I received a Facebook alert on Thursday from my second cousin, Gaston Motola Covarrubias, in Mexico City. He posted a note at 8am on Thursday 15 March 2012.
“Sad. My grandmother died today.”
He received 18 condolences from friends and family. His first cousin Mery Motola de Chernitzky commented:
“We are all sad, Gaston. She was a person full of light and love to all. I saw her the day before. She was lucid as ever. Look at the picture on my profile. May we know no more sadness.”
Mery posted a picture of her and sister, Lyna, her aunt Dora, and Carmen from their visit on Wednesday. She expressed her feelings as follows:
“They brought her to Mexico City. Tia Luisa [Raquel’s mother] informed me, so we went to give her a kiss, and she died at dawn [the next morning]. She was a person of integrity, full of wisdom, of love, of light, and the next day, well, she was gone. A few hours earlier, she was very lucid and feeling well. I enjoyed her company so much! Now I’m sad, but time helps us accept. The sensation of being able to enjoy her so much filled my heart with joy.”
I searched the Facebook page for her most loyal granddaughter, Raquel Treves Motola de Treizman, and found no notice, so I sent her the following e-mail:
“Raquel, I’m glad you organized the party for her 95th birthday in January. I’m glad she knew how much she was loved. I feel very fortunate that I could attend her party and know her better and connect with all of you. Tell me what happened, and when and where you will bury her. In Mery’s Facebook, I see a photo taken on Wednesday in a place that was not her home, the day before her death. For all of you, I hope your sorrow will be tempered when you are all together.”
“I was writing an email to let you know about my grandmother when I received your mail. I’m sure we are connected. On Tuesday morning they called us [from Cuautla] because [my grandmother] felt ill and already her mind was not very coherent. We brought her to Mexico and in the night she became very ill. She always asked me to never let them to put her in the hospital because she hated doctors, therefor we just went so that they could give her some oxygen and we brought her back to the house. On Wednesday, the whole family came to say goodbye and in the evening she felt well and was talking to everyone. In the night she became very ill, but we didn’t take her to the hospital and she died in the arms of me and my sister Becky. We gave her strong hugs and at all moments we made her feel loved and secure. At 5:40 A.M. on Thursday she gave her last breath and I’m almost certain that she immediately found her way to heaven. We will bury her on Thursday at noon in the new cemetery with my aunt, Ana, and my cousin, Gaston. I send you a big hug and I hope to see you soon.”
When I read the circumstances of her last days – that Raquel was able to bring her in from her distant home in Cuautla into her home in Mexico, that she was pampered with visits and affection from her family, that she recovered her impressive clarity and vision, and that she died in their arms – I am deeply touched emotionally. Every time I read Raquel’s report, I choke up and am moved to share how much I loved this impressive woman deeply, with great respect and admiration for a live lived fully in service to her family, with fierce determination to progress, with no apologies for her beliefs. She was an intense spot of color in world of bland apologists.
I first met Tia Carmen when I was doing family history research on my extended family in 1994. Although I was born in Mexico City, I was raised in California from the age of 4, and knew very few of my cousins and relations. I visited Mexico at age 12, and age 17, then stayed away for 19 years. I lost most of my grandparents early, and they were reticent to talk to little children, so little was known of their nativity in the Ottoman Empire and their lives in their native countries (Istanbul and Silivri, Turkey and Salonica, Greece). Returning to Mexico at age 40, I was anxious to meet my family. After the wedding for my youngest cousin, Alejandro Saltiel, and a Saltiel family reunion at my Uncle Chema’s house to expand the International Saltiel Family organization that had formed in Amsterdam earlier that year, my brother Pepe drove and I navigated as we made appointments and went from house to house interviewing and recording their family trees and learning about their lives.
Carmen gave me more information about our family than anyone. Born in 1917 in Mexico City, she was 18 years younger than her husband, Gaston Motola, the youngest of my father’s uncles from both sides. Although she was born in Mexico, she became familiar with the customs and personalities of all the emigrants to Mexico from their Sephardic Jewish roots in the Ottoman Empire and pioneered the Sephardic community of Mexico. She knew them all intimately, and knew their relations, kinships, loyalties, and was not reticent to speak of their accomplishments and weaknesses. She was very objective and accurate in her reporting, so I got solid information.
She was an independent woman, the product of a Jewish father from Aleppo, Syria, and a Hispanic mother from Zacatecas, Mexico, who married a widower at age 23. She was deeply spiritual, but not enamored with religious creeds. She had a modern and scientific mind, requiring proofs and evidence that were tangible. This made her driven to succeed and she progressed through life with a fierce determination, overcoming considerable challenges. She was impatient with the faithless works of those who professed piety but lived hypocritical lives of false traditions.
Carmen raised two families like her own, three of her own children, and the three offspring of her husband’s deceased first wife. The older children were only 12-16 years younger than she was, but she was a mature and resourceful woman. She commanded respect not only in the home, but in the community where she worked side by side in the dress factory with her husband and his older brother, “Don Jose”, my grandfather.
I return to Mexico with increasing frequency, now at least once each year for the past 5 years. On a trip to Mexico with Mom in March of 2010, Mom suffered a heart attack and we spent most of the time in the hospital. But I made some important new contacts. I became acquainted with more of my second cousins. Raquis Tre, the Facebook pen name for Raquel Trevis Motola de Treizman, quickly became one of my favorites. She organized a Motolada, a family reunion of the Motola clan in Mexico, for my return trip in November. She encouraged me to revisit her grandmother, now retired away from the lavish burdens of the Jewish Community in Mexico to a simple existence in a quiet city 90 miles from Mexico in Morelos state. I took my journey to Cuautla early one morning on Saturday November 20th, and succumbed to her trance.
I remember sitting down to chat and share her breakfast. I pulled out my laptop in case I had an opportunity to revisit the family trees or needed to look up a person to understand the relationship. She counseled me in all seriousness: “Nobody needs those machines. We lived better without them all of my life. We spent time with people.” I closed it and put it away, and listed for hours as she told me stories about her life and what happened when her brother in law (my grandfather) got sick and passed away, and my father inherited a share of their dress factory.
From my journal on that day, I quote:
“Day 4 – Saturday 20 November 2010
I scheduled a road trip to see the volcanoes up close. They’re only 40 miles from Mexico City, but appear far more distant because of the smog and the quality of the access roads. Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl are also about 40 miles from Cuautla (east of Cuernavaca) where I was heading to visit 93 year old Carmen Motola, widow of my father’s Uncle Gaston Motola. Crossing the city in the early morning without traffic still took a long time to reach the highways at the southeast corner of the valley that lead to Puebla and Cuautla. En route, I took a 1.5 hour detour off of Mexico 115 to ascend to the summit between the two volcanic peaks where a new national park module requires registration before continuing on to the peaks. I didn’t have time to press on or climb anything, but it was rewarding just to ascend through a forest and to get within a mile of the base of the smoking Popo. Descending, I pressed on to Cuautla and arrived at Tia Carmen’s home by 10am.”
“Although I had made a series of maps from Google Maps to help me find her home, the house numbers were written in small print with a marker pen on a wall, and the house next door had the same number and didn’t admit to knowing where Carmen lived. Fortunately, I had her number and was able to call her. Her caregiver came out and let me in, and we enjoyed several hours of friendly chatter about current and past events. What a mind, and what strong opinions! She is not afraid to voice her beliefs, and many have left offended, but I heard nothing but candid truths. She encouraged me to write the following quote: “The Bible is the best science fiction ever written.” Although deeply spiritual, she is no religious zealot, and uses her head and her heart to worship without cultural taboos. I enjoyed the trip immensely, and was so grateful that Raquel encouraged me to come (Raquel is her granddaughter, my second cousin, and the host for the Sunday Motola reunion). I will be calling her from the US to reconnoiter some more about her life, and especially about Don Jose and Dona Esther, which is how she still respectfully refers to my paternal grandparents. Her husband, Gaston Motola, was the youngest of the brothers, and Jose was the eldest, and they were partners in the dress factory until Jose succumbed quickly to cancer. It was tender hearing her talk about how she and Esther’s sister-in-law, Estrella (wife of Isidoro Behar), were his primary caregivers while he deteriorated in the hospital, until they were dismissed because neither was purely Jewish.”
The next day, after the Motola reunion at the social hall at Raquel’s condo (on Hacienda de Ciervo #8 in the Hacienda de las Palmas area of Huixquilucan in the State of Mexico just beyond the upper Lomas area of the Federal District of Mexico City), I wrote:
“Arriving at Raquel Treizman’s, we immediately set about printing the Motola Family of Mexico family tree and stitching together 33 panels. She is quite down to earth, and we didn’t hesitate to get down on the tile floor and work as a pair. She presented me a gift of a CD containing all of the pictures she scanned and loaded from her grandmother’s collection. I can’t wait to view them with my father! We posted the family tree on the wall in the social hall downstairs. At first, only a handful of family members arrived, but before I could count them, the reunion exploded. So many people came and had updates to give me that I spent the next four hours working furiously writing on the wall-mounted charts with a pencil while most of the guests got to visit and nibble the yummy desserts. I met so many appreciative people, added some more generations and lines, and had a wonderful time. Raquel really delivered, with about 50-70 people in attendance.”
“The chart was originally 8 generations, but when we added a missing branch to the eldest levels, we reached 11 generations. I’ve got a lot of work to do to amend my records on the computer! They were warm, hospitable, and I’m going to have a lot of new folks to visit when I return, hopefully in July for Rafael Levy’s wedding. I hope that Corinna and Erik and Micah will come with me next summer. I can’t wait to show off my family!”
I really appreciated getting to know all of these Motolas in person, and was impressed at how accurate my information was from the original interviews with Carmen back in 1994. Having visited her the day before, meeting her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and their cousins and relations, meant so much more. Unfortunately, I never did get around to calling and interviewing her some more from the US. I had intentions to visit her again when I returned in July of 2011 with Corinna, but we spent most of our time in Cuernavaca, Ixtapa, Oaxaca, and the Yucatan, that didn’t get to visit Carmen or communicate with my cousins again. That’s why I’m so glad that I made the effort to return again in January this year with Susie and attend her 95th birthday celebration. You can read about that in my January blog entries.
Carmen will be missed by many, not the least by me. There are few remaining of her generation, and none more vibrant. I do not mourn her passing, only her absence from our lives. The empty chair in her humble home leaves a legacy for us to fill. May we live worthy of the legacy she passed on to us, seeking for truth and loving broadly. I know that I will hug her again in the next phase of our eternal life. I am counting on her assistance to unite the hearts of our family in heaven as I work to heal the generational hurts of those whose legacy I have inherited. I expect that she will require an accounting from me of the honor I have paid to her ancestors and descendants. May we continue to celebrate Motoladas for many years to come!