Tuesday, May 17, 2016

El Velorio de Doña Mary

A "velorio" is a wake. In Puerto Rico (as in many Latin cultures) the body of the deceased is often laid out for viewing at home. Neighbors, friends and family gather to pay their respects or say last goodbyes. There is always food and often music. Crying, singing and laughter are all sounds heard at a velorio.
I remember going to my first one at around 5 years of age. Doña Mary (Mrs./Ms. Mary) lived two houses away from us. She was heavy-set and dark skinned with wiry wild hair. She was loud. Her voice, no matter how sweet her words, always sounded chastising. As a child, I was afraid of her. But my mother was not. My mother befriended Doña Mary and while neighbors steered clear of her she was often at our house. I can close my eyes and imagine myself looking out our front door and seeing the backs of Mom and Mary swinging on porch rocking chairs and chatting away over a strong cup of cafe negro.
Doña Mary's son lived with her. He was greasy and lazy...and abusive. I don't know whether she had other children or where they might have been but one day my mother received a phone call from, of all places, the morgue. Her number had been found as emergency contact in Doña Mary's wallet. She had been struck and dragged by a bus less than a mile from our homes and my mother was called down to identify her body. Not long after, we had to go pick up her belongings (or perhaps someone took up a collection, it was so long ago and I so young) from her place of work. She was a cafeteria lady at an elementary school. Much to my mother's surprise all of Mary's co-workers knew who she and I were when we arrived. She spoke to them about us as if we were her daughter and grandchild.

The imagery in this painting romanticizes her wake just a bit. Her house was drab and there were perhaps less flowers or ceremony. Unshakable, for some reason is the memory of mosquito netting draping over her casket to keep bugs at bay during what was probably a nearly-summer month. Unforgettable also is the fact that at the time Mom was unemployed and we did not have much money so we could not afford flowers from the florist. A Peace Lily plant (given to her by Doña Mary) had just come into bloom. Those were the flowers we took to the wake.

El Velorio de Dona Mary, acrylic and ink on canvas, 30" x 40". available

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