Her hair once dark was now half silver. It was as if the moonlight gleaming through the bedroom window had decided to take sanctuary by gently interweaving itself within her dark tresses. I didn’t blame the moon as I too found sanctuary in her presence. She was very old, yet young still. I was proud of her for I was sure that many of her age ordinarily had hair pearly white and I considered it a privilege to be allowed to brush it. I had to be very gentle as it was delicate and came off easily with the brush. My heart was so full of love for this ancient relative of mine. I spoke to her in limited phrases because my Spanish was not fluent and she didn’t speak a word of English that I knew of.
“Usted es muy bonita Mamá.” (You are very pretty, Mama)
We all called her Mamá; my mom, dad, mi abuela (my grandmother) and my brothers but she was la madre de mi abuela (my grandmother’s mother) and they lived together. At this time she was about 100 years old. She was relatively healthy but I knew on account of her age that she wouldn’t be here much longer. Knowing this caused me to reflect sadly and so …very discreetly…
“Su pelo es precioso Mamá.” (Your hair is lovely Mamá.)…I pocketed some of the strands of hair which came off with the brush.
About a year or two before this, I had interviewed Mamá for an assignment I had to write for school. My mother helped by translating between us. Through this, I learned that she was born and raised on the island of Puerto Rico. She had lived on a farm in the late 1800’s wearing long skirts and dresses. She told me how challenging it often was to milk the cow; how the udder wouldn’t fill with milk so readily. She had to get the calf and bring it close to the mother so that the milk would let down. Mamá would then quickly move the calf out of the way so she could milk her. Obviously, these are the facts from the interview that I found the most interesting because it is all I now remember except that I got a good grade on it. It was probably the longest dialogue we ever exchanged. We communicated in other ways but I can’t really recall how we did it.
When I was very young, we would often sit rather serenely next to each other on the sofa. I would bring my hand up and down her arm amusing myself with smoothing her wrinkles in one direction and then another. She would smile at me and call me, ‘Nena’ (little girl) and I would always call her Mamá and tell her she was pretty. Perhaps that is why she felt pretty. She refused to wear spectacles because they made her look ugly she said. She loved her peach floral dress that she wore on her 100th birthday but she wasn’t happy with her gift of a rocking chair because that was for old people.
Mamá passed when she was 102, two days before John Lennon was assassinated. I was fifteen.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder if the love I felt from her was all in my head. I don’t think so though. Children are intuitive and as a child I think I would have known. When I was born, Mamá lived with us. She was there when I was a baby till I was two years old. She showed love and I showed it back. With language limitations we got along splendidly through the gift and power of love.
In a burgundy velvet jewellery case lined with with a piece of vanilla satin cloth holds a few strands of hair that was touched by moonlight long ago.