The second of two parts.
I had never noticed before how big a role loud noises played on
Christmas Day. The tearing of wrapping paper, the squeals of
laughter, the wailing when toys broke beneath our clumsy fingers. For
as long as I could remember, Christmas was a riot of guffaws and
shrieks and honking horns, like a barge full of circus clowns going
over a waterfall.
Then came the day I was forced to spend Christmas with an 80-
year-old Puerto Rican woman named Booda. And suddenly Christmas was
about numbing silence -- a raft full of mimes adrift on a still lake.
I sat on the far end of an antique couch, pretending not to notice
as Booda gazed contentedly at me from her upholstered rocking chair.
I had been pretending not to notice her quiet stare for about two
hours now, ever since we had finished our breakfast of unsweetened
I kept thinking she was preparing to say something, was thinking
up some question to begin a conversation. The whole reason for my
being here, after all, was so the recently widowed woman would have
someone to talk to at Christmas. But eventually it became clear to me
that Booda was content just to stare at me, the way one might
soundlessly meditate on a beloved goldfish or Chia pet.
And just as I thought I would lose my will to live, Booda finally
“So. Dahvee. What do you do to have fun? Do you like to play
baseball, or go fishing with your Popi?”
A day earlier, I wouldn’t have understood a word of Booda’s
thickly accented English. But I had quickly caught on to the way her
tongue liked to change vowels to consonants and soft consonants to
hard consonants, and my ears decoded accordingly.
“Um, no, I don’t play sports, really,” I replied, my voice
scratchy from disuse. “Dad takes us fishing sometimes, but I don’t
really like it ‘cause I never catch anything.”
“Huh. So what do you like to do?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Booda. What I really love to do is collect
comic books. I just love ‘em. I’ve got 500 of ‘em at home.”
“Cah ... meek?” Booda apparently had never heard of a comic book,
and the idea of educating her on the subject suddenly sparked my
“Yeah! They’re like cartoons, except on paper. My favorite’s
Spiderman! He’s this ordinary guy who got bitten by this radioactive
spider, and he can climb walls and swing from buildings and he’s got
I stopped chattering. Booda had drifted off to sleep, her head
resting comfortably against the side of her chair.
I sighed, suddenly feeling highly annoyed. Why had my mother made
me come here? She could have sent our dog King and the conversation
would have been as stimulating.
I stood up and walked around Booda’s apartment, a very short trip
in the tiny one-bedroom. I stared at the paintings on the walls. Most
were of the pope and the saints and Jesus, including one in which
Jesus’ eyes opened and closed as you looked at it from different
angles. I leaned this way and that for about 10 minutes, watching
Jesus wink and wink. Finally I grew bored with that and went into
Booda’s bedroom, where I immediately spotted an old phone beside her
bed. A phone!
“Hello?” My brother Michael answered.
“Mickey,” I whispered desperately. “Mickey! It’s Davey!”
“Davey?” Michael asked with feigned incredulity. “Who is this? I
had a brother named Davey once. But Mom made him go live with an old
woman ‘cause he was such a rotten kid.”
“Cut it out, Mickey! You ... you gotta get me out of this, man!
I’m dying over here! Go tell Mom you heard a tidal wave was about to
hit Long Beach so she’ll come ...”
“Look, I don’t know who this is. I have to go now and play with
all my new toys. And Davey’s toys, too, since he’s never coming home
“MICKEY!” I shouted. But he had hung up.
“Dahvee!” Booda’s voice called from the next room. “Dahvee! What’s
wrong? Why are you shouting?”
I slouched back into to the room.
“Nothing, Booda,” I said and slumped onto the couch.
Booda sat and watched me in silence. I glanced up at the ceiling
and around the room, feeling her eyes burn in to the side of my head.
Here we go again, I thought. Doesn’t she ever get tired of looking at
I turned and looked at her angrily. I’ll just stare back and see
how she likes it, I fumed. But Booda just gazed back at me, a
softness in her eyes.
“You remind me of your father when he was your age,” she said.
I blinked. I had heard that Booda knew my family for a long time,
but I had no idea it went all the way back to Puerto Rico.
“Oh, yes,” she smiled. “He was so much like you now. He could
never sit still, hated to sit still. And he always up to something,
that boy! He and his friends would steal sugar cane from the stores
and sell it on the street corner. They made such a nuisance the
owners would hire men with guns to keep them away! But he was a good
boy. He just needed something to do.”
“I remind you of my dad?” I asked. No one had ever said that
before. In fact, no one had ever told me anything about my father’s
childhood. As far as I knew, Dad’s life hadn’t begun until he met my
mother at a pizza parlor when they were both in their 20s.
“He was so like you,” Booda said. Then her body suddenly shook
with laughter. “I remember once, when he was just about your age, he
made a bet with his friends that he could climb down a high cliff
near Ponce, on the other side of the island. He made it halfway down
before he became stuck. He couldn’t go up or down, and was trapped
there on a little rock for hours. Finally they had to bring in the
Americans to rescue him. It made all the papers, and for a while your
father was famous.”
I flashed on the face of my father not long ago, angrily
describing what would happen to me if he ever caught me climbing
“What else did he do, Booda?” I asked, eyes wide.
“Ay, Dahvee, wait here for me to make some cafe. I’ll tell you all
Two hours later, a knock sounded at the door. I opened it, and
there was my mother. She smiled at me guiltily.
“We’re going home, mijo,” she said. “Booda, would you mind if we
brought Davey home a little early? We wanted to open presents with
A fallen expression crossed Booda’s face, then vanished beneath a
forced smile. “No, of course, Dolores, he should be with you now,”
she said. “Such a good boy you have.”
Booda hugged me close. “Such a good boy!”
“Goodbye, Booda,” I said, kissing her cheek.
Mom walked me out to the car, where my dad waited. I smiled widely
at the sight of him. Then I looked at my mother, and the smile
“What’s wrong, mijo?” she asked. “Don’t be mad at me. Wait until
you see all the presents Santa brought you!”
“Why did you have to come now?” I shouted. “You said I could stay
here all day!”
My mother stared at me. “What?” she asked, not believing her ears.
But I had already turned and stormed off toward the car. “I never
get to do anything!”
* DAVID SILVA is a Burbank resident and Times Community News
editor. Reach him at 484-7019, or by e-mail at