Inside my closet, behind a stack of neatly folded sweaters, lays a box I seldom open. Inside are memories of my mother: a worn zebra patterned diary from her teenage years, an old Valentine’s Day card she sent me and a small sachet where she kept a Buddha I sent her from my travels in Malaysia.
There is also a royal blue velvet pouch where I keep a lock of her blonde hair. Opening this pouch is like tearing my heart wide open. Thus I limit my contact with it. I reserve my peaks inside the velvet pouch for when I miss her most, for when I miss caressing her beautiful golden locks.
As my 31st birthday approaches, I can’t help but think of the great woman who gave birth to me. How did she feel the day I was born? How many times did she smile and kiss me as she held me in her arms for the first time?
Five years ago, before I moved to Miami, my mother prepared a photo album for me. It contained all of my baby pictures, including some leading up to when I graduated elementary school.
On the very first page of this album is a picture of me when I was only 10 days old. My mother’s handwriting indicates the date was June 21, 1980. Back then I was just a bundle of joy with round cheeks and brown eyes. How happy she must have been to hold her first baby!
The album is packed away in one of the many boxes I left behind when I moved to Italy but the image of me as a newborn baby is seared in my memory. Now, three decades later I am still wishing my mother could hold me tight and be there to celebrate my birthday.
Mami used to make the best empanadas for me. For my 27th birthday, the last one I spent with her, she made the most delicious ground beef empanadas ever! Seasoned with adobo and sofrito, they had just the right amount of sliced olives in them. That year, she even went a step further and made guava and cheese empanadas for dessert!
Instead of making them in the traditional half-moon shape, Mami had a peculiar way of folding empanadas. She made them in a triangle shaped, like samosas. Jokingly, she would call these triangular empanadas “carteritas,” or little purses in English.
Curious, I asked why her empanadas looked like samosas. Her response: "Tata, “carteritas” are perfect for parties because you can get more empanadas from the same amount of dough. Duh!" Oh, a mother's wisdom...
This year, I’m honoring her memory by making empanadas for my birthday. It’ll be hard to find all the ingredients in Italy but it will make me feel much closer to the woman I owe my life too.