The act of cooking for my grandmother was one of communion with her roots, with her spirits and with her family. Many in the family chose to ridicule her for being a devout believer in Spiritism while at the same time staying true to her Catholic roots. She saw no compromise in striding that religious fence to her spirit was spirit. I remember how she would sing the Hail Mary whenever she lost something. I would giggle at her singing, not because she could not carry a tune, but because it was strange to think that a Catholic prayer could act as a charm. For a charm it was, she would sing that song and things that were lost started to appear. Now, I catch myself doing the same unconsciously when I misplace something, and I think of her, my heart feels her, my spirit is caressed by her memories and what was lost shows up.
With Abuela Gloria I learned that every act, however simple could carry spiritual meaning. For her it was almost an apostolate to share the table with family, friends an anyone who in general was hungry for a steaming bowl of stew or simply for company and a few kind words to forget for a while the weight of every day affairs.
My first lessons in the kitchen came from her. I was a keen observer of her techniques. She valued waking up early in the morning, before the sun came up. I would sit at her little kitchen table and watch her peel mounds of root vegetables, onions, garlic, sweet squash, peppers and many other ingredients. Between her peeling veggies and sipping on hot coffee, she would tell me stories of her ancestors, about the sugar plantation her father Juan used to have when she was little, about her Sunday rides in father’s Ford–one of he first ones to arrive to the east coast of the Island. But most of all she liked to thank the heavens above for having survived the ferocity of the Hurricanes that shaped and reshaped the face of Puerto Rico such as San Felipe, San Ciprían and Santa Clara her favorite trio of deadly storms. By the time she was done with her stories, the kitchen was clean, the pot boiling and the aroma of seasoned pork, beef and veggies would invite the family to wake up to a new day.
Her door was always open to listen, her table always had a place set and there was always bread to break and soup to share. The words diet or fattening were not part of our vocabulary of then. We all knew her Sancocho was healthy, made with love and most of all it could make you break in a sweat and even wake up the dead.
I know she can feel me now, even the very act of typing at outrageous speeds I learned from her (she was the fastest typist I had seen). Abuela Gloria, your words have not been forgotten, your recipe still feeds my family, your devotion to Spiritism survives in our practices. You have a place of honor in our Eggun Shrine and in my Bóveda for you are intertwined with the strong roots that support our tree, my feet rest upon your shoulders, my heart rests upon your spirit hands.
The dead do not diet.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá