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My mom, the heartbreaker

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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

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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.

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“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

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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

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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

mother.

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

got away.”

“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

him.

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

heart.

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

like that!”

“Sure I can’t,” was my mother’s reply.

My sister Yvonne and I, however, had no problem with this sudden

sugar daddy.

“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

cold.”

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 david.silva@latimes.com.


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