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A Collection for My Mother and Father
La que lleva
el nombre mias dulce
y da resplandor
Que vivas muchos anos
no hay nadie
que puede reemplazar
a mi querida
Framed in gold is an old inscription for my great grandmother in the living room of the Miranda house in Roswell, NM. My grandma-grandma died, but it still hangs in the very same spot her daughter, my grandmother, had placed it in her honor decades ago. Ever since my sisters and I were infants, our grandmother claimed us as her own. Every weekend she would make the trek from Roswell to Mountainair to visit us and our single parent father. Long after she had gone, the smell of Elizabeth Taylor would linger on our clothes, fried potatoes and refried beans in our kitchen. Never have we called anyone else “mother.”
For years when my sisters and I were younger, my grandmother would ask us to read from this rose-colored frame, a picture of our grandma-grandma watching us carefully. Part Castilian in blood, but left out of its tongue, my sisters and I would sound out the words like gringas.
“Read from it, go on, read what it says,” my grandma would chime. And dutifully we would read the words as best we could, stumbling, skipping, unsure.
“Lah cue leva, el nombe my-s deul see…”
She would laugh like the notes of music, leaving a spark in her eyes that would last through our summer visits. As my sisters and I grew older, we grew wiser in the Spanish language. It is hard to ignore while living in New Mexico. We took courses that deepened our understanding, though not to the point of being fluent. We could listen and understand the language that had been so often used to hide things from us as we grew up…about our birth mother, the bills, the Montoya and Miranda gossip. But it was reading the Spanish that we learned best. Still, when my sisters and I would visit, we would read the words of the inscription aloud just as we had as children.
“Lah cue leva el nombe my-s duel see…”
To which we still make our grandmother, our mother, laugh.
the one that has the sweetest name
at the same time I hope you live through many years,
and no one can
take your place as my dear
Brown Sugar and Vanilla
My body felt awkward, and I felt left out of some secret all the other girls my age knew. They all had pretty backpacks, pretty clothes, pretty skin, and a bottle they carried with them from class to class. In the locker rooms they used these bottles, the mist of spray and colors would waft like fog in the air. Cucumber Melon, Sugar Cookies, Raspberry Chocolate, and my favorite: Brown Sugar and Vanilla. Is this what made a girl into a middle school girl? One day while we were out grocery shopping, I led my family to the body sprays. I looked up to my dad, wondering if my sisters would support my effort.
“Your mother would wear honeysuckle,” is all he would say, moving in quick steps along the store aisles. Did he not understand the secret either? Unable to wait, I took to the family bathroom one night, an old spray bottle and the vanilla imitation in my hands. I snuck in sugar and a spoon. I combined the ingredients quietly, carefully until it had the aroma, the perfect scent. It bubbled up in a warming liquid, and I inhaled deeply with satisfaction. I tested it on my wrists, like my grandmother had shown me once. On the back of my neck. I almost felt as if it soaked through my skin and into my veins. It was part of me now.
In the morning, everything placed back in the cupboard and the bottle hidden under my bed, I sprayed the concoction liberally over me. It did not take long for me to realize that my skin would get sticky and stain brown in spots. Every night I would have to scrub away this pretty scent, wondering if I should use it again. I knew I would, and I did over and over again.
Now in college, I’ve moved on from sugar mixtures to a perfume my dad suggested to me before he passed away. Exclamation. Like the Brown Sugar and Vanilla, I horde this new scent in my room and stock up on it around Christmastime. I’ve used it until I myself can no longer sense it; it has instead now become a part of me. At times I catch the scent in the wind, blowing off of me and into my mind. It reminds me of standing in the aisle of the store, just a few years ago, studying each scent as carefully as I had concocted my own. I remember my dad coming over with the shopping basket and joining in, telling me once again about the honeysuckle. He sprayed mists in front of him, looking at me smiling. At last he handed me Exclamation, telling me, “This is you.”
Whenever I smell either of them, I remember so much. I remember locker rooms, bathroom gossip, and my homemade remedy. I remember my Papa’s green eyes, black hair, his rich voice, and the all secrets he did know.
When she wrote this memoir, Katrina Montoya was 22 years old and pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in new media arts and creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She would like to acknowledge her family, friends, and the creative writing staff who have encouraged her to continue telling stories. “I would especially like to thank my dad, grandmother, and sisters for their constant guidance and support,” she says. “This is for you.”