After the grandchildren weren't able to construct proper sentences in the native tongue, instead settling on a form of Spanglish, and the women no longer bothered getting married before they got knocked up, the only place where a Puerto Rican family could bond, was over the dinner table. Food. It was the only thing that survived generations in its purest form. The image of a family sitting together around the table, the matriarch at the helm, passing along plate after plate of fattening food was borderline cliché. Cherishing this soul nourishing, but organ torturing substance, self-destruction at its best.
Nana and granddaughter Siya always sat next to each other. They sat next to each other because Siya was nana's favorite, she was nana's gorda. Siya was doomed to be overweight from childbirth by being seduced and manipulated by paletas, doughnuts, fried bananas, fried fish, fried potatoes and it could have very well been a fried boot thrown in there. These were nana's expressions of love. They sat together because Siya was the only grandchild that cared to learn how to cook Puerto Rican food. As the plates of brown were being passed on this Saturday evening, nana ruminated about what part of her culture would pass on to the next generation. Who was she fooling? She knew. Four of her seven children were crack addicted government check recipients. The other three were exempt from this fate because: one was dead, one had epilepsy and the other was the eldest. And although Siya was the only daughter of nana's eldest child, she, just as all nana's grandchildren, was just another lazy American bastard. Siya also ruminated at the dinner table. But, she was wondering if she was the only one who noticed that most Puerto Rican food is some shade of brown.
“Who the fuck wants to sit down to a plate of brown food?” Siya asked aloud. “Did you ask yourself that question before or after you went to that fancy culinary school? How many times does a person need to go to school?” Nana asked in her high pitched campo voice. “Well, I'm sorry that in this country you have to have an advanced degree in order to become a janitor. If I could live on a primary school education, I'd gladly strap on an Amish hat, bake apple pies and push a fucking horse around. Until then, I have to work towards being a food writer by learning the ins and outs of the culinary industry and combined that with an English degree,” Siya replied. Nana stared blankly at Siya. Nana absolutely believed you could still keep your head to the ground, bust your ass and come out of the pile of shit smelling like roses with nothing more than her third-grade education.
Siya knew better.
The next day Siya reluctantly placed her key in Nana's deadbolt and push the door open. Nana sat on the floral printed couch watching her news in Spanish, unflattering lipstick on her thin lips, oxygen tubes in her nostrils, thin bare ashy legs exposed, shopping hand cart at her side. Nana's new apartment was small. A single floor, one bedroom, with a microscopic kitchen. There was no way in hell holidays could be held here. But, Nana just couldn't manage dragging her former migrant farm working body up the stairs to the second level of her old apartment any longer. Fortunately, the family had recently crumbled into non-existence, so holidays were a wrap. Torn apart by greed, deception and distrust, the only thing that had brought the family together was food. But, not even food could repair this cluster-fuck.
Nana and Siya were still pissed at each other from the night before, so everything happened in silence. Siya put Nana's cart into the back of her NPR bumper stickered rust ridden Volvo wagon, and Nana carefully held her oxygen tubes out of the way while she strenuously placed herself into the stiff seat. They drove through and below canopies of golden rod and burnt orange foliage in silence. The entire ride was in silence.
They parked. Siya unloaded the cart, grabbed her canvas grocery bags, and stood on the curb watching Nana ply herself out of the wagon. They walked towards the entrance of the farmer's market.
Their farmer's market was tucked in between statuesque Victorian and Craftsmen houses, where plumes of gunmetal smoke billowed from brick chimneys and the homes themselves played a backdrop to displays of apples, pumpkins, figs, chanterelles, persimmons and red maple branches. The energy and buzz of the aisles of vendors was equal to the summer buzz, except people were hidden behind layers of wool and alpaca. Nana and Siya didn't shop by recipe, they shopped by deals. They haggled pennies on slightly bruised onions and bell peppers for their sofrito. They packed away carrots and potatoes for their stews. Siya conversed with the free-range pork farmers. Nana haggled with the Chinese fish vendors. Siya silently pulled Nana's cart through the crowded lanes, following behind Nana like an obedient foreign wife.
Nana recognized the tamale lady from the barrio that was standing next to the tailgate of her truck near the entrance. They jovially chatted while Siya stumbled to catch two out of ten words and assemble a broken sentence, struggling to make sense of the speedy vernacular of Nana's Carribean accent and the tamale lady's Sinaloense slang words. She stared at the Igloo's sudden release of steam. “One red and one green, both pork?” Nana asked Siya.
And just like that, their silence had been broken. A relief washed over Siya and melted away the tensity she hadn't even noticed was there. Once again it was food that mended. Perhaps it was food that was keeping her and Nana together in an ever changing world that's both advancing and withdrawing from Nana's old-fashioned ideology. Maybe food was the only thing they had in common and without that, Siya might visit Nana less, although she knew Nana was slowly decaying. The idea was terrifying and comforting.
There was nothing Siya could do. Yes, the food they ate was destructive, but it was all that was left. Instead, she nodded in agreement silently.