Memoir from Issue #44
My Mother's Funeral
Part One: Sweet Time
My mother always kept her own sense of time. She never fully embraced my father's pace, or his adopted American sensibilities and self-imposed habits. Pascuala had no time or desire to ‘rush’. “¡Apurate mujer! (Hurry up woman!).” My father’s insistence always seemed to imply that his wife’s daily routine lacked urgency—and importance. Papi was most uncomfortable with mami’s stillness. The truth is my mother inhabited a calm internal space and Caribbean island pace. So my father would chide her, “¡Vamosnos—muevete! (Let’s go—move it!) You'll be late to your own funeral.” The insult only incited resistance or worse—rebellion. My mother would simply redouble her efforts to slow down.
Whenever she was unduly chastised, my mother would trudge up the stairs, humming and deliberately pausing to inhale and exhale slowly, every other step. In her bedroom, mami languished, wistfully brushing her hair before carefully considering what dress and shoes to wear to church. Every Sunday morning before bible study and Pentecostal sermons (in Spanish), and after feeding her eleven children, my mother would arrange her clothes in an orderly fashion on her bed, and take her sweet time getting dressed.
Meanwhile, I waited with my hot-tempered father in his white 1970 Chevy Impala. I remember papi leaning on his horn, blaring out metallic shouts at mami, while he listened to Puerto Rican trio music and ballads that featured acoustic guitars—worldly music no family member could ever play at home. “This isn’t sin,” my father reassured me before quoting endless examples of music he was certain played in hell. And in between lyrics of romantic betrayal and tropical longing, my father mumbled pent up frustrations about his wife’s ‘defiance’. “¡Esa mujer es imposible—nos vamos! (That woman’s impossible—we’re leaving!).” My father would announce our departure as if it was an anomaly this particular Sunday. Then we’d drive off to Marshal Street in Downtown Paterson, leaving my mother stranded—again.
I’d sometimes see my mother floating down the stairs, neatly dressed, just as we were pulling out of sight. I always giggled quietly to myself during my father’s Sunday morning outbursts. But secretly, I wanted to grab hold of the steering wheel (or my father’s neck) in the hopes of changing direction—the course of history—or at least this recurring Sunday family drama.
Juilliard graduate and Fulbright Scholar, Nicholas Rodriguez, is a writer, choreographer and performer. Rodriguez directs the Inner City Ensemble in Paterson, NJ, and he is also the Assistant Director of the Passaic County Cultural and Heritage Council. "She Goes Walking" and "God on Ellison" appear in PLR # 43.