She sat on the steps smelling the lemon. As she’d lean her nose against the rind, she’d slowly close her eyes and blush. She was all brown and pink and strength.
“Mom, smell it. It smells so good.”
“Roll it between your hand and the step and then smell it. It will smell even better.”
She rolled it against the cement and the oils began to spatter slightly and stain the step. I wondered how many people had sat on this step. Ten kids and sixty years was my answer. Countless. As I looked at my daughter she smelled the lemon again and her eyes widened and her smile creeped across her pinkness, “You’re right, mom” That didn’t happen often. “It smells even better.”
She continued to roll the lemon and I thought about all the women inside her; all the women who lived to make her exist. Everyone says she looks like me, which isn’t true, it’s our coloring that gives that impression, but with the big brown eyes and her daddy’s nose, and the ability to crush me with a word, she is his, inside and out.
I had a hard time with her when she was born; she broke me in five minutes. Granted there wasn’t much to break, I’m a much quieter soul. She took all I had left. I tried to stand tall and she bent me and broke me with everything she is. When she was a year old, she’d call for me by my first name and yell it over and over until I came, tired and broken.
Now I love her strength; I hope she’ll be everything that I’m not. She already is. She has the quiet strength of my husband’s side; every woman in his family has the ability to handle, balance and survive heartache and do it with an unspoken beauty. Their hearts are like statues, poised to withstand anything. She also has the outspoken strength of my side; something that ricocheted off me and landed on my younger cousins. She is my mother, which has caused enough trials in itself. I gave birth to my mother, before I could appreciate everything about her. My daughter taught me to love my mom and more importantly, to understand her. My girl was born to conquer, she conquered me but didn’t leave me vanquished, I arose stronger.
We sat on the steps and listened to the women talk. They’d laugh about times and memories.
“My mom died in that room, my dad too. I guess that’s where I’m gonna die,” said my mother-in-law’s sister, between laughter.
It would be nice not to take life so seriously. After over seventy years they know what matters and that everything else is a waste of strength, as if they had none to spare. They wield this strength in ways that they never seem to regret; they considered strength, what I was taught is weakness; To marry men they didn’t love and stay with the unfaithful drunkards. Knowing them now, I see the strength; it’s something so inherent in them that my daughter has it without knowing what it’s like to be like the rest of us.
I see the strength in their mother, who birthed eleven children and buried one, while ten of them buried her twenty yeas ago and still wait to be buried. She spent more time pregnant or breastfeeding or both than she did without a child contained within. The nurses were so cruel to her when she would deliver her babies. She was nothing to them but another dark-skinned woman with too many children who was unable to speak their language. She only left her house to cross the street to attend mass every morning in the tiny church where my husband was baptized. She never went to the store; her husband brought home bags of beans, rice and flour. She lived for Sundays when her seven daughters would bring their kids over for the day. She always had popsicles ready after the grandkids kissed her soft cheek. My husband said that she would sit at the table with small pot of beans, and like the widow in the Book of Kings, it multiplied; everyone ate with enough left over for her to eat in the kitchen alone, after everyone left.
The quiet strength that flows through my girl’s veins, I don’t fight it anymore, but try to shape it, to make it beautiful and noble. I just read “Taming of the Shrew” to her and she loved it until the end, when Kate is tamed. She was puzzled and quiet, two adjectives I never apply to her. I knew she was thinking that Kate was amazing until she was quiet.
“Stop rolling the lemon, it’s going to split and be good for nothing,” I insisted absent-mindedly.
“But I love the way it smells.”
I wonder about the life she’ll lead and if the world is big enough to contain her.