Maribel’s Cadillac

I am reposting this story in honor of Mother’s Day! This is for all  moms out there, and the ones not with us any longer. We love our mothers and bless yours if she is still with you!  HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!!

MARIBEL’S CADILLAC

 Roberto was planning a huge surprise for Abuelita  Mirabel’s 82nd birthday. We were all gathered around them in their tiny apartment on the 10th floor. It was spring and I remember Abuela always mentioning how she missed her cherry red tricycle she had gotten passed down from her older siblings. She said she road that thing until it fell apart. I think it was more that she rode it until she out grew it and then she got a bike.

We were all excited as Abuelo’s dark brown eyes danced in glee; Abuelita had always told me her husband of 55 years couldn’t keep a secret to save his life-all she has to do was look in his eyes to know he was up to something. That’s the way it was on that breezy April afternoon. The ocean air was  caressing the white lace curtains Abuelita had hung in the living room filled with Colombian artifacts. We were all there; Berto,Tito, Amparo who had flown in from Miami to celebrate Abuelita’s day and Paco.

I had volunteered  to make arroz con pollo– a rice and chicken dish Abuela had taught me to make when I was in my teens; and when  had finally caught the hang of it, Abuelita would tell everyone that I made it better than she. I’d always chuckle , thinking, yeah right. Tito, the baker in the family had made a wonderful ponque negro for dessert; which I still haven’t a clue as to what ingredients go into making such a tasty treat. Amparo and I cleared the dishes at the end of the meal and we brought in Tito’s cake with a single lit candle on it. Abuelita had requested one candle saying that her mature lungs wouldn’t be able to blow out 82 candles all at once.

While we sat there chatting  and enjoying ourselves, Abuelo rose from his chair at the head of the table and cleared his throat,

” Bueno  pues,well then, is the birthday girl ready for  my gift?” We all stood up to see-anticipation burst forth from the room much like sun beams pour forth in the early morning at dawn.

” Close your eyes querida, darling,” Abuelo told Abuelita in his usual warm tone of voice he used only with her. She was always such a good sport and she played along.

” No peeping, vida mia,my love,” Abuelo said with a twinkle in his eye. He tip-toed to the spare bedroom as he told us to keep an eye on her to make sure she wasn’t cheating. A few seconds later he rolled it out. She was a cherry red 3 wheel Summit bike. The black seat was soft and it even had a white basket in the rear. We all oohed and ahhed as Abuelo kept shushing us. He had put a huge pink satin bow  on the handle bars.

” Uno, dos, tres…open your eyes Maribel!  feliz cumpleaños Happy Birthday!” Abuelita turned in her soft beige easy chair next to the front window and she giggled like a little girl. Her blues eyes beamed like the 2 light houses they’d always been and she clapped her wrinkled, spotted fragile hands.

” I must ride it tonight, Roberto!” She exclaimed. We all sensed the urgency in her delicate voice

” By all means, Maribel,vamonos,let’s go!!!” We all hugged and kissed our grandmother and then I brought out her blue Keds and tied them for her.

” Do you think I’ll remember how to ride? It’s been years since I had a bike,” Abuela asked us nervously.

No te afanes, don’t worry,” Amparo encouraged her,” We know you can do it!”

We helped Abuelo take the bike down on the elevator and unto the street. When Abuela came down, we took several pictures of her on her “Cadillac” ,as she had already chosen to name it.

The the 4 of us gran kids watched in awe as our  abuelos, grandparents rode down the pier to watch the setting sun; this evening in particular the glorious display of colors in the sky seemed to have an extra something special to it. Nature performed a longer than usual light show to end such a sweet day. They rode side by side holding hands as if they were young lovers who had just discovered each other.

Paco looked at me and said,” Jeez, does love like theirs exist anymore?” The rest of us looked out at them, not answering Paco’s question. None of us knew what that was like.

” If it happened with them, then why won’t that happen for us right?!” I offered lamely as we all chuckled anxiously.

A few days went by and Abuelo called Berto with the news  and Berto called me right away. I was busy with a term paper for my economics class. When I heard Abuelita was gone from us my hearts shattered. Abuelita had been fighting lymphatic cancer for several years and a mighty warrior she had proved to be. All I could think of was how must Abuelo be taking this since she had been the only woman he ever gave his heart to. I pushed my work aside forcefully on my kitchen table and I sped over to see him. Luckily, he lived less than 10 blocks from my place.

When I met him at his door, he looked like a lost little boy. I wrapped my sun tanned arms around him and suddenly my life long hero felt fragile and in need of a hero himself. We sat in the mint green floral couch by the bay window and I held him for a long time. Words weren’t forth coming-they would have not helped-they would have gotten in the way.

In the middle of the room was Abuelita’s 3 wheeler. Abuelo had been staring at it this whole time. I squeezed his hand tightly in mine. I felt like a giant compared to him. Is this what happens?, I wondered.

Tu le diste su ultimo deseo, viejo, you gave her,her last wish Grandpa,” I said trying to assure him. He knew that-the words were more for my benefit.

” Sell it and keep the money,” was his response.  I didn’t question it. For the next few day I helped him get everything together for Abuela’s funeral. I placed ads on Craig’s List because Abuelo asked me to take care of things.

A few months after Abeula’s passing the only thing left of her belongings was her “Cadillac”. I suggested to Abuelo that maybe he should keep it and he insisted no. I even thought of buying it from him; but then I’d never find the time to enjoy it and it would just be in my place collecting dust. Abuelo said the right person would come for it.

One afternoon in the early summer the maintenance man came to change out an AC unit that had gone bad, in the back bedroom. He appeared to be in his 40’s and was tanned from all the running around he did on the property in his golf cart. I had seen him many times before, in and out of Abuelo’s apartment and Abuela told me Dave was her favorite maintenance man. I’d tease her about her crush and we’d giggle like teen school girls. We had moved the “Cadillac” into the spare bedroom. Dave came out after a few minutes and said,

“Excuse me, I’m not trying to be nosy, could you tell me where you got that bike?”

” Oh yeah, my grandpa bought it for my grandma’s 82nd birthday,” I responded.

“” How nice,” he said, still eyeing it.

I offered,” He’s selling it because she just passed away a few months back.”

Dave’s eyes brightened a little,” Sorry for your loss.” He paused, glancing in the bike’s direction once more and I thanked him. Then he returned to working on the AC. An hour later he  finished and he came to the kitchen where I was packing boxes of old utensils.

” Miss, how much are you asking for the bike?” I thought he had lost interest in it.
” My grandpa paid $400 for it. He’ll take $200 though,”  I replied.

WOW! That’s great. My wife wants one and I wanted to get it for her for Mother’s Day. I couldn’t afford it then but now I can make it a belated present.” We exchanged some pleasantries as he handed me the money.

” It looks brand new!” He exclaimed.

” Well, it is…my grandmother only rode it a couple of times…” Dave looked away quickly, not sure what to say.

” I better go…thank you! My wife will be thrilled.” I watched him take Abuelita’s “Cadillac” and put it in his fire engine red Ford pick up truck. He waved as he drove off and disappeared into the traffic lights. I turned around and closed the door behind me remembering Abuelos’ words,” The right person will come for it.”

-EVA SANTIAGO COPYRIGHT 2012

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