Not until a decade after the death of my maternal grandmother, when I had the opportunity to develop a character and ultimately write a play inspired by her, did I have the chance to truly connect with the spirit of Abuelita.
Writing and performing Abuelita’s Christmas Carol, a new chapter in my life began. I found that by expressing through words and performance what my heart never had the chance to express, a new door opened. This play is my opportunity to show my love for this woman who had done so much for me and everyone she loved, and I found that the performances onstage not only filled me with memories, her love, and her spirit, but to my great surprise, touched so many other audience members in the same way.
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, what I dreaded more than anything else as a child was the long road trip to visit my grandmother. To be honest, the trip took only about an hour and a half, but to a young kid who hated being confined to small spaces and who usually spent most of the car ride fighting with his older brother, the trips to Hebbronville were not the most pleasant journeys. To make matters worse, I also tended to get car sick. and my disgruntled father found himself pulling over to the side of the country roads almost every trip. Each time my parents bought a new car, I would, as my mother described it, “christen” the vehicle.Â Â Luckily I was cured of that later in life.
Paradoxically, I looked forward to being there, hanging out with my cousins and the smell of cooking in the air as we entered our grandmother’s house.Â I don’t know if I remember my grandmother being the most amazing cook in the world, but I do greatly recall that she always cooked with one of my favorite spices”¦.cheese! Her enchiladas were probably my favorite. Even after all these years, I can still remember the sauce she used and, of course, the piles of melted cheese I tasted with every bite.
My grandmother somehow acquired these giant blocks of cheese that the government used to give away. It was very thick cheese, great for use during cooking, but cheese that also worked better than sandbags during the storm seasons.
My grandmother had so much of this cheese around the house, we took a block of it home with us after every trip. I think my dad spent the drive home praying that the suspension of the tires could handle the extra weight on the Texas highways.
I’ll always be grateful to the government for that cheese. But I’m especially thankful for my grandmother, mi Abuelita.Â She wasn’t just a woman who cooked food for us on our weekend trips, she was a woman who loved us with a great love.Â My cousins and I were quite a handful when we got together — all boys until my little sister came along — and I think we often tested the depths of my grandmother’s patience and her love.Â She never lost her love, but she did lose her patience.Â With all the anger of a Mexican-American woman, she chased us around the house, she called us names, threatening us with phrases like “No more candy, no more toys!”
But at the end of the day, we knew that she loved us.Â And that was never more clear than through the more tragic moments in her life — when her daughter, my aunt, passed away as a college student or when my cousin Joey was killed by a drunk driver.
Performing this play has become a holiday tradition for me”¦my tribute, my song, my eternal thank you to my grandmother, who affected me more deeply than I ever realized. And it has meant even more to share the play with people in the audience, who — along with my fellow family members — have watched the show with laughter, with tears, embracing the spirit of this great woman who was so many things to so many people.
This is my seventh year performing Abuelita’s Christmas Carol, and the first time out of the state of Texas. In the play I play nine characters in addition to Abuelita, including the ghost of my little pig. The title character questions her life and ultimately finds out how much she is appreciated by all who know her, just as mi abuelita was the glue that held our family together and sustained us.
I don’t know if the government still gives away free cheese. Â But I am confident that nobody else on this planet used that cheese with greater love and magic than my grandmother, Abuelita.
Abuelita’s Christmas Carol. Santa Monica Playhouse, The Main Stage, 1211 4th Street Santa Monica, Â 90401. English language performances Sat Dec. 15 at 2 pm and 4 pm and Sun Dec. 16 at 2 pm. Spanish language performance Sun Dec. 16 at 4 pm. Tickets: 12.50 adults; $10.50 children. www.brownpapertickets.com/event305303. 310-394-9779 ext. 2.
***All Abuelita’s Christmas Carol production photos by Kenneth Gall
Alex Garza has been writing and performing most of his life. He visits Los Angeles from the hill country of Texas, the state where he was born and raised. In his theatrical career, he has played various roles on the stage, as well as written several plays. He performed his first solo show, entitled Pulse, at the Blue Theatre in Austin. Since then, he has created many one-man plays, including I’m Not Ghandi, The Baby Harp Seal Diaries, Coconut, and Misfit. His shows have been seen throughout South and Central Texas, ranging from Houston to Del Rio. In addition to his solo career, he has worked with many professional theater companies in the Austin area.Print