My Grandma recently celebrated her 89th birthday, so I thought writing something special about her would be a lovely way to honor the wonderful woman she is.
On March 22nd, 1928, in the town of San Juan, Texas, a star was born. Namely, Irene Estrella Alaniz. A more perfect middle name could not have been chosen. She grew up the eldest of four childen; Irene, Gloria, Lydia, and Oscar.
Irene was married twice. First at the tender age of 15 to my grandfather, Cruz Garza, and for the second time at 54 to Francisco “Frank” Mayorga. She has 5 daughters: Ida, Gladys, Amy, Diana, and Nancy. In the late 70s, after Cruz passed away, she also took in two young sisters, Terry and Letty, and raised them as her own. Grandma Irene has 8 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. (Family, please correct me if I’ve miscounted here.)
She sold Avon and Copper Craft, worked as a paraprofessional for PSJA ISD, and was a beautician. She had her own salon in front of her home. She has held many titles; daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, beautician, saleswoman, paraprofessional, matriarch. But more than any of these, she is a believer and follower of Christ. And because of this she has touched hundreds, if not thousands, of lives through ministry and prayer and intercession. She is a mighty blessing to me and to so many others.
When I was in elementary and junior high I had the priviledge to live with her for 5 years. During that time and throughout my life, I learned many lessons from her, too many to count, but I’ve narrowed it down to 8 or 9 (because it sounds like 89) of the most important ones.
Here they are in no particular order:
1. Clean. All. The. Things!
Like I said before, I used to live with my grandma and during that time I learned a lot about cleaning. I don’t think a day went by during the five years I lived there that we didn’t clean something. My grandmother is obsessively clean and so are all her daughters. I mean they never stop. You can be halfway through a meal and someone is taking a fork out of your mouth, grabbing your plate, and putting it in the sink to wash immediately because “there’s too much clutter!” That someone is usually my mother, Nancy Pearl. (I think she carries the most dominant traits of the cleaning gene.)
I learned to dust the knick-knacks and clean the glass table tops by wiping in one direction only (never in circles) and then crawl underneath the table and wipe the bottom of the glass in the same direction. We would oil the wooden furniture, scrub toilets and tubs, clean the floors with Fabuloso (only the purple one), and vacuum the carpet with Carpet Fresh. And heaven forbid that you could see the lines when you vacuumed!! I remember vacuuming one day and you could definitely see the lines. My Grandma Irene came in, took one look, and said, “You must have been in a bad mood when you did this, I can see all the lines. Put a smile on your face and do it again.” There was always a baseboard to clean, a window blind to wipe down, a rug to beat, or a wall to wash. And though I thought it was a bit tyrannical at the time, I learned how to take care of my things. Grandma Irene would always remind me that one day I would have my own home and if I didn’t take care of it and keep it clean, no one else would do it for me. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Heather.”
2. Be On Time for Church
My grandma is the most punctual person you’ll ever meet. Scratch that. She is more than punctual. She is early. Early for everything. If church starts at 10:00am she’s there about 8:30/8:45 just reading her Bible, talking to people as they arrive, and waiting for service to begin. But this goes for so much more than church. Appointments, gatherings, meetings, parties, lunch, dinner. You name it, She’s early. And if you are giving her a ride, you had better be early too. About half an hour before you are scheduled to pick her up she will head outside and wait on her porch. A little later and she’ll make her way to the street so she can jump in your car as soon as you get there without you wasting time to turn in the driveway. She likes to be early everywhere because she loves people and this gives her a chance to socialize before things get started. Now this is one of those lessons learned and not wholly applied. I still struggle with being on time but I’m slowly getting better. I think she’d be proud of my efforts.
3. Take Care of Your Skin, Put on Your Makeup, and Fix Your Hair!
I can still remember being a very young girl, maybe 5 years old, and loving my Grandma Irene’s bathroom. She had all her beauty products organized on pretty silver platters across her countertop. There was a big, garden tub that I could sit on the edge of and watch her. It was a little girl’s dream land. I can still see that steady hand, perfectly outlining her lips in fuchsia or magenta or red. The tap, tap, tapping in of her cream blusher on her cheeks and a swipe of frosted eyeshadow across the lids. When the day was through, she would remove her makeup and start applying her creams. She made sure I knew it was supremely important to take care of my skin so I wouldn’t ever age. “Keep your skin as young as you are right now,” she would tell me.
All of this is still true today. She doesn’t leave the house without makeup. She has a standing appointment at the beauty salon to get her hair washed and curled and colored. 89 or not, she is rocking that chestnut brown hair. Her nails are always manicured and most often painted red. Or hot pink. Subtlety is not a forte of the women in my family and of this we are proud.
4. Pray for One Another
If there is one word I could use to describe Ms. Irene it would be intercessor. It means, a person who intervenes on behalf of another, especially by prayer. My grandma will pray for anyone at anytime at anyplace. She loves to pray. She loves to talk to Jesus. I believe that this is how she has stayed so young for so long. She wakes up giving thanks to the Lord for another day of life and goes to bed thanking Him yet again for another night of rest.
She started having weekly prayer meetings in her home in the late 1970s. Though the faces and location have changed, and now my mother ministers at these meetings, the prayer meetings are still going on today. Open to anyone who wants to come. It’s 2017. That’s at least 40 years of prayer. This is her living legacy, to make sure that there is a place for people to come to when they need prayer, when they need Jesus.
My grandma was hospitalized in November. She was very ill at the time. A nurse who had been assigned to her was in her room and my grandmother noticed that he seemed bewildered. And she said to him, “There’s something you’re worried about. Will you let me pray for you?” So she witnessed to that young man and prayed for him from her hospital bed. At her weakest moment, she was still more concerned about sharing Christ with others, than about herself. This is the kind of woman, kind of Christian, I hope I am. That no matter the circumstances I will always be willing to pray for others and tell them about the love of Jesus.
Note: Grandma Irene has made a full recovery from that situation and is back to zipping around town. Which brings me to my next lesson…
5. Go, Go, Go!
First of all, how many 89 year olds do you know that love to Zumba? I only know one. Her name is Irene. She is always on the go. She takes care of herself and makes sure to keep moving as much as she can. “Hay que mover el cuerpo mientras todavia se puede mijita.” (You need to move your body while you still can!) I have heard her say this countless times and she really lives up to it.
My grandma still drives. Mostly during the day, but sometimes at night as well. Most likely against her daughter’s wishes, but that’s another thing I love about her. She doesn’t let anyone boss her around. Whether she is driving to church, to pick up her sister for a cup of coffee, or to visit someone in need of prayer, you can spot that little Toyota Corolla driving all over the Rio Grande Valley.
6. Laugh and Laugh Often
A lesson Grandma Irene taught me, that holds a lot of value for me is this: Learn to laugh at yourself or the world will do it for you. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She loves to be silly and spend time laughing at memories or funny things that happen to her.
I remember a trip to Austin with my mom, my best friend Vanessa, and my Grandma Irene. Every night we would turn down the temperature before bed because we love to sleep with it cold. Pobresita Grandma Irene was freezing! She wrapped herself in extra blankets and put on socks and slippers and thick jammies. She looked like a little tamale all bundled up. We already thought this was hilarious and after we turned out the lights and were laying in the dark for a few moments, we hear her say, “Como quisiera un poquito de ice creen.” (I would love a little bit of ice cream.) We laughed until we fell asleep and woke up laughing again when she told us that she wasn’t going to be able to move because Nancy had frozen all her joints and she was as stiff as a popsicle. “Estoy tan helada, manita!”
I suppose the key to this is to not take offense at everything you don’t agree with and learn to find the humor in all things. It’s there. You just have to look for it. This is a lesson we can all learn from. Especially in the day and age we live in. There is always a bit of humor to be found even in the darkest of times. I don’t mean malicious humor. She would have never taught me that. We just need to be more joyful and spread that joy to others. Laughter is contagious after all.
7. Make Phone Calls
Grandma Irene doesn’t text, but boy howdy does she call. Tiene la oreja planchada! (She uses the phone so much her ear is ironed flat.) She used to only have a landline but then she got a cell phone and well, the rest is history. That phone doesn’t leave her side. She loves to talk. On the phone or in person. Personally, I would rather text but I think there is a beauty in her phone calls. It’s like the lost art of letter writing, but instead the lost art of phone calls. Not many people are willing to pick up the phone and just talk anymore. We just text and snap and have lost a bit of humanity in the process.
Because of always knowing who’s calling, some of us are guilty of screening her calls, myself included. She leaves voicemail. And in true grandma fashion they sound like this, “Heatherrrr, this is your grandmaaa….Grandma Irene!…Did you forget about meee? I’ve been calling youuuu. Call me backkk.” And, guilty as sin, I always do. She’s good.
This is her way of staying close to family. See, we don’t always visit, and we don’t always call. So she calls us and reminds us that she’s there, hoping to hear from us.
8. Speak Faith
Even if she wasn’t the great prayer warrior that she is, you would know that my grandma loves Jesus within the first few moments of meeting her. Her love for God is ingrained in her vocabulary.
“Hi Grandma, how are you doing?”
“Well, glory to God, estoy sana y viva.”
“Are you going to church?”
“Si dios quiere, I will be there!”
“Bye Grandma, see you later!”
“The blood of Jesus covers you wherever you go! Be safe on the road! Aleluyah!”
She is so precious. The word of God says in Luke 6:45 “Out of the abundance of the heart, so the mouth speaks.” You know what’s in her heart? Jesus! I need to be more like this. She is a perfect example of walking, talking, breathing faith at all times, in all things.
9. Taste Everything!
My grandma loves to eat. She loves it. She knows all the restaurants in town and their specials. Her favorite thing to say is “Nomás una probadita.” (Just a little taste.) She always gets a to-go plate and takes half her meal home for dinner or lunch the next day. She’ll share a toasted Whataburger with you half and half. She likes buttered pecan ice cream and un pedacito de caequito (little piece of cake). She’ll heat up a crispy tortilla on the comal with some cheese or leftover carnitas from the day before.
She loves to eat like she loves life. It’s part of who she is. I think she mostly loves the social aspect of eating because more than anything else, she loves people. And this is the best lesson I’ve learned. To love others like Christ loves us and to show that love without hesitation or restraint.
So whether it be cleaning my home, putting on my makeup, being on time (for anything), or just loving on people, my grandmother has showed me through her own example the kind of woman I one day hope to be. I wish to be even half the woman my Grandma Irene is and to carry on her legacy of love.