Why I Wrote Gracianna
by Trini Amador
Gracianna was my great-grandmother and when I was a child she used to talk a lot about being thankful. “Grateful?” Who talks to a four year old about that concept? Later in life I began linking shreds of stories I had been told with my own my beliefs to a jolting incident of being found walking around her house at four years old with a loaded German Luger. Suddenly, fifty years had gone by and it was time to tell the story about how that Luger came to be in my boy-hand. As a brand marketing executive that owns his own business I travel a lot. In the last few years I have put in over 750,000 miles worldwide and took advantage of that flying time by writing.
I live in Sonoma County, California where my family owns the lauded Gracianna Winery in the Russian River Valley but nearly all of my marketing work is outside the US. I wrote Gracianna in over thirteen countries. Gracianna took eight months to write but nearly two years in editing with the talented Hillel Black, who has edited over 20 New York Times best sellers, and who gave Gracianna its wonderful tempo and grace notes.
This is an excerpt from the Author Afterword:
After reflecting on the legacy of powerful values and a powerful woman, we arrive here.
This is the story I have pieced together from bits I've picked up from my family, some of my own memories, and memories of memories, and well -known family stories and interviews.
The rest is how I imagined my great-grandmother would have acted, based on my observations of her worried mind; controlling tendency; and pensive inward-looking gaze; and also of my perceptions of her joy, sadness, and beliefs.
When recalling memories from your youth, sometimes pieces come to you over the years. They get woven together, re-woven and woven again until something starts “to be.” These are my recollections, facts, and beliefs, starting with my childhood, converted into my what-I-came-to-believe story. It took nearly fifty years for me to understand it myself.
Until recently, I never fully understood how much World War II, Hitler, the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, or French freedom resistance had impacted my family and me.
The Basque have a saying, “Aldi luzeak, guztia ahaztu [With the passing of time, all things are forgotten].”
But this will not be forgotten. Gracianna’s sister miraculously did live through Birkenau, where it is estimated that between 700,000 and 1 million people were gassed, hanged, or shot.
I needed to tell the story about my lifelong belief of how that gun had gotten into my grandmother’s nightstand.
I wanted to convey my understanding of her values and what they meant to her, and what they took from her and what she gave us. I believe these values were always on her mind, never far from her always-moist, pursed lips and French-accented thoughts. I wanted to understand her values and convictions and compare them to now-values, and I wondered, “What might this generation believe in so strongly that it would cause them to act so desperately .... What is it that is so important that each of us would act upon it, based on our values, beliefs, and attitudes today?”
I wonder how distant we are from acting meaningfully.
I attended Cardinal Newman High School in California, on the kindness of friends or hardship scholarships. I was unable to go to college. But I was left with a powerful, persistent, and an ever-seeking curiosity. Unfortunately my spiritual side was one-dimensional. For example, I did not know what a “Jew” was until I was eighteen. As a kid, I had never heard of Islam, met few blacks, and lived mostly in financial and emotional distress.
But gratitude stuck with me throughout the years, from “Grandma Lasaga.” I did not understand what gratitude was until I was in my forties. When I was young, she used the word “thankful” in a powerful way.
She spoke to me as an adult, I think, hoping that this message would stay with me; maybe reasserting itself when I was able to understand. And it did.
So, I needed to bring Gracianna and her values to life, while revealing their meaning in mine.
All these years later, my family, the Amadors of Sonoma County, started Gracianna Winery as a way to express the hand-me-down gratitude of Gracianna. And now folks from all over the world share our Sonoma County wine with their friends and family.
The analogy to winemaking is not lost on my family and me.
Sheepherding families, like winemakers, know it all starts outside, in the field. A shepherd would "trail" his flock of one- to- two thousand sheep, where he would feed and water the herd in the summer. His job was to manage a huge number of lives in an enormous space, just like a vineyard. Shepherds loved these animals and knew each by sight. The shepherd had responsibility for the herd year-round, during the busy and active spring and summer, preparing for the slaughter—, but also through the dreary and lonely winter and rains.
A single herder and dog could manage thousands of animals. It was a thankless existence. This is reminiscent of the modern day vineyard manager, “herding” thousands of vines filled with life through unbearable heat and driving rain. But whether it is the vineyard manger or the herder, however, each knows it is all in the journey to grow and foster the very best you can.
Gracianna, the sheepherder’s wife, would prepare simple but gracious meals that included wine, a food staple as necessary as lamb. Her meal presentations, filled with thanks, were drawn from the heritage of thousands of years of satisfying hungry herders and families with sustenance. This effort was delivered with grace, and that is what today's descendants aim to keep alive.
Money was tight for John and Gracianna when they were running sheep in the lush hills above Santa Barbara, especially in the months before slaughter. As practiced for centuries by European sheepherders, the Lasaga’s would offer "chits" in the form of coins, good for a certain number of sheep as an IOU, (abbreviated from the phrase "I owe you") to pay for goods and mercantile, to hold them over until the herd was sold off again the next season. “Good for 50 sheep” was on one side of the coin, establishing the value. “J. Lazaga,” probably misspelled, was on the other, establishing the debtor.
My family cherishes the single remaining coin of the five hundred minted that our great-grandparents used.
My wish is for much grace, graciousness, and gratitude in your life—from Gracianna, my great-grandmother, to you.
IOU for 50 sheep; privately minted during Juan & Gracianna’s struggles sheepherding in America.
If you have any questions or want to know more inside stories about the book just contact me—I would enjoy hearing from you. Trini.Amador3@Gracianna.net
Thank you very much Trini for this lovley post. Your love and admiration for your Grandmother shines through.
Readers, please stop back tomorrow for my review of Gracianna, as part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.
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