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    Food for Thought

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    Food for Thought

    Post by tuck on 12/10/10, 04:52 pm

    Food.

    Somehow whenever Esperanza came home things always came back around to food. It was an ever-present theme in her mother’s house, and it seemed that even when it was just the two of them life in the house always revolved around mealtimes. All of the rest of the time was either spent preparing for or recovering from those meals.

    When someone died, there was food. When someone was born or married or baptized there was food. Holidays and arguments, heartbreak and healing. The rustic kitchen was always busy, and Ronnie had always thought of it as the main room, the center-point of the house. The ties that bound her family were made of cinnamon and peppers and corn and forged in the fires of the old gas stove that her mother was currently leaning over. With her large frame, slight hunch and wrinkles she looked like some sort of fairytale witch perched over her cauldron.

    Ronnie immediately felt bad about mentally comparing her mother to a witch. The woman had done her best over the years. It wasn’t easy raising four kids in downtown San Antonio by herself. And she did care about them. Maybe too much sometimes.

    “You’re making the tortillas to thick. You need to press harder.” Her mother said in Spanish, without turning around, “You need more muscle. You’re too skinny. Do you not eat enough in College Station?”

    On the other hand, Ronnie thought, there were some definite hag-like qualities. She looked down at the tortilla press in her hands. Sure enough, the last few tortillas were a little bit thicker than the rest. How her mother was able to tell she couldn’t even begin to guess.

    Ronnie sighed.

    “They’re fine, mamá” Ronnie replied, also in spanish, “And I eat plenty.”

    “Don’t get angry, I’m just trying to look out for you, Lancha.” her mother said, wiping her hands on the ancient, threadbare apron that was tied around her waist. She turned and looked at her daughter, letting the large cast iron pot on the stove mind itself for the moment.

    “I’m not angry, mamá.” Ronnie said.

    “You look angry.”

    “I’m just thinking.”

    For a while there was relative silence again in the kitchen and Ronnie returned to the thought she had been turning over in her mind since she’d come home. Her mother began chopping onions for the molé.

    “Mamá...” Ronnie said eventually, as she put her hand down on the tortilla press again. Her face was expressionless. “Where’s my father?”

    Ronnie felt, rather than saw the look on her mother’s face change. Her left eyebrow raised slightly and her mouth turned down in the corners. It was her surprised look, and it was one that Ronnie had rarely ever seen.

    “You know that, Lancha. He’s in prison. Up North.”

    “How come we never went to see him growing up?” Ronnie asked, “How come he never wrote us?”

    Her mother stopped chopping and set the knife down on the cutting board. She sighed and walked over to the cabinet, reaching up for the box of tea bags that she kept inside. She pulled two out and unhurriedly set them on the counter.

    “Mamá?” Ronnie asked, knowing that her mother had heard her.

    “Sit down, Lancha.” Her mother replied without looking. She picked up the old rusty kettle from the stove and began filling it with water. Ronnie didn’t move.

    “It’s been twenty-two years. You can wait a few more minutes for my tea.”

    Ronnie hesitated a moment longer before sitting down on the far side of the table.

    For the next few minutes the only sounds in the kitchen were the gentle boiling of the pot on the stove and the soft swishing sound that her mother’s dress made as she moved back and forth around the kitchen, getting things ready for tea. Esperanza knew that her mother was stalling; preparing her thoughts. She loved to be in control of things, and to her that meant there always had to be a plan of attack. Finally, the kettle hissed with a piercing whistle and she brought a tray with two glasses, two tea bags, a sugar bowl, and the tea kettle to the table.

    Ronnie poured her tea and dumped several spoonfuls of sugar into it while her mother eyed her disapprovingly. She remembered how she was always telling her that the sugar would rot her teeth growing up. For once, though, her mother was silent on the subject.

    “Why do you want to know where he is?” he mother asked as she took a sip of her strong, bitter tea, “Why now?” She spoke English this time, which was a rarity in the house. English was normally reserved for guests.

    “Mamá...”Ronnie replied after a moment, “I met him.”

    If her mother was surprised by the news she didn’t show it. Her eyes stayed calm and focused, just as they always were.

    “He came to visit me last month. He said... he said a lot of things. Why did you never tell me who he was?”

    Her mother leaned back in her chair slightly and set her cup down. For a long moment she was silent.

    “When I met your father I was your age”, she said finally, “I was very different then. The years have not been kind. He was the most beautiful man I had ever met, and I loved him very, very much. When he asked me to marry him I thought he was joking. We had only known each other a few months, and neither of us had much money. But somehow we made it work. When you were born he was so happy. I remember... the first thing he said when he first saw you was ‘Mi estrella brillante. Ella es perfecta.’”

    She took another long sip of tea and looked at Esperanza.

    “Then one day... not long after you were born... a woman showed up at our house. She was a strange woman. She had long hair, the color of a raven’s feathers, and it fell over half of her face so that you could not see that side. When I opened the door for her she walked into the house, just pushed past me. I didn’t know what to do. She called out a word I didn’t recognize and your father came out of the back room. He had been putting you down for your nap. He looked as though he had been expecting this woman. She told him that she had been looking for him for a long time. That it was time for them to go. I was too confused to say anything, but he asked her to be able to say goodbye and she nodded. Then he came over to me and I asked him what was happening... who she was. He didn’t say, but he told me that...”

    Her eyes had begun to mist over, and for the first time that Ronnie could ever remember her mother began to cry. Her normally commanding voice was ever so slightly shaky.

    “...he told me that he loved me. That he loved you. But that he had to go. That there were rules. Rules he couldn’t break, even for us.”

    Throughout her mother’s story Ronnie had sat quietly, her tea forgotten. Now she reached out and took her mother’s hand, squeezing gently. For a moment her mother sobbed quietly before picking up her napkin and drying her eyes. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath before continuing. Once again her voice was clear and strong.

    “After that... he turned and took her hand and... and they vanished. They were just gone. One moment he was there and then... nothing. I never saw him again.”

    Ronnie nodded and sighed, rubbing her thumb reassuringly over her mother’s hand.

    “Why did you never tell me?” she asked, “Why make me believe he was in prison?”

    “What else could I tell you, Lancha? I was scared. Confused. I didn’t know where he was... when he would be back. He was simply gone. I couldn’t tell you the truth. Not until you were ready. Not until... you would believe me. But now... now you’ve met him. Now you know what he was. What he... is.”

    It made sense. But somehow Ronnie thought that there was more. Something her mother hadn’t told her.

    “What is he?” She asked.

    “Lancha...” her mother said, with a surprised look for the second time that day, “Can’t you see? He’s an angel.”

    This time it was Ronnie’s turn to look surprised.

    “An angel? Is that what he told you?” she asked.

    “Of course not.” her mother snorted, “He never told me, but I knew. What else could he have been? Do you see, Lancha? That’s why he had to leave us. Why he couldn’t be there for you. God had called him back.”

    She took Ronnie’s hand in both of hers and looked into her daughter’s eyes, her face serious and concerned.

    “That’s why it hurts me so much when you don’t go to church, Mija. Why I tried to get you to love God. I don’t know where I failed you... what happened that made you turn your back on him. I just hope that now... you see, don’t you? With who your father was...”

    Ronnie exhaled slowly. Many things fell into place that moment. It was as though she was seeing her mother in a new light. She wasn’t a witch. Nor was she a saint. She was just a woman, trying her best to make do in a world beyond her understanding. Ronnie smiled warmly.

    “I’m sorry I never told you...” her mother said, seeming almost on the verge of tears again, “I should have... I... I just couldn’t.”

    “I understand, Mamá. It’s okay. You did what you had to.”

    She stood up and walked over to her mother. For the first time she could see the years and the hardship in her mother’s normally strong face. It was as though a weight had been lifted from her and she was finally able to relax.
    Ronnie put her arms around her and held her as she began to cry once more.

    “I love you, Mamá.”

    For a long moment the two women held each other in silence, the warm smells of the kitchen surrounding and binding them as the forgotten pot on the stove simmered gently.

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