When I was born, there was a problem with my mother’s milk and I wasn’t breast-fed. I had to go on formula. Unfortunately, no matter what anyone tried to feed me, I didn’t like it. My mother says I scrunched up my whole face and spit it out. Not having enough food, I just cried continuously. My mother was going crazy because they just couldn’t find anything that I liked. She was also exhausted. So, at the suggestion of her doctor, she hired a nurse to help take care of me. This nurse was Lupe Anglada. She immediately figured out a formula I liked. This was great news. My mother and Lupe became very good friends and she was part of my family until she passed away in the 1990’s.
Mama Lupe was not my grandmother, but she certainly acted like one. She was the one that told us great stories. She was there when we were sick. When we had a birthday. When we were in a school play. And, specially, throughout all the really bad times, the persecutions, the sadness, and the disappointments. She was the person holding up the rear. She was the person making my mother laugh and keeping it real when things were really bad and helping her get through another day. In moments when she was her only friend.
My mother told me the story of how someone sent her a photo of Angelita Trujillo holding hands with a guy while her husband was in front and not looking. It was a terrible story of how she had an affair with this person and totally ruined him. The photo said: Make 5 copies and pass it on". My mother typed about 20 copies. Mama Lupe got in a taxi in the morning heading to work. And when she was alone in the taxi dropped off those papers and got off. It was a little subversive thing they did to get back at the system. It made them feel good. If they had been caught, they could have been killed. But they did it anyway.
When I was little, every weekday afternoon, the women would sit around to sew, crochet, shuck corn, peel vegetables for dinner, and tell stories. Us kids would not miss this time for the world. I learned how to sew, knit, crochet, and heard lots of stories about the friends and families. The "sewing circle" included my mother, our maids Julia and Ramona, and Mama Lupe—as we started calling her—the one entertaining us. She would tell us very raunchy jokes and stories. The raunchier, the better and the more we laughed. These were some of the most special times of my life. A simple afternoon, gathered in the security of all these women who enriched our lives with love and lore. With the flavors of the Caribbean life of the 50’s and 60’s now gone forever.
There is a story that Mama Lupe always told at Christmas about the year that her family didn’t have any money. Mama Lupe lived with her son, her older sister and twin sister Pipina with her children. Three widows trying to survive and raise their children. They were in dire straights. But, the one thing they did have plenty of was humor. They made believe that they were putting on a feast. They sat at the table and all pretended they were having a fabulous Christmas dinner. They banged on the table with their shoes pretending that they were cracking nuts. And asking each other to pass the gravy, or turkey, etc... in case the neighbors were listening and would think they were having a great meal...all the while laughing and having the best time in the world. It became the best Christmas they ever had.
We have always remembered that story at Christmas, specially in the bad times. It is not about the money and the presents. It is about family and friends. There isn’t anything I wanted more this Christmas than to have my daughter by my side and I am very thankful for it. I would like to celebrate many more.
Some family you’re born into, and some family you pickup along the way...