Pastport to Present
Everyone is waiting anxiously. Eight months of build up. It is not just my parents, but my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and no, no cousins. That is because I am the first. The next generation began with me and what excitement that caused for both my parents’ big families. Everyone had their guesses: girl or boy? My grandfather was one of the more vocal ones about it and announced that he was hoping for a “football player”. A little Larry that would take after him. Much to the surprise of everyone, and especially my parents since I came a month early (they hadn’t even decided on a name yet), I came out a girl. My grandparents and my mom’s sister rushed to the hospital to see me. In addition to the camera, my grandfather came armed with a small wooden baseball bat, obviously to give to his future athlete grandson, but then he got me. A cheerleader.
I was not what they expected. I hope that I am exceeding those expectations though. My grandfather never showed me an ounce of disappointment growing up. His new favorite line to tell everyone one was “I always wanted a football player, but what I got was a cheerleader. And now I wouldn’t trade Taylor for all the football players in the world”. We were inseparable.
This picture doesn’t just represent the expectations my grandfather had for me. It represents expectations that everyone has for me. My position within my family is a unique one. Being the first grandchild, the first niece, the first born, I go through everything first with all my elders watching me. They don’t judge. They are my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. I however, still feel the need to fulfill any expectations they may have. I am a people pleaser. No is my least favorite word. It is something embedded in me that what I do is also for them too. I fear disappointment and I know that’s sometimes inevitable, but I still keep trying anyway.
2. Bon bon Americano
This picture is of “The Folloni Team” as my grandfather liked to call us. As he was very involved in sports and an athletic director, he used to like to put everything into athletic terms. As I said earlier, my family was very influential in my upbringing and they were my first teachers. Whether it was learning math tricks from my uncle Larry, hearing stories from my uncle Bobby about his world travels or my grandfather teaching me the basics in typing and keeping books, I had a plethora of knowledge passed down on to me. My childhood was greatly enriched from having all these people around me during some of the most fundamental years in my life.
3. Hollywood Helen
From the day I was born until my freshman year of high school, my grandparents played a central role in my life, most specifically my maternal grandparents. I grew up living with them so their presence was a big one. They were my babysitters, my playmates and did all the fun things that my parents couldn’t always do with us. My grandmother loved playing with us and was constantly storytelling, as she loved to talk. When I was little though, I would often get frustrated that my grandmother never stopped talking. Everywhere we went she had to talk to someone even the people taking their cigarette break outside the mall. She would chat them up all the time and by the end of it they would know my whole family history. I used to roll my eyes and sigh wishing that we could just get a move on.
When I was around nine or ten years old, my grandmother suffered a debilitating stroke. She was left paralyzed on her right side, unable to feed herself or eat solid food and worst of all, she lost her ability to speak. My family was crushed. It was heartbreaking for us to see my grandmother, nicknamed Hollywood Helen for her glamorous style and big personality, wheelchair bound, head shaven and unable to communicate. Instead of playing around with grandma and doing fun things with her, my after school activities consisted of picking her up from the nursing home in our specially made handicapped van, bringing her to my house and trying to entertain her. It was hard to sit there and try and entertain someone that can’t respond to your actions and words. She still was able to make expressions though and so we mainly communicated with our eyes. I had fun raising my eyebrows at her and making funny faces and her trying to do them back to me. I couldn’t help but wish though that she had her voice back. The one that years earlier I had wanted so badly to stop. My family always hoped for a miracle, but day after day it did not come.
That’s when I decided to start trying to help my grandma talk again. I started with the most basic thing I could think of: numbers. Everyday I would sit down with her and start to hold up my fingers while exaggerating my mouth so she could try and form the words. We practiced this a lot and for the seven years that she was like this, we got through numbers one through ten. She definitely could always mouth them and some of the time you could actually hear her saying the numbers. It was incredible to hear. You could hear the croak in her voice from not having spoken in so long, but it was like music to my families’ ears. The only other thing I managed to get her to do was say one phrase: I love you. As a kid in school, I had learned how to sign “love”. So in a similar fashion to the numbers, I would sign the words “I love you” and mouth them so she could try. And try she did. She had found her voice even if in a very limited capacity.
4. Mi tesoro: Spanish
If you asked me what my most prized possession would be, I would have to say my Spanish dictionary. It is close to a decade old, has lost both it’s covers as well as many other important pages. It is ripped and tearing. It is worn and tired looking and I refuse to throw it out. Not only that, but I take it everywhere with me. In high school, it accompanied me to every Spanish class and came home with me at night to use for my homework. It came to college with me and makes an appearance whenever I have papers to write. It even came to Spain with me when Lord knows I did not need anything else to weigh my heavy bags down. It is inexplicable, but I just can’t part with it. For me it is a concrete representation of my learning.
In order to really know me and understand what excites me, drives me, fuels me, you must know one thing: I LOVE SPANISH! Ever since my junior year of high school, I knew that Spanish was my passion. There is nothing I love dedicating myself more to and it is an essential part of my identity.
5. My Runaway Bunny
The Runaway Bunny was a story that my mother used to read to me when I was little girl. As the title implies, the little bunny keeps running away from his mother. The mother insists that she will find her little bunny no matter how far he goes. Following this story, my own mother nicknamed me her runaway bunny and especially as of late this nickname has rung true. My latest escape was my year abroad. It was a very transformative experience for me. For the first time, I felt like I was actually living life as opposed to just going through the motions. I’ve never felt so happy or so confident. It was the best year of my life. In the four years building up to it, it was all I thought about, planned for and dreamed of. It felt great to finally fulfill this dream and I felt it was a time for growth and change for me.
6. The Blue Door
Toward the end of my year abroad, my program travelled to Morocco. I was mesmerized by the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen. My tour guide told me that the reason for the blue came from the Sefardic Jews that used to populate the area. They would paint the doors and in many cases the walls too that incredible blue color because it meant openness to other cultures. I loved that. Now I always want to have a blue door. I decided to finish my autobiography with this photo, though it is very much not the end of my own narrative. It is to be continued, hopefully with me going through that blue door with curiosity, enthusiasm and an open mind.