Christmas Past. 1973. I am 20.
Mother stares wide-eyed at the humongous Christmas basket. With her good left hand she turns the basket around, being careful not to tear the cellophane cover as she peers through it, checking the contents of the basket. My young brother, Basil, squats on the floor beside the basket. He touches the cellophane wrap but Mother slaps his arm and he promptly withdraws his hand.
"I'm just looking," he says smiling.
"Then just look."
"Open it," I tell her.
"No, the wrapping is so pretty. It's so nice to look at," she protests.
"Are you going to just stare at it until everything gets spoiled or eaten by ants?"
Mother smiles. Before she could stop me, I yank the glittery ribbon and it comes off along with the fake berry and holly trimmings and they fall on the floor.
"There," I say. "There's a box of Belgian truffles..." I hand her the box. "A can of cashew nuts." She promptly grabs it and places the can on her lap, her paralized right arm protecting it.
As I take out each item, she grabs what she likes and puts it on her lap. Those that she doesn't want to save she hands to my brother. When we finish, only four items can be eaten or used right away, the rest of the goodies ended on her lap.
"Can we have chocolate marble ice cream for tonight?" she asks.
"Ice cream, for Noche Buena?" I say. "You know I can't have anything cold in the evening. My stomach will...."
"Then don't eat it!" she cuts me off.
"Besides, we have ice cream cake in the freezer."
"But I want chocolate marble."
Since my mother had a stroke and became paralyzed a few years ago, I sometimes find myself in reversed roles with her: I the mother and she the child. But it's hard to say no with those wide eyes pleading at you, or the look of resignation that bears just a slight hint of pout.
And so I take a twenty-peso bill from my pitaka and tell Basil to go and get a large tub of chocolate marble ice cream. He goes off with my two younger sisters, Leng and Wowie, with three of the neighborhood kids, as if they were off to a big excursion.
When they come back, they have two large containers of ice cream.
"Two? Don't I get any change?" I ask holding my hand out for change.
Basil shakes his head. "The other one," he says, "is Rocky Road." I sneer at him. "But, it's your favorite!"
"I like that, too," Mother interjects.
And so the family ends up that Christmas eve having spaghetti and ice cream. I eat the spaghetti. The rest of them have spaghetti and ice cream.
Saturday April 22nd, 2017
10 hours ago