LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
My grandmother's name was Mercedes. She was called Mercy, which in English, means compassion and love. Her sister, Providence, was my favorite person in the whole world. She was called Titi Provi. Titi is Spanish for auntie. Providence, literally means foresight, but is generally used to denote God's preserving and governing of all things. It is being in the protective care of God.
I spent weekends in the "protective care" of these two women. They were two colorful and exotic flowers who had arrived in America in the 1930's, after being plucked from "paradise" and released into the ocean…like an orchid and hibiscus that had floated across from the enchanted Isle of Puerto Rico.
There was never a time that I was unaware of the significance of their names; and, because of them, there was never a time when I did not understand that God's mercy and providence were at work in my young life. These female relatives were obvious reminders to me of His presence. As I write this, even today, I can recall sifting flour for my Grandma Mercy as she made empanadas: I kept one eye on the flour snowing down into the aluminum bowl and one eye on this mystical figure whom I somehow knew was connected to God. Had He sent her on an earthly mission to provide endless compassion and love to all of us? Even then, I realized that mercy was a concept integral to an understanding of God's dealings with the likes of me. And so my childhood was much different than that of my young friends. It is no wonder I am God-centric. And it is no wonder I am fascinated with all things God-related. Mercy and Providence introduced me to the supernatural nature of Catholicism. They taught me how to befriend a Saint.
Titi Provi's small Bronx apartment was cluttered with old lady stuff and religious relics. There were crosses twisted from palm fronds, yellowing Mass cards, icons with mournful faces, dusty crucifixes, half-empty bottles of Holy Water, broken and mended strands of Rosaries. But what made her home unique was a hidden room in the basement that housed representatives from The Communion of Saints! It was there that Providence brought me; later it was there that I found refuge. It was there that I was taught about reverence, trust and the prayers of petition. This is where my grandmother and aunt, my mother and her sisters knelt in silence and thanksgiving.
From the bottom of the cellar stairs I could see the secret room glowing. That last step allowed me to float safely in the darkness; it was like a raft on which I sat to watch the vertical shadows dance and move about in the light cast by the dozens of votive candles placed in front of the statues. As a child, I was only rarely to enter the room. I was allowed to trail behind Titi Provi as a helper of sorts, carrying a box of candles or a pitcher full of water. The florescent ceiling lamp would be turned on briefly for “house- keeping” chores and, as quick as a breath, extinguished so that no one, neither Saint nor penitent mouse would be disturbed. I can remember holding my breath as I entered the room and moving quickly about on my tip-toes so as not to leave a wake or any sign of my unholy visit.
My most powerful childhood memory is that of The Room of Saints; that hallowed place where I had, once in the middle of night, been taken for comfort and healing after a terrible family argument had disrupted my sense of well being. There was a myriad of flowers offered to Saints and the tables looked like floats in a parade. The room was filled with the sweet perfume of roses and gardenias, and I thought: How beautiful this room is, how like a chapel…neat and orderly, how peaceful. And how very different is this place where the Saints live compared to my own home. I had wondered, as only a child can wonder, if I could live there safe and quiet, and eternally loved and accepted by these plaster figures, familiar as friends. Even then I knew that God had sent them to do what they could for me.