OF NUNS AND CAULIFLOWERS
I remember it so well. It was small and cozy. A three bedroom, one bath flat, with mahogany colored hardwood floors, and white walls that were silent witnesses to the adventures of a newly divorced mother, Carmen, and her two young daughters. Although I was a very young at the time this story took place, and forty years have passed since, the address of my childhood in Spain, is engraved in my memory; Olivia de Placencia Street, Bldg 24, 4 -A, NO ELEVATOR, San Ignacio de Loyola, Madrid. Spain. Yes, the “no elevator" is included in the address because I SAY SO. After all, I have longer arms than normal as a direct result of helping my mother carry heavy grocery bags up those four flights of stairs... But, I don't want to talk about my long arms. I want to tell you about what happened back in 1972 in that little flat, the day my 14 year old sister, Maria del Carmen Aragon Bernal, was expelled from school by those pious nuns for being insolent...
And, it was only natural that this would happen to my sister. After all, for Mari Carmen, as we called her at home, it was simply impossible to be respectful to the nuns. Well, she wasn't either with my mother... or with anyone else for that matter. Poor Christian women! They were martyrs!! They couldn't do like my mother and throw a shoe at her whenever my sister opened her big mouth, full of large metal braces and rubber bands, and got smart-alecky with her. No, all her teacher, Sister Margarita, who was at the verge of a nervous breakdown, could do... was pray before entering the classroom. Pray that she might not be tempted to reach out for the class's crucifix and propel it at the head of that girl, better know as "THE FRESH BLOND".
Honestly, I never understood why my sister Mari Carmen, had such little interest in anything related to the Lord. If she had, maybe it all wouldn't have ended like it did, with Expelled, hand written over her school's file. You see, when Mom said we were going to Mass, she suddenly became ill. I can still hear her whining, "I have a headache ... My stomach aches ...My throat hurts". Protesting she would enter the temple, and later would faint. Every Sunday, the same show! Still, Mom dragged her to church, and ignored her. At least when Mari Carmen passed out... she didn't answer back, and Mom saw it an opportune moment to sprinkle some Holy water over my sister. I also enjoyed a moment of peace, and any moment without my sister teasing me was something to be thankful for... Nevertheless, if she could have picked up her head from the floor once in while during Mass, she would have learned something, and consequently she would have done much better in a Catholic school.
I think most of the on going drama with the nuns and at home, was because, Mari Carmen, missed our father. After all, she was the apple of his eyes, and was spoiled rotten by him. And now... he was far, far away, in the land of tango and chimichurri. Argentina. I, on the other hand, had always been more attached to my mother, and did not feel that void. At least I thought so. Therefore, I was less problematic. But, my sister got more rebellious as the days passed. And so it came to be, that on this particular day, her teacher, Sister Margarita, not knowing what to do with her anymore, sent my sister straight to.... Mother Superior!
How my mother and I got to Mother Superior's office is a blur. But, what happened in that office I can see it as if it was yesterday. The three of us were sitting in front of Mother Teresa's desk. Mari Carmen seated to the left of my mother, and I to her right. My sister, bored with Mother Teresa's ongoing complaints, sat there, with her head tilted to one side, mouth ajar and big blue eyes, opened wide as in a trance, staring out the window. I was laughing inside, and kept my hand over my mouth. If seeing my sister in trouble was fun, her face was even funnier! The truth is, her expression reminded me of those lamb heads hanging at "Casqueria Oscar", the store where our Mom bought beef liver, wich she insisted we eat once a week, because it was good for us.
However, the best part was the long walk home. Mom held my hand, and the three of us walked at a fast pace, silently down the sidewalk. Suddenly, Mom stopped, turned to Mari Carmen, and looked straight into her eyes, and furiously said, as she, unaware, squeezed my hand more and more, "BUT how dare you say to Mother Superior Teresa, 'I WON'T CALL YOU MOTHER TERESA, BECAUSE MOTHER THERE IS ONLY ONE.... AND MY MOTHER'S NAME IS CARMEN!!' ... what were you thinking!!" She squeezed my hand even more, and added, "I don't know.... but, you will have to study something... WE'LL SEE!!". Thank God, she then let go of my throbbing hand, which I immediately put in my coat's pocket, and I was able to breath again. There was utter silence the rest of the way, except for our panting as we went up the four flights of stairs, and the sound of door 4-A slamming.
Mari Carmen went to her room, mom to the kitchen, and I in the little living room started playing with my Mountaineer Nancy doll, or was it Alpine Nancy? I don't know! Nor do I care now. It was my Nancy doll. A little while later, the unmistakable smell of simmering cauliflower began to fill the flat. My sister came out of her room to complain! I said to myself, oh, boy!! This is going to be good, she is complaining to Mom for making cauliflower again!, as I pretended to play with my Nancy... while I tuned my ears to what was about to happen.
My mother, set down the wooden mortar where she had mashed some garlic, stretched her arms against the kitchen's counter's border, and with a look of "I am fed up" replied, "Look Mari Carmen, your dearest father has not sent money this month either. And, this week I have to take you the dentist for another adjustment on those teeth that are taking longer to fix than a cathedral to be built. Furthermore, to pay Dr. Mañez, I have to sell another gold bracelet.... SO... you are eating CAULIFLOWER because it's what I can afford, and I don't want to hear anything you have to say!! Besides, it is really soft and it won't hurt for a mouth when you chew. Now go to your room and STAY there!!
I thought, Alright! She's back in her room. This time she should be staying a while without bothering us. GOOD! However, ten minutes later she stepped out of her room with an open notebook in hand, and said, "Mami...", but my mother quickly cut her off with, "Mari Carmen! Don't you understand that you are supposed to stay in your room?” My sister replied with enthusiam, "But.. Mami I got it! I think I could be a poet, and we will be rich!!"
-"Mari Carmen, PLEASE!"
-"Just listen to this!" She cleared her voice and began to read with a soft voice as she waived an arm in the air.
Eat cauliflower and you will see
What pain it will bring to thee!
It will not be the smell!
It will not be for it's taste!
For from this flower
No love for it will be born!
There was a period of silence. Mom and I, stood there with our jaws down to our knees, and not from awe at Mari Carmen's talent. My sister laughed. Although, this time, before one of Mom's flying shoes hit her, my sister ran to her room slammed the door, and stayed there.
That is... Until Mom called her to eat cauliflower.
By: Juana Aragon
This is my entry for my friend Jillsy's May Challenge. Please visit her wonderful blog at:
Thank you Jillsy, for giving me the opportunity to submit one of my favorite childhood memories!