By Abe Villarreal
My favorite memories of the holidays are listening to cuentos, stories told by dads and moms, uncles and aunts, and mostly by grandpas and grandmas.
Like the kid in a classic Norman Rockwell painting, I remember sitting with my legs crossed on the floor, hands holding up my head, and eyes wide open. Grandpa Abram told the best cuentos.
A World War II Seabee, he crossed dangerous, shark-filled waters. One time a ferocious lion chased him across a distant desert. He survived after climbing up a coconut tree.
Sure, these things probably didn’t happen, but for a moment all us grandkids thought they were true, and grandpa was bigger than a comic book superhero. He loved us, and we loved him, that part was real.
As you get older, driving home for the holidays on long stretches of highway give you plenty of time to think of your childhood past. The endless food, the smells of traditional Hispanic homes, and the beautiful flow of two languages, crossing each other and sometimes forming new terms. They are all precious memories.
This holiday season, I want to start something new. I regularly hear complaints of people wishing things were just like they used to be. The truth is that they can be, but we have the responsibility to carry on the values and traditions we cherish.
We can’t get together at grandma's house anymore, but we can provide a place for the new generation. When I started to work on my family tree on Ancestry.com a couple of years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found out has been life changing.
I started my genealogical journey to find out who I really was, beyond the stories and myths, and what I have found has been fascinating. It’s worthy enough to pass on to a new generation that will hopefully carry it on to each generation thereafter.
So this holiday season, I’ll be asking each kid to enter his name into the tree and to see the picture and name of one of their great, great, grandparents. I’ll tell them how I imagine he or she lived, a long time ago, in a Mexican pueblo hundreds of miles away.
Facts aren’t as exciting as tales and anecdotes, the kind filled with good guys, bad guys, and adventurous chases through exotic lands. No matter what my real family tree tells me, nothing will take away the picture I have of my ancestors. The picture painted through cuentos, told to us kids on warm winter nights.
I miss my grandparents, and a big reason was that they cared enough for us to tell us these stories. You see, storytelling is an act of love. Verbal messages of hope and sadness. Cuentos have happy endings and moral lessons. They teach us and give us feelings of wonder.
During these holidays, in 2017, take your kids back to a distant time. A place where fantasy is alive and a little bit of magic seems present. When they grow old and look back on today, many details will be forgotten. Yet they will always remember the way they felt listening to your cuentos.