The People's Guide To Mexico

People's Guide Tours

Discovering the Roots of Enchantment
in Guatemala and Honduras

Part 8

By Sharon Luckerman

It is a Schubert concert several weeks after I return that unexpectedly bridges the gap between my travels and life back home. Like special moments of my trip, the evening with the professor or the morning on Lake Yojai, the music suspends time. I sink into a timelessness rather than hurry from one thought to the next.

The music takes me, not as far back as the history of the Maya, or the making of mountains, but into my own past, to a time I haven't remembered in years. As the violins, viola, and cello rise and fall in musical conversation, I find myself remembering my grandmother's house on Chicago's south side, long before her second husband, the barber, died and she moved to the tiny walk-up apartment on Kedzie Avenue. The music delivers me to a vague memory of a storefront barber shop in the neighborhood where my parents grew up, not far from Maxwell Street, the immigrant market street where my grandparents lived when they first arrived from Eastern Europe.

Up several steps at the back of the barbershop, a door opens to my grandparents' apartment and into their kitchen. The women, including my mother, sit around a small table, while my grandmother bakes and cooks. It is a slow leisurely afternoon, a rarity today.

Zada & Buaba

The men gather below in my grandfather's shop, their chairs moved into a casual circle. They sip glasses of tea through sugar cubes held by their teeth as conversation and laughter rings with a passion for life and ideas.

They are unaware of the eight-year old girl spinning around in the barber chair not twenty feet away. And though I can barely understand them as they slip from English to Yiddish, I am drawn to the excitement in their voices.

It was here that I first learned to read faces and expressions, unable to understand the words. The voices, laughter, and sometimes even their tears, expressed the joy and sorrow in life I hoped to discover for myself someday.

As Schubert's late work, Fantasy in F Minor, curls into a rich interplay of simple tunes and complex structures, I am reminded how powerful my feelings are for that time, and how much my grandparents left their mark on me. No, I never went to lunch with my Bubbies, or with my Zaidies for that matter. Both grandmothers were fabulous cooks and neither would have dreamed of eating a stranger's food, let alone pay for the experience. Their kosher dietary laws also prohibited them from eating food not properly prepared.

Nor did I ever have an intimate conversation with any of my grandparents.

My Bubbies were not women I wanted to grow up and become. Old, though lively, they had had difficult lives, which my mother and I, the story went, were to improve on.

Yet I never doubted my grandmothers' spirit for life even when I didn't understand it. I embraced it. No matter the atrocities they had experienced, so hard for me still to imagine, these elder women remained passionate, even when they complained. They had a fierceness that I imagine served them better in the markets of their past than in the modern western world they escaped to. Those in their family who did not leave Eastern Europe, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, many relatives and their families, were wiped out, murdered during the twoWorld Wars.

I was drawn, not repulsed, to my grandmothers' exotic nature, to their fight not to bend to the new world or blend in. They refused to let go of what was of value in their lives.

And as the music tunnels deep into my sub-conscious, I remember another group of people in a very different part of the world who in their desire to survive, to protect their traditions, and embrace life, are not that different from my grandparents. Strange, with the Chicago neighborhoods of my past destroyed, and a way of life along with it, that I should find such similarities to my grandparents in the towns and hamlets of Central America.

Return to Part 1 of Discovering the Roots of Enchantment in Guatemala and Honduras

Sharon Luckerman writes articles for the Detroit Jewish News, a weekly magazine in Detroit which also has a website:

Book Reviews: The Sweet Waist of America
I....Rigoberto Menchu
Other Favorite Guatemala Books
Index Pages: Guatemala
The Ruta Maya
Websites on Guatemala, Honduras

Orchids in Tree
Lake Yojoba, Honduras
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