“Abuela, can we go to BiWay today?” I asked my grandmother one afternoon. I sat cross legged on a chair at the kitchen table eating my favourite after-school snack; milk and cookies. My grandmother stood at the counter breading thin slices of veal for dinner.
“Ask your grandfather,” she told me in Spanish. “He’s our driver.”
I spun around, kneeled on the chair and leaned into the wood railing that divided the kitchen from the living room. I bellowed, “ABUELO!!”
As soon as I called, my grandpa put down the foot rest of this blue recliner, where he had been watching a soccer game on the television. He walked over to the other side of the banister and smiled, “yes, Lexi Lexi?”
“Can you drive us to BiWay today?” I asked, looking up at him with my big brown eyes. My grandpa put his hands on both my cheeks, and kissed me on the forehead before declaring, “for you, I would drive to the ends of the earth.”
Luckily, BiWay was only a five minute drive from my grandparents’ house. It was a discount store larger than a dollar store but smaller than a Walmart. I wanted to go there for a very specific purpose.
When we arrived, I bee-lined to the children’s clothing section, with my grandparents directly behind me. There in the girls’ section, hanging on a rack, I found it. The coolest tank top I’d ever seen. It was white at the top with small light blue flowers in the middle, fading into large dark blue flowers at the bottom. It was so Baby Spice. I needed it.
On top of the rack was a big black sign with $4.99 in big white numbers. I hesitated. I didn’t know much about money, except that if something was too expensive, I couldn’t have it. I hoped that wasn’t the case, as I tugged on my grandmother’s hand. “Abuela, isn’t this tank top so nice? Can you buy it for me?”
My grandmother glanced at the tank top and then hissed at me in Spanish, “Alexis, we can’t buy clothes at BiWay!”
“Yes we can!” I argued, confused. Obviously we could buy clothes here. They had an entire clothing section! Plus, I had proof. “My friend Sylvia was wearing this exact tank top at school today! She told me she bought it here, that’s why I wanted to come!”
Conflict flashed across my immigrant grandmother’s eyes. She looked from me to the tank top and then back again. You’d think I’d asked her to commit a crime. She touched the material guardedly and slowly explained, “we can’t buy clothes here because they’re too cheap.”
“No they’re not!” I protested, not really knowing what cheap meant. “Please, Abuela! I really love it!”
My grandmother exchanged a nervous glance with my grandfather. It was as if I was asking her to compromise some core belief she had or something. In retrospect, I guess I was. But they were old fashioned beliefs. My grandfather just shrugged indifferently.
My grandparents taught me a lot about life. We’re from different worlds; we were raised in different cultures, we speak different languages, and we believe very different things. But I’m proud to say that we share the most important beliefs to this day. Throughout my childhood, they taught me how to tolerate, accept and adapt to new situations. Most importantly, they taught me about unconditional love. Their family’s happiness was always their main priority, bottom line.
Naturally, my grandmother ended up buying me four of those tank tops that day – one in every colour BiWay sold.