“Enfermo que come y mea, su Tita que se lo crea,” she would say when I was sick, and she’d make me caldito de pollo, Mexican chicken soup. This was her version of medicine for almost any illness, but I suspect it was el pellizco de amor that lured the illnesses away. That, and some vaporub on my feet. She would rub vaporub on my feet as if she was rubbing a magic lantern, which would make them feel tingly and cold, and then she would slip socks over them.
Every time I became sick, she’d start concocting her delicious chicken soup. I could here her sing the song she always sang to me when I was a baby, “Negra, Negra concentida. Negra de mi vida. Quien te quiere a ti?” Then I would respond, “Tú, Tita. Tú me quieres a mi.” You, Tita. You love me. She always served my soup with a chicken drumstick, my favorite. And she was serious about making sure I ate every last bit of it. “Otro poquito,” she would say. A little bit more, until I finished it all.
At night before I’d got to bed, she would make her delicious té de canela, cinnamon tea. “Para que se te caliente tu pechito,” she would say. So your chest can warm up. A stick of cinnamon, a little carnation evaporated milk, and the sweetness of brown sugar – it’s all I needed to fall asleep.
Tita Carmen was many things. She was a grandmother, a mother, a daughter, a lover, a fighter, a nurturer, and the main ingredient in our family. She was also an eater. As much as she loved to cook food for others, she also loved to eat. If you had food left over, she would gladly eat it! If you offered her food, she would take it in a heartbeat! Food was her way of connecting with family, friends, and life.
Mamá tells me that once when I was a baby, she caught Tita feeding me caldito de pescado, fish broth, through a straw, and when Mamá protested because I was too little to eat that kind of food. Tita simply told her, “A buen hambre, no hay mal pan.” For a good hunger there is no bad bread. Tita was not afraid of food. To her, it was a symbol of love and nurture.
Three things that she could never do without were, jalapeños, tortillas, and frijoles. She had to have at least one of those in every meal. Sometimes she ate the funniest things like spaghetti with tortillas. Or if we ordered take-out, she’d eat orange chicken and beans. And I think if she was craving it, she would have eaten cake and jalapeños.
That was Tita, adventurous and daring. Like the time she survived her first earthquake. She was in Mexico City and the earth shook like a giant maraca, a magnitude of 8.1! She said the buildings crumbled like, biscochitos, Mexican wedding cookies. Or the second time she was camping on the beach in San Felipe, the epicenter of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake where the sand shook like flour going through a sifter. But none of these scary incidents stopped Tita from living and exploring. In everything she did, she taught us to love life and food.
Maybe this is why it was so difficult to see Tita Carmen lose her appetite. I knew she was sick when she no longer wanted to eat. Mamá or la familia would cook some of her favorite dishes to open up her appetite, but even swallowing became difficult for her. The dichos she once said to entice us to eat were not enough. “Tripa vacía, corazón sin alegría.” An empty gut is a heart without happiness,” we would joke with her to put her in lighter spirits, hoping she would eat a little more.
As she became more ill, she ate less and less. She would only eat sopita de fideo, banana, and atole. Her sister would sing to her, “Vamos a tomar atole, todos los que van pasando, que el atole está muy bueno y la atolera se está agriando.” When Tita had enough energy, she would sing along, the way she would sing it to me when she made it for breakfast and served it with pan dulce. She could only eat a few spoonfuls at a time, but she tried her best for us, her family.
I remember feeding her sopita de fideo and banana. Tita had always been the one to take care of us, and now we were taking care of her. I fed my Tita the way she fed me when I was a baby, gently scraping the banana with a spoon because she could no longer eat it in chunks. Even when she could no longer eat, she would ask us if we had eaten. No matter how sick she became, she never stopped loving us, never stopped caring for us.
Tita always said, “Las penas, con pan son buenas.” As long as there was food, and family to share it with, we would be able to overcome our sorrows and problems. That is the legacy she left us. On the days that missing her just feels too overwhelming, Mamá and I reconnect with her, her spirit, by cooking the food she cooked for us with so much love.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude make sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. -Melody Beattie
Today (and always), I am remembering that my survival is a result of the strength, sacrifices, and pure, divine grit of my ancestors. Their survival ensured my presence here, today. They dreamt me into existence because they believed in my capacity to continue the work of healing, liberating, and transforming. I owe them and honor them. They are the roots from which I am nourished, from which I grow, from which I become. May I, and those that come after me, never forget.
There are many ways to connect to our ancestors and our roots. One of my favorite ways is to cook the foods that the women in my family have cooked for generations. Wearing my Tita’s favorite mandil, every Dia de los Muertos, I work my way through the kitchen and feel her presence as I cook the mole in her honor, celebrating the way she taught me to cook it. This goes in my ofrenda as I prepare to welcome my ancestors back.
Though I always call upon my ancestors and know they are guiding me, this time of year allows me to see death as a beautiful process, a spiritual one, rather than eerie and gory. I get to cook the favorite dishes of my loved ones who have transcended, and welcome them to dinner, and speak their name through tears and laughter, and meditation. This is a time that is intentionally dedicated to commemorate my loved ones, but beyond these days, I continue to set intentions to connect with them through out the year. In a sense this is an opportunity to set new intentions and new ways to find deeper, meaningful connections to my past and my heritage, in order to flourish beautifully in the future. It is a time of gratitude and appreciation.