Mother’s Day is approaching, and as usual I’m thinking of my grandma/mama, who raised me — wishing she was here. As some of you know, I’ve been writing memoirs about my childhood, and my grandma is always an important part of them. This Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to take a risk and share one of the short stories, which I titled “You Won’t Forget, Right?” It captures the relationship my mama and I had, which I’ll always cherish. This story is based on true events and it represents one of the many ways she showed her love for me.
You Won’t Forget, Right?
I watch my friend Nelly’s little granddaughter, Rebeca. She is lying on the floor next to the radio, listening through the static. It is 2 PM and time for the daily announcements. When Chopin’s “Funeral March” plays, the host announces the deceased, and Rebeca writes down the names. She calls to her grandmother.
“Mama, did you know Josefina Gutiérrez de Cáceres?”
“Why? Did she die?” Nelly responds.
“Yes she did! They said she lived in Los Batelles,” Rebeca says, coming to the kitchen.
Nelly pauses. “Hmmm. I don’t think I know anyone with that name.” She calls to her husband.
“Sigfredo, do we know a Josefina Gutiérrez?”
“No.” Sigfredo says abruptly, never removing his eyes from the baseball game on the TV.
Rebeca looks disappointed. Then, seconds later, Nelly remembers.
“Oh, you mean Cheeks!! The lady with the face. I remember her. That woman had enormous cheeks. She always looked like she was saving food for cyclone season.”
Rebeca laughs then says, “So are you going to the funeral?”
Nelly turns to me and says, “Alba, you knew Cheeks, didn’t you? Do you want to go to the funeral with me?”
Rebeca speaks before I have a chance to respond. “Please go, Alba,” she says. “And mama, you won’t forget, right?”
Nelly looks at me. “Alba?”
“I guess I can come with you,” I say to Nelly.
“Does this mean you’re going, mama?! The funeral is at the Funeraria el Angel,” Rebeca reads from her piece of paper. “And mama, you won’t forget, right?” Rebeca turns to me, and says, “Alba, you won’t let her forget.
The funeral is the next morning, and I return to the house to pick up Nelly. Rebeca and Sigfredo are helping her into her girdle.
“Bonito Sigfredo!! You’re holding it the wrong way, use both hands! And you, Rebeca, hold the zipper together and try not to let go. Now push!” Nelly says.
I join them, and we finally fit Nelly into her girdle and purple funeral dress.
Rebeca brings Nelly her handbag. “Here mama. You look nice. And, you won’t forget, right?”
“It all depends on how crowded the room is,” Nelly says. Rebeca watches us as we walk out the door.
It is a nice summer day. Except for cyclone season, it’s always a nice summer day in the Dominican Republic.
“Nelly, are you sure you want to go to this funeral?” I say. “You were not close to Josefina.”
“Yes, I already promised Rebeca,” she says.
We arrive at the funeraria and Nelly immediately spots a seat close to the snack table. There are small sandwiches, panca mints, Country Club soda, and coffee. And the soda crackers with the Swiss cheese and mayonnaise. Nelly is examining the table and watching the room when Josefina’s husband approaches us. I hug him.
“Señor, I am sorry to hear about Cheeks,” says Nelly.
I nudge Nelly. “Her name is Josefina. Say Josefina,” I whisper.
“Fine, but most people called her ‘Cheeks’,” Nelly protests as we approach the coffin to say our prayer. Nelly looks back at her chair close to the snack table.
More people are gathering with their rosaries. Most of the chairs have now been taken. As we pray, an older man places his hand on the chair Nelly has been watching. She immediately gives up the rosary and rushes toward him.
“Señor, my feet have blisters. I walked a mile to see dear Josefina. May I take that seat please?” The old man surrenders and moves along.
Nelly sits and waits for me to join her. She looks around nervously.
“Alba, is it me or are there more people here than there are snacks?” Nelly asks.
I know what she is trying to do. Nelly turns to the man next to her. “Well, I am hungry, aren’t you?” she says. She gets up and begins to select goodies from the table, wrapping some of them in napkins and placing them in her bag. “Maybe I will have a few of these.”
Later that afternoon, we return to Nelly’s house. Rebeca has been waiting on the sofa. She is wearing her holiday white dress and best shoes. She jumps up.
“How was the funeral, mama? How many people showed up?” Rebeca asks, pulling at her fingers, gazing at her grandmother.
Nelly reaches into her handbag and brings out an item wrapped in white tissue. She hands it to Rebeca.
“You didn’t forget! Do you have Josefina’s funeral card too?”
Rebeca takes these treasures to the backyard and sits under the mango tree. She carefully unwraps Nelly’s present. It is the special cracker with the cheese and mayonnaise spread.
“We usually have those only on the holidays,” Nelly tells me. We watch Rebeca enjoying her treat. She is looking at Josefina’s mass card.
“You know what, Josefina?,” she says. “I don’t think your cheeks look that big.”
This story © 2016 Rebeca Matos | All rights reserved.
To all moms: Have a wonderful and happy Mother’s Day.