Happy Birthday, Mami.

Today is my Mother’s birthday and Ive been sitting here for an hour trying to write an homage to her, illuminating the life she’s lived, thanking her for everything she’s done for me and our family, showing you all just what an incredible, beautiful person she is. But words fail me because the words to describe my Mother have yet to be invented.
Since I have neither the intellect nor the talent to wordsmith a proper or even adequate description of my Mother, let me tell you a few things about her:


She is the oldest of seven sisters which she left school after the fourth grade to help raise. And despite never having a formal “education” she’s one of the most intelligent, erudite women I have ever known.
She always had, and still has, today at the age of 81, the absolutely most beautiful, soft skin I have ever seen and felt. Rose petals and babies aint got nothing on my mom when it comes to gentleness.
She is incredibly humble. She’s never pined for fancy cars or fancy homes or expensive jewelry. She understands the English language perfectly, but will not speak it because of her humility.
She once had her home bombed, losing it all. Everything. Yet she built a new home with nothing but love, steel will and determination.
A Hurricane took that rebuilt home from her and she once again began anew. Never losing faith in God, never complaining about her fate and blaming nothing and noone for her circumstances.
She buried two of the sisters she helped raise, one in Cuba, whose grave remains untended and one here. She buried her parents in exile as well.
When she talks about Cuba she glows. As a child, when hearing my Mother tell a story about her life in Cuba, I believed that island to be a magical place because of the way she described it.
When she dances, she floats on air.
When she smiles, it lifts you, as if that smile was born to make you happy.

When she’s angry, bow your head and apologize, for she never angers without due cause.
She’s a Samurai with the dreaded “chancleta.”
She once emptied the entire contents of my room, tossing it all out in the front yard because I left without making my bed and picking up my clothes.
She would pour food on my head when I refused to eat it.
She would pack a little plastic bag full of sugar and Ovaltine every school day so I would have chocolate milk at lunch.
She worked full days at a factoria, sewing clothes, then come home and clean and cook. Our home was always immaculate and we never, ever, went hungry or ate “take-out.”
Boy, can she cook.
I think plants and flowers and trees talk to her. She can take a piece of dead branch and turn it into a tree, or a plant or a flower. When she ails, her garden ails.
She’s had 6 broken ribs, a broken pelvis, a broken clavicle and triple bypass surgery.
She’s put up with my old man for a lifetime.
When I totalled her car late one night and didnt tell her till morning, I didnt lose sleep because Id totalled her car. I lost sleep because I knew I had disappointed her.
When I received a creative writing award in College and stood there at the podium nervously reading the piece for which Id won, despite the room being full of students and faculty, it was she whom I was reading for.
She must have a special stash of BandAids for my wounds never heal quite as quickly or quite the same as when she tends to them.
She’s been on the receiving end of bigotry and racism and has comported herself with immeasurable dignity in the face of such ugliness.
She will save what few pennies she has left over for months and spend it on a gift for someone else.
She calls my wife “the usurper.”
She bought me the very first music album I ever owned: Deodato.
She is the family matriarch.
She has three grandchildern and two great-grandchildren and her spirit comes alive when she’s with them.
She is my Mom, and I am all the better for it.
Happy Birthday, Mami. The fruits of your labors are this beautiful, loving family which only you could have created.

16 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Mami.”

  1. Probably like your dad, I fell in love with your mom at first sight. We told stories, we hugged, we laughed, we cried.
    You’re a lucky, lucky man, Valentin.
    Felicidades to Mrs. P. – dile que Marta le manda muchos besos.

  2. Happy Birthday Mrs. Prieto, and best wishes for lifes continued blessings! A hug and a smile of encouragement from this great lady removes the words I can’t from one’s vocabulary. She is the reason I struggle to learn Spanish, and when she told me at this years Nostalgia that I was the most improved….well, I felt like I’d been handed the greatest prize ever. She’s the best, a great role model and inspiration. Muchísimo gracias y una abrazos Sra. Prieto.

  3. Feliz Cumpleagnos Sra. Prieto!
    Que Dios le de mucha salud para que disfrute a su familia y amigos y pueda ver pronto una Cuba libre! Cuidese mucho, que de los buenos quedan pocos :)!
    Val, I’m writing in Spanish in case you show your mami the comments. Here’s a beautiful piece about mothers. I do not know who wrote it, but it’s applicable to all mothers.
    I wish you well 🙂 Melek
    Un Tributo a las madres . . .
    “Hay una mujer que tiene algo de Dios por la inmensidad de su amor, y mucho de angel por la incansable solicitud de sus cuidados; una mujer que siendo joven tiene la reflexion de una anciana, y en la vejez, trabaja con el vigor de la juventud; una mujer que si es ignorante descubre los secretos de la vida con mas acierto que un sabio, y si es instruida, se acomoda a la simplicidad de los ninos; una mujer que siendo pobre, se satisface con la felicidad de los que ama, y siendo rica, daria con gusto su tesoro por no sufrir en su corazon la herida de la ingratitud; una mujer que siendo vigorosa se estremece con el vagido de un nino, y siendo debil, se reviste a veces con la bravura del leon; una mujer que mientras vive no la sabemos estimar, por que a su lado todos los dolores se olvidan, pero despues de muerta, dariamos todo lo que somos y todo lo que tenemos por mirarla de nuevo un solo instante, por recibir de ella un solo abrazo, por escuchar un solo acento de sus labios…
    De esa mujer no me exijais el nombre si no quereis que empape con lagrimas vuestro album, porque ya la vi pasar en mi camino.” ~ Autor Desconocido

  4. She once emptied the entire contents of my room, tossing it all out in the front yard because I left without making my bed and picking up my clothes.
    My mom did the same. It came with the threat that she would put out a “garage sale” sign, luckily I made it home before the sign went up.

  5. FELICIDADES!!!! Me parece que hiciste bien con este hijo tuyo, tan cariñoso, inteligente y noble. Debe de haber sacado esos rasgos de uds!

  6. Felicidades Sra. Prieto. Que cumpla muchos mas en una Cuba Libre.
    Val, your mom sounds wonderful. You made me laugh with your comments about her and you also made me cry with your obvious love for her. Give her a big hug for me.

  7. Felicidades and best wishes to your Mom, Val. Sounds like she was made for the job, so of course she’s done it extremely well. May she continue to enjoy the fruits of her efforts and her love.
    My mother is also 81 and increasingly frail, but her mind is fine. She was never what would be called a strong woman, but she was the driving force behind our leaving Cuba. She would have done whatever it took to get her kids out, even without her or my father. She never trusted Castro, not even at first, and when he dropped the mask she was terrified for her children. My father said she was obsessed, consumed with getting us kids out before it was too late. That’s why, to me, the Elian case was always a no-brainer, since I knew what was really involved and really at stake–the mind and soul of a child. My mother taught me that.

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