The Stories Grandma Told

The Stories Grandma Told

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

The Stories Grandma Told

Courage is a sort of endurance of the soul.


I can recall being five years old and knowing the stories of how my grandmother and grandfather came to the United States. Both came at different times, Grandpa from Spain and my Portuguese grandmother from Trinidad. Along with those stories came how they met and various tales of family members long gone. I was always fascinated to be entertained by these stories even into adulthood when I had heard them so many times before, however, one night the story of my grandmother’s passage to the United States became a teaching method that I will never forget.

My sister and her family were moving to Utah, which might as well have been Mars in its relationship to the sunny shores of Florida, where we all had migrated from the sidewalks of New York where my grandparents laid down their American roots. The time had come to say good-bye. My sister tried to be strong along with her husband so not to upset the other family members. My grandmother watched intently as I said my farewells. First to my sister and brother-in-law then to my two-year-old nephew, Jesse, and finally the most difficult and heartbreaking good-bye to my beautiful twelve year old niece, Carmen. She and I had always shared a special bond, and I could hear her sob along with me as I stroked her mahogany tresses all the while thinking of all the milestones in her life that I would no longer be a part of. As I looked up for a brief moment I saw the tear-stained faces of my family but noticed that my grandmother was the only one who was composed. Before I could contemplate what I had seen, Carmen had broken away and locked herself in the bathroom to cry alone. All of us made attempts to get her to open the door to no avail. Then we heard her say, “I’ll let Aunt Susan in.” Once I was inside with the door closed we sat on the floor together crying. There was nothing I said to her that would console her. I felt so helpless. Here I was, the only female in the history of my family to graduate from college and hold a master’s degree, and a teacher whose job it was to help children to understand, but I had no words of wisdom for the child who means more to me than my own life.

Soon the faint knock of my ninety-year-old grandmother came to the door. Her voice barely audible through the door said, “I would like to tell Carmen a story.” Carmen slowly opened the door and the five-foot frame of my grandmother gently entered. As Carmen and I stood together, I listened as my grandmother began to tell the story of her journey to the United States. Suddenly, I was an observer of a great teacher at work. The story that I always perceived as entertainment was being used to teach faith, hope and courage. Her eyes burrowed into my niece’s with the pride and dignity of my family that had been passed to me so long ago. In very few, but healing words the story of how my grandmother at fifteen years of age left her grandmother and aunts behind began to unfold. Boarding the ship headed for Ellis Island, filled with fears of never seeing them again was not any different than Carmen’s fear two generations later. The story came to a close with my grandmother’s family arriving in the United States one year later. I saw my niece’s face transform from expressions of despair to expressions of hope in a matter of minutes. I realized at that moment what a wise woman my grandmother was. She knew all along that we had to express our pain of the separation and when the time was right she would simply tell the old story that we had all heard many times over the years.

That night changed the way I listen to the old stories now. To this day, I look beyond the entertainment and listen for the deeper meanings of my grandmother’s stories. They are stories of courage, pride, love, happiness and sadness each with their own hidden messages to soothe, comfort and guide the generations that have come after her. Truly with age comes wisdom.

Susan Garcia-Nikolova, M.S.

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