|Rachel and Clarence Fagalde at my wedding in 1985|
Today my step-grandmother would have been 109 years old. Mind-boggling. My father’s mother, Clara, died when I was 2, so I don’t really remember her. I remember Grandma Rachel, who married my grandfather a year or two later. She had been married before, but she never had children. I never asked her why.
Grandma Rachel was the one who encouraged me as a fledgling writer. She gave me countless books, all inscribed to “My dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. She always put the “Gramma” in quotes, as if she felt she didn’t deserve the title. But she did. She was as much a grandmother as any woman ever was. She showered me, my brother, and my five cousins with love, support and gifts until the day she died. Longer, in fact. A cassette tape she sent me arrived a few days after cancer took her away in 1991.
Now I don’t think Grandma Rachel was much good with babies. I can’t picture her changing a diaper. She was a terrible cook, her housekeeping was iffy, and the grownups tended to roll their eyes at the way she talked. But we kids didn’t care about any of that. She cared about us. She wanted to know about our friends, our schoolwork, and the boys we had crushes on. She wanted to see what we had made and was always eager to read what I had written. She was never too busy doing grownup things to spend time with us.
Perhaps not having children freed her to do these things, or maybe that’s just how she was. I don’t know if she ever grieved her lack of children, or if she quietly celebrated her childfree life. Perhaps with two stepsons, seven grandchildren, and a nephew and three nieces whom she adored, she didn’t have time to think about it.
Perhaps she had enough to deal with in marrying Clarence Fagalde. For most of his life, he worked as foreman of the Dorrance ranch in San Jose, California. When they married, Rachel moved to the ranch, where life revolved around the prune and cherry crops. The work never ended. When Clarence retired, they moved to a small house at Seacliff Beach, a little ways south of Santa Cruz. Grandpa fished and puttered around the yard, tending his “Garden of Eden,” while Rachel painted, read, and wrote poetry and copious letters to everyone, including me. I treasure those letters, and I treasure the memories of our many visits.
Not every step-family works as well as Grandma Rachel’s did. We’ve all heard horror stories about kids who hate the new wife, battles with the ex, and husbands who favor the kids over the wife. My own situation was far less amiable. But Rachel made it work, and so can we.
On this, her 109th birthday, let her be a reminder that we can have happy lives even if we never give birth.