My abuelito was a strong silent type, not a man of many words. Abuelito however loved animals, especially birds. His most beloved bird was Lulu. Lulu was a parrot from Costa Rica that came to San Francisco with my abuelita, my mom, my aunts and uncles while Abuelito was working in the US trying to save money to send for everyone else to come over to the US. The story goes that in order to quiet the bird so as to not make noise crossing the borders of the different countries along the road to San Francisco, the bird was given a little alcohol on a Q-tip, and then the bird was hidden in someone’s purse or underneath my mom’s long brown hair.
“Despite these interesting measures taken to quiet the young parrot, Lulu survived the trip to San Francisco and lived for many years. While Lula was a family pet, the bird seemed to develop the strongest relationship with Abuelito.”
Eventually the bird got to be about 50+ years old, and my grandparents being much older than the bird were having a difficult time taking care of her, so Lulu was given away to another family member. Lulu had learned some key phrases in Spanish over the years, including “hola,” “como estas,” and “por amor” from some song that was popular many years ago, and of course she learned her most beloved owner’s name, my Abuelito “Carlos.” At one point my abuelitos also had dogs and Lulu also developed the ability to bark like a dog.
During one of the last years that Abuelito was alive, my mom had decided she wanted to take my abuelitos out for a drive one summer afternoon. Abuelita refused at first: “I am comfortable crocheting and sitting why do I need to move?” My abuelito, a man of not many words, was like, whatever you (my mom) want to do is fine. After a bit of coaxing, my abuelita was like, “Fine, I’ll go too. So, my mom and I helped Abuelita and Abuelito into her van and we went to get some lunch. Our favorite Greek place had closed, so we decided the next best thing that Abuelita would agree to would be Panda Express, as Abuelita loved her shrimp fried rice. On the way home my mom parked the car at Ocean Beach. As Abuelito could not walk far at that point, we placed him in his wheelchair along the sidewalk above the beach and did some people and bird watching. Abuelita was refusing to get out of the car, saying “we cannot stay too long, otherwise I am going to miss Sabado Gigante” despite the fact that was probably around 1-2 in the afternoon and there were many hours before Sabado Gigante would air, and would be a rerun for that day. Abuelito, not usually a loquacious man, had his eyes glued to the seagulls flying in the air above the beach. He happily kept saying “look at those birds go; they seem so happy to be flying.” He began to talk about having pet goats as a child growing up in Nicaragua, and also talked about the dogs he used to have. He happily admired people with their dogs walking by. Close by in the car Abuelita was yelling, “Are we done yet? Why are we still here? I want to watch Sabado Gigante.”
When it came to my grandparents’ wishes of when they would pass away, my Abuelita requested, “for my ashes to be distributed under the Golden Gate Bridge in the bay.” When my mother asked Abuelito, he responded with, “Whatever your mom wants.” Last year, after the death of my Abuelita, my last living grandparent, both my abuelitos’ ashes were distributed per their wishes along the bay underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. On the boat ride with my sister, parents, uncle, aunts, my cousin and her daughter, we honored their memory. As the ashes were distributed into the water, two seagulls followed along for a bit. The first seagull flying in front of the other, both taking turns zigzagging back and forth behind our boat as we watched the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Perhaps a sign from Abuelito above, we thought, Abuelito and Abuelita are truly in a better place together.
Storyteller Kelly is a physical therapist born and raised in San Francisco and in Millbrae and the proud granddaughter of Carlos Castrillo.