Odilia Rivera Santos
Music was a constant in my family.
My mother always loved music and admired artists more than anyone but not with the 'celebrity vulture' mentality. She loved their talent and felt it important to always keep track of who was performing in town.
I see a connection between my mother's love of music and the poverty in which she grew up; listening to music at the beach under the palm trees as the sun set was her carnival, dancing was her travel and being told she was the most beautiful woman in town was her wealth.
My mother from all accounts was a very beautiful, tall Black woman with flawless skin, kinky hair, long muscular legs, large breasts and a tiny waist -- all the requisites for Puerto Rican beauty.
She was very comfortable with her body -- she would yell at me wearing only a pair of panties and bra. I would look at my mother's body and wonder how you could have nine children and still look so new.
Now, to my surprise, my mother is an elderly woman who has suffered several brain hemorrhages due to unaddressed high blood pressure issues, her body has thinned, losing her glorious voluptuousness, and she is no longer tall. Her voice has become a whisper, and when we speak, she reminds me that I am lucky to look like her and she also mentions that I inherited her singing voice.
My mother Ramona had an amazing singing voice, and her speaking voice was also powerful and captivating; when my father was courting her, she would sit high up on a mango tree limb and sing. She would watch him look around, trying to find her because there were so many trees he couldn't discern from where his earthbound mermaid's voice came.
My mother would always make sure that we had money to go to a concert. As a child, I went to see El Gran Combo, Celia Cruz, Lucecita Benítez, Raphael, Tito Puente and on and on. This was my life before the English language. We listened to boleros from the 1920s to 1950s, Flamenco music, rancheras, salsa of course and romantic ballads that made us laugh. I especially loved to listen to Bomba and Plena; it was spiritual party music, the music of Afrocentric ritual and background to holiday celebrations and making pasteles.
Sometimes, my mother would hear a piece of music and she would clap her hands once as if to grasp a memory drifting by and the stories followed about where she was the first time she heard the song and whether it was B.E. or A.E. (before Ernesto or after Ernesto, my father)
We would stand on line at the Southern Boulevard theater with a lot of other displaced persons, mainly Puerto Rican, and talk about the trials and tribulations we had suffered to get tickets.
I was six when I took a good look at the building and thought how shabby and plain a package it was for an ethereal experience that brought us together and brought to us a respite from the feeling of loss we all felt in this new land.
She still loves to listen to music; the irritation of not being able to communicate anymore diminishes as she listens to music that made her jump and dance as a girl. Her soundtrack remains and continues to take her to carnival as she slips away.
ALTERNATE ENDING WITH MUSIC
I have rewritten my mother's life in the form of a fairytale; she is a benevolent, beautiful, strong, young powerful ruler who resides near the ocean without pain nor worry and she dances Bomba better than anyone you've ever seen.
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