Sacred Remnant: Discovering A Hidden Treasure in My Grandmother’s Life Story

discovering grandmother's story

In the thick of the global pandemic when the whole world was wearied by the constant weight of pivoting to carry the newest very hard thing, our family lost its matriarch.  

My maternal grandmother, Margarita “Mague” Moreno, passed away on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December of 2020.

Although stricken with grief, we were immensely grateful to have been able to find a way to honor her life despite the strict parameters set at the time. A priest friend celebrated an intimate Mass of Remembrance with a few of us in attendance and hundreds of others accompanying us via live-stream. The feeling of community could not be diminished as love radiated off the faces of family and friends popping up over Zoom. 

After Mass, we hosted a tiny reception at my mom’s house and quickly found ourselves settling in. Kicking off shoes, loosening neck ties, and awkwardly balancing plates of food on our knees, we sat on folding chairs six feet apart.

Separated, but connected in all the ways that mattered, we began to wade into the familiar waters of the stories that made up the life and legacy of my Grandma Mague.  

The stories immediately enveloped me in the way a favorite, well-loved blanket always does, and I found comfort in the sharing of all that had been told a million times before. There was, of course, the telling of the way my grandmother would use every last inch of a cooked chicken, organizing who got which part by age—poor Uncle Hector, the youngest, always left with a paltry wing. And the recounting of the time she rushed to find my mom, who at six years old had fallen asleep on the arm of a very warm, very cozy and busty woman on the city bus and missed the stop.

Story after story continued to spill out, each reinforcing for me all the cherished notions I held of who my grandmother was and had been. But as my mom finished the well-known story of my grandparents’ first date, a new snippet emerged—a snippet I had never heard before.  

It seems that before my grandparents’ courtship ever began, my Grandma Mague had been offered the unique opportunity to go to design school out of state. And although she was thrilled by the possibility, it was not to be. Papa Antonio, my maternal great-grandfather, would hear absolutely none of it.

He swiftly denied her pleas, and she was forced to let the opportunity slip by.  

As the story seamlessly flowed into the next and the next, I sat slack-jawed and silent. 

The chatter and laughter faded to the background as small fragments of other memories coalesced around this newest tidbit of information. I became completely lost in this new, fascinating detail of my Grandma Mague’s story. I felt I had been handed a critical lost piece of a puzzle, and snapping it into place, I saw things as I had not been able to before.    

I had always known my grandmother to be a skillful seamstress. She had an innate command of shapes and symmetry and an eye for the subtle ways material could flatter and fall. All of my life, I had heard stories of the way she could design and create any type of clothing, from the simple to the exquisite, without ever making use of a pattern. I knew she was exceptionally gifted.  

I also knew she was born in 1926 to a large Catholic family and had come of age in a time when the script for “how to woman” was fixed and precise. That script had played out all around her as she watched sisters, cousins, and friends repeat the steps: meet a man, marry him, be open to children, bear them, and build your very self around your role as wife and mother.

There were few who deviated from the script—fewer still who threw it out.

I knew my grandmother would end up following the script to the T. She would meet and marry my grandfather, Gilberto “Beto” Moreno, and over the span of their 72-year marriage, would welcome eight children, 20 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren. 

With and alongside my Grandpa Beto, my Grandma Mague would build the most extraordinary life on decidedly ordinary things. My grandparents would generously and selflessly give to us, their posterity, all that had been foundational in building a truly beautiful life: love, sacrifice, commitment and, most of all, faith. 

I knew all of this. And yet learning a new, tiny remnant of my grandmother’s story had a profound effect on me. 

I realized that I get to live my dreams as a woman because of the era in which I was born. And I wouldn’t have gotten to live out my gifts without Mague’s sacrifice. 

The new piece of the puzzle did not lessen the brilliance of the guideposts she so painstakingly had left behind, but instead gave me a deep sense of reverence for all the hidden things that make up a life story. All the twists and turns, the joys and sorrows—even the paths not taken. 

The story enabled me to see beyond my grandmother’s life as a wife and mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and helped me to see her as uniquely created by God—with gifts and talents and a unique story that weaves and bleeds into mine but also wholly and uniquely belongs to her. 

Praise be to God for loving us into existence. Praise be to Him for all the known and all the hidden things that make our story our own.

discovering grandmother's story

Alissa Molina is a writer, publisher, speaker and founder of From Here Media, a non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage the love of God, Neighbor and Self through print, online and in-person offerings. While her formal studies include a degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Education, she credits her vocation as a wife and mother, her decade of work in youth ministry, and her community advocacy as vitally important places of spiritual formation. Alissa has presented at DCYC, Theology on Tap, The Parable Retreat, and the FemCatholic Summit and has been featured on the Katie McGrady Show.

This week’s sponsor is Brazos Press, publisher of Abuelita Faith by Kat Armas. In Abuelita Faith, Kat Armas, a Cuban American writer, combines personal storytelling with biblical reflection to tell the story of unnamed and overlooked theologians—mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters—whose survival, resistance, and persistence teach us the true power of faith and love. Also available in Spanish!

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