From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Grandma’s Recipe

Obey and honor your parents, respect and obey the gods, be honest, tell the truth, and don’t eat too quickly.

Aztec Teaching

I remember Grandma’s cooking—the way the scent of fresh tamales delighted my nose and enticed my salivary glands. She blessed the pot, always blessed the pot before they steamed. “They taste better with God’s blessing,” she would say. I always wanted the recipe for her mouthwatering tamales, but she always asked me to wait.

“There’s time,” she would say.

I remember Grandma’s tamales. . . . Her hands kneading the masa dutifully, and how, with the gentle stroke of the back of a spoon, she would spread the dough on the corn husks, stroking patiently, like an artist delicately applying colors on canvas.

“Living life is like neatly spread dough on corn husks. If you’re not patient and you spread the dough too thick and too quickly, you’ll get lumpy tamales that quickly fall apart. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up,” she would say. “Spread your time evenly and enjoy each day.”

My stomach rumbled and my mouth watered, anticipating the first tender chew of fresh steamed masa with beans and chile. She’d say a little prayer before the first bite, always before the first bite. “They taste better when you’ve thanked God for bringing you another meal,” she would say. And then, finally, we would eat.

When I left my hometown, my grandma held a crinkled paper in her hand. She extended her arm, her wrinkled, leathery hand shaking uncontrollably as she reached for my palm. “You’ve always wanted the recipe,” my grandma smiled with tears in her eyes.

I was very sad to leave my beloved grandmother behind, but I was so happy that she left me the recipe for her tamales, thinking that by following it I could rekindle my relationship with her, although we would be hundreds of miles away.

I didn’t read the piece of paper until I got home later that evening. When I opened it, I realized that my grandmother had given me much more than a recipe for tamales. On the page, along with the tamale recipe, was my grandmother’s recipe for life: Bless your meals, be patient and give thanks each day.

Jacqueline Méndez

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