he would hook a small to medium fish only for a bigger one to come along and try to take it from him, so the line would go flying out of his hands “burning” along the way because of how fast the fish would take off. Sometimes, it was evident to him that the fish was much too big to wrestle without capsizing, so he would simply cut the line, but only after a burning line had already created another groove in his heavily calloused and weathered hands.

Today, I am close to turning 49, and although I have not done much fishing in the last 20 years, I decided that I would go fishing for a friend. A companion. A mate. Yes, I am looking to reel in The-Beeeg-One. But, honestly, I do not know what “The Big One” really looks like, but I am confident that he would be the one to make me put away all of my fishing gear accumulated over the years. The one who would make me smile inside and say every time I look at him across the room, you are such a great catch! So, I just started casting my line –again- a couple of months ago. There have been some nice ones, but after a few dates I have decided to throw most of them back in the water. Hence the name of this blog “Catch and Release.” There is one I am still wrestling with. No hand burns yet, but we will see how he does. And there are the ones that fall in the category of catch, kill and feed-to-the-birds! I have to say, though, that I am having the time of my life. I never thought that fishing for a mate could be as much fun as fishing for the real thing. My hope and prayer is that this blog helps my readers navigate those treacherous waters of life and love.

Ahoy, girlfriends, sisters, wives, mothers and grandmothers… let’s see where this Chinchorrito will take us! The fun part is that there is plenty of fish in the sea!