Dispatch 25 (Nov. 26-28 part 3)
After Gina and Juan returned and said their goodbyes,
Gina and I hit HEB where a few last-minute meal preparers like ourselves were hunting for
this can of cranberries or that two-person turkey.
Gina grabbed a bottle of wine, cranberries and dinner
rolls before we paid and headed back.
By the time we returned to the house, the kitchen was a
warm flurry of activity with pots cooking, steam rising and a mix of scents, some
familiar, others foreign to me, mixed in the air.
Ginas grandmother moved with fluid grace through the
kitchen as if her feet were gliding on dust bunnies, carried this way and that from task
When we arrived, she put an arm around Ginas
shoulder and led her to a large pot where rice ("arroz con leche," Mari told me)
was bubbling. Mari told Gina to stir the thick mixture where whole cinnamon sticks were
mixed in with the milky white rice.
Feeling that I wasnt being useful, I began to
retreat to the living room, but Mari stopped me.
"We have more work, Heather. You stay here with us,
"Bueno," I answered.
I baked, then buttered rolls from the medium-sized oven. I
peeled and cut bananas that Mari was going to cook. I opened the can of cranberries that
would sit alongside the homemade stuffing that Mari was preparing.
From what little Gina had told me on the way down from
Austin, I knew that Maris husband, Ginas grandfather, had died many years
before and Mari had never remarried. I knew that Ginas family was large, but spread
out far across the U.S. Many of Ginas aunts, uncles and cousins were in California,
New York or Florida. Beyond the immediate family, a whole branch of her family tree was in
Mexico, specifically Los Herreras and Monterrey.
Gina told me that Mari would cook for us and probably help
one of Ginas aunts cook a second meal later a dinner for most of the rest of
the family that still made its home in the Valley. Gina said she might put in an
appearance, but that she was here for her mother, not necessarily to see all the relatives
she would surely see again in a month during Christmas break.
Sandra sauntered into the kitchen, bed-headed and newly
awoken, close to noon. She was rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as Mari foisted utensils
and cloth napkins for Sandra to use in setting the table.
As I was helping Sandra, Miguel arrived, holding a bag in
his hand from an Eckerds drug store. He disappeared into the bedroom where
Ginas mother still lay, and when he returned, he seemed more relaxed and at ease
than he had the night before.
"Como se sienta?" Mari asked him when he came
"Lo mismo, but she slept, so un poco mas
"Bueno, sientate. Vamos a comer," Mari said,
pushing him out of the kitchen and toward the dining room.
I helped carry plates and dishes and bowls, all of which
held more than enough food to feed the five of us. As I had that thought, I remembered
that there was a sixth person one who couldnt join us at the table, but whose
illness had gathered us all here.
* * *
Mari said a prayer which I could follow for about three
words: "Gracias a Dios," before she lost me.
No one held hands, as was common in my family for
Thanksgiving grace instead each person bowed their head in prayer as Mari spoke.
The next word I understood was "Amen," as
everyone opened their eyes and began eating.
I ate a little of everything, enjoying stuffing and
cranberries, sliced white-breast of turkey, tamales Mari had brought from a freezer stash
shed made a month before, wine, and my own buttered dinner rolls.
My tongue alternately burned, blushed and bathed in the
tastes of the meal. Dorm food and even healthy Austin food (tofu and gardenburgers) were
nothing compared to this. I didnt care if I was gaining weight I didnt
care if I had to hit the campus gym for weeks after this it was worth it. The meal
When we were done eating, Gina went to the kitchen and
motioned me to follow. She grabbed a small plate from the cupboards and put a little bit
of turkey, some mashed potatoes and some stuffing on the plate. She poured a glass of
I went with her as she walked from the kitchen. Miguel and
Mari looked at us, neither smiling, but seeming to share with us a look that mixed concern
We went down the dark hallway to the bedroom. Gina walked
slowly, as if in a trance. I saw as the little girl she might have been carrying
the plate and glass carefully, afraid to spill anything, afraid to break a silence.
At the door, Gina knocked softly. She waited for an
answer, but when none came, she opened the door.
The bedroom was furnished with cherrywood
everything from the beds headboard to the hutch to the full-length oval mirror. It
all gleamed even in the meager light.
Ginas mother lay under thick covers, her lined
stretched face poking out. She was stirring, her eyes half closed.
"Mijita," she said, weakly.
Gina went to the bed and sat next to her. She put the
plate and glass on the nightstand and stroked her mothers face. She whispered
something I couldnt hear and her mother nodded slowly.
Gina turned to me and waved me over. I walked with
trepidation, unsure if I was supposed to be here, part of this moment.
"Hello, Heather," Ginas mother said, her
voice surprisingly firm. "Did you have a good meal?"
I smiled at Gina despite my near-orgasm at the
dinner table, food was the last thing on my mind at the moment. That she cared what I
thought of the food made me feel that despite my pleasure, I still hadnt enjoyed it
"It was wonderful," I said. "Really
"I brought you some, mama," Gina said. "Can
"Ay, I think so," she said. She began to push up
with her body and Gina helped prop her to a sitting position.
Gina began to feed her small forkfuls of food.
"Your grandmother can make a meal out of some beans
and a cup of flour," Ginas mother said. She tried to laugh at her own joke, but
instead began to cough. Gina didnt smile her face was tensed into grimness. I
thought she might cry at any moment.
Gina helped her mother with the water, propping the glass
up as she drank. When she was finished, Ginas mother had eaten less than half what
wed brought her. She lifted her hand in protest she was full, she said.
"Bueno, Heather you take of Gina for me in Austin,
okay?" Ginas mother said.
"Ill try," I said.
"Its not easy, I know," she said.
"She likes to get into trouble."
I was a little shocked, and unsure how to react. Gina was
holding her mothers hand and didnt even blink at the words. Maybe shes
heard it before, hundreds of times.
Ginas mother slumped back into bed and closed her
eyes. Gina and I walked out, closing the door softly.
I followed Gina as she went through the kitchen, deposited
the plate and glass into the sink and walked straight outside. She was walking so fast,
her sandals clacking rapidly on the kitchens tile floor, that I struggled to keep up
Once past the carport door, she ran to the backyard. It
was sunny outside and rays blinded with their floating dust motes.
Gina ran to a tire swing hung from a large mighty tree.
She jumped at the rope and swung, propelling herself through cool air and bright light.
The tire revolved and as her face turned toward me, I saw
the flush of it, her eyes wet with tears, her hands gripping the frayed rope as if it were