Abuelitas are a sacred gift. They feed you, nurture you, and pray for you. If you’re lucky enough to have one in your lifetime, carrying their lessons, memories, and love with you for the rest of your life is inevitable. It’s also certain the prayers they sent to heaven on your behalf will surround you for the rest of your life.
This is true for longtime resident, mother, and abuelita Mary Arellano. Mary was generous, genuine, meek, humble, sincere, and always had a knack for making everyone feel like someone. Mary passed away in 2018 and her absence in the Questa community has been tremendous.
We spoke to her daughter, Leonora Arellano, about how her family keeps her memory alive, especially during Christmastime. “My mom loved Christmas. For us, the most important part about Christmas was not about presents, it was about going to midnight mass. We knew the importance and significance of this holiday was about Jesus, and that was because of my mom,” Leonora says Mary was involved in the Christmas Posadas for a big part of her life. “The posadas represent when Joseph and Mary are going from place to place looking for somewhere to stay before she gives birth. People in our communities open their homes and cook and make their stop as hospitable as possible,” Leonora recalls.
When Mary opened her home for the Posadas, she would cook for over a week. “She would get started early, making the tamales, empanaditas, biscochitos… I would help her, and my boys would too. When they grew up, their kids also got involved in helping ensure everything was ready for the night.” Leonora says that to this day, she cannot serve store-bought tamales for Christmas. “My boys know the difference and they always ask me for Grams tamales. It’s a lot of work, but I am happy to do it for them.”
Although Mary passed away in 2018, her family still processes their grief. “We still keep her home as our central gathering point for many holidays,” Leonora says. Although five years have passed, Leonora will still find herself missing her mom. “Even at my age I still cry for my mom. You just take for granted that they will always be there. You must treasure that time with them because it goes so fast and in a blink of an eye, they’re gone.”
Being an abuelita herself, Leonora finds herself following in her mother’s footsteps, having a very special relationship with her own grandkids. “I love that my grandkids were able to make memories and stories of their own, of my mom. They were able to make luminarias for the Posadas and help cook with her before she passed. Those memories are so special to all of us.”
Mary’s faith in God was admirable. She passed this on to her children and grandchildren, encouraging them to always cling to God during difficult times in their life. “My mom lost my dad when me and my sisters were very young. He was killed in a car accident, and she really leaned on her faith to get her through that time because she had us to raise. That is what taught us that if you don’t have faith, you don’t have anything. If you have God, you have hope,” she notes.
This Christmas season, Leonora joined with her sisters Angela and Velma to make Grams famous tamales. “It’s so much work but this is one way we are keeping my mom’s memory alive. She isn’t here physically, but she is in every conversation, she comes up during every holiday… she may not be with us, but she is here and we will never let her memory die.”