The Portuguese Woman
Today, while browsing the shoe section at the Goodwill, an elderly woman stood humming to herself, sifting through a rack of blouses. All at once, she turned to me and began exclaiming over me. Half of what she said was unintelligible to me which I was deeply sad over. Luckily, I caught a good portion of it. She asked me whether or not I was Portuguese and if I had recently come to America. Following that question up with an apology for not being able to speak clearly. This, she said, was due to the fact that she was waiting for her new dentures to come in the mail. Thinking that her speech clarity had less to do with dentures and more to do with her accent, that I couldn’t place, I told her that I was American but had a large amount of Puerto Rican in my genes. Jumping at the mention of my Puerto Rican side, she launched, full scale, into a story of how she lived in Cuba and how she spent a lot of her time around Puerto Ricans, all the while playing with my hair and cooing sweet sounding things to me in Portuguese.
After a time, she noticed my wedding rings and asked whether or not I was married and if I had any kids. As any newly wed is happy to affirm, I told her that I was married but had no children. Smiling and gently taking my hand, she examined the rings, telling me how beautiful they were. At this moment, I silently thought of how beautifully Adam had chosen my rings. After hearing my answers, she responded by asking me whether or not my husband was Puerto Rican as well… (Sorry Adam, but I told her that you were an all American white boy with blond hair, blue eyes, and a full beard.) Whole heartedly laughing at my reply, she launched into another ancient story. At this point, I lost a lot of what she was telling me. Of what I did catch, she spoke about marrying in the 60s and something about having to keep her first husbands name otherwise she would lose everything she had from him. Seeing my opportunity to ask a few questions myself, I inquired as to what her nationality was. This is where she told me of her Portuguese ancestry and how recently she had come to Santa Cruz. She had lived in Portugal for 50 years. Turning the conversation again on me, she wondered where I had come from and asked if I had lived in America my whole life. I tried to answer but suddenly her face clouded as she said, “I left Portugal with many sorrows.”
As suddenly as her face had turned, she was crying. Crying about something I couldn’t understand. I felt helpless for a moment, wanting to comfort her, but not knowing how. It wasn’t until her last sentence that I made out why she was crying. She had had three children who had all died of cancer. I put my hand on her shoulder and said that I was deeply sorry. With this, she straightened herself up, and with strong, squared shoulders, told me that she had had cancer as well but beat it. I smiled at her then and told her that I was happy for it.
She looked up at me, she was about half my height, smiled and said, “It was nice talking to you darling girl.” Pushing her cart away from the surrounding shoe racks, and myself, she waved saying, “Goodbye my beautiful menina.”
I was utterly transfixed.