Maybe this time she would not outlast the sickness. She was always good to me. This time I knew I had to go.
I knocked on her hospital door. And then again. Hearing no answer, I began to entertain those unwelcome voices one often imagines in the place where sickness arrives starving and too often departs fully fed.
I opened the door gingerly, just a crack, but enough to see the light through the window illuminate a frail figure all bundled up and covered in blankets. She was tightly coiled in the fetal position as one does when she is not certain of how pressing events will conclude and takes comfort in not knowing.
I tugged softly at her, whispering, “Mama, Mama,” and I swelled with relief when she stirred. Her awakening eyes told me the two years that had passed since I last saw her had not washed away her memory of me.
“Do you feel like a visit, Mama?”
“Oh yes, hijo. I am happy to see you. Please give me a minute to straighten up.”
“I’ll wait outside until you are ready,” I said.
I was always the first to rise in the morning even after the three hour road trip the night before, a few beers, and conversation well into the wee hours. So it was not new for me to be the only one up so early. I stumbled about in the morning darkness trying not to step on guests wrapped tightly in sleeping bags crowded together across the living room floor. It would be nearly noon before the other visitors found reprieve from the last ravages of alcohol-induced slumber. Awakening anyone prematurely had its risks.
Smelling the frying country bacon and percolating coffee, I knew things were well along in the kitchen. Breakfast at Mama’s was always the favorite part of my visits. She was a master in the kitchen. Her fried eggs, cooked sunny side up and never a broken yoke were prepared with spices she wouldn’t disclose. And the home-made tortillas, her specialty made with a little of this and a pinch of that, could not be duplicated. The refrijitos fried in the fat of thick slab country bacon she made tastier still with the addition of salsa freshly made from chilipitin peppers grown in her garden. Mama’s pantry was most often empty, but guests never lacked for something to eat.
Mama and I often sat for long whiles after I had finished eating, sipping coffee and talking while the others were still catching up on their rest. I knew she had stories to tell and I tried to get at them, but you could not know her through language. The first generation born in America, she was raised by her mother with help from a community of aunts and cousins all uneducated in modern ways and lacking in language. Speaking English was not necessary for her basic needs, but she knew a little and made good use of that. She did not know the value of learning new ways and didn’t bother. Time must have taught her it was easier just to be comfortable.
I knew her from the time I joined the family, the newest son-in-law. She was old then if you measured in years. But nature bestowed her with natural defenses that allowed an eternally youthful appearance. Her skin was olive with a smoothness and luster she preserved with liberal application of the Aloe-vera she grew in her garden.
Fate did its part too, birthing her amidst country pure air, garden fruits, fresh vegetables and the less stressful ways of a small community of souls bound closely together in service to one another. Her own home-cooking did the rest. The combination produced in her a joyful demeanor that I seldom saw her without. She was possessed of it both inside and out.
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