What does it mean to turn 100 years old? Does it mean something surreal, larger than life, or is it just another day? Mama Jenny, my grandmother, turns 100 years old on November 15th, or November 22 as she started to insist when she hit her eighth decade of life. I am certain, through obsessive sourcing, that it is the 15th, but I never argue the point. We mostly just celebrate twice. And both times she will get a 7 & 7 (or two), doesn’t have to be Seagram, any house whiskey will do…. in a tall glass… with “just a little more” than a single shot.
So what does 100 years mean to Genoveva Rodarte De Loya? It means she didn’t have electricity or even see it’s uses until she left Mexico and moved to California in 1943. She didn’t go on an unchaperoned date with Jose Loya until they were married. It means she has outlived both her parents and 9 of her 10 siblings but has seen the birth of 4 children, 12 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and her brood of great-great grandchildren is still growing. It means she danced at a time when you knew all of the actual steps to a dozen actual named dances.
She loved dancing, truly loved it, still does, even if she isn’t quite as light or quick on her feet. Most of the happiest memories she shares involve dancing; with her dad, her siblings, her grandparents, her dates, her grandchildren.
It means she was born during the Mexican Revolution, that her family was greatly influenced by the Border Wars, that Pancho Villa eventually became a hero to her even though the Magonistas captured her town and the Villistas took members of her family in support of the cause. I suppose Villa would have to be a hero since she eventually married into a family of Villista rebels, or thugs, or bandits, or mafia, or murderous womanizing thieves, it depends on who is telling the story.
It means she was old enough and brave enough to come to America by herself with three children at a time when most Americans did not speak Spanish, and her kids did not speak English, and there was no ESL in school, and employers were not looking for bi-lingual speakers when my grandma learned English. It was 1943, she was a single mom, most women were not. She was beautiful, quite vain really, she was divorced, she went out dancing alone, they didn’t like her. She worked hard, she was the bread-winner, they didn’t understand her. Mostly she loved life, she still does. She’s fearless and unapologetic in her pursuit of happiness, I absolutely adore that about her.
What does living 100 years mean to me? Being not quite halfway there, I hate to admit that it sounds exhausting. Sometimes when I ask Mama Jenny what she thinks about turning 100, she laughs and tells me she’s happy to be sitting down, it’s a long time and she’s tired. I kind of get that I guess, but she says it with an optimism and gratitude I am only now striving to acquire.
Her 100 years is a gift to me. She is the Matriarch. It means she has lived long enough for me to finally care about genealogy and my ancestors and still have her to question. Long enough for me to listen, to absorb, to enjoy the stories and the facts she has to pass along. Long enough to ground me to my heritage in a way I can’t explain. Long enough to give life to relatives I only have the facts about, the one’s that died before I was alive or old enough to remember. Long enough for me to appreciate her, her life, the way she chose to live it.
Long enough for me to know I will miss her when she is gone but am lucky to have her with me for so long and close to me now.