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Sadness to Gladness to Gladness to Sadness or…Dear Lord please stop the madness!!!

Glad…

Cooking red kidney beans and coconut rice requested by your sister who is, inappetent and lies dying from breast cancer in a hospital bed.

Sad…

You deliver the goods on the 2nd day of her request and she dies on the third day without tasting a morsel.

SAD…

You do not cook red beans with coconut rice for a long time…

Glad…

…until you decide to make the coconut rice for yourself and buy the red beans subconsciously at Key Food.

Sad…

…when you realize the beans you bought are the red kidney beans you avoided for who knows how long because you have yet to recover from the red kidney beans and coconut rice incident from so long ago when your sister died from breast cancer.

GLAD…

…because your daughter who avoided red kidney beans like a deadly virus, accidently eats the red kidney beans mixed in with the coconut rice you made, because her mind was discombobulated in a strange way which is normal for her on any given day, but not on this day when her mind went far right instead of staying centered.

Glad but Sad…

My tía Nina (Bernice) died from breast cancer so long ago and mom, my mom did not take her passing lightly. I was by her side when the midnight call came letting us know Nina passed on. Mom cried, cried and cried, as I cried, cried and cried ions later when I lost Pi. I did not cry for my aunt at the time, as I was the crutch to hold my mom upright. I did not visit my aunt Nina (Bernice) during the hospital stay. My memories of her were meant to stay in the past, before the cancer: beautiful, dressed to the best, makeup and hair perfectly coiffed. At times, I say, bullshit to that excuse that acts as comfort when fear probably allowed that excuse of not visiting acceptable.

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Mom and Nina were not the best of friends when they reunited in America after going their separate ways in Honduras. Mom, was sent away with an aunt who lived in Jamaica to be raised in a culture that didn’t accept the ‘coolie shitting callaloo’ looking Indian girl,  while Nina stayed in Honduras, going to school and perfecting her spanish language skills. Once the sisters reunited, got over the female drama, they traveled all over the Caribbean and became quite close.

My tía Nina (Bernice) always paid attention to me while the others (the Honduran aunts and uncles) had no time for the Jamaican blood that ran through my veins and made me the ‘other’ in their eyes.

Ma and Tia Nina in Ja096

I was not aware of the red kidney beans and coconut rice that transpired between them. Actually, I found out today. Mom cried when she told me how upset she was about Nina not eating the comfort food she requested before passing. I reminded her, how happy I was to eat it yesterday. SIMG_1538he smiled…and made another pot of it for my weeks’ lunch…

 

Out of gladness comes sadness and out of sadness comes gladness…

Tia Nina018 (2)

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Muchness

More words…

Soon to come.

For a bit of a spell,

 I lost my muchness.

But… 

IT’S BACK!!!!

 

Como aqua para chocolate…mom, yes my mom, and her cooking

Como Aqua Para Chocolate was on cable recently and I watched the entire movie for like the 50th time.

This movie is rich with symbolisms that extend beyond Mexican history but its central focus lies with the preparation of food and most importantly how emotions can influence cooking. Mom, my mom’s, cooking is a testament to this influence and although I never had a dish that sent me into sexual arousal (see the movie to know what I referred to) of the most high kind, her food, yes her food, is the comfort of what comfort food is suppose to be about.

Margarita, who is my mom, does not use measuring cups or follows a rigid routine when it comes to preparing her foods. She does not possess the latest food processor or the expensive knives that fit neatly in a wooden block cured with olive oil. No bread maker or Keurig decorates her counter tops. Forget Starbuck’s, Bustelo with cinnamon brewed in a sack is her preferred method of brewing coffee which is done the old way, traced back to her homeland of Honduras where purchasing and brewing coffee in a sack is as common as ordering a Grande latte thingy ma Jing at Starbuck’s.

At times, the cooking is prepared while laughing on the phone in deep conversation or humming a favourite outdated tune from the 50’s.

In earlier years, she sang.

In earlier years, when she sang, her food would leave you speechless.

Nowadays, the food with the humming or the endless talking on the phone leaves you satisfied and questioning if what you ate wasn’t the best ever version of what you dreamt it to be, along with the angels whom blowed their trumpets to announce how good the food made you felt as it made its way to your stomach via tu Corazon.

I refuse to patronize Spanish and Jamaican restaurants.

No food prepared in these restaurants can compare to my mom’s arroz con pollo, cerviche fish, dumplings, coconut beans and rice, pigeon peas, tostones, oxtails…okay…I stop here.

Margarita is a cook from whose heart the cooking stems.

A five- star restaurant cannot compete with that kind of cooking, because home is where the heart is and when the heart involves itself with food the competition to satisfy the stomach is intense. In the home of Margarita, in the kitchen where the food is prepared, there are no underpaid cooks for hire, where the cheapness of the salary is transferred to the animosity felt when preparing the food for the public.

The heart rules and lavishes love freely.

So in honour of my mi madre, Margarita, whom I’ve often taken for granted, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being who you are and keeping your youngest well fed with food prepared that will forever linger en mi alma.

Margarita's pot rack

Margarita’s pot rack


Coffee

Coffee


Knives

Knives

At this moment…

January 30, 2013

At this moment, I find myself in the midst of transitions of the most unexpected and most gentle kind.

At this moment, I overheard mom talking to her half-sister over the phone. Another McCalla, Victor McCalla, my mother’s brother died. Death is usually the only reason a McCalla would contact another McCalla. The drama of he said, she said and there will be no burial, cremation, and the ashes will sit on the living room shelf until someone goes to Honduras mantra starts after the death announcement.

If I remained a Walsh, my reaction to this news, the mantra not the death, would be comic relief but since I became a McCalla my reaction to the mantra remains, trying not to react. I always cry at the news of death.

Mom’s side of the family is dysfunctional and I believe Webster honoured them with the definition. Mom’s family is also large. Out of ten children, only four are presently alive and only two communicate maybe once a year. Two are on the east coast, two on the west and east does not speak to west.

All the McCalla’s (except me…sigh) were born in Honduras, when Belize was British Honduras. Some were born in Tela, others in Roatan while La Ceiba claimed another. Some were born with Indian hair soft as silk, while others had coarse wavy hair that refused taming with VO5, while yet others had the kinky cotton kind of hair which only  a lye relaxer could control. The relaxer ruined the hair passed down from their ancestors. The hair from Africa by way of Akan, Bantu, Igbo, Fon or possibly Yoruba, way before Scotland via Jamaica than onto Honduras and mixed with a bit of India saturated the blood.

Mi Tío could not stand his African hair. He could not stand his last name either and changed it to Mangroo. It sounded more Indian, which he longed to look like but did not. Mom's brother045

His kidneys could not stand his body for they failed. His weekly battle with the dialysis machine was just that, man against machine and of course, the machine was in control. As the machine cleansed his blood of waste, it also cleansed his alma (soul) leaving it bitter and in disarray.

Was I close to my uncle?

No.

I did not like him. He favoured my light-skinned sisters with Spanish lessons and his version of Indian history. He was mean to me and spoke harshly to me and about me. He once accused my mom of jealousy towards her sister’s kids, for they were born with the wavy hair that refused taming with VO5. I was born with the kinky cotton kind of hair which mom coated with lye relaxer to control.

I hope my uncle, mi tío, is in a better place now. A place where there are no dialysis machines, where he does not have to endure living in his house with an ex-wife and her boyfriend because he refuses to sell and pay off the ex, where skin colour has no meaning and speaking Spanish is irrelevant. I hope the angels are soothing his soul or that karma will take pity on him when he returns.

Once, I could not stand my African hair and yearned to look Indian like my mother with her Indian features and Indian hair, soft as silk. But, God gave me what I was born with for a reason and I am grateful for his gentle everyday reminder of who I am and where I come from.

Happy Birthday Dad

My father passed away two years ago on May 9th 2010, a day before his 90th birthday in Rose Hill, Mandeville, Jamaica. His passing took place while lying down on his bed after a meal, alone in his bedroom-hopefully in his sleep. 

The Death Certificate lists the cause of death in the following manner:

Immediate Cause

(a)    Cardio Pulmonary Arrest-
     I guess this means Heart Attack

(b)   Myocardial Infarction
I guess this also means Heart Attack

(c)    Coronary Artery Disease
This one I had to “Google”-narrowing of small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart

Contributory

Hypertension
High Blood Pressure

Of course, there are other versions on the cause of death, closer to home and somewhat intimate and spoken long distanced, across the sea over the phone:

Choking

Dad consumed dinner then went to lie down and choked on his food.
Not sure about this one

Murder

It was poison!!!!
I’m not going there, as Jamaicans have a tendency for over the top drama as well as over the top vicious gossip-(Yes, I can stereotype, because Jamaican blood flows through me)

Whatever the cause or reason, it was Dad’s time to go whether he wanted to or not. I believe his soul now resides in a serene place, free of stress, and the physical pain that restricted his movements. No more worries over the roof coming apart during hurricane season or trying to make things right in others’ lives or drinking to dull the pain. Dad is finally home and in peace.

But…

I miss Dad, my dad-Noel Emanuel Walsh.

This time, I cannot claim a parent for myself as I do with mom, my mom. My lil bro, (although a half, as identification purposes dictate and I refuse to submit to), shares our Dad. Dad belongs to him who also belongs to me. This brings me joy in sharing a parent with a sibling whom I love.

I miss talking to Dad on any given Sunday. Occasionally he was sober and we talked for hours. Occasionally he was not and we talked for hours.

In my Dad, I saw the parts of me that did not belong to mom:

-Dad was thrifty, using 60-watt light bulbs in the house while mom preferred 100.

-He turned off lights when leaving a room while mom created a trail of lighted rooms.

-He believed in stocking the fridge and purchasing items wisely while mom-well- she did stock the fridge but watched the items go to waste because she stocked thoughtlessly.

-Mom is adventurous while Dad preferred to stay at home.

-She is extroverted. He was introverted.

-She loves girly stuff, heels and dresses and he preferred practical clothing that went from tending the field to watching a cricket match on the TV.

There are parts of mom within me such as the gift of cooking which passed over the siblings and found its way to me. I guess they got the ‘girly’ crap. I take after my Dad, after all, “I am my father’s daughter”.

I miss Dad and want to wish him a Happy Birth date.

It cannot be said over a phone call, because if I called the house number in Jamaica which still resides on my phone’s contact list, someone who inherited the phone number would probably answer it and that would not be a good thing.

So instead, I say it aloud and hope he will hear it.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Father’s Day June 18, 2000-excerpt

I last heard my Dad’s voice when he visited my eldest sibling to say goodbye to his grandchild on the way to the airport en route to Jamaica. I was twelve at the time and my niece was his first grandchild.

The irony of Dad’s solitary return to Jamaica was that he had left Jamaica as a married man with a wife and kids. He arrived in America in 1953 with three children, to reunite with his wife, my mom, who had travelled previously to secure lodgings for the family. The family settled in Washington Heights, NYC, because Dad found a job as a Super in a large apartment complex. My parents saved money and eventually bought a three family brick house in Park Slope, Brooklyn purposely avoiding the West Indian community on Eastern Parkway.

I became his fourth child on January 11, 1964 and his place as a nuisance in our six person fragmented family became apparent as I began to dissect the relationships amongst adults.  During my formative years, his contributions to my development were few and not substantial as his focus was on concealing his taste for Fleischman’s Whisky.

Dad lived in the finished basement while Mom, the siblings and me, lived on the first floor, 5-room apartment. When she was at home, mom ruled the first floor with a semi iron fist while Dad was a nod in passing. ‘Yes we know you’re here, not to our liking, but we have no choice but to greet you with a nod and an occasional grunt’.  He worked as a plumber, repairing pipes and whatnot of buildings in the area and I’m not sure, if he was self-employed or company employed. He left in the morning, came home, ate, went to bed only to repeat the routine the following day. 

Our father/daughter bonding took place at five o clock, Monday through Friday over a shot of Fleishman’s whisky, Dad’s method of relaxing at the end of the day and for me, nothing better to do.  With the whisky filled to the rim and holding our shot glasses (thumbs and forefingers), our glasses met in an unspoken toast and consumed in one take. Our ritual afforded a drink and nothing else.  The burning of the throat ceased some time ago along with the grimacing. As a dog that desperately waits for its masters’ approval, I too waited for the nod that approved of my emptied glass.  Whisky was much better than Ovaltine chocolate milk in the mindset of a seven-year old trying to connect with her father through any means possible.

My siblings were the recipients of Dad’s verbal and controlling abuse in Jamaica-West Indies-not Jamaica, Queens. I was born in Brooklyn, New York in America and for eleven years, Dad the semen donor, was a figure without much substance; he took up space without any useful purpose.

 Mom, my mom, sought refuge from the husband by way of her 9-5 job and Saturdays where outings with the “girls” (aka her sister) was spent at Roseland for ballroom dancing and socializing. Those Saturday nights would find me clinging to her high-heeled choice of the evening,  begging for her to stay home instead of leaving me in the babysitting hands of my brother and sister who took great pleasure in torturing and teasing me while watching Creature Feature horror films. The oldest sister was always out on a date with a boyfriend who eventually became her husband.

Father’s Day June 18, 2000-excerpt

Today I called the “semen donor” in Jamaica. The one usually referred to as, my “mother’s husband”, “that man”, “what’s his name again?” Yes, Mr. Noel Emanuel Walsh and the terms of endearment used to acknowledge an emotional void absentee father. Mom loved to irritate me by occasionally responding to those terms of endearment with, “You mean your father? “, overly emphasizing “father”.

In contradiction to my usually controlled, reserved way of getting things done, the placing of the call in itself was a spontaneous, spur of the moment decision. With the ringing of the phone line and the connection established, mi Alma (my soul) pulsated through bouts of hurt, happiness, pain and joy fused and twisted like a Twizzle licorice stick.

William, my eleven-year old half-brother, answered the phone with his Jamaican accented voice. Although my half-brother had yet to meet me, I have known him for years through bits of gossip on the semen donor. I knew what school he was attending, how he lived on the land, his features and his mother’s menopausal pregnancy by way of my cousin Joyce. Mom and Joyce would hold quiet conversations about Noel E. that included William and the hush tones fueled my curiosity through the years. Did he look like us, how was his personality? We’d have to meet eventually although I figured, the meeting would occur after my father’s death.

When my brother answered the phone, I asked to speak with Mr. Walsh and after politely asking me to hold he placed the phone down and called him. I heard his slippers shuffling towards the phone. “Hello” he answered in a voice strained with age. “I’m your youngest daughter, Elena. Do you remember who I am?” “Of course I know who you are”, he replied and the guard rail around mi Alma cracked and the residue of past wounds were comforted by recognition from a long absent father made everything okay. We spoke for an hour and made plans to meet during my travel to Jamaica within the coming week. I was an emotional mess at the end of the call and questioned what had the most effect: the shock of reaching out to Dad on Father’s Day or he remembering who I was.

“He remembers me,” I cried to mom.
“Why shouldn’t he?” she said.
“We’ve set plans to meet when I arrive in Jamaica”.
“You made plans to meet?” mom questioned.
“I’m going to see my Dad”, I cried.

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