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 book. At 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:
I REALLY WOULD SETTLE FOR A PERMANENT HOUSE BOY ABOUT 5 FT 9, BLACK HAIR, NICE TEETH AND BIG MUSCLES, WHO LIKED TO COOK. MIGHT HAVE HIM JUST LIVE HERE. HAAA HAAA.
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.
… UNTIL THE VERY END!
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.