Vague recollections of childhood bring back memories of the many times we moved to different apartments. Growing up was a matter of survival.
We were poor but never without food or clothing. An education was the one thing Mama insisted we have.
Mama had to leave Papi because of his alcoholism and his extreme views of Christianity. In spite of his religion, Papi would go on drinking binges to come home and be physically and verbally abusive. He threw my sister up against a wall once.
It took courage for Mama to leave him. On the outside, he was handsome and affable. But the dark side loomed within him. Occasionally, Papi would come back to visit but he wouldn’t stay very long.
Some time in my teen years, I learned that Papi had changed his name. No one seemed to know why although rumor has it that he was wanted for murder.
With 6 children to feed, clothe and educate, Mama stayed home and worked. She was the June Cleaver of our day although she was very strict and didn’t mind taking a belt to us if we didn’t behave. She would cook, clean and make sure that our basic necessities were met. Mama would make pasteles (a Puerto Rican dish) and then go door-to-door selling them. She was very good at doing this. This helped us with getting school supplies, extra food and much needed clothing.
Going to school was an adventure as Mama knew how long it took us to take our tiny steps there. She even knew how long the crossing light took to change colors. So we had to be home on time or we would be punished.
I hated Mama. I hated that we couldn’t go out or have any friends. I hated that she made Papi leave.
Children are like that — they don’t see the big picture but only what’s in front of them at the time.
It wasn’t until later in life, when I was in my 20’s, that I looked back and understood most everything Mama went through.
Raising 6 children on her own with no outside job was not easy even with help from the Catholic church. She sacrificed a lot. She wouldn’t go out or buy fancy things — only basic necessities. She tells me over and over again “I just wanted you all to get an education.” And we all did.
It doesn’t matter now that I didn’t go to the prom or get high school pictures. No high school ring for me. At the time, I had a hard heart and pretended not to care but inside I did care about what everyone else had and I didn’t.
Mama — 85 years old now — still treats me as a child when I go “home.” She cooks for me and buys me food (I wonder when that will stop) to make sure we don’t go hungry. Always looking out for me.
Mama — God could have given me another but He gave me you.
Mama — How often I wanted you to hold me as a child, but you couldn’t because you had never been held so didn’t know how to show affection.
Mama — You are to be admired for all the sacrifices you made for us.
Mama — I am frugal now because of you.
Mama – You were my protector. I made it out alive and not in a pine box because of you.
Mama — I love you and know that, unless I die first, you will be terribly missed.
Mama — You raise your eyebrows at me because you think the way I practice Christianity, so very different than you, is different. But you never tried to change me.
You are the best Mama God could have given me.