Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Cooking/Baking (not recipes) (10/16/08)
By Irvine Saint-Vilus
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“You will be somebody…” she’d say hinting at a threat that often concluded her commands. I am somebody, I’d silently scream, imploding inside since I couldn’t tell her how I felt. Haitian traditional dictated the parent was always right.
I was 30 years old when my mother resigned herself to the fact that I would never be the things she wanted. But she didn’t miss an opportunity to punish me for not having listened to her. It could be with her words, “Life will pass you by and you will regret not being somebody.” Or it sometimes was her looks. Disapproval and maybe disdain clouded her eyes and I turned away from them. But not before they stripped me of my humanity. She was right, I was nobody.
We had nothing in common, my mother and me. And she often told me she thought I was switched at birth. “You do not take after me, she would say. Nou pa men’m- we are not the same.” She thought about what people thought of her- and of me. But I tried my best not to care. She wanted things done perfectly. I couldn’t do one thing right. She wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be ordinary.
Before I moved away from Douglass Road near downtown Miami my mother and I shared Christmas together. She’d cooked the meals she was legendary for, turkey, brown beans and rice, vegetable medley, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and an oven baked sweet potato pie.
“Eat,” she’d told me. “W tro shesh- you’re too skinny.” Why do you care if I’m to skinny, I wanted to say to her. But I refrained because an adult child was still a child in my mother’s eyes. And then an image of my mother putting food in my mouth as a little girl popped in my head. “You must eat,” she used to say sitting me on her lap and guiding the spoon into my mouth. “Or you will not grow strong like your Manman- your mother.”
Five years after the Christmas we shared and I came back to the neighborhood to attend Manman’s funeral. At 37 I still felt like a child on Douglass Road inside of my mother’s neat house with its shiny floors and brilliantly bright furniture. But it was empty and strangely sad without my mother’s fierce words bouncing off the walls; her watchful demeanor and commanding presence dominating the space. Yes, I suppose she was what she’d always wanted to be, somebody.
Now, I sat back in the living room couch, careful not to graze the white fabric with my skin and reminisced about the woman who’d left me behind. She was rough to the touch and never showed me love, except in the wonder of her savory foods.
“Manman,” I said sniffling. “I am eating and taking care of myself. And you must know that I am somebody, your daughter.” I wiped my eyes and breathed in deeply. “Goodbye, Manman. I love you and may God bless you.”
“All glory be to God.”
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