What I Reap From Mamá’s Stories

It’s been fun to post my mother’s memoir here on The Writing Bull. And it’s just as fun, and even more meaningful, to listen to her stories.

Which, I have heard all my life. I have known, for decades, about her murdered father–my grandfather Pilar Reyes–who was shot in the street by some guy named Blanco, supposedly because Blanco got one of Pilar’s sisters pregnant but refused to marry her. They got in a fight, Blanco shot Pilar, and a few hours later my mother, two, became an orphan.

I know about the letter that the Reyes family forced my grandmother Romilia to sign, swearing that she would never come looking for the inheritance my mother rightly should have received, being Pilar’s only child–she should have gotten a chunk out of the Reyes coffee empire. They made sure she never would.

I know about the 1932 massacre, and how Mamá survived the slaughter of over twenty-five thousand fellow Salvadorans. And how, when she was sixteen and was crossing the Mexican border into the United States, a gringo had tried to kidnap her on a Greyhound bus.

I’ve heard them dozens of times. And I don’t mind. Why? Well, one thing is, I’m a writer, and this is some good stuff she’s handing over to me! I am packing the stories away in my head for a future possible novel. She knows this, and is more than happy to fill in details.

New stories keep coming up. Just last night she told me about her days as a seamstress during World War II. She worked alongside a hundred other seamstresses in a sweatshop in San Francisco, sewing closed the bullet holes in Navy life preservers, from the dead sailors who had been brought in from the Pacific. Caked blood, human hair caught in the fibers–she told me in detail.

And details are what make a story come alive.

I listen to her because she’s ninety years old, and old people need what we all crave: to be heard. I listen because I’m gathering images for that novel.

And there’s something deeply at stake for me. My own life–it comes out of her stories. I am connected, through her, to events that happened all the way back to 1927. If I know that history, I know myself better.

This life is much more than just my own.

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