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  • Kim Idol

Rosa


“Rosa’s dead. Don’t be a dick. Call Mom.” --a birthday greeting to me from my sister. She sounded exactly like Dad, who would have delivered this kind of news just this way but who also used to say that birthdays were the only holidays that mattered.


“All the other holidays are bullshit,” he told us. He didn’t mean it, and frankly, I always wondered what the hell he meant? Were the holidays competing? What did he mean when he said: “mattered”? I was six at the time, and I remember thinking that Christmas ought to be defended. If we were prioritizing holidays, then some weren’t going to make the cut. So Easter, was it really necessary? Was Arbor Day out of the picture?


Dad disliked Rosa, and he was wrong there. Rosa balanced out the bad in our home and she knew how to make things grow. She moved in just after my youngest sister, the author of the dick email, had been born, just as my parents were divorcing. I was eight at the time, the oldest of four. In one year, we had lost our grandfather, our home, moved, started new schools, and learned to live on much less, which is easier when you are kids, and the whole world is a playground, despite the lack of amenities. Cardboard chairs and tables are easily transformed into blanket forts and sleds. Unterraced hillsides allow for fantasy hobo adventures. And bicycles set you free no matter where you live.


Mom couldn’t pay Rosa much to start. We lost access to marital assets because Dad shunted them all into his mother’s keeping and Mom needed a new job because to continue working side by side with her ex was out of the question (family business). I suspect that the two women brokered an agreement so that once we became financially stable, Rosa would be recompensed. While Mom built a new career, Rosa raised us and managed our homelife.


I remember that Rosa’s bedroom was a celebration of blue, blue walls, blue quilts, and blue curtains, and she had Catholic icons scattered about. I don’t remember having issues with her faith or her having issues with the fact that we weren’t Catholic. Her faith was personal and kind and we only cared that she loved us.


Immigrating to the U.S. from El Salvador, where the citizenry was dodging gunfire and starving, Rosa didn’t speak English and had never left home before leaving Salvador forever. She arrived legally, had her passport stolen by the first man to hire her, and then met the woman who had been our maid on a bus. That woman was leaving. She introduced Rosa to Mom.


From the start, Rosa always knew what was going on in our lives all the time, even after we became teenagers and started keeping secrets. She cooked, administered discipline, woke us up and sent us to bed, and cared for the baby, who learned to speak Spanish before anyone else. She had a green thumb and grew flowers, herbs and made ferns last. Philodendron vines wound all around the walls of our house. Rosa wiped butts, stopped fights, handed out Kleenex, tended sick kids who all got ill at once, served salads as the last course of any meal, made the best salsa and refried beans on the planet, made a kind of sweet cornbread and is responsible for the fact that I hate rice and love corn tortillas. What the eff is it with flour tortillas anyway? She would not let people with colds eat cold food, which meant no ice cream, taught us songs in Spanish, and was my mother’s friend. Her grandchild was named after my mother and my other sister. She came to my wedding and looked ageless to me.


I still have chicken shaped salt and pepper shakers and a painting of a village set at the base of purple mountains that she gave me years ago. She was one of the few adults I trusted. When she said she loved us, I knew she meant it.


I attended the Catholic rites for her last week in a church where I was the only one who didn’t speak Spanish well, but I got the gist. I will always love her. Lucky me.

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