Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Our Lady of Kings Court, Kendalia

For Mercedes and her Children

On the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, I take my non-Catholic, non-Spanish speaking fiancé to the Church of the Little Flower to celebrate Mercedes Don Varona.

My friends José and Maria, children of Mercedes, organized a beautiful service.  It was a mix of Cuba and Miami and Italy and Wilmington.  It was the story of a mother’s journey home.  She had climbed back onto the boat that floated her spirit from Cuba and was traveling to another realm.   Even as we were sitting in the pews of the Church of the Little Flower, we stood at the shores and watched the boats go by—Noah’s arc, the ship to Ithaka, a passing image of the wedding at Cana.  We listened to musicians invoke the spirit of Cuba, a memory of the beautiful and complicated Mercedes.  (“Son, they have no more wine.”)

Mercedes always welcomed me into her home like family.  She kissed and sniffed at my skin when I entered.  She sat me down and her little dog ran circles around me and barked and she would wave that dog away. “She loves Pepe,” she’d say.   She told me stories of  her boy when he was young.  She opened up albums and pointed at photos of family she wanted me to know.  And the house was a gallery of Pepe’s paintings.  Once she ordered food from Carreta.  Pigs feet with garbanzo beans and rice.  I ate it.  I could not disappoint her.  I would not.

Last night, she must have been watching as words from the readings carried her away.  Some readings in Spanish and some in English.  Some readings missing. An oral storytelling from Father Ernesto.  At one point, I looked over to my fiancé, wondering if he could understand anything that was going on. 

“You’re smiling,” I whispered. 

“I’m charmed,” he answered. 

Mercedes must have been delighted. I will miss her and her beautiful ways.  Our lady of mercy, the mother of my friends, the Cuban grandmother I never had. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

She is Over the Moon

for Angel
Angel de la Luna and the5th Glorious Mystery was born of three major hurricanes.  Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.  I was supposed to be writing from my more than 30 hours of interview tapes, documenting the lives of 15 surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII for my book of essays, LOLAS’ HOUSE: Women Living With War.  I was supposed to be transcribing, translating, and writing down history.  But the hurricanes came one after the other and my 2005 sabbatical spun fast in the debris of all that rain.  I was living at Hecht Residential College on the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami as a faculty resident master and every week, 900 freshmen, twenty-two residential assistants and two other faculty families and I went into lockdown.  So I wrote this book instead, a book that allowed me to work under hurricane conditions, a book that was probably brewing for years. 
Yesterday I came home late in the evening.  I was exhausted and the only thing on my mind was a quiet bath.  I had taken my kitty to the vet that morning and spent the whole rest of the day in meetings and administrative report writing.  I wanted rest.  I wanted silence.  Just as I pulled into my driveway, I saw a cardboard box sitting on my porch.  I knew what it was.  It was this, the moon rising and the spirit going from dark to light, from exhaustion to elation.  My book is here, everyone.  My book is now.  I am not too cool to say it, “Hip-hip-hooray!”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


For the Boy

That morning, the television was on, as it often was.  My brother was zipping up his son’s jacket, getting him ready for kindergarten.  It’s not that there was a loud boom that drew them to the screen.  It isn’t like someone said, “Look!”  But they did.  They watched the smoke fill the sky.  They saw the plane smashing into the buildings.  The fire lashing out from the windows so many stories above ground. They must have imagined the sound of glass splintering, metal crunching. Voices crying out.  

Weeks later, when I was visiting them I watched the boy running around the basement with his arms stretched wide.  Zoom, zoom, zoom he called out.  Crash!  He hissed.  And then he ran into the wall.

A year goes by and sometime in the summer, we went to the library to check out stories.  The librarian stamped the books and told us when they were due.  And the boy looked up to me, said, “Oh, I know that date.”  What is it, I asked.  And he said, “The saddest day in all the world.”

Five years later and he was writing stories for school.  My novel One Tribe had just come out and he said, “Auntie Evelina, I’m writing my own book and it’s bigger than yours.”  Really, I asked.  How big is it.  He thought about it.  He squinted.  Then he said, “So big it has more pages than people who died on 9/11.”

The image of that morning must have seeped into his skin, crawled right into his memory, become the reference point for all things good and bad.  Just all things.  Never to forget.