I’ve been a little remiss when it comes to updating my blog lately. But before I get to blathering about what has been going on in my life lately (which I promise to do next after this blog posting), I thought I’d continue with this writing series.
This time I’m going to tell you about Mama Matea, my great grandmother (again, this is on my mother’s side)…
As I believe I’ve mentioned before, my grandparents ended up buying the property just at the base of the area that my great- grandfather owned. Its like a little hill and it seems that everyone on my grandmother’s side has settled a house up along it. Right after what used to be the store that my great-grandfather owned and ran, is another little house where Mama Matea used to live. She passed away about 2 weeks before I turned 8. I remember that clearly because I remember my mother telling me of her death and how I had to be understanding that I possibly might not be getting the usual cards and gifts for my birthday from my grandparents because of the recent death.
I don’t know why that has stuck with me throughout the years, but it has. One could say that for a time I was the great-grandchild closest to Mama Matea. You see, I was born in NYC (in Flushing, Queens, to be exact) and when I was about a year or so old, my parents moved us back to PR (where we all lived until their separation and divorce when I was about 3). My parents both worked, as did my grandmother and aunt, so Mama Matea was the one who took care of me.
For the most part, I was far too young to remember this. There are shadowy memories that come and go… Like being allowed to run about in my underwear in the backyard while splashing around the faucet she had back there and getting chastised for plucking all the blooms off her flowers and showering them all along the balcony. But one of the most iconic things I remember about Mama Matea is actually a taste. Its a little hard for me to explain… My mother says that whenever she would come to pick me up, she’d always have to bring my great-grandmother and I a loaf of fresh bread (pan sobao, for those who are wondering and know the difference) from the bakery. Then Mama Matea would make some coffee, we both liked it very light and sweet. She’d cool off my cup just enough with the milk and then we would sit and eat our bread by dunking it into the coffee. This is something she loved doing and eating, and something I loved very much when I was a little girl. And it’s that taste, of that very sweet and light coffee soaked bread that I always remember about Mama Matea.
The interesting part is that I always remember Mama Matea to be very kind and gentle but I suppose that maybe was just with me. My other cousins don’t quite remember her that way. I was a delight to her because I started talking at an early age and would have rambling conversations with her. She was a rather sharp sort of woman, one that did not deal with nonsense, loved to gossip and loved to tease people to no end.
That reminds me of the iconic story that goes along with Mama Matea and her ingenuity…
My grandmother grew up in very humble surroundings. Food was kept on the table through the farming and growing that the family did for themselves. The diet at that time was mostly the starchy sort of “vegetables” we know as viandas. Meat wasn’t something often had and when it was, it was a special treat. If a chicken was killed, it was meant to feed the entire family. It was unheard of for anyone to visit and not stay for the meal, no matter how little of it there was to go around. (That’s still very much a rule in PR culture and society, as my grandmother is notorious for always trying to feed anyone who walks through her front door)
They tell me that one evening they had the special treat of having chicken for dinner. Because it was so rare, my great-grandfather had set aside his piece of meat so that he could savor it last. But as it so happened, company came over and Mama Matea would not hear of them staying for dinner. Taking quick stock as to how she could rearrange the food so that there was enough for everyone to eat, she plucked that piece of chicken right off her husband’s plate saying “Oh dear! Look at this! I gave him this piece of chicken and I forgot how he doesn’t even like it!” Then she proceeded to put that piece of chicken on the plate for their visitor without a second thought.
My great-grandfather learned that if there was meat on his plate then it was the very first thing he ate so that such a thing would never happen to him again! Its still a joke in our household, especially for my grandfather, as he is the one who eats the slowest… that he doesn’t want my grandmother to get any funny ideas and try to take stuff off his plate. He’ll eat it when he’s good and ready and visitors be damned!