by Cindy Burgos
"Oye muchachita, tu no llamas," she says, skipping past the pleasantries to make her complaint known. It had only been 48 hours since our last call, but, for mami, the silence was deafening.
Audacious of me to skip a session with her. The decision is inexcusable, yet I continue to justify myself in anticipation of the comedic exchange. Our conversations open in a string of lighthearted insults—a love language she and I share. She sprinkles in a common plight, "Pero llamame para saber que estas viva," just before initiating the latest session of storytime detailing the adventures that make Ada's life a full one.
Doña Ada, as I lovingly refer to her, is a loud, raspy-voiced woman bursting at the seams with wit, tales, and laughter—her anecdote to life's woes. She swears that limonsillos were responsible for her lack of a whisper to this day. However, given her presence in our community, her volume is a gift of divine intervention. She wields her words to counsel and encourage her tribe through story, never one to withhold her love. It is this sacred exchange that makes every one of our conversations unique.
Proceeding with a request that needs no permission, she begins her stories with "Dejame decirte…" priming my heart for the lessons. Elaborating in detail and stroking a blank canvas in context, I find my spirit transported to her dining table. Seated before a spread of all my favorites—tostones, asopao de camarones, una limonada fresca o copita de vino. A little sip here, a little sip there, and suddenly I'm immersed in familiar ancestral tradition.
Whether the experience she divulges is profound or not, she calls it "una bobería." Yet, diligently, I cling to her every word. Allowing them to send waves through my core. With laughter, I am home. With every nugget of wisdom, I am grounded. I see more of her revealed with every story shared—gratitude, regrets, joy, and longing. At the end of it all, my love abounds, and so does my desire for healing.
"Ya te dejo. Tu eres muy chismosa", she says. To which I quip, "Y tu la reina de los chismosos." "Gracias mi hija," she responds, offended but accepting.
Our exchange is sealed and passed on for the next generation to relish. Turning experiences that would have otherwise crushed her spirit into nostalgic bites of relayed and reframed celebration. Her stories are an invitation to a practice in gratitude. A call to embrace the challenges instead of bracing. It is among the sweetest gifts she's imparted over me. And while chismosa is far from an inherited quality, she leverages the insult to keep me in suspense until our next session.
Cindy Burgos is a first-generation Dominican-American storyteller and writer. Originally from NYC's "Little Dominican Republic," formerly known as Washington Heights, she now resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and daughter. She is the creator of a blog called spltends that reflects on and unpacks bicultural experience through the lens of identity, generational trauma, healing, motherhood, and more.