The first thing I noticed was her height -- or lack thereof. Five-foot-nothing, a compact steam engine of quiet energy that tended to spread like warm maple syrup, coating and penetrating everyone lucky enough to enter her sphere.
She had the thickest, spikiest black hair I had ever seen, her black/brown eyes mostly danced, but could flash when Scorpio sensibilities were threatened.
Her babies, they arrived on a parallel track to mine, all looking like tiny versions of their mom. The image in my head that always pushes its way to the front is of this tiny woman, sitting amid an unruly nest of toys and picture books, reading from one of them to whatever flock of children were nearby. "They wanted a story," she said, smiling up into my impatience, apologizing for the forgotten re-organization task she had begun. Who could argue with those eyes, and those small surrounding heads all leaning in to see the pictures?
She had a sense of order that was cloaked in chaos. Toys on the floor, groceries too -- forgotten in front of the refrigerator door, ice cream melting in its carton while she was off tending to one of her, or my little ones. I got annoyed sometimes -- with the mess, the noise. But even as I grumbled and fussed, she made me a nice steaming Bustelo and rubbed my hand -- the one I had injured in the car door.
The upstairs bedroom had a crooked tar-paper balcony, and on hot Queens nights we would take sleeping bags and children and lie out there naming the stars. When we each moved away and after years apart, she was still there, right there in every phone call -- and when we visited, my almost-grown kids fell into a familiar comfortable stride with hers -- and her.
Still short, hair now a steely grey, the smile creases around those dancing eyes seem so very appropriate. These days she relishes her new incarnation as grandma, her daughter, the one I nursed alongside my own son when her mother's breast infection raged, has given her one more baby to love. Her dancing eyes continue to find music in everyday miracles, thought the flash still appears from time to time.
I haven't seen her in a long time. We message each other, but way too much time has escaped our accounts in the being apart. Come. Stop. Sit. Tell me a story, please.
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