The apartment was always clean. No, not clean, spotless. Every day my nana would swipe and mop the floors, clean the toilets and desinfect the kitchen. There were also monthly cleanings scheduled: to vacuum the furniture, wipe the windows, wax the floors, to deep clean doors, cabinets, and walls. We lived in the city, so dust was an ever-present enemy: always around but never welcomed.
If Nana was away or on vacation, mom would do it herself. She’d change into her home attire; a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, some bobby pins to hold her bangs, and her adored beige heeled flip-flops. She’d turn on the radio and dedicate her Saturday afternoon to making sure the house looked nice. Even if we didn’t have any plans. Even if no one was visiting. There was something about cleanliness that made my mother feel at peace.
Her house projects were multiple and varied, but her favorite by far was her plants. She kept them at a corner of the apartment that was breezy and sunny at all the right moments. It was her own personal garden: Jade, Aloe, and Calla Lilies were her favorites. She’d water them and replant them, talk to them and take care of them when they were sick. Can you believe plants get sick? They’d look sad and droopy, their leaves scattered across the floor. She’d nurse them back to health in ways that were a mystery to me. They’d be grateful and grow white sturdy flowers just for her, filling the house with the fresh aroma of life.
Pets were never welcomed, though. Mom liked animals, but only from afar. I protested many times, but the conversations quickly turned into discussions and then into out-of-the-question topics: no point in bringing them up and starting a fight I knew was already lost. I only understood years later it was them she was trying to protect. Her babies would have been chewed, their stems broken, their dirt messy on the floor. She would’ve never let that happen.
I remember watching her, admiring her even; unable to understand their connection. Trying to grasp how something my bratty-self found so dull brought her so much joy. I learned to give them space and respected them as members of the household. As members of our home. Mom, Nana, las niñas, and myself. A modern and mismatched version of Little Women; her the matriarch, us orbiting around her. Dazzled by her spirit. Thankful just to be there.
I never did learn her tricks myself. I never did ask the right questions when she was still around, but I’ve tried to recreate her little corner with resilient plants: two Cacti, a Jade (I think), and an Aloe (of course). So far all of them are still alive. I wish I could take credit for it but I’m pretty sure this is also her doing —nursing us back to health, taking care of us from the great beyond.