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Thursday, 21 April 2016

Maria Elena Carreño de Granados

Nana and Papa: Circa 1950 Brooklyn, New York

Joaquin A. Perez 18
By Richard Carreño
[WC News Service]
Emerson 243
My paternal grandmother, Maria Elena Carreño de Granados, was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1895, and from there, started a life journey that weaved a path to the United States, The Bahamas, France, and finally to Mexico, where she died, in 1984, at eighty-nine years. For a large part of that journey, for almost forty years, she was a nurturing presence in my life.
 The trajectory of her travels was linked to the fortunes -- and a worldwide deployment -- of my family. With the notable exception, that is, of how Maria Elena Granados wound up as a twenty-year-old in New York City, in 1915.That involved work. Employment, she explained to me, as a nanny for the wealthy Colombian family whom she had accompanied to New York while the family was on a temporary assignment there.
How exactly she met my grandfather, I don't know. But I suspect that Toribio Carreño, in 1917, the year he landed in New York from Matanzas, Cuba, was eager to expand his social life, and Maria, a chaste, well-connected Spanish-speaker, certainly filled the bill. Maria also fell him; maybe, the age difference (he was almost twenty years her senior) had something to do with that. They were married 11 April 1920: she twenty-five; he, forty-four.

My father, Ralph, was born in 1928, the youngest of their three sons.

He and his brothers, Charlie (first born), and Andy (the middle son) were raised in the relatively affluent surroundings of the upper East Side of Manhattan, where Toribio worked as a super in several posh high-rise apartment buildings.

In the early 1950s, in a what was then a typical upwardly mobile progression, the family moved en masse to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. By then, my father had married my mother, Marion, while Charlie had wed Thelma, and Andy, Eda.

I was born in 1946. Besides myself, my cousins Bernie (Charlie's first born) and Jimmy (Andy's first child) had also made their appearance. So, in all, we were eleven, and we lived in a rambling three-story house on East 22nd Street.

Later in the 50s, as the brothers prospered, the family dispersed. But we always remained connected. Especially, Maria (my Nana) and Toribio (Papa) remained in our midst.

The initial plan called for Nana and Papa to live with Andy, and his expanding family, in their new home in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Charlie, Thelma, Bernie -- and their second-born son, Mark -- moved to an apartment on Ocean Parkway, in Brooklyn. My father and mother and I (and my new-born sister, Roberta) moved to Nassau, The Bahamas, where Ralph launched a four-decade long career in international trade.

Fortunately for me, despite the distance, I got to 'share' Nana with my cousins. For almost a year, Papa and Nana lived with us in Nassau.

In 1962, Papa died, at eighty-eight. Shortly thereafter, my parents moved to Switzerland, and then, soon after, to Paris. While there, Nana spent a year with them. With them. For most of year, I was away at school in Massachusetts. From Paris, Nana returned to New Jersey.

Meantime, Charlie and family had moved, first, to Manhattan and then to a shore property on Long Island. Finally, a business opportunity led Charlie to move his brood to Mexico City.

For the next seventeen years, Nana lived here, in two properties in the centre of the city. During the time she was living in Mexico, I saw her maybe a half-dozen times, in New York, in St. Joseph, Michigan, where my parents had relocated, and, finally, in Amherst, Massachusetts, where my mother had moved after she divorced my father in 1972.

I never return-visited, however. Until now, not long ago, on what was my first trip to Mexico City.

I was 'visiting' my beloved Nana.

While here, Charlie had lived in two locations. (Street views of these venues are pictured in photographs accompanying this article). I tried to soak in my family's history at these sites. I pictured my grandmother, as I remembered her, a figure wending her way.

The family's first home was at Calle Emerson 243, in the city Polanco section. Their second home was at Calle Joaquin A. Perez 18, in the San Miguel Chapultepec section. It was there, in 1984, where Nana passed away.

She was buried, next to Papa, in Plainfield, New Jersey.