All I want for Mother’s Day…

Carlos Hernandez in Caracas Chronicles:

All I want for mother’s day is a féconlechito for mom

When everything is in short supply, the thing you miss most is a sense of normalcy. I wanted to give that to mom on this mother’s day, just a reminder of what a normal morning used to feel like. A citywide hunt for coffee, milk and sugar ensued.

It may not sound like much, but I decided for mother’s day I’d try to get my mom a nice, milky coffee. I knew it wouldn’t be easy —I’d have to track down coffee, milk and sugar, which would mean tramping all around the city, and it’s not like I have a car. But in our house, it matters — the tradition is older than me.

Café con leche —that first cup of milky coffee in the morning— has always been a big deal in my house. In our house, we call it the féconlechito, and it’s just not a proper start to the day without it. And yeah, we’ll put up with a lot to get it.

But enduring a 3-hour line just to prepare coffee and milk? That sounds borderline obsessive. What’s up with that?

I was doing it for my mom. The tradition comes from her. It goes way back.

My mom had three sisters. Growing up in Ciudad Bolívar my grandmother used to prepare the café con leche every single morning, and sometimes in the afternoon.

Her father wasn’t around much because he worked in another city, so it was a women’s house. The four sisters were raised to be the good housewives–you know, clean, cook, that sort of thing. It was a different time.

They were poor; they lived a simple life. The youngest sister always had to wear the patched-up hand-me-downs from her older sisters. They knew what it meant to go without. But never the feconlechito: a breakfast without it was unthinkable. They ate it with bollos, bread, empanada, pastelito, even casabe. Grandpa always made sure to bring a can of powdered milk when he was in town.

“It was the big one, the 2 kg. can of powdered milk. I don’t think you know that one,” my mom tells me.

Needless to say, I never have seen a 2 kg. can of powdered milk — we might as well be talking about a dodo bird here. I’ve been looking for the powdered milk in every nearby stores, a cashier even laughed at the question, “ay mijo, don’t you know which country you’re living in?”

When mom was 17 years old she had to spend some months in Caracas for some vocal chord treatment that could be done only in la capital. She stayed at an aunt’s, and even though it was a scary time, in a new city and with new people, “la vieja Elia” made sure to prepare the feconlechito every morning.

That’s how you know it’s family.

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