My mom, 78, got a new machete. I said, “My god woman! How many do you own now?” This was her third one. Her grandson Jose gave it to her. I asked her how many did she need, really, I mean. She said, "Never too many." She pulled it out to show me. She was so happy like a little kid at Christmas. “I got a new machete! I got a new machete!” This has always been Mami’s tool of choice especially in the garden. Now this tool might be a little over kill for a garden, but it’s the tool she knows. She can wield it expertly. Her expertise was always apparent. I never questioned it.
We finally asked the history of her affinity for the machete, and the stories she told generated a paradigm shift within me. I know nothing about my mother. I don’t really have a clue. She has history to tell and she has been busting out trying to tell it. But I have been deaf to the stories about her life all my life.
Since Mami doesn’t own a computer, she has been curious about my blog, so she asked me to print them out for her to read. I think she also wants to make sure that I show her in the proper light. She's been saying a lot lately, "You know I tried my best. I don't think I was too bad a mother." I keep assuring her she's a great mom.
Since we were all getting together for Memorial Day, I printed them out for her to take home. She decided to read several of my stories. She later said to me, “You forgot to mention that I was the one that bought the Pecan Sandies. I knew that Papi did that, so I made sure we had them around.” In other words, I’m the one that facilitated your visits with your father. It was because of me that good things happen in your life. You didn’t acknowledge that. Because I didn't know.
Knowing that she had this thing about being left out of anything or that any of us say something favorable about Papi, drives her crazy. I said, “But Mami that’s not really the point of this particular story.” She said, “I know, but…” Again I assumed that she was being overly needy, slightly jealous or childish.
Later she said to me, with real longing and sadness in her eyes, "If I could write about my life it would be a real story to tell. I have a lot to tell."
These two sentence had a profound effect on me. Here I am, writing the stories I want about my childhood, as a young woman, motherhood, and as the middle age tween that I am today. How pale in comparison. I have a burning desire to write, but I realized that Mami needs to write too, but she doesn’t have the means. She has no outlet. She tries to tell her story, but no one wants to listen.
I only know the woman that Mami is today. But she needs me to see her as the impoverished child foraging for and stealing food to help feed her brothers and sisters, her mother’s right hand, her mother’s only ally, the indentured servitude first to her father who never treated her as a daughter, and then as a young woman in the many homes she was sent to work.
Searching for love, she thought she wound find it with her husband. And since a lot of us marry our fathers or mothers, she robbed herself of the love she sought, finding someone whose pain body was as large as hers. The only joy she acknowledges is her children and grandchildren. She was always known for the unconditional love she taught and gave freely to others. I realized that she was filling the hole with as much love as she could give, because the hole within her was just as large from the lack of it.
I haven’t been able to write a word since. I realized that the stories she told, I always discounted as complaining because they were the “same old stories.” They were about the hurts and pain she had experienced in her life. I never realized the extent of the sorrow and hardship in her life story. I wasn’t willing to listen. But I got a glimpse of it when I asked her why she loved her machete. I finally listened. My mouth dropped when she told me just a fraction of what had happened to her.
I began to feel that writing was a therapy and I want to extend that therapy to my mom. My story and need are so miniscule to hers. I realized that my need to blog seemed more akin to self-indulgence or a self-cleansing. But in reality I just wanted it out there. I wanted my stories to be told and since they’re out there in cyberspace, I feel perpetuated. Do I need comments? Really for me, no. Knowing that my stories are out there are mainly an experience of release. Feels damn good. My need is no longer paramount.
Now I will try to release it for my mom and dad. I will be starting the Mami and Papi Project. We start taping Friday.