After my parents divorced, my mother packed away her extensive salsa
collection and swore off men forever. My father had represented her
second failed marriage, and she was convinced another bad
relationship would either kill her or land her in jail for murder.
Her decision to remain single for the rest of her life bothered me
not one bit while I was still living at home. But after I moved out,
I began to worry about her being in that big house all alone.
“Mom, you should really think about getting married again,” I
started pestering her whenever we got together. “A lot of good men
would jump at the chance. You’re a beautiful woman.”
“Yeah, I don’t need you to tell me that,” she’d reply.
And she really didn’t. Over the course of her life, my mother must
have received a dozen marriage proposals from men smitten by her
looks and her humor, and totally bowled over by her cooking. She was
arguably at her most popular when she was managing a big restaurant
in Huntington Park. Men from all walks of life would stop by and her
eat her Puerto Rican rice and tamales, then ask her out at the first
opportunity. All of them walked away disappointed.
“Forget about it,” she would say when I asked her why she rejected
even the notion of dating. “Men are just children, and I’ve got
enough headaches with my own.”
The years passed and my mother spent them either alone or sharing
a place with my brother Luis. Her looks gradually changed from
strikingly attractive to beautifully dignified, and her cooking just
got better and better. You’d have thought her suitors would
eventually have gotten the message, but they never did.
“Ah, hello, may I speak to Dolores, please?”
“Ma! George is on the phone!”
“Ay, that old man never gives up! Hello, George. No, I’m sorry,
George, I’ve got too much to do around the house. You need to stop
calling me, George.”
She’s a heartbreaker, my mom.
Among the passing parade of my mother’s admirers was a handsome
machinist named Rolando. He and my mother met a few years after she
divorced my dad, when they were both working at a bottling plant in
Vernon. Had Rolando gotten his sleeve caught in one of the plant’s
conveyor belts and been stuffed headfirst into a bottle, it would not
have affected him as profoundly as when he first laid eyes on my
Rolando was a handsome and good-natured man, full of life and
relentlessly optimistic. Of all the men who courted her after she
swore off men, he came closest to causing her to break her vow.
Though she never told him, my mother considered Rolando the great
love of her life.
“He was it,” she told me one day over dinner. “He was the one that
“He didn’t go away!” I said. “You sent him away!”
“Well, he went away all the same.”
Rolando tried everything to break through the wall of Mom’s
resistance. He tried dazzling her with his charming banter and good
looks. He wrote her long, passionate letters comparing her eyes to
the starry night and her hair to the sparkling waves of the sea. He
made it a point to get to know her kids. I, for one, was very fond of
And when none of that worked, he turned to the last refuge of the
unrequited: He began showering her with gifts.
He bought Mom a microwave oven. She stared at it for weeks, not
sure what to think of it. Then she threw a dust cover on it and used
it as extra surface space. He bought her a Betamax and some
videocassettes. She politely watched each tape, then put the tapes
and the Betamax high up on a closet shelf, where they remain today.
When appliances and electronic gadgets failed to achieve the
desired effect, Rolando bought her a car. She came home one day and
there he was with a brand-new Chevrolet Celebrity. Mom stared at the
Celebrity, all shiny and beautiful, then told Rolando that her
feelings weren’t for sale. Trying to woo her with material
possessions was not, my mother insisted, the way to capture her
But she took the car.
Most of my brothers and sisters were scandalized. Michael angrily
told Mom she was bringing shame upon the family, accepting such gifts
from a man, while Linda was so upset she refused to visit.
“I’ll come over when you come to your senses!” she shouted to Mom
over the phone. “Where’s your self-respect? You can’t accept gifts
“Sure I can’t,” was my mother’s reply.
My sister Yvonne and I, however, had no problem with this sudden
“Go for it, Mom!” we told her. “Take him for everything he’s got!”
I doubted then, and I doubt now, that my siblings’ negative
reaction to Rolando’s gifts had anything to do with their violated
sense of etiquette. The fact was, we had gotten used to my mother
being single. We had grown comfortable with the idea that Mom was to
be alone in her post-marriage years -- alone and devoted exclusively
to us -- and suddenly, here was this guy buying her a car.
But Yvonne and I couldn’t have been happier for our mother.
Yvonne, the oldest, had been there for the worst of it with my
mother’s first husband, while I, the youngest, had seen the worst of
it with her second.
If Rolando’s gifts could somehow help ease the sting of all those
bad years, we were all for them. We figured a couple of thousand new
cars might just about do the trick.
But the bad memories of my father and her first husband had a long
reach, and in the end, my mother told Rolando she just couldn’t
settle down with him the way he wanted. She was too old and set in
her single ways, she told him. The children would not approve, she
said. It broke his heart. The truth was, all his kindness and
optimism and money couldn’t break through the protective wall of fear
she had set around her heart.
But she kept the car.
The years passed, and my mother spent them alone. Eventually even
the most selfish among her children began urging her to start dating
again, but she wouldn’t. She was too old, she said. Men were just
children. And just when I had resigned myself to my mother spending
the rest of her days single, suddenly she was back on the market.
I’m not sure if it had something to do with the recent deaths of
two of her brothers, or somehow related to the fact she now gets
satellite TV. Maybe that wall of fear just got old for her. At any
rate, my mother suddenly began doing strange things, like taking up
activities for the sole purpose of meeting men.
I had lunch with her the other day, and she told me about some man
she just met at a union meeting.
“Ay, Davey, you should see this man! He’s gorgeous!” she said.
“So why don’t you ask him out?”
“I’m going to,” she said matter-of-factly. “But I’m waiting. His
wife just died, and I wanted to at least wait until the body was
There’s a change for you, I thought, smiling inwardly. My mother
used to be convinced that another bad relationship would be the death
of her. Now, when it came to romance, she wasn’t going to let a
little thing like death get in the way.
* DAVID SILVA is an editor for Times Community News. Reach him at
(909) 484-7019, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.