What My Aging Auntie Teaches Me About Navigating the 21st Century

My Tía Naty is in her eighties and never learned how to drive. She’s lived in the United States for over fifty years, has grieved as a widow for nearly ten of those years, and speaks broken English—only when necessary. She elicits translators to assist her with her healthcare needs or her disputes over the phone about some utility service. She wears clothing that hasn’t been updated in years and her swollen feet fit nicely into a pair of flip flops. She recently had cosmetic surgery done to lift the sags of skin over her eyes that obstructed her vision per her doctor’s advisement. She doesn’t know how to write proficiently as she only completed third grade before joining the workforce in one of Mexico’s big metropolises, Guadalajara. She bought property over there with her husband a few decades ago to assist family members with their living situations, but then sold it after a few years because she decided not to ultimately retire there. Her hands know how to work, and she does everything she can to keep her life simple in her old age.

Her house is a three-bedroom, one-bath property with a yard fit for planting vegetables and all sorts of citrus trees. When her avocado tree became an eyesore, she immediately had it removed, much to my mother’s regret. My mother is her youngest and only living sister.

All that fruit that was lost, my mother said when the tree came down. What a waste!

My mother, you can say, was raised by her sister Naty. My mother’s mother died when my mother was one-year old and my Tia Naty—then age thirteen—took surrogate motherhood to task alongside their ailing grandmother who smoked cigarettes to pacify her hunger.

I wonder if she longs for all those in Mexico who remain tethered to her family tree—nieces, nephews, their children and grandchildren. She has no children of her own and reveres me as her closest descendent, the closest twig on the branch of her right arm. She doesn’t own a cell phone, nor does she own a computer to maintain contact with the extended world. She has a 32-inch flat screen that gives her trouble and only tunes into the Spanish television stations that are so familiar to her, that keep her updated on the politics of Mexico and the relations with the United States. She prefers Spanish media than English anyway. She maintains that her life doesn’t require devices she’s not able to navigate.

It’s almost incredible to believe that someone in the 21st century has lived a life devoid of mobile devices—laptops, cell phones, music players. And more incredible is the fact that she has no idea what Facebook or Twitter are, what the internet is at all. She asked me long ago what double u-double u-double u meant as she sees it on her television screen now and then. I’m almost jealous of her ability to grow into old age without the fuss of social media and what has become the new normal for nearly every American.        

The other day, I went through a terrible bout of confusion. I saw family in Mexico on my feed trying so hard to emulate the trends of the United States. Pole dancing. Selfies. Tattoos. Music and movie fandom. Social issues. So much is catching up over there that they long to be trendy and relevant by adopting a foreign culture. My cousins even comment in English on their posts! I ask my Tía Naty if she wants to know how cousin so and so is doing, how fulanita just became a new grandmother, how sutanita is working in Canada.

No, she says. I don’t care much about any of those things.

All this information is readily accessible to her, yet she refuses to take part. Not because she’s disinterested, but because she’s really made every concerted effort to leave her birth country and all its parts behind.

I find myself ruminating on those who live without the noise of social media like my Tía Naty. She lives in her own system, orbiting around her home, doing this or that, keeping company with my other auntie or with my mom, greeting the mail man every day, checking in with her aging neighbor. She lives alone without the additional burden of sorrow that knowing about others may bring to the soul. It is believed that King Solomon in his old age wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 1, verse 18 says: “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

I wonder if I can purpose to live a week detached from the maddening reel of questions about vacation hot spots, food recommendations, recipes, photos of summer getaways, and parenting by heeding the timeless wisdom of King Solomon: “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ultimately, it is family and the actual ties and face time that bind us together that matter most. My auntie’s focus on these things don’t have to be out of reach.

Eréndira Ramirez-Ortega

Eréndira Ramirez-Ortega

Eréndira’s fiction appears in West BranchThe PuritanDay OneThe Cossack Review, The Black Warrior Review, Fourteen Hills, and others. Her poetry appears in Origins JournalMothers Always Write and The Sunlight Press. Her essays are featured in The Washington PostBrain, Child MagazineFaithfully MagazineThe Mudroom,  Cordella MagazineThe Tishman Review, Front Porch Commons: A Project of the [CLMP], and many others. She blogs and is writing a novel.
Eréndira Ramirez-Ortega

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  • I think your Tia is choosing wisely. Unimaginable today, but it does seem a less stressful way.

    • It does, right? And thank you for reading and responding! I challenged myself for seven days to unplug and had a few others join me. It was a wonderful respite from what we’ve come to learn as the new normal. And it was a fine way to decompress.

  • Que linda su Tia. Sending love. I’m so glad I found you. Following your channels. Dios los bendiga.

    • Thank you for your sweet thoughts! I appreciate you and I’m so glad this piece spoke to you. I am blessed by you and many others who definitely keep their eye on the main thing. Gracias y Dios la bendiga tambien!