by: Thalia K. Velazquez Quiles
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and while lying in bed all she heard was “Kathiria your coffee is going to get cold, don’t say I didn’t call you”. With a shrug she gets up and goes to get her coffee.
Sitting at the kitchen table was her grandmother waiting for her; she looks at her and smiles, within a second Kathiria forgets how perfectionist her grandma can be and smiles back.
“Abi”, as she calls her, has cared for Kathiria and her sisters for 12 years, since their mother died.
“She’s the one who gave me the news about Mom. She was being strong, but she knew everyone’s life was going to change”.
It did change. Catalina Camacho of 72 years old had two girls of her own and she hadn’t raised children for more than 15 years, but when her youngest daughter Jeannette died she was left in charge of her three daughters.
“Jeanny was sick and when she asked me if I would care for the girls if anything happened I immediately said yes”.
In 1996, Catalina had traveled to New York City and her daughter already had all the papers ready, all that was missing was Abi’s signature and she would have full custody of the girls if something was ever to happen.
Five years later she traveled again to N.Y., but when she came back to her Puerto Rico she wasn’t alone. Three little girls unaware of their new home were with her.
“I didn’t want to be here and I always tried to be outside the house”, says Kathiria, “I just tried to make the best of it”.
It wasn’t easy for Abi to raise three girls who had just lost their mother. They were rebels and sometimes all I could do was ignore them, but I was always there when they needed me.
Tanned skin, short hair and small eyes covered by glasses, a short and skinny woman quiet, shy and very humble person is the description of “Abi” through the neighborhood.
“She has her feet well placed on the ground”, says Goyita. “We’ve been friends for 53 years and she has always cared about other people more than of herself”.
“Abi” and “Goyita” look at each other and start to ramble about how they used to pick coffee together and her husband would scream at the back door Catín where is my coffee?
“They were both like my brothers, imagine after so many years”.
“He was a good man with a bad temper and a male chauvinist”, says Abi.
She and Cristóbal had fallen in love, but her parents were too overprotective so they escaped and got married. Sometimes she thinks that she should have listened to them, but it’s too late now.
They had two girls together and she cared for them as her parents had cared for her, but her husband and his bad temper always had him quarreling with Jeannette, but that’s because she had the same temper as him.
Unfortunately, as male chauvinist as he was he committed suicide. Abi says she thinks it was because she found him kissing another woman and he couldn’t handle that.
“He awoke one morning and said good-by, I thought he was going to the fields as he always did, but when I went to get him he was hanging on a tree.”
Most of her neighbors think that she hasn’t had it easy; she lost her husband and her daughter. They say that there’s no greater loss than a child, but she’s maintained strong and admire her for it.
“I think that Catalina is a strong woman and maintained this way for the sake of the girls,” says Jessica, one of her neighbors.
Jessica and other grown-ups from the neighborhood think of Catalina as a grandmother for them as well. They visit her and love to sit to drink coffee and remember the old days, where she would make them dumplings and let them play with her animals.
Catalina has always worked as a housewife, even as a little girl she took care of her parents when they got sick until they died. So when she had her own kids she knew how to deal with difficult household situations.
“It wasn’t the same with these girls,” she laughs. “They were always getting in trouble. They are just like their mother, curios and full of energy, it was like having her all over again”.
“Grandma took good care of us”, says Kathiria. “We were lucky to have her take us in because she maintained us united, who knows where we would be if it weren’t for her.”
Catalina knew it wouldn’t be easy and till today she still says it isn’t. But whenever she is asked if she has the opportunity to go back in time and change her decision if she would, she shows a comforting smile and says no.
“I was raised with principles and even when situations were tough my parents taught me that family was always going to be there and I wouldn’t give up having these girls for anything in the world”.
“Abi only wanted what was best for her granddaughters and she tries to help them in any way she could even though she knows that the power isn’t always in her hands,” says Jessica.
She would sit with them while they did their homework and wish she could help them, but she had only reached the fourth grade because of the lack of money for her time, so she just sat and watched them and they would sometimes show her what they were learning.
“Grandma was always looking out for us and that we had everything we needed to progress”, says Kathiria. “We would pay her back with good grades.”
Catalina with a twinkle in her eye replies “I want them to be the best they can be and they’ve proved that they can”.
“My sisters and I, we’re eternally grateful.”
Some neighbors say they should be, because what Catalina did not many people would do, but she says she doesn’t do it to get pity or for the pride and that she did it because it was right and for her own kin.