"I’m going to make arroz con pollo," Amy declared authoritatively. (She made enough arroz con pollo to feed the small army that is my big, fat, Cuban family, but that’s not important right now.)
First, Eric and I arrive with the kids. Rudy and I hug for a long time. Not saying what we’re both obviously thinking. That we’re so glad to see each other even under these difficult conditions.
Then my niece shows up and three of my sisters arrive. We hold Ofelia, the widow, and let her cry in our familiar arms for a while. Her loss is our collective loss.
But there’s all this great food on the table which gives us something to do other than stare at each other’s red-rimmed eyes.
We start talking about the shock of Rafael’s death, and eventually the conversation takes the inevitable turn to the wonderful stories we all have about him and soon we’re laughing loud and hard.
None of us venture to even get up from the table. We don’t want to miss a moment of this, because this is the sweet part. The part where we’re all siblings once again. Where we reminisce together about growing up with each other and we can laugh knowingly at my mom and dad’s antics. We remember and remind each other to tell our favorite stories. We all know the punchline – we wait for it anyway and laugh in all the same places. Adam asks my brother about the midnight pancakes and is delighted to hear the story told once again.
My kids listen spellbound. They miss half of the conversation as we flow easily from English to Spanish and then back. It is a fascinating familial/bilingual dance we’re doing. They seem to naturally understand that this is where we all need to be right now. That this is where we all find comfort.
Too soon we’ll have the business of the funeral to attend to and we’ll do this again on a much larger scale after the memorial service with all those who will come to pay respects. But this familiar after-dinner scene we call sobremesa in Spanish is
where the heart of my family is found. It is the Cuban custom of after-dinner conversation. No one jumps up to do dishes.
Instead we linger, pulling the warmth around us like a blanket. We’re
reluctant for the magic to end, so we stay as long as possible. So many memories to share that were made in moments just like this.
On my way home I realized that I would never forget this night and that we had inadvertently done it again – we had made another sweet, sweet memory which we will one day recount at another sobremesa on another day.
Life goes on.