This is not a story about my mother, not even one about your mother or grandmother. It’s about Mama Cruz, someone else’s mother or grandmother.
Mama Cruz believed with all her heart that Jesus shouldn’t wander far from her sight. At her small church she was the first to communion, confession and contrition.
Her only sin, she knew of, was an over indulgence in candy and her own cooking- eating Florecitas by the handful from the tin; baking pasteles by the sheet full— half for herself, a quarter for the church potluck luncheon, and the rest for the homeless with their shopping carts full of clothes near the bodega; platanos so golden brown that the hungry sun jealously toasted her and starving strays nipped at her heels for the few burnt morsels left.
Each delicious creation given away was a miracle in her eyes and was duly marked with the embossed seals from a papal ring matrix granted to her by the diocese for her generosity of spirit, and her charity work for feeding the poor.
The poor’s food was documented with a seal depicting the miracle of the two loaves and fish. Those for the potluck had the seal for the seven loafs of bread and few little fishes. She, like all good Catholics, knew the difference between the similar miracles. The strays remained undocumented. She just treasured them in her heart.
Mama Cruz lived in a modest white adobe dwelling in the San Dymphna district, a not too loud or crazy part of the big city.
She bought the property because the natural limestone cliffs all around opened up into an small overhang that formed the perfect alcove to house her prized Jesus sacred heart statue— the half body one with the red heart on the outside of his chest, hands on each side pointing to it, and a merino wool stole gently draped unbuttoned over his shoulders.
She changed the stole for a different color one each religious holiday. There was a a white one for Christmas. A gold for Easter. Purple was for Advent and Lent, but on the the third Sunday of Lent and Laetare Sunday it was pink. Red on the feast of martyrs. A Greening hope for the rest of the liturgical year.
When she was mourning her lost daughter, Milagro, Jesus was draped in purple. When a neighbor died it was time for the black stole, but just for the day of their funeral.
There were a few weeks in ‘82, during the height of E.T. mania when the neighborhood kids swiped Jesus and replaced him with the heart and finger glowing extraterrestrial. Mama Cruz’s faith never wavered. She put messiah locks on the over-sized furbie and kept up the ritual of the changing color stoles. She never tired hearing the creature repeatedly say, “Go Home” and ”I’ll be right here.” Something about those words touched her core. When E.T. fell from number one, and the mania had passed, Jesus was put back where he belonged.
Although, Mama Cruz didn’t believe in garden gnomes, she did believe in angels, specifically the four archangels, to guard every direction of her house. The wisdom and knowledge of Uriel held the North from Satan’s attacks. Michael with unflagging truth and courage watched the South. Raphael’s body, mind and spirit provided medicine against the malignant east wind. Gabriel, on the west side of her line, coordinated with the other three, relayed her prayers to Jesus and occasionally showed her the Lord’s simple answers displayed in all the wondrous things North, South, East, and West.
She drove only back and forth to the bodega, the carniceria, the Iglesia in a twelve year old heavenly blue Kia Soul with the cloud interior. Not a space wasn’t blessed with holy water, silver crucifixes or rosaries. The AC vents had tiny crucifixes attached by discreetly small binder clips. Rosaries hung from the rear view mirror, the steering column, and crawled like undulating snakes from the dash board to the passenger side window. Instead of a dash bobble head there was a pair of ivory colored hands, forever praising and grateful, slipping up and down to the Lord in ritual prayer. The sweet floral and wood scent of holy water all around finished the heavenly mystique.
Mama Cruz had given up on maintaining the outer face of her Soul.
The neighborhood kids took delight in defacing her few Jesus bumper stickers. The fish outline on her trunk face had been stolen and replaced with one that spelled out Darwin in the blank oval space between fish head and tail. Jesus Is My Pilot was altered to Jesus is My PeePee. It eventually was pasted over with another that Mama Cruz was sure the kids would love and never deface: Do You Follow Jesus this Closely. Since most where choir and altar boys, and the priest loved them, Mama Cruz was always gentle with them.
Mama Cruz’s front and backyard was full of hidden crucifixes. They weren’t really lost. They just had fallen out of the holes of her dress pockets to never be seen again by her amongst the growing tall weeds.
She never searched for them. She believed that the very earth beneath her deserved Jesus’ love and blessings- more so than every living thing. She just went to the reliquary store, a non-profit subsidized by the church, and bought a new one.
Every time she or anyone walked across her yards the snap of wood or plastic could be heard. Touch her grass and plastic pearls and colored gems would be revealed, a whole treasure of things that had been split from their precious support.
When Mama Cruz was doing her usual errands, the poor girls of the street would comb her yards looking for mismatched crosses and baubles that could be glued together and worn with a pin on the Sundays the church invited and fed the poor. The priests called them “Las Nina’s de la Simiente Sagrada Perdida- The Girls of the Lost Holy Seed.” The priests considered this the most wonderful of all Mama Cruz’s many unintended miracles.
The inside of Mama Cruz’s house was simple and unadorned.
Only the living room had a television, a 45 inch flat screen, that rested on a plain white IKEA hip high stand on uneven legs. She had spent the day following the illustrations and semi-successfully assembled it. From her crushed blue recliner she watched Vatican TV, her telenovelas and the Univision news.
The kitchen behind was small and always smelling of pork, chicken and spices.
The only other rooms were the small bedrooms that were the size of a nun’s cell which were similarly adorned and furnished. Besides the gold framed Jesus painting there was icon size pictures of her deceased Milagro and her beloved husband Jose- old fading and hard to make out from the austere black and white interior.
Centered just above the flat screen was an illuminated haloed Jesus in his finest clothes and the customary praying pose common to all other Christ paintings in all the other houses.
Twenty small tables each with as many devotional candles that they can hold filled the important empty spaces around. Each had the phrases and wisdom of her favorite saints engraved on their face. Of the more than 10,000 martyrs eligible Mama Cruz had narrowed it down to the 123 she could remember.
A lone table near an open window, however, contained neither Jesus, Disciples, saints nor angels. There was just a fishbowl sans fish, -the kind of bowl a child would win as a prize from a county fair- filled with cool clear clean water sitting lonely on the table.
Above, two inverted roses hung from a Spanish lace curtain made from mantilla cloth. Mama Cruz knew that the mischievous choir-altar boys were responsible for this Satanic joke. Yet, she didn’t mind and left it alone.
She knew the roses would be pointing the right way by morning. She pretended that it was just another Jesus miracle.
From the shadows every night before she finally fell asleep Mama Cruz would hear the rustling of Las Nina’s de la Simiente Sagrada Perdida scouring for trinkets of faith.
She was glad they remembered and honored the times they always played and danced with her Milagro while she lived. Honored and blessed, even now, that they were kind enough to revert the small mischievous acts of the world in Jesus’s name- long after the fish had passed- after La Milagro had passed. And all that it took for the miracle to take hold was to renew a foul-smelling bowl everyday with cool clean clear water.
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