As you can see, we have adorned the house with many flowers, many of which came from her garden which she tended while living here. For Mami flowers were as close to perfection as you could get, God’s gift to the world, a gift of bounty, beauty, and color. I think she planted plants and flowers and later turned feverishly to art as a way to manifest her joy of life and her radiance in material form.
This is all the more remarkable as her life, from childhood right to the end, was never easy. Adversities of war, death of loved ones, and especially her final decade of illness, sat close to her side. Despite the tribulations and trials of her life, she was the strongest person I knew, in body, will, and spirit. This ensured that she had the upper hand in life, enjoying it fully, building a life that has made Sylvia’s and my life richer and better, and always giving to others in small and large ways.
Many here knew first hand the spirit of care, excitement, and joy that I am speaking of: it was simply palpable with Mami, and would often hit you like a strong gust of wind. To honor this spirit, I would like to tell three short stories that encompass some of my most vivid memories of Mami and highlight what made her a special person. This will also allow me to give thanks to others who have helped in these last years.
When I was 4 or 5, like many children, one night I had a terrible, crushing ear ache. Late that night, the pain became so unbearable I woke up mother and she cradled me all night long, making sure to alleviate what was a child’s pain. This is one of my fondest memories of her. This was Vera as many mothers are: intensely caring, feeling the pain of their childing, and doing everything they can to alleviate hurt. I am not sure I ever provided the deep comfort she gave me then (and many other times) but I tried over these years. In the last number of years, many people provided care and comfort to her. Before going on to the other stories, I would like to thank those who have cared for Mami for the last many years.
First and foremost my sister Sylvia who lived with Mami here for many years must be thanked and honored. For many years, Sylvia and Mami had a complex and complicated relationship but if there is one silver lining to Mami’s illness is that because of it, they reached a state of peace. The one person Mami never forgot is Sylvia, calling her name even in her last days in the hospital and this is because of all the care and love Sylvia gave to Mami during her illness. It is fitting that she left with Sylvia’ memory.
I would also like to thank my partner M who, when he started dating me, did not exactly know what he was getting into with me and my family. We spent the summer of 2003 with Mami when her illness was starting. We spent every night with her, eating dinner, took her to the beach, and just spent a lot of time with her. I am glad he got to spend time with her when she was able to yak away as she so loved to do. As things went from bad to worse, M was always there to help, and always there to do something to make Mami laugh. It was incredible what he could do, though it often entailed cursing in Spanish or talking a lot about Russia. I could not have done this without him and I am eternally grateful.
Finally, Milagro, my mother’s caretaker for a few years, who could not be with her today, is like her name indicates, truly a miracle, pure and simple. She showed remarkable love, compassion, and patience with my mom, and we were beyond lucky to have her in our lives.
Ok now for the next story, perhaps my favorite:
When I was 15 Mami and I took a trip to Vieques where we visited the phosphorescence bay. Soon after arriving in the bay, a dolphin swam by our boat illuminating the already brilliant electric blue water. The minute the dolphin leaped and blew some spray out of its blow-hole, my mother, despite being fully clothed, threw herself into the water to join in the fun. This is just one example of many instances Mami’s free spirit dominated the moment. It sprung forth many times, touched many, and carried her through many tough times.
Finally, as many here know, when I was 17, I decided to live on a boat. Needless to say, Mami was less than thrilled, and right before I was bound to leave, she stole and hid my luggage�as any concerned mother should have done. I eventually convinced her to give me her blessing which she did and in May of 1991 I sailed away.
Given we could not talk on the phone, given there was no Internet, Mami decided to stay in touch with me by writing letters, and I mean lots and lots of them. A few months later after leaving, I received a gargantuan package with an enormously large stack of letters, for she wrote me everyday for about 6 weeks. Those letters represented how much a mother misses a daughter who leaves home for the first time. I now know what she felt, as I miss her and will continue to miss her always.
During that time, she also decided to hunt me down, rob me for a little bit for a whirlwind tour of Guatemala and Belize but she came without consulting me. One day while anchored in a remote town in Belize, I decided entirely by chance to use the satellite phone to call home. When I did, my dad was quite relieved I called because he let me know that Mami was about to show up to Belize to fetch me for a trip. Indeed, the very next day, she appeared standing on a small skiff zooming toward my ship, promptly whisked me away, and we went on a wonderful trip that included snorkeling in the beautiful coast of Belize, visiting the Mayan Temples of Tikal, and witnessing the burst of colors that is Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala.
She loved to travel and like a bird really was always roaming free. Much of her early childhood was one of roaming but not one of freedom as she was a war refugee in Europe between the ages of five and ten. Eventually she and her family found a permanent home in a small rural village in Venezuela. At 16, she left home to work in Caracas. Soon after she went to Florida to learn English. Soon after she took off to Italy to live there for two years. At some point she went to NYC to work as well. This is all the more remarkable given she was pulled out of school in the sixth grade to work on the land. She knew that there was more to the world than Venezuela and she took many opportunities to travel the world and build a colorful world with beauty and stability to compensate for a difficult childhood.
This is why she loved birds, many of which visited (and still visit) the flowers she planted here. She was never at home in any particular place and could not be controlled in any way, shape or form but had to roam free not only physically but in spirit as well. She was bed-bound for the last two years of her life, which is an important reminder that no matter how strong our will might be, we cannot always dictate the terms of our lives. But now that she has passed, I am sure her spirit is reigning free once again. I will miss you.