La limpieza y el orden were guiding principals for the way Agueda organized her life and that of those around her. Every morning when it was time to shower she made sure I did not just lather up, but also scoured my skin from head to foot with a rough rounded stone half the size of my palm. Often she did it for me, it felt sometimes like it was taking the top layer of my skin away while I turned a rosy pink from head to foot in contrast with the hard white tile. After my shower, she would do my hair. She sat me down in front of and old fashioned mirrored dresser and combed my hair until all hints of snarls were gone. She then gathered my hair all together in her hand and pulled it back into a pony tail making sure not a single strand or wisp escaped her grip, once secured with elastic held in place by bright round hair bobbles, she pulled the hair even tauter, till it hurt; then she smoothed the hair again with the comb and began to apply copious amounts of hair spray pumped by a black round rubber bulb squeezed between her fingers. The hair on my head acquired a hard texture, thus ensuring that not even so much as a hair would find its way loose during the course of the day.
Agueda’s sala was sacrosanct space; no one was allowed in it during the day. All of the furniture was encased in clear plastic to preserve it and for easy cleaning. The TV was an old style wooden console that sat against one wall decorated with embroidered doilies. In the evening we would enter the living room and under her observant eye and watch TV. I marveled at how the actors could actually have gotten inside the TV screen. I hypothesized that before we came into the room in the evening, they stealthily opened up the back and of the TV and got in and that then they either shrunk in size once they were in there so they would fit or that perhaps there was some dimensional shift once they entered the TV and that they were able to walk far back so they looked smaller.
Café con leche y pan dulce
Just before bedtime Agueda and I would enjoy a quiet moment in her kitchen at the back of the house and drinking café con leche, which was much more leche than café. The café amounted to just enough Nescafé to flavor the hot milk, served up on a brightly colored cup and saucer. She also laid out pan dulce we had ceremoniously picked out and placed on our tray with metal tongs at the neighborhood panadería. My favorite was the concha de chocolate which is a rounded roll about six inches in diameter decorated with a shell-patterned topping of flour, sugar, shortening and chocolate. I imitated her actions, breaking the bread and dipping it in the hot liquid, savoring it in my mouth for a moment, sucking the liquid from the bread, before sipping the café con leche to wash it down.
Every Summer, almost as soon as I arrived, Agueda gave me a brown scapular on a satin cord with the image of El Sagrado Corazón y un santo like San Martín de Porres inside to wear around my neck inside my clothes. She repeated this ritual of the escapulario every time I came to stay with her. She made sure I was protectegida in this way. También se aseguró I knew how to kneel down and pray by the side of my bed before tucking me in for the night. She taught me how to address the La Virgen, Madre de Dios and Jesus for blessing and divine intercession for family and loved ones. When my mother was sick two years ago, I learned, this is a gift and an art you can use when there is nothing else left to do.