Monday, July 25, 2011

One About Doña Charo

In my mother-in-law’s wedding photos, she looks scared, and determined, and too young, and beautiful. She was. She was seventeen, and a long way from the isolated village in Chiapas where she grew up. She had only worn shoes for the first time three years earlier.

She’s the oldest of seven. From the time she learned to walk, she was taking care of babies. There was never enough of anything but tortillas and kids and hard work and good hard trancazos for anyone who didn’t obey. Her father grew corn, and most years, sold the harvest in the city and then spent the profits on prostitutes and liquor. Her mother took in washing and scrubbed till her fingers bled.

She had to leave school after third grade, even though she wanted to study. There wasn’t enough money even to buy her pencils, much less clothes. One of her small brothers wore, for an entire year, nothing but a man’s button-down shirt that hung to his ankles. Her own dresses were lengths of cheap fabric chopped into rough dress shape with a machete. They didn’t own a pair of scissors.

She came to Salina Cruz as a teenager to live with a godmother and learn to be a seamstress. When she met her future husband, she had one question for him: “How many children would you expect your wife to have?” He said “One or two,” so she married him. Ten months after the wedding, she had Ibis; five years later, Patricia. Plenty.

She’s still beautiful, with lips any Revlon model would envy, and a smile so dazzling you don’t notice there’s a tooth missing towards the back until you’ve known her for a long time. There are lines on her face, but they’re lines of sadness and worry and laughter and resignation, not bitterness. She loves her parents, despite everything. She loves her husband, even though she didn’t, when she married him; now they go to prayer group together, and they make each other laugh. She loves her children, and her children-in-law and grandchildren, passionately. She cries more frequently than anyone I know.

Lest I appear to idealize her, let me say that she does, on occasion, drive me crazy. Still, she’s come through years of privation and pain and putting herself last, with her heart in working order—and not all her siblings were able to do that. She’s had to be strong every single day of her life.

She’s pretty amazing.

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