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An Abuela called Muñeca

Submitted by on May 7, 2011 – 5:23 am7 Comments
Teresa Dovalpage Cuban Family


Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010) and published here during Abuela Week at the Tiki Tiki. The essay also is the fifth of five essays celebrating Abuela’s during Mother’s Day week 2011 on the Tiki Tiki. To read the other essays, visit the intro essay.

Teresa DovalpageBy Teresa Dovalpage

Introduction: Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family, started as a memoir. I tried to write as much as I could remember about my childhood in the Cuba of the ’60s and ’70s, but when I sent some chapters to my mother, who still lives in Havana, she was angry, casi me come viva over the phone!

She argued that she had never cheated on my father nor changed her political ideas the way I was presenting it … and ended up calling me a liar and una cochina in all the senses of the word. True, I had tried to spice things up a bit — maybe too much. Reality can be so bland and uninteresting! That was when I realized I had to turn it into fiction But I kept lots of autobiographical material. The chapters about my grandmother, Muñeca, are mostly carbon copies of reality…

Afternoon Affair

My grandma’s name was Eugenia but everybody called her Muñeca (Doll) because of her good looks.

When she was in her early fifties, she didn’t seem one day over forty. She kept her brown hair waist-long and was the proud owner of a mountain-like ass, un culo piramidal, which she wiggled conceitedly.

She never took me to the neighborhood park where the other grandmothers got together to gossip, knit and exchange recipes. Muñeca refused to be around old people. “Wrinkles are contagious,” she claimed.

She also hated the boys in roller skates that came dangerously close to her high-heeled shoes. She preferred to go to Coppelia, Havana’s most renowned ice cream parlor. It was in El Vedado and we needed to take several buses to get there. But Muñeca didn’t mind the trip.

In Coppelia she met a guy named Ramoncito and they laughed and held hands while we waited in line. Ramoncito was bald, in his forties, and constantly complained about la vieja,
a nagging woman who was, no doubt, his wife.

After having a sundae or a banana split, the three of us walked to Antonio Maceo Park. My grandma and Ramoncito sent me to play with other children and they retreated to a bench sheltered by overgrown bushes.

“Run, jump, find someone to play with,” Muñeca said. “You need to get some fresh air! And don’t come back until I call you. Anda!”

I tried to obey her but ended up playing alone most of the times since I was too shy to approach other kids. And yet, that was more interesting that staying home. Though I was barely five years old, I realized that some illicit hanky-panky was going on there. But it never bothered me. On the contrary, being a witness to my grandma’s affair made me feel special, smart and secretly powerful.

The only thing I didn’t like about Antonio Maceo Park was the presence of carrion birds, las auras tiñosas that 14 circled overhead because there was a garbage dump nearby. They had featherless red heads and yellowish feet and didn’t seem afraid of people. I hid among the
bushes when they began to fly too low.

Don’t call me Grandma

Muñeca had established two strict rules about our Coppelia outings. I wasn’t supposed to call her “grandma” in front of Ramoncito, but “aunt.” “I am Tía Eugenia, remember. Or just Muñeca. Don’t embarrass me.”

And I was to keep mum about Ramoncito. “Don’t ever mention him to your mother or to Ponciano, hear?” she warned me. It was a family habit to add the word “hear?” at the end of sentences when important matters were discussed.

“I know that!” I replied, offended. Despite Ponciano’s opinion, I didn’t consider myself a snitch.

The furtive visits to Coppelia went on for years. I ate chocolate, vanilla and mango ice cream coated with the piquant sauce of forbidden love. When Ma mère asked where we had been for so long, my grandma always had a good excuse ready.

The most common one was that she had taken me to a gathering sponsored by Los Pioneritos (The Little Pioneers) where they taught kids to march and to sing revolutionary songs.

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana, Cuba in 1966 and presently lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she teaches Spanish and literature at UNM-Taos. Teresa has a Ph.D. in Latin American literature and is the author of five novels — three in Spanish and two in English. She also has written a collection of short stories in Spanish and is a playwright. Read more about her at her site, her Spanish blog, and her English blog.

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