Today is my great aunt’s 90th birthday.  She makes 90 look like the new 70, may be even the new 62-ish.  Of course, she’s never married or had children ha!  She stopped coloring her hair some years ago; if she still did that, she’d look 60-ish, hands down.

Tita is cute.  We have called her Tita Marta since forever, and when I was little I thought Tita was her first name.  She cooks a mean guiso de maiz, a delicious corn stew a lo cubano. She’s funny about food, though.  She hates leftovers, and for some unknown reason cannot bear containers full of these in her fridge; whether the covered Tupperware contains mac and cheese from a box, or the red snapper special from Islas (the best!), she wants it out. If you’re coming over tomorrow and plan on having it, put your name on it; otherwise, she will toss it when you’re not looking. Or she’ll push it on any neighbor that wanders by.  You may be thinking that’s some bad shit she’s trying to get rid of, but you could not be more wrong.  Honestly, I have seen her do it.  Delicacies from La Panera Bakery that were absolutely scrumptious but  one more bite of which we simply could not handle–out they go.  She’s the anti-hoarder on the block.

This pisses my sister off no end.

The other thing that pisses my sister off no end is Tita’s approach to cooking in general.  Perhaps driven by the anti-hoarding mentality (there mustn’t be any leftovers!), she skimps on stuff.  So my sister shows up for a planned dinner: Tita, my sister, and my sister’s daughter.  They sit down for salad and spaghetti, and there are exactly–exactly–three carefully measured portions.  Want more salad?  Sorry.  More spaghetti?  There’s one long lone noodle in the pan.

Tita wears socks, even in the summer.  She goes to daily Mass.  She can’t answer your texts, but gets a kick out of them nonetheless.  She pretends she’s the French lady and talks up a storm that sounds really good, although it is pure gibberish.

Tita sang in la choral de Cuba, and she’s very proud of that.  She enjoys her music, but mostly listens to classical–I can’t get her to into our homegrown salsa to save her life.

Tita’s leaving-Cuba story is interesting, too.  We left first, and went to NY.  Later, she  left along with my Abuela and Titita (my grandmother’s sister), but their visas were for Jamaica, where they remained for several months before leaving for Miami.  Interesting huh?  I wonder what that was like.  Even more interesting is that I found out over the years that a “friend”  paid their way and made the connections for them to stay with a family.  The friend was a married man, Tita’s amigo.  She told me herself like it didn’t mean anything.  Bullshit, I say. Of course it means something. But whatever it means, it is either hermetically sealed in a Tupperware container somewhere, or long ago tossed in the trash bin. The stories we carry . . .

In later years when we were all reunited in Florida, Tita lived next door to us with Abuela and Titita.  I love those memories.  Cousins would come from Chicago in the summer and we’d all sleep in Tita’s living room before heading out to a Miami Beach hotel.  We were crowded and cramped on the sofa and those little metallic cots, and we had a ball.  We’d turn out the lights, tell spooky stories, making eerie sounds.  We’d laugh till our stomachs hurt, until we were so sure Fern had made the last ghoulish cry, only he hadn’t, and then it wasn’t so funny.

Then came the ghoulish cry again–from behind a mask right at Tita’s bedroom door.

Love you, Tita.

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