My grandmother, Mamá died last night— on Christmas eve. We were coming back from the Christmas eve service when my mother called to say that my grandmother died. It was both expected and shocking. It was expected because Mamá had been in a nursing home for about 8 months bedridden and very weak. She had to be fed and had Alzheimer’s. During my summer trip back home, I went to see her and it was indeed sad to see her that way. Yet, in spite the expectation, the news were shocking and felt as if they were coming out of the blue.
I am writing this so that I can remember her and in doing so, I’m sharing with you my memories of her. This post, however, will be updated later with pictures of her because currently I have no access to my photos.
My grandmother’s name was Amparo Rosado del Rosario. She was born in Corozal, PR in 1922 but grew up in Cataño. She was the younger of two siblings, Petra and Lola. She married my grandfather, Bernardo Feliciano when she was 15 years old in 1937. As the story goes, this was a great party. Cuarteto Mayorí which was a very famous band at the time, played at their reception. Bernardo’s jobs were mysterious and odd in my eyes, but he always, always had a soft spot for music and in fact knew most of the top musicians of the time. Eventually he went on to produce radio shows.
I am writing this so that I can remember her and in doing so, I’m sharing with you my memories of her.
Mamá got pregnant and the child was born dead. His name was Fernandito Feliciano and apparently he was malformed. According to a story told to me by my grandfather, Bernardo, he asked the doctors to make sure she did not get pregnant again. Mamá knew she could not have children and it always seemed that she understood what had happened. However, she kept longing for a child.
As the story goes, my grandftather’s brother, Angel, had married a woman named Julia Torres. Julia and Angel had two little girls one year apart from each other. But Julia was dying of tuberculosis. Amparo, Mamá, saw this little girl playing and told Bernardo that they should take her and raise her. Julia was going to die soon and it was decided that this little girl would become Bernardo and Amparo’s child. But she was never legally adopted— which as you may imagine is proving to be a real challenge for my mother now.
However, she kept longing for a child.
The little girl was my Mom. Her name is Carmín and she came to live with Bernardo and Amparo to the city. They lived in the property owned by Mama’s family. But marital bliss between Mamá and Bernardo was coming to an end due to Bernardo’s philandering and bohemian ways. He would go out and not come back until the next morning. Sometimes he would leave Friday night and not come back until Sunday night. I suppose that would make for a very difficult marriage. Thus, when my Mom was almost two they got divorced. Later on Mamá would marry Francisco Pérez. My brother and I would call him Abuelo Kiko. Bernardo and Mamá remained friends. I never saw them arguing or fighting. In fact, he was welcomed in the house and often came in when he would come to pick us up. This is them in the photo below at a party in honor of my grandfather, Bernardo. He was well known in the local music community and they arranged this party to honor him. Mamá of course, attended with us.
My Mom grew up believing Mamá was her real mother until she turned 15 and they introduced her to her sister. For that reason, when my Mom had us, we were told the truth from the get go. I always knew the story of how my Mom came to be Mamá and Bernardo’s daughter. This was not amusing to Mamá though.
One could say we were partly raised by my grandmother, Mamá. We spent a lot of time with her and Abuelo Kiko. Their house was small. One bedroom, one bathroom, and very tiny. Their balcony had a large poinsettia tree that would flourish with beautiful red poinsettias every December. In the living room, there was one large TV. Every evening, the front door was closed and they would sit in the living room, each on their rocking chairs to watch TV. Then, they would go to bed. The kitchen had a made up window. It was just a door that would open up to the yard. There were no cabinets, just made up shelves, curtains attached to them, a small table top stove with only two burners, a sink, and the bathroom was next to the kitchen. The bathroom was tiny too.
One could say we were partially raised by my grandmother, Mamá.
The bathroom in the house had no tub, just a shower head on a concrete floor with a hole to drain the water. I was petrified of that hole on the floor and my showers were super, super fast. Down the street was the bay and unknown to my mother, Abuelo Kiko would often take us to jump in the water. There was also a small establishment that opened later in the afternoon for food and music. We would walk there when it was open to buy a can of Pepsi and a bag of M&M’s. My brother and I would sit on the balcony to see the people in the small street come and go while eating our candy and drinking our soda.
The house was also located behind the local movie theater. I managed to catch a few movies back then. Sometimes some celebrities would come to the theater in town and since the house was in the back, I would be able to see them. I remember in particular the day I saw el Tio Nobel. El Tío Nobel was the host of a children’s cartoon show that would run every afternoon and Saturday and Sunday mornings. I was so excited to see him on the side of the street but as I was approaching him and saw him smoking, I was so disappointed that I decided to go back to the house.
Down the street was the bay and unknown to my mother, Abuelo Kiko would often take us to jump in the water.
Mamá’s education was up to the 8th grade. But later on, after my Mom was grown, she decided to enroll in a school in the city where she could finish her high school education to later enroll in nursing school. Abuelo Kiko would take my brother and me to pick her up at the bus station in the afternoons after she came home from nursing school. I remember her dressed in white, her white hat, uniform, shoes, and nylons. I was so proud of her. She became one awesome nurse. Later on she would work in the local hospital where, we would go to pick her up to go back to their house. The doctors, fellow nurses, and patients loved her. She was always smiling and trying to help everybody. People would bring her chickens or eggs if they could not pay. She would try to make sure everybody got seen. I thought she was incredible!
She was very nurturing. In fact, she was in my opinion, the very definition of a grandmother. She would always, always offer a huge smile and a warm hug to us. She had nicknames for the both of us. She would call us on the phone and she just had a way to our hearts like no other family member. Well, except for Bernardo, who was always close to us both. She had rosy cheeks, beautiful curly hair that she’d dyed flaming red, large brown eyes, and gorgeous, well shaped pair of legs. Flirtatious like no other, she would endear you in a second.
Sometimes we would stay at her house. But it was so tiny, both of us would squeeze in a cot next to their bed. My brother would sleep on one side looking one way and I on the other looking the other way. As uncomfortable as this was, we would not have it any other way. We would beg to stay with her. We were so loved by her that it was painful to leave. I saw her break the neck of a chicken and then skin her to feed us. That was impressive. I still see the feathers flying around her kitchen!
She was very nurturing. In fact, she was in my opinion, the very definition of a grandmother. She would always, always offer a huge smile and a warm hug to us.
She also had a way to make you feel like you could do something. Her house was 2 or 3 blocks away from the local bakery. And Cataño was not really the safest town. But she would let us walk down by ourselves to get the bread. Oh! And the aroma of freshly baked bread coming from that garage! It was divine. I should mention that because she was a nurse at the hospital, everybody knew her. So, we enjoyed relative safety in the streets too. I would sometimes walk farther to the local pharmacy downtown to get something, a pencil, a notebook, or something. One particular Sunday I remember walking all the way to downtown to the Catholic church just so I could see it inside.
She did not have much in material things. But she had a huge heart. Sometimes drug addicts would find their way to the house and would ask for money. She would get a quarter and give it to them. One day I asked her, “why do you give them money if you know that they will do something bad with it?” I still remember her answer as one of the most important lessons in dealing with people. She said: “I give them something to make them feel like I helped but it would not get them what they want. However, they would think and feel I was nice to them and watch the house for me when I am not here.” That impressed me in ways I can’t explain. However, as the years went by and the town changed, her house was broken into a few times. Especially after Abuelo Kiko died since now everybody knew she was alone. She was never in the house when it was broken into but it was enough for her to sell and move.
She did not have much in material things. But she had a huge heart.
Our relationship changed with the years as I grew older and moved away. However, I cherish these memories of her when I was a child.