CAFE’ AND CIGARETTES

My mother to me is an amazing woman. Her story is strong like the steel rice pot. Rosa Maria Castillo is what she would tell her friends when they asked her what her name is and then she would proceed to say “Nacida en Humacao, Puerto Rico”.

There was always pride when she spoke where she came from. As I got older is when I understood her better. Through my struggles I have learned her and at times become her.

Tell me about her when I was in my youth and you would’ve gotten a different answer. I can’t say I hated my mom. I was rebellious but for the most part did what she had dictated. She ruled with a very severe hand. Nothing was left undone. If you happen to get away with something you can bet that she was going to find out eventually. She always said –un pinchon me lo dijo. When she did find out you can bet your last dollar that you was going to get it either way.

I grew up on good old fashioned child abuse. It’s now at my age of mid 40’s that I have realized that I grew up in fear all my life. I do thank her for some very hard lessons learned at the teachings of her hands and beatings. It couldn’t be easy raising 3 boys by herself. It couldn’t be easy going through life losing your only 2 daughters.

Since I can remember my mom always worked. There was never a time I can recall that my mom didn’t work. Mommy always paid her bills on time and made sure there was always something hot to eat on the table. There was never a Christmas that we didn’t have presents under the X-mas tree. It wasn’t till she met my step dad that things had changed. She always was the sole provider and he became the male figure, the nanny, the cook and the caretaker. Until this day they are still together. He is a whole different story and a whole different essay.

My mom isn’t a very educated woman. Time and experience has always been her teacher. She went up to 2nd grade and then was forced to tend house. Her mother had died at an early age and she was taken in by her aunt who my mom said was very mean to her. The way mom explains it was very much like her being Cinderella. Whatever the experience she went through it traumatized my mother enough to a point that she has had the opportunity to return to her birthplace to see it and she refuses. She wants nothing to do with Puerto Rico. She says to me that she left it never looking back and never wanting to return. Mommy tells me that all she had was her mother and when her mother died there was nothing left for her. Mom said she had a grandmother that was the only person that would show her love and again once her grandmother died there was nothing left to live for in Puerto Rico.

I believe those experiences she had in Puerto Rico as a young girl made her have a taste for beer and Bacardi. She drinks a whole lot less now in her 70’s but her beer doesn’t change. Growing up my mother loved to drink. She also loved music. There was never a day that those 2 things were not present in the house. Wherever my mother was at she was the life of the party. She has one of the loudest and most infectious laugh you will ever hear. She always was the one that played pranks on people. Being a very tiny woman of 4’11 she never took crap from anyone. This woman’s chutzpah and aggressiveness was incredible. On the block she was very feared and respected by many. She didn’t smile at people. She always took the time to speak when spoken and if you was young you had better know your position and play it well. My mother had no filter. She said what she said. There was those that came to speak to my mother and did so on Sundays and only by a referral. Otherwise she had nothing to tell you. She wasn’t rude she was just a woman of few company.

In my teens mom bought a few sewing machines so she can work from the comfort of her home. Little did I know that her goal was to build her own little sewing factory. My mother’s work ethic was crazy. She rose early before anyone got up. She made sure her morning ritual which consisted of a shower, a cup of café and her cigarillo was done alone and not disturbed by anyone. She would sit on that sewing machine working till the wee hours of the night every single day, 7 days a week for 12 hours a day.

Now when my mother drank she drank. A couple of crazy things happened when she drank which is a certain placement of where my fear comes from. When I was young she would drink and I got nervous because you just didn’t know where it would take her. It all depended on what records or music was playing. I believe that for a long time she sang and drank behind a bad heartbreak. She drank being accompanied by the many memories of a life she long ago left behind when she came to New York. Music helped her. The many nights she would be playing the records and drinking her Bacardi till she was good and drunk. She would drink and sing those songs as if her life depended on it. I recall the many times I’d hear her sing those songs with such a passion. This would be my early intro to La Lupe. Hector Lavoe, Ana Gabriel, Pimpinela and Nelson Ned. Once in a while my aunt would come by and they would get a game of dominoes or cards going while they drank and heard music. On those days her mood was brighter. I didn’t get so nervous. She would get lost playing with her sister and nothing else mattered. They would be laughing and talking a storm while my cousins and I would be in my room or in front of the stoop. Now when she just drank alone she was very unpredictable. Once in a while she would get drunk and remember something that you did and decided right there and then to beat your ass or just argue till she was blue in the face.

As I got older I stood in the house less and less. During those times when she would get drunk it would be my step father that she would unleash her wrath on.

I didn’t leave the house till I was 30. until the day I left one thing can be certain no matter what time I came home I can always count on her to have her cigarillo and her café just to start the day.

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