Travel, passion, and romance: Lessons from my grandma


My Grandma was born on Halloween. When I was little, she told me that being born on All Hallows’ Eve made her a witch. I believed her. It explained why she was a woman who ran with the wolves and howled at the moon.

Her husband—my mother’s dad—was a pilot in the airforce. His plane went missing when my mother was eight, and they never found him. After she lost the love of her life, my Grams spent much of her life living Mexico and traveling the world. The second half of her life was dedicated to the pursuit of her passions, which were:



But not just any men: young Mexican men.

She spent over twenty years living in Mazatlán among an ocean of young Latino catches. Being classed as a mature-age woman was, for her, no reason to stop chasing young hotties. Being a witch gave my grandma an excuse to ignore all the rules and conventions of her time. She was something of a man-izer, a Casanov-ette, a Donna Juan. (I can’t find any non-derogatory words in the English language to describe a woman who loves men.)

She liked ’em young, firm, and spicy, and she hooked up with men half her age well into her seventies. “They’re very passionate,” she once told me. “Not just in sex, but also in life.”

“You should be with a Latin man. At least once.” This was Grandma’s advice to me when I complained to her one day about the shortcomings in my life at that time.

So when I first met a Latin man named Ivan, a little voice in my head said: “At least once.” At least once turned into love, a relationship, an adventure across the Pacific on a sailboat, and a bookAt least once is still there beside me every morning when I wake up.

Even at her ripe age, my grandma never stopped fantasizing. Last year, she sent me an email with this random thought:


My Grandma died three months ago. To say that the death of an 88-year old woman was ‘unexpected’ seems like a tactless joke, but that’s the only word to describe her passing.

Sure—old people die, but my grandma was not old. The fact that she was 88 seems like an irrelevant technicality. She exuded sparkle, laughter, life, passion, curiosity, and charisma, and we all believed she was immortal. Don’t witches live forever?

In my mind, she’s still in her Californian home dabbing red nail polish onto her elegant feet. Almost three months after the event, her death is still an abstract concept, mostly because I don’t want to acknowledge that she’s gone. I smell her gardenia smell in the soap section of the supermarket and I think: I should send Grandma a postcard.

Of course, if my postcards were piling up in a dead lady’s mailbox, that would be a little strange, so I’ve stopped sending postcards and having flowers delivered on her birthday. But I haven’t stopped imaging her at large in the world, telling stories to anyone who’ll listen about the handsome bellboy she recently encountered at a hotel in Belize.

Is that denial?

We can indulge ourselves with our beliefs in karma or horoscopes or witches or fate, so why can’t we also make-believe that a person hasn’t disappeared?

After all, her presence is deeply felt. Her gardenia smell is still in my bar of soap. Her sparkle can still be seen in my mother’s eyes. Her quirky,  irreverent ways moulded the personalities of my five sisters. Her life values of travel and romance and living a life of passion is still there beside me every morning when I wake up.

So this Halloween, I’m celebrating my grandma’s birthday by remembering all the lessons she taught me:

  • ‘Old’ is an unnecessary mindset.
  • Try everything at least once.
  • Life is the pursuit of passion.
  • Gamble everything for love.
  • Never stop exploring.
  • Fuck the rules.


Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.

Leave a Comment

  • Frankie (Bird) October 31, 2012, 7:15 am

    What wonderful witchcraft-ery and what a wonderful woman!

    Thank you for sharing her gems of wisdom and an appetite for life (and sex) we should all aspire to!


    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:36 pm

      She sure had an appetite! Thanks, Frankie.

  • Kelly O October 31, 2012, 7:38 am

    Torre, I was so sorry to hear about the loss of your Grandma. This is a lovely reflection on an amazing life and a beautiful lady. Thank you for sharing- I have learnt some things from your Grandma today. X

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:36 pm

      Aw, thanks, Kelly. I know how hard it was for you when you lost your grandma. Bloody grandmas, eh?

  • Catherine October 31, 2012, 10:26 am

    What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother.

    Your grandma and mine could have been sisters (or soulmates, at the very least).

    She didn’t go south of the border but she did collect young husbands. My nickname for her was “Henrietta the 8th”.

    Embarrassing friends and (some) family with her much younger lovers thrilled her aging bones to no end.

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:38 pm

      Funny. My partner’s grandma is also the same! She dated a man half her age just recently. She’s 89.

  • Kim October 31, 2012, 11:06 am

    Beautiful! What an amazing woman. Sounds like a life well lived. FUCK THE RULES. I’m not sure there is any better lesson to be taught.

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:38 pm

      And you, dear Kim, have become a goddess of fucking the rules.

  • Sara October 31, 2012, 11:13 am

    Lovely piece about your grandma. Mine died too this year and although not a collector of young husbands she was a passionate traveller. In her 80s she visited Myanmar, Hawaii and she made it to New Zealand, somewhere she’d always wanted to visit, before she died. Like you, I have to remind myself to no longer send her postcards (when sorting through her things we found she’d kept every single one anyone in the family had ever sent her).

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:39 pm

      Sorry to hear. Maybe we should just send postcards to each other instead? Fill that gaping hole? 🙂

      • Sara November 1, 2012, 5:18 pm

        Do you think the postcards would make it to your island idyll?!

  • Kelly Exeter October 31, 2012, 11:51 am

    Just gorgeous Torre. You grandmother sounds like she was an absolute cracker 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:39 pm

      Cracker is the word, Kelly. Thanks for stopping by!

  • looloolooweez October 31, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Oh, I’m so sorry about your grandmother’s death. But wow, what an amazing woman! It sounds like she had plenty of great fun in life. I’m so glad you’ve shared her story with us.

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:40 pm

      Yep, you can’t say she didn’t suck the marrow out of life and also … er … this conversation is getting weird. :/

  • Carmel October 31, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Why not? We threw a birthday party for my brother this year, even though he passed in February. He is still with us in our memories, in the stories, in pretty much every facet of our lives. We even had a pinata and cake and everything. Celebrating someone’s life doesn’t mean they have to be there in person. Your grandma sounds like an inspirational and just plain fun person to be around. What a smile!

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:42 pm

      Oh no. I’m so sorry hear that, Carmel. How sweet that you threw him a birthday party! I love the idea of continuing to celebrate and keeping the memories of loved ones alive.

  • Laura October 31, 2012, 4:58 pm

    Torre, I still bury my nose in the a collection of scarves from my mother because they smell like her. She died four years ago and there are days her death still feels like an “abstract concept”.

    Your grandmother sounded like my kind of woman.

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:45 pm

      Oh Laura, that’s heartbreaking. For me, smells bring out the strongest memories and also the strongest sense of longing. I’m glad you have her scarves. Even though it’s sad, I’m sure it’s a lovely comfort to feel her presence like that.

  • Christine October 31, 2012, 5:02 pm

    Love this, Torre. My grandmother died a month ago and I feel the same way: I keep seeing things that I want to send her or tell her about, but I’m trying to just embody her spirit anyway I can!

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:47 pm

      Sorry to hear that, Christine. I always think that the level at which I miss my grandma is directly proportionate to how much I loved her. So: heavy sadness = much love, which is a good thing.

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad October 31, 2012, 5:32 pm

    What a great and heartfelt post, your grandmother seems like a very happy and wonderful person. I like her advice to be with a latin man at least once, my mom told me the same thing once too!

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:48 pm

      Did she?! And what does your mom know about Latin men? Hmm?

  • Patricia Sands October 31, 2012, 10:34 pm

    What a woman! Your grandmother will live on forever with anyone who knew her (and what a pleasure that would have been), that’s a certainty. With her personality and approach to life, no wonder she still looked so full of life in her later photos. It often takes a story about someone like her to give some of us a nudge. The first five lessons you learned are items that have part of my credo for many years but I’ve always been a bit of a weenie about following rules. I’ve decided to add lesson #6 as of today! Thanks!

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:50 pm

      Glad to pass it on, Patricia! I like to follow rules too, but on the occasions that I don’t follow them, a new world opens up. So many rules exist only in our minds.

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures October 31, 2012, 11:31 pm

    I have tears in my eyes — your next book HAS to be about her! I love her and I never even had the chance to meet her!!!

    • Hannah November 1, 2012, 12:26 pm

      I agree with Andi, I’d totally buy that book!

      • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:34 pm

        Funny—I was planning to write a book about her, but she went and died on me before I could extract all her stories. (Sheesh!) I’m going to work with my mum and her siblings and try to piece together as much of it as I can.

        • Hannah November 1, 2012, 12:39 pm

          Well put me in for a copy now 🙂

  • Kelly October 31, 2012, 11:46 pm

    Amazing article. Amazing woman no doubt!

  • Lisa November 1, 2012, 3:52 am

    what a wonderful story. your grandma was a wise woman and you’re very lucky to have her. 🙂

  • Meg | One Love Meg November 1, 2012, 5:19 am

    What a cool woman! You don’t meet many hip grandmas but when you do they are usually worth talking about for years to come. Someone once told me that a person doesn’t die until you stop sharing memories about them. So continue to share wonderful stories about this wonderful woman and she will live with you forever. Happy Halloween!

  • Hannah November 1, 2012, 12:29 pm

    That is one amazing lady! I hope I am just as adventurous when I am in my 80s. I’d love to read a biography on her 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche November 1, 2012, 12:35 pm

      Me too, though I seem to be heading down the bitter old cat lady path.

  • Vanessa Martin Randin November 1, 2012, 4:05 pm

    My grandad once got lost in the forests of Uganda. With only one shot in his rifle and the nearness of the not-so-gentle wild animals drinking out of a nearby water hole, he was forced to spend the night in a tree.

    When his friends found him the next morning, he persuaded them to carry him (while he pretended to be dead) into the room where my grandmother was waiting. He thought it was hilarious. She didn’t. That was when he was in his 20s.

    Just before his 70th birthday, he came to live with us in Canada. We threw a birthday party for him and his notion of “Fuck the rules” was to open every birthday card and shake it vigorously to see how much money fell out.

    Everyone who knew him thought that he had “calmed down” considerably after moving to Canada. A hardly surprising change as the love of his life and his constant partner for more than 50 years, had passed away in India leaving him with no choice but to move in with one of his children.

    At 70 he learned how to make a cup tea for himself and deal with the bitter Canadian cold, with a glass of whisky in his gloved hands.

    Everyone should have a grandparent like yours and mine, Torre. Life’s pretty boring otherwise.

  • Sheryl November 1, 2012, 9:47 pm

    I love this: “We can indulge ourselves with our beliefs in karma or horoscopes or witches or fate, so why can’t we also make-believe that a person hasn’t disappeared?”

    There are some people that had such an impact on my life that I wish were still with me and think of often. Imagining that they are still there in some way just deepens their impact even more… it makes what they had to teach me feel even more alive and with me.

    Good thoughts. Your grandma had a lot of insight to share. Thanks for passing it on!

  • Caz Makepeace November 3, 2012, 12:57 am

    Love this post and love your grandma! What a cool rocking woman. I want to still have that zest and inspire my grandchildren at that age. That is what life should be about! Injecting youth into your wisdom

  • efrutik November 3, 2012, 2:47 am

    I love this post, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. And your grandma is such an awesome woman. I am taking her lessons to heart 🙂

  • Maxabella November 5, 2012, 8:35 am

    She is one awesome broad! I have a theory that the very best people come from a long line of very best people that just gets better and better every generation. Adventurers beget adventurers. x

  • Alana - Paper Planes November 6, 2012, 6:38 pm

    I love everything about this post – sounds like your grandmother was a wonderful woman. I hope I keep that joie de vivre as I get older!

  • Ken November 6, 2012, 9:30 pm

    I recall reading about your Grandma in your book and thinking what a wonderful women she is…I use the present tense because she obviously lives on in you!

    • Torre DeRoche November 9, 2012, 8:19 am

      Thanks so much, Ken. She lives on in my book, too!

  • Tara November 6, 2012, 10:57 pm

    Hi Torre!
    My boyfriend sent me the link to your blog saying “I would like your writing style.” As I sit here with tears streaming down my face laughing at this post, I can’t help but agree with his assessment. I look forward to exploring your blog and reading more of your work!

    • Torre DeRoche November 9, 2012, 8:19 am

      Hey Tara. Your boyfriend has great taste. 😉 So glad you stopped by.

  • Ayngelina November 10, 2012, 11:02 am

    Love love love your grandmother’s perspective, and I also agree with her advice – just once…or more.

    • Dyanne@TravelnLass November 28, 2012, 2:55 am

      88 eh? Great. That gives me me hope that at near 70 – I still have at least 20 more years to play in the Great Global Sandbox!

      That plus…

      “…so why can’t we also make-believe that a person hasn’t disappeared?”

      Seriously. Who’s to say they’re not alive ‘n well – just presently invisible? “make-believe” indeed. It’s all just what we each choose to “believe”. Nobody really knows what happens to our “spirit” when our (rickety at best) physical bodies cease to breathe.

      I say – no doubt your Granny is happily still “Fucking the Rules!” in some parallel universe, yes? 😉

  • Joy November 28, 2012, 3:56 am

    Young mexican men. Love it! Your grandma sounds amazing. I hope I’m like that when I’m in my 80’s! You will always have these memories of her. Remember to think of her often and let yourself grieve.

  • Lauren @ roamingtheworld December 24, 2012, 5:45 pm

    What a beautiful little tribute to your grandma! Sounds like she lived an incredible life!

  • Tiny Girl with Big Bag January 26, 2013, 2:19 pm

    Thanks for sharing this lovely story. You made her live longer by spreading out to the world a piece of her life. My name day is on Halloween. Does that count? 🙂

  • Samuel Jeffery February 4, 2013, 10:22 pm

    Torre, this is such a lovely tribute to your Grandmother. She lived her life independent of the good opinion of others with a sense of passion and purpose. It’s wonderful you can celebrate her life while remembering the lessons she passed down to you and others.

  • Yvonne February 28, 2013, 12:53 pm

    What a wonderful story. It so reminds me of my own mother too. Although not a self declared Witch or interested in men so much, she travels all over and always takes one or two of my “kids” (adults now) or me with her. She is in her mid 80’s. On our trip to Egypt she and I were belly dancing there, she climbed the Great Wall of China, and so many more adventures,. Recently she, one of my sons and I went on an adventure to the uppermost Islands of Australia owned by the Aborigines there. We went to Jordan and Egypt and left just a day or two before the riots, and on an on. My father is also an adventurous soul, has traveled the world over all his life, and they have passed this down to myself and my three “children” and my half brothers. Age is how old you feel and shows in how you look and what you do (evident in my family, we all look much younger than we are).

  • Louise May 15, 2013, 11:09 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your granmother, see sounded like she was a wonderful lady .

  • John M January 2, 2014, 1:54 pm

    This is a beautiful & touching tribute torre. Helps me understand you & your mum a little better (I met her once or thrice).
    John (Brighton)

  • Ross January 5, 2014, 4:25 pm

    Great personal post. A fitting tribute to her and to her advice. She sounded like a real character.

  • Rita May 10, 2016, 10:11 pm

    I happened upon this cleaning out my office and I found your grandma’s address sticker, and googled her name. In 1991 myself and two girlfriends met your mom on a train from Germany (I think Munich) to Barcelona. For 20 years we got cards and postcards filled with her travels and adventures! And the men! I always had her in my mind as my inspiration! When the cards stopped coming I feared the worst, and as you said, age was nothing in her case! I am thrilled beyond belief to find your tribute to her.