Last week went- as expected. A triangle route that allowed me to touch down in the two cities that I have grown up more closely to: Monterrey, where I was born and spent the first 29 years of my life- and Chihuahua (where my parents were born, where they met and where my sister was born some years later.
I knew that my mother had made serious progress selling anything from trinkets to furniture, but I didn’t expect to see the house almost empty. I arrived on a Wednesday. There were exactly 5 large plates, half a dozen bowls, some plastic cups, some cutlery items and some disposable forks and spoons left in the kitchen pantry. For cooking, 2 pans left and –of course- the griddle used to warm up tortillas or grill sandwiches. That is pretty much it.
I thought of it drastic at first, then quickly did the math and realized we (my mom and I) had only 3 days left in the house. Plus, the moving company expected everything to be packed and ready to load by Friday, 7 am.
There were only the necessary bath towels left out, same for toiletry items. The fridge and freezer were pretty decent, which gave me some comfort. There were several home-made meals that the cook had made for us for those last days. I gladly ate that for dinner that Wednesday, plastic fork and all. It was delicious.
My mom had 2 hangers left in her closet with 2 perfectly matched outfits. One for Thursday, one for Friday. That afternoon, one of my mom’s best friends came to visit. She came often, always unannounced and bearing gifts- always. She is like an Auditor that does surprise visits to “check-in” and supervise the mood in the house, and specially, in my mom’s mind and heart. She is a true pleasure to chat with. My Dad adored her. She has what the kids would call a “potty mouth” which makes her even more fun and unique that she already is speaking “clean”. Her loyalty and friendship with my mom over the last 50 years is something than I envy. It is the kind of friendship you read about or see in a movie set. I know she has been as sad as my mom with the news of her departure and had visited more often since my Dad died. That afternoon she showed up with very sad eyes, smelling of her usual Carolina Herrera, looking great still. She put on a smile when I opened the door for her, a smile that seemed to carry weight and was not effortless.
She stayed there for a good 2 hours and broke down crying a bit with the disguise of some family troubles – but I knew in my heart the source of her tears. I was pretty edgy and vulnerable too so I went along with the family troubles conversations.
That afternoon she brought my mother a beautiful blouse to wear the next day, at her Farewell luncheon with all her friends.
My mom and I went to bed that night with a decent dose of sleeping pills – both of us-. There was too much going on in our heads. The next morning, we snuggled in her bed for a while and chatted and laughed and talked about the plans for that day. I made fun of her – as usual- for stroking my head on the same spot, as if she was going to dig a hole in my skull with her fingernails. “You are horrible! You need to try better, come on!” I told her as I rearranged my head by her side and she laughed hard.
That day she had a farewell lunch party at a nice seafood restaurant just minutes away from the house. Twenty ladies or so attended. All her friends from the times she married to the latest ones she met later in life. Some got emotional and could not say good bye so with a “See you soon” they parted with glassy eyes and quickly turned on their heels. Some clearly did not want to go, so they stayed after lunch, after dessert, after coffee, and after the lunch crowd had gone and there was almost no one left.
Some just dealt with it, got their strength from their gut, said their goodbyes, expressed their good wishes and hugged her tight.
They took turns posing next to her for a picture “just with her”. It was adorable. They all dressed up very nicely for the occasion. I hope I look as good as them in my 70s! I was the one that felt like a boring librarian with my tight low ponytail to control my curls and lots of gel to accomplish it (I felt like I had glue on my head) and I wore almost no makeup- not in the mood.
My brother, his wife and their eldest son arrived that afternoon. They drove from their home some 8 hours to be there that weekend.
That night we had almost no food left in the fridge so we ordered Sushi for dinner. We all sat at the dining table, felt relaxed and nervous at the same time, but if my brother is EVER present in a group, there is guaranteed laughter, fun and good times. I was so thankful for his presence, so happy that he was there. We realized that is was our “last supper” in the house. We took a selfie in remembrance and sent it to my sister, the only one missing.
That night, we did the last packing that was left, which included disconnecting the last Television in my mom’s bedroom. So we went to bed with no sound but our voices. Our conversation. I thought of my Dad and wondered if he would approve of everything we had done since the day he left this world and I said to myself: “Yes, he would”. I know he blindly trusted my little brother, as if he was the eldest of us 3, and he has been the guide and executioner of all the big decisions we have made together since December 14th 2016.
I went to bed that night exhausted; the moving company confirmed the truck would come between 6 30 am and 7 am that Friday.
At 6 am I woke up. It was still a bit dark. I quietly left the room so not to wake my mother up. I had heard noises from my brother being up too. I could not find him but realized he had already taken a shower in what used to be his bathroom, even though he did not spend the night in that room.
I went to visit my father’s garden again, then laid down on the living room couch in complete silence and closed my eyes. I thought about all the things that had taken place in that house, good and bad. All the people that over the years felt so comfortable in it. The parties, the celebrations, the study groups when we attended high school and college. The sleepovers. The many Christmas dinners served. I remembered my father’s 50th birthday party. How we danced to together to Mexican Mariachi music. He had been so happy that day. His extended family had come all the way from Chihuahua to attend. I even remember what I was wearing.
I remembered the many cakes I baked in that kitchen. Many breakfasts with my Dad on Sundays. On that couch I was laying, my Dad used to sit every single morning to read the paper, and many mornings he sat there at 5 or 6 am while I opened the door and tiptoed inside after a night of partying hard.
The look in his face was one of anger, frustration and worry. “Where were you? It is 6am!!!” He would yell at me. My poor dad. I felt terrible realizing I made him go through hell wondering if I would make it home all right.
I found myself not crying but with a heartbeat so fast and hard I could hear it. It was past 6 30am. The sound of the busy street started getting louder. Probably moms and dads going to the gym, carpooling with kids in their vans, and then I heard it. A low droning big engine making its way to our house. I heard it 3 blocks away, and as it got louder I grew angrier. I went outside to “spy” through the fence still in my pajamas. The big moving truck had parked across the street. I ran inside to find my brother. I found him in all serenity resting next to his son who was still asleep.
“The truck is here” I announced. He slowly got up and I hugged him. “Let’s just leave them outside and not open the door” I suggested, and we both laughed. I had knots it my throat and stomach by then but a very busy day lay ahead of us.
After that, the loading of the truck went pretty fast. Boxes first, then couches and mattresses, then my mother’s beloved plants and last my mom’s van.
The movers had warned me that the truck got very hot during transport and the plants might not make if after the 12-15 hour trip. But my mom has a very special relationship with her plants and I knew it meant the world to her to take the big ones with her, to what would be, her new home.
So we decided to chance it.
By 11 30 am the truck was packed and ready to go. I signed the inventory list, still angry at the movers, just for being there. I stood at the driveway watching the tuck roll away with my home in it. I know it wasn’t but that is what it felt like.
More people came to buy furniture, mini splits, window AC units, smaller plants, the dining room set.
Several of my closest cousins and my brother’s wife came to spend time with us that morning, to offer help, even packing. But there was nothing left to do. Their company is what helped, I did NOT want to be alone in the remains of the house. My mother and brother had left to take care of legal matters so I appreciated the company.
There was not a chair left so we sat on the floor to chat.
The lady that cooked for my parents for the last 30 years or so could barely talk. She was so saddened by it all. She later told me that she already worked with my parents when they moved in to that house and it was empty because they had no furniture yet. 1971 that was. The year I was born. “Now I see it all empty again” she said crying through her words.
When all the rooms were cleared I saw all the dust that comes out of places one usually never cleans, I immediately grabbed a broom and started sweeping the floors. The new owner of the house (a developer that will soon demolish it and build a gorgeous new 2 story home) would soon come to receive the keys and have a walk through to verify the bones of the house. “Why do you sweep? What is the use? “ She asked me. I replied ”because the house looks very dirty and my Dad would hate anyone to see it like this.” She smiled but did not reply. Her silence was one of respect. That’s it.
As she left, she took with her some cooking pans and other kitchen items. I helped her out into an Uber and sent her home with a big hug and a promise to be in touch and give updates of the new home. She never stopped crying softly.
By 2pm I realized that I had not had breakfast. I was feeling light headed and to top it off, there was a heat wave which made temperatures rise to the 40’s (Celsius).
My cousins that I refer to as our Angels, and my sister in law, who truly is like a sister, offered to join me for a late lunch at a restaurant nearby called Los Mostos.
As we were eating I suddenly realized we did not have much time left before we had to go to the airport. We rushed through the meal and went home. I met there again with my mom and brother. I packed up my bag and a few minutes later I was picked up to head to the airport.
I rode with my mother’s sister. My mom rode with my dear cousin that had been so close to her these past months. She is without a doubt the one that was closest to my Dad, his favorite niece if I can call her anything. They spoke the same language, they had been through very similar life experiences. They truly loved each other. So she is the one that offered to take my mom. We were all to meet later at the airport.
Once checked in, the time came to say good bye to my beloved cousins and for my mother and her sister to say good bye. “We have never been apart” she had said to me on our way to the airport with sad moist eyes. And I realized it was true. Other than one or two years of college, they had lived in the same city before and after marriage.
My mother broker down crying hard in her wheelchair as her sister stood next to her and tenderly held her red faced head in her chest. “I will go visit to Chihuahua” she promised. And I know she will, but it will not be the same.
This was the end of a stage, of a phase, of a part in my mother’s life and the beginning of a new one, as a widow.
I could not watch them for long, it was heartbreaking to put it mildly. I turned away to be strong and think of all the good things that would come, eventually.
After giving them a few minutes I leaned down and asked her “Are you ready Mom?” She nodded, so I took the chair after a quick hug to my aunt and rolled away into the Security area.
Two minutes later my mom and I went to see the jewelry display at the shopping area. She has a “thing” for jewelry so that got her attention. She then ate her Torta from Los Mostos that she had been carrying since 4pm. She was starving!
We boarded the plane and took off on a one way trip to Chihuahua. I was seated next to her but with the center aisle between us. So I could not hold her and hug her when she cried during that flight. I put myself in her position and though about the implications of this move. She left behind her adopted hometown of 50 years. A network of closely knitted friends that showed respect and admiration for so long. She left the city in which she lived many experiences with her husband. She left a house which took years of my father’s work to pay and where she raised 3 kids. A house in which she put her heart and soul decorating, redecorating and remodeling. She left behind a part of her life that ended just recently with my Dad. I looked at her from the corner of my eye, her profile exactly like my grandmothers. I looked at her holding her head up high, eyes closed. And I felt so proud of her and but I could also feel her pain.
Tomorrow will be the beginning of a new life for her- I thought, and mine too.
I also left behind a house I would never ever see again since in a week or so it will be no more. I left a city which I will now visit on rare occasion. I left behind the streets where I learned how to drive, the places I went out to dinner with my Mom and Dad, I left behind the little bit I had left that connected me to Monterrey: my parent’s home.
But now, when I will feel that need to reconnect with my family, my origins and it will be fulfilled in Chihuahua, where my mother is. Because, like I said in the beginning Home is where the Mom is.