On most Sundays, I will spend part of the day cooking up a big pot of yummy savory, (somewhat healthy) food for the week. As I mentioned in my last post, I am a teacher and a coach, which involves long hours during the week. When I get home I have no energy to prepare a meal and eating out gets expensive, not to mention usually not the healthiest option. Thankfully, I really enjoy cooking!
My joy of cooking stems from my grandma, we call her Nanny. It is my understanding that Nanny was the first to hold me when I was born, because I think my mom was knocked out at the time haha. She is not one of those drop in grandmas you see on the holidays and talk to now and then. She has remained close to me my entire life. Even now, while she lives in Costa Rica and I am in DC we chat it up on Skype and Facebook. That’s right, my 79 year old Nanny has Facebook and she is my friend. She is more tech savvy than some of my colleagues at work (sad but true). Nanny is the BEST grandma anyone could ask for, and when I think about how much I love her my eyes begin to water (I can be emotional, “but I am Latin so I feel whatever I want”…Gloria from Modern Family says it best), and the kicker is she is in no way blood related to ANY OF US.
Here is the story of Shirley Denning, my Nanny and how family transcends blood lines.
It was the 70’s when love was in the air, bell bottoms where the flair, and good times were had
by all. Costa Rica embraced this bogey time in history just like everyone else. Chepita was a 20 something year old finding her way as the oldest sibling still under her mother’s household. She was also the primary bread-winner, working at “MasXMenos” a chain grocery store in Costa Rica. However, it was not all work and no play for Chepita. She found herself hopelessly in love with a much older man we will call Ramon. First love is always strong, but many times can end in the same explosive manner it began. Chepita knowing the situation was dire and unwilling to pick up the pieces of her broken heart…she fleed to the Unites States.
Chepita sought refuge with her aunt, Tia Olivia. As a good little latina house guest she woke up early, did her chores, got a job, and went to Catholic church. Tia Olivia ran a tight ship, and there was little time for back talk or shenanigans. Chepita got a job at a factory sewing swim suits. Her boss was Shirley Denning. Shirley was tall (at least to Chepita because Chepita was not even 5 feet), slender, and elegant. Her voice was kind and sweet, and her mere presence could capture a room. Shirley was in her early 40’s and had already lived a robust life. In her 20’s, she had been a bikini model, now she helped make them. Shirley liked to drive fast, smoke cigarets, go fishing, and eat seafood. She had been married and divorced (I think twice, maybe three times). She attempted to have children of her own, but that was not in God’s plan.
Chepita spoke very little English and Shirley, zero Spanish. Shirley began teaching her English, while mentoring her in the ways of the industry, and shielding her from the no good influence of the Puerto Rican factory workers. One Sunday morning, Chepita was in no mood to get up early to go to church. That was not really an option under the house of Tia Olivia and since the two had a short fuse and the tempers of hurricane Katrina, an explosion erupted. Chepita was given an ultimatum. Either she got her lazy ass to church and followed Tia Olivia’s rules or she would need to find another place to live. And with that, Chepita was out….packed her bags and was out the door.
Chepita had one person to turn to. Shirley opened up her home to Chepita and allowed her stay until she got on her feet. Months turned into years, and years a life time. Chepita became the daughter that Shirley never had.
A few years later, Chepita found herself with child. By this time Chepita was 26, and although this was not planned she felt like she was ready for motherhood. Shirley encouraged her to do what she felt was right. She would support her not matter what. Alcides was born 9 months later. In that instance Shirley became a grandmother! Alcides would grow up calling her Nanny, the same name Shirley called her grandmother. The beginning of a new family was born.
Families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and as long as there is love the bond will be true and strong. Nanny has played a huge role on who I am today, and helped give shape to TICOS PACE. She taught me the value of traditions, the same traditions I hope to one day teach my kids. Every Thanksgiving morning we would turn on the parade and I would assist her with cooking the big meal. Around Christmas time, it was cookie time and
together we baked tubs and tubs of different cookies. When we all moved to Costa Rica, Nanny made tamales, arroz con pollo, and gallo pinto as if she had lived there her whole life. Nanny is now an avid reader and computer user. She is sharp as a nail and to this day, the primary Chef of the household. I owe my joy of cooking and so much more to her.
Love you Nanny
My next post will be on the meal I make for this week. I usually stick to simple healthy latino dishes that involves some chicken, rice, beans and veggies. However, this time I am going to change it up and make a Bolognese sauce, inspired by one of my inspirations, Renee Koerner (hi Renee) and use her sister’s recipe to do it. So stay tuned…
Alcides “Tico” Cummins