This blog chronicles the life of Flora, my sometimes crazy, often feisty, always tough Portuguese grandmother. She lived for 92 years, seemingly from sheer stubborn will. This is a woman who would did not accept things easily, not even death. For most of my life that's how I saw her: a tough and cantankerous old woman. But that's who she had become. How did she get there? This blog is my ambitious attempt to rediscover a woman who I never really understood. My Vovó.
Below is the story of her life that I presented at her memorial. It conveys what she did but doesn't even begin to touch who she was.
Flora Costa Aguiar was born in September 29, 1919, in the town of Lagos, in the beautiful coastal Algarve region of Portugal. From an early age she had to work hard and from her early experiences gained a strength that would remain with her for her entire life.
When she was 15, she began working with her sister Isabel as a housekeeper for a family at the church. At 18, she went to work at the Ramos Printing Company in Lisbon binding books. It was at this printing shop that she met her husband, Gilberto. Her daughter Ana was born in 1944 in Castanheira de Pera. One year later, her son Lourenço was born in Viseu.
The family traveled through the north of Portugal looking for better work before settling in Feijo - then Cova da Piedade - outside Lisbon. In 1950 they moved to Lisbon and where they lived until December 1958 when Flora's life changed forever - the family moved to America.
Gilberto was the last of his siblings to make the move to California. His brother Lourenço and his family welcomed them into their home. With his support, and that of his sisters Alzira and Teresa, Flora and Gilberto settled into their own home on A Street in Hayward, where Gilberto founded his own newspaper, Voz de Portugal. While raising her children, Flora also worked tirelessly supporting the family business in the printing shop behind the house as well as working at a nearby cannery, where she worked for over 15 years.
The passing of her beloved husband Gilberto in January 1975 was a great sorrow to her. But she carried on with her usual strength. She continued to work at the Hunt’s Cannery until it closed, then worked at Sunnyside Flower Nursery until her retirement. This was fitting, given her name, Flora. She loved flowers of all kinds. My earliest memories are of her waving to us from her porch, almost hidden behind the big beautiful hydrangea bushes she lovingly tended. But Flora was no delicate flower. She was a woman who worked hard, loved life and was very dedicated to her family.
Her two children meant everything to her. She cared for them, worried over them, prayed for them, and wanted nothing but the best for them. When they married and started families of their own, she remained a strong presence in their lives. At times she drove them crazy - like any good mother does - but always with a strong desire to protect and support the ones she loved. She loved her 5 grandchildren - Paul, Angela, Lilly, Rosanne and Anthony. And she smiled at the sight of her four great-grandchildren, Lucas, Ewan, Adrian and Adele.
As she aged, she stayed a remarkably strong and healthy woman. Her independence was very important to her. She needed medical care from time to time, a pacemaker, and the illnesses common to old age, but that did not stop her from being the woman we all knew. Always she recovered with her spirit vibrant, and as feisty as ever.
Most people, if they dream of reaching the age of 92, would never imagine still possessing her energy and resilience. As a young woman, she turned hardships into opportunities, and all through her long life, that strength and spirit never left her. She will be missed, not just by her family, but by anyone who admires a survivor.
For more on why I started this blog, see the first post, Cracking the Cliche.