Richard Dipietra – Un Momento
It always bugged me that I never learned to speak Spanish. My mother spoke it beautifully; my dad spoke Spanish and Italian. I always hoped that there would come a time when it would be revealed to me, all clear and available and I would be able to carry on a decent conversation in, at least, one of the languages of my family’s heritage. My redemption came in the form of my Cuban grandmother.
I’d been away for a while and hadn’t seen Abuelita in years. Taking the old route home. I went by the bakery and grabbed some Cuban bread, drove by the park and the water tower and there on the corner across from Shirley Ann’s Grocery was my grandmother’s humble wood-frame house.
I knocked lightly on the old screen door expecting her surprised greeting,
“Abuela?” No response. Peering through the screen, I noticed her standing still in the middle of the room. A little concerned, I slipped in and walked up calling her name again.
Mi Abuelita had always been tiny; less than five feet tall and her once jet-black hair was now shot through with silver and grey. However, while she usually wore it in a long braid hanging down her back or wrapped around her head and pinned up; today, her hair was spread out in a long fan all the way to her feet. With motes glinting in sunlight surrounding her, she looked like a saint from a holy card. And she still wasn’t moving or saying anything.
“Hola, abuela. Como está? Bien?”
Still no answer, something wasn’t right. She didn’t seem to even know I was there. Hopefully, I tried again.
Abuelita, está bien?
When she spoke in her sweet Spanish, I somehow, understood.
“I’m 93…2 weeks ago…. I was 23! We were walking on the Malecon… and the waves were so high…we tried to run, my friends and I… but the water sprayed us. We got so wet…. our hair… all over our dresses….we laughed and laughed… we we’re going to…”
At this, she faltered, still a little lost and strangely sad. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her sad before. I smiled down at that familiar face, her pale eyes as blue as the far away sea in her mind. Then, slowly, she raised her tiny hand to my cheek and answered, Sí! Muy bien, mijo.
Relieved, I gave her a hug. She felt so frail. I walked her over to the couch where we sat for a long time just holding hands, smiling at each other, asking simple questions. Finally, the time came and I kissed her cheek goodbye.
Abuela followed me out onto the creaky porch; she’d put on a robe and seemed refreshed, braiding her long hair over one shoulder as she gave me that brave smile and a little wave.
Driving away, I turned back for a last look at her neat yard with the old clothesline, her flowered dress swaying in the breeze.