Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Luz and Lucila

Lorelle’s latest blogging challenge is to write about your hobbie. While I don’t intend to give you all the nitty gritty about the many activities I enjoy doing with my free time, this topic ties nicely with a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for some time now: This post is about two special women, and how both of them have a lot to do with my skills and interest for some of the activities I love doing.

I have many hobbies, but most of them come down to these fundamental elements: Creating. Products. With my hands…. At different times of my live I have painted or drawn pictures, worked on art projects, sewed household and personal items, made clothes for me and my childhood dolls, built objects, made photo collages, made a stuffed doll, designed, print, and bound my own annual calendar book, wrapped presents with unconventional detail, blah, blah, blah. This passion may come from genes or nurture; either way, I attribute it to Luz and Lucila, two women with contrasting personalities, joined as family by the marriage of their children.

Abuelita Lucila

LucilaLucila was my mother’s mother. When I was four or five years old, she also had to be my mother for some time while my parents worked on a crazy business idea overseas, and left my younger sister and I in her care.

My earliest memories of being introduced to art are from around this time. Vaguely, I remember playing with abuelita‘s case of watercolors, painting landscapes and collaging magazine cut outs with her help and encouragement. Also, although she wasn’t the one who taught me how to sew, I owe the sewing gene partially to her.

My mom says that Lucila wasn’t a perfectionist: She recalls wearing a dress abuelita made with one of the sleeves backwards… maybe her wedding dress, I can’t remember. Abuelita sewed all the dresses she and her girls wore for my parents wedding. She was married to a very stingy man who made a big fuss and domestic tragedy out of any “superfluous” expense he was asked to make (i.e. everything but food and education). Maybe I owe some of my creativity to that.

Abuelita used to own a vintage sewing machine. One day, in my early teens, she sold it to buy a newer sewing machine as a gift to my mother. We saw her getting off the delivery truck so proud of her gift… Mom wasn’t big in sewing. She may have attempted it once and quit hating it. But I learned how to sew and used that machine to make all kinds of clothes and crafts for all the years I remained living with my parents.

Later in life, abuelita took on sewing again… She bought herself a new portable sewing machine. She had severe arthritis, and I mean: SEVERE… to the point that her fingers were completely bent and twisted always in a fist. However, she still used her hands as best as she could. One of her latest hobbies was to make hand-made cards with floral motifs. We all got one of her creations on every special occasion. It was so precious to see what she could do, knowing the effort she had to go through to use her little hands.

Abuelita Lucila died one day completely unannounced. It’s been 11 or 12 years and I still can’t think of her death without my eyes becoming red and wet every time. We didn’t know she had died until one day later. My dad called me to work to give me the news. I begged my mom not to let her body go until I could get there. At abuelita’s place my sister hadn’t dare to touch her, but I hugged her, and the smell of her night sweater reminded me of being five and living with her. I had never thought of this, and surprised myself saying: You were my mother once. A few days later, her children gave me abuelita’s sewing machine. That, a collection of sewing thread in all kinds of colors, and a few photos from the time we lived together were my inheritance. I often think of her, and now that I sew less, she’s always there whenever I pull out her sewing machine.

Abuelita Luz

LuzLuz was my father’s mother. She lost her husband when I was a baby. I think even prior to that, abuelita Luz had started her own business making children’s clothes. Surely after my grandfather died, children clothing became her main source of income. Her workshop was the coolest playground to me… As a little girl, I would hide on the barrels full of fabric remnants, play “shop” with my cousins, and pretend that the pedal of a sewing machine was a car’s accelerator.

One day, in my early teens, I overheard abuelita telling my cousin Luisa that she would like to teach her how to sew. I was upset that she had not invited me too, so mom suggested that she could take both my cousin and I for weekly classes with abuelita.

Luisa may have made one pair of pants. She was quickly done with sewing. But I kept going to the classes, and fighting with abuelita over my choice of clothes to make, or my way of cutting fabric. She was a “tough” teacher, but she taught me well enough, that later – even through college and my first job – I would make my own blouses, pants, skirts, dresses, vests, ties, and jackets. Not everything I wore was home-made, but many of the clothes I made, some of my friends wanted to buy.

Abuelita Luz also loved creating things with her hands… She had the most creative ideas, and used fabric, wire, ribbon, flowers, and all kinds of materials to make beautiful decorative objects. Some of them she would sell at her shop. She knew I had the same passion, and I was the only one out of her nine grandchildren who took after her in that respect. Every time I went to visit her, she would surprise me with her latest creation. That was unique to our relationship; none of her other grandchildren shared that with her. Whenever she saw me she would ask: Have you sewed recently?Have you made a new painting?. Many times I had, and she loved seeing my creations, and praising them, and telling me how impressed she was.

A few years ago, abuelita was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I was already married and living in the U.S., so I went home to see her before she passed. She looked thinner than ever, and didn’t have the same energy I used to remember. Even then, she asked me again if I had sewed anything lately. I told her I had become a web designer and had to explain to her what that meant. She said the Internet was evil, and we all laughed. She gave me a photo I had seen forever in her bedroom and asked me to take it home and “do something” with it for her. When I said goodbye before returning home I couldn’t say anything that would acknowledge the fact that we both knew this was our last goodbye… Her eyes spoke a thousand words, but I only was able to say something stupid like I will see you again… I’ll be here for Christmas. She died a few weeks later.

I flew home again with Joey, for abuelita’s funeral. My dad’s boss picked us up at the airport and took us to the funerary home. As soon as I got there, mom took me to the casket. Looking at abuelita through the glass, mom told me Look at her hands… Still perfect, and so beautiful. And I knew that she was talking about abuelita’s skill and creativity with her hands. That was her essence for me, and I know that this is something she passed to me.

The other day I was making two large pillowcases for the seats of one of our couches. I didn’t take any shortcuts, and made these with concealed zippers, taking all care to make them look professional… It was almost funny to notice how many times both of my grandmothers came to my thoughts as I worked on the project. I used the machine and some of the thread I inherited from Lucila, and the task took a little more skill than my average sewing project, so this time, I also thought a lot of Luz. I pictured her scolding me for holding the fabric the wrong way while I cut it, or guiding me as I went through the hard spots. I thought so much of both of them, that it felt almost as if they were both in the room with me… kind of like Tita and Nacha, in “Como Agua Para Chocolate”.


  1. On , mandarine wrote:

    What a great story!

    In my family, for no apparent reason, none of my grandmothers passed their skills to any of their 13/16 grandchildren (yes, I have 23 cousins). One was a philosphy teacher, the other one was a sewing teacher. They both were magicians in the kitchen. The only way to learn cooking recipes and tricks was to go and offer help in the kitchen, otherwise they never came forward like ‘come, I will show you something’. As for their professional skills, it was classified stuff — never a word to anybody. I had to specifically demand sewing lessons from my father’s mother, otherwise she’d just say: ‘tell me what you need, I’ll make it for you’. I was around 25 when she taught me on a vacation week, full-time. Unfortunately, I did not keep up after that — does it have something to do with building my house ?

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    OK, I’m picturing a 25 year old man (you’re pretty good at omitting your gender in your blog… I’m guessing that you are a man, so excuse me if I’m wrong) saying to his grandmother: “I demand that you teach me how to sew”… How funny!!!

  3. On , mandarine wrote:

    Why would this be any funnier than a woman learning css ?
    OK, you are probably right culturally speaking.
    Sometimes I wonder which oter planet I really come from ;-)

  4. On , Maria wrote:

    There are two components to why I think that image is funny to me:

    1) Yes, the gender aspect…
    Simply because I am from South America, and as we all know that is a very machista culture, so personally, I have never met a man who would want to sew, or would admit to it… Of course, except for interior or fashion designers.

    CSS and women sound a little more natural to me. But consistent with my macho upbringing, I would also find it very funny, if a woman told me that she demanded tractor-repair lessons from her grandfather.

    2) The “demand” aspect, and the age.
    I love the mental image of somebody asking his/her (in my mind: shorter and sweeter) grandmother to teach him/her something with such passion. And this is funny to me whether you are a man or a woman.

    I emphasized the word “man” solely because I wanted to clarify that I wasn’t sure of your gender (NOT because you sew, but because you purposely omit references to it in your writing). So, I can see that it may be interpreted as “man” being the main reason why I find the image funny. It’s really not… :)

  5. On , mandarine wrote:

    And then you can’t imagine how many men interior or fashion-designers are automatically labelled as gay. I escaped this, but o how I hate France’s machist culture.
    When (if) I have a daughter, I will teach her everything I know that she wants to learn about. Knowing how heavy the cultural influence from school or friends can be, I will even probably give it a nudge in the ‘other direction’ until she says: ‘Dad, you know I really hate tractors !’.

  6. On , Maria wrote:

    […] until she says: ‘Dad, you know I really hate tractors !’


  7. On , Marla wrote:

    I’m ruining this very wonderful conversation by replying.

    I love this whole entry including the conversation with mandarine. Thank you for sharing your granndmothers in such vivid detail. Both of my grandmothers were so distant, I missed learning much from either of them.

    what richness of heritage. thinking of O’s grandmothers and wondering what she will remember of them…