Nin Andrews Interviews Adriana Páramo

Adriana2

Adriana Páramo

Nin Andrews
I love this book (My Mother’s Funeral)!  It reads like a novel, and it is a beautiful celebration of you mother’s life.   What an amazing woman your mother was!  I have a feeling you could spend a lifetime writing about her, that there are many more stories to tell.

Adriana Páramo
Thank you Nin. This book is not just about my mother; it is also about the mothers of all those women of my generation who grew up fatherless and poor. This is a story about women who made it alive to the other side, against all odds, simply because they had, not only each other, but also an ironfisted mother like mine.

Yes, my mother was an amazing woman. But so are the single mothers of other women. There are single mothers all over the world who, despite being illiterate, poor, and full of flaws, manage to raise healthy, productive, and strong women.

It is my hope that the book is not only a celebration of one woman’s life, but that it rather serves as an extrapolation tool to celebrate single mothers across borders.

NA
This book is so magical. It’s almost as if there is a halo around the book. Did you feel that magic when you were writing it?

AP
I’m not sure if I’d choose “magical” to describe My Mother’s Funeral. The book is as real, raw, and grounded as a nonfiction book can be. I steered clear of magical realism, magical potions and magical anything, because I didn’t want the book to fall into the stereotypical Latin-American literature. However, there are parts that have a dream-like feel to them, such as the sections dealing with my parents’ turbulent relationship, my mother’s confession by the river in Alaska, and the climactic moment of my mother’s death with the rich imagery which accompanied her demise.

NA
Did you feel your mother’s presence when you were writing this book?  Did you wonder what she would have thought of your stories about her?

AP
My mother was a very private person. I’m sure it would have taken a lot of work (on my part) to convince her that the book is not her daughter spilling the beans about our family, but rather a tribute to her strength, determination, love, and self-sacrifice.

About feeling her presence: Yes, of course. At times it felt as though she was dictating the manuscript and I was simply writing it down on her behalf. My mother’s presence in my life is all pervasive; it’s so real, so tangible, so omnipresent, that even now, seven years after her passing, I have to remind myself that she is dead.

NA
Your mother raised all six of her children with little more than her ingenuity and steely will to keep out of poverty.  Even after reading it, I want to ask how she did it.  Do you think of her as a kind of Super Woman?

AP
Nin, single mothers are not any kind of Super Women. They are Super Women. The real deal. My mother could have given up. She was borderline illiterate, poor and lonely. But her love for her children and her moral responsibility towards them were a driving force; they propelled the six of us in no other direction than ahead. My sisters, who were a lot older than I was, became mom’s unforeseen team members. They had to drop out of high school to work, to support one another, to carry the baby girl, me, on their shoulders.

NA
Your mother was, it seems, a hopeless romantic when it came to your father, despite the way he treated her.  She talked about his love letter forever.  Could you quote that letter here?

AP
Oh, the letter. We heard mom recite this little line so many times throughout the years that all of us know it by heart: Cuando usted me mira, me siento transportado al cielo de Mahoma enardecido levemente en ópalo y topacio. Whenever you look at me, I feel transported to Mohammed’s heaven, lightly engulfed by opal and topaz.

NA
You talked about how your mother and father met, courted, married, and made love, as if you were there.  You allowed your mind to go into their past so naturally and easily.  Was that difficult to do?  Did you mother describe your father in his early years in vivid detail?

AP
It is difficult to reconstruct something you haven’t witnessed. Yet, my mother told me all about the courtship and the marriage with its few ups and the countless downs. By virtue of my being the youngest in the family I spent a lot of time alone with mom while my sisters were either at school or at work. We had a lot of “alone” time which she used to teach me life lessons—men want one thing and only one thing from women, a woman doesn’t need a man to be happy, men eat a lot that’s why they should be served more food at the table, men don’t give presents to women unless they want something in return—and to talk about the past. Her past. The things I didn’t witness but which she wanted me to know.

NA
I can’t believe your sister dug up a skeleton and boiled it so that she could get an A in science class.  She really did that?

AP
Absolutely. Yes. Not only one but two skeletons. When I say that our education was the most precious gift my mother wanted to give us, I really mean it. If my sister needed a skeleton for her anatomy class, my mother would’ve gone to any lengths, to help her put the thing together and see the A on her report card. The first skeleton dissolved in a home-made sludge of baking soda, so my mother authorized a second skeleton, which we kept in our home for a long time way after the science project had been finalized.

NA
I loved the character, Blanca, who your mother said had pubic hair all over, and who took care of your mother until she started to show interest in men.  I felt so sad when she and your mother parted ways. Forgive me for asking, but did Blanca ever find a man?

Did she ever find out the color of Napoleon’s white horse?

AP
I shared a few years with Blanca before I left Colombia. She possessed a kind of innocence you only read about in cheap romance novels. She was easy to tease, easy to fool, easy to like, to love. There was nothing intricate about Blanca. She was/is a simple woman with a heart of gold. I don’t know if she ever found a man, although I hope she did. And no, something tells me she is still wondering what color Napoleon’s white horse was.

NA
Did Catholicism play a role in your mother’s strength?  And in her love and faithfulness to your father?

AP
Yes. My mother believed that a marriage was an indissoluble covenant and as such, it was a binding and weighty obligation. My mother also believed that this covenant meant that a good Catholic woman’s body (not the man’s) belonged to her spouse for life. What my mother felt for my father was not just love. She felt the kind of blind devotion, I imagine, a spiritually hungry follower feels toward his guru. She worshipped him, re-invented herself to suit his whims, forgave him for his inability to love her back, and in the process loved him some more. My parents remained married throughout the years-long separations and when they died, they were still legally married to each other.

NA
Were there parts of your mother’s life you didn’t want to write down on paper?

AP
No. I can’t think of anything I did not want to write about her. If mom had secrets, I never knew about them. After she died, while my siblings and I emptied her apartment, I looked for secrets. I searched her drawers, the backs and the bottoms of boxes, underneath coasters and among her underwear. I wanted to find a secret. Anything mysterious, sordid, extraordinary. Nothing. I found nothing. My mother was an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things, and I like to think that I wrote most of them.

NA
Was it a healing to write this book?

AP
There was nothing to heal. Her death is no longer a gushing wound; it is a scar. Rather than healing, what I found in writing the book, was a sense of reconciliation, of deep acceptance, and immense respect towards the woman who was my protector, my enemy, my tyrant, my ally, my friend, my everything.

NA
What do your siblings think of your book?

AP
Only one of my siblings speaks English.  She has taken it upon herself to translate bits of the book so that my other siblings can be a part of it. Through my writing, I hope, I give them back our mother, with her euphemisms, her steely rules, her “angry food,” her sacrifices, and her boundless love for us, music, and my father.

NA
I’d love to end with an excerpt from the text, a favorite paragraph or two?

AP
Towards the end of the book, I imagine what went through mom’s mind as she took her last breath. I imagine:

That she began to snore in the “agonal respiration,” that ragged, gurgling patterns of breathing typical of those within minutes, sometimes hours, of their death. Mom’s chest bolted as if hit by lightning. The first bolt, like a violent hiccup, made her chest rise in the air; a few seconds later came a weaker strike, followed by something similar to a quiet belch. Then her lower jaw went south then east changing the geography of her face in quick succession.  There was tension then pain then agony then silent resignation.  My mother’s face rose and fell inside the perfect fit of the nurse’s arms.

That Mom felt something similar to drunkenness. Her head swelled and the crown relaxed and quivered, then melted into a blue sky. She was floating.  Her thoughts went out like fireworks exploding onto each other, and in a flash of sparks, she found herself in the most beloved piece of soil in the world, Mariquita. And there, in that place that smelled of avocado and earth after rain, she was no longer my mother. She was Carmen. Just Carmen.

********

Women. Water. Blood. Carmen is by the river with her two sisters and her five girls. They bend their naked bodies over the rocks and wash their wombs and their hearts. Who has the bloodiest of all? One of them asks. Carmen! They shout in unison. And the women surround her with the intertwined arms of a needy vine while one of her girls carries out a song. Only this time, she halts the sweetness of her contralto voice at midsentence, and instead lets out a scream, more like an angry howl.  The other women join in and so does Carmen who seems to be the angriest of all until they hear the voices of other women crossing, naked, the cordillera. By the time the sun had sunk its teeth into the horizon the water is thick and scarlet and there is not a single silent woman. Or one who isn’t angry. Or one with her womb and heart intact.

********

 Earth. Love. Tears. Carmen wraps the letter in a plastic bag and puts it in a small wooden box. It’s a lacquered rectangular thing he gave her after telling her it was from China, but she knows it isn’t. She knows the box is a cheap knick knack he probably bought at a bar, either before or after passing out. On the day he leaves her for a younger, prettier woman, she takes the box out and sets it on the ground. It’s Wednesday and it’s beginning to rain. She walks inside and looks at the drops of rain bounce off the box, from the kitchen during the day, and from her bedroom at night.  The weight of the life contained inside the box is beginning to bury it into the ground. On Sunday after church, she buys a hand trowel and with it she digs a hole at the center of the earth, places the box at the bottom and covers it with wet soil that smells of magnolias. She doesn’t tell anyone but whenever he looked at her, she felt transported to Mohammed’s heaven, lightly engulfed by opal and topaz.

 **********

I think that Mom’s memories began to faint.  A vacuum sucked her upward with a violent jerk as if an invisible parachute had just opened above her head. Then everything was quiet, everything was white, everything stopped.  She no longer gasped for air.  Her face became unhinged at the jaws, a bead of foamy saliva formed in the corners of her mouth, her neck turned yellow like a withered daffodil, and her eyes closed with a slow flutter.  It didn’t smell of sulfur and no marauding vultures bid her farewell. An unfathomable chasm of nothingness swallowed her whole.

*********

Love. She is in his arms. She is safe. Every concavity of his dark body fits nicely into the corresponding convexities of hers. Perfection. There is a space on his chest where her face fits like the missing piece of a puzzle. She puts it there and hears the locking mechanism. Click. Perfect. His heart plays a tango, hers a bolero and they hum and dance to all the music in the world.  Husband and wife, man and woman. He is fire; she is the earth. Whatever he destroys, she’ll replenish with opal and topaz. Gladly. Lovingly.

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One Response to Nin Andrews Interviews Adriana Páramo

  1. Dalila says:

    Very, very great interview. It touched my soul very deep.

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