Meet Yaya, my new “adopted” grandmother. Yaya and I have shared many afternoons together, cooking, taking care of the hens, and talking. I have learned much about her incredible life, and have felt inspired to share her story.
Yaya grew up during an extremely difficult time in Spain. She was born during the Spanish Civil war, and lived throughout the Franco's Nationalistic dictatorship. In her early childhood, when Yaya was just six years old, her mother passed away from an illness. Then, when Yaya was eight, her father was killed because he opposed Franco. With both parents dead, Yaya had to rely on her two older siblings for food and protection. While her older two siblings went to work during the day, Yaya stayed home with her dog and worked in their garden. Every morning, Yaya would help make breakfast for her siblings. And every night, Yaya would have a meal prepared from the vegetables in the garden. From not much food, she was able to sustain her older siblings and herself.
When Yaya was 11, she studied at a school nearby for one year. However, realizing that her work was needed in the house, she decided to sacrifice her schooling for her family. Her older sister, instead, taught Yaya. From a very young age, Yaya realized that her self-sacrifice was a gift of Love that she was able to perform no matter what.
When Yaya was in her early twenties, she married another young man from her village. They had grown up together as friends, and both knew what sacrifice and Love meant. Both understood that these were needed for the success of a family. A few years after getting married, with two children and pregnant with the third, the couple moved to Barcelona to look for better jobs. Yaya and her husband wanted their children to have better lives, and better educations, and knew that it would be easier to find better sustaining jobs in the city.
While in Barcelona, Yaya worked for three households. At six every morning, Yaya would wake up, make breakfast, and help the two oldest children get ready for school. At seven, she would take her youngest with her out to the first house to clean and cook breakfast. After spending a couple of hours at the first house, she would move on to the next house, cleaning and cooking meals for the rest of the day. When I questioned her about the families she worked for, she said that they were very kind. She would often sit with them to eat meals, and she did not feel disrespected at all. These families greatly appreciated her hard work, and honored her as a part of their households.
Once the children grew up and became independent, Yaya maintained an active lifestyle full of hard work. She and her husband moved to Reus, where she started raising hens and gardening. She kept up the same work hours as before, waking up at six and starting work bright and early. Whenever her children needed her help with anything, she was ready and willing to show her love and sacrifice her time for them.
A year ago, she lost her husband to cancer. Leading up to his death, she took great care of him, sacrificing many of her hours to help him. Once he passed away, it became very hard for her to live alone. However, Yaya decided to spend her time helping her children instead of feeling sorry for herself. Now, she still gets up at six every day, ready for her work. She has two properties where she raises hens, and she helps out with the cooking (lucky me) for one of her sons’ family. When I asked her why she still gets up so early, she said “To work! Clearly,” surprised that I would even ask her that. It has been this attitude which has helped her do so many things. Yaya’s persistent, self-sacrificing, and optimistic attitude has enabled her to work extremely hard and to never ever give up. She rejoices in the challenges of each day because she is strong.
Despite her many years of work, she has never lost her sense of humor. A couple of days ago while we were drinking tea and eating a rice dessert (arroz con leche), she was so involved in her story that she plopped a spoonful of rice in her tea instead of on her plate! It was hilarious, and we both died from laughter. After we calmed down a little bit, she just stirred up her tea and drank it anyways. Nothing seems to slow her down.
While recounting her childhood, she still has haunting memories. “It was really hard,” she told me, with tears in her eyes. At such a young age, Yaya had to grow up and do what not many of us could ever fathom doing. She lost both of her parents and had to take over many of their responsibilities for her older siblings. But, even through all of her hardships, Yaya has maintained a positive attitude. By first encounter, you would have never been able to guess her history, despite the fact that she saves and uses everything. A child at heart, she welcomes all around her with Love. Whenever I see here, she brightens up, smiles, and proceeds to tell me about her day. I have cherished her stories, and honor her as a model of hard work.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.