DEATH OF A LOCAL CHARACTER

Nena was born into a family of over twenty siblings. When Chon’s mother describes  Doña Mathilde’s and Don Luz’ multitudinous family she always says that Mathilde had 23 children; “tres vezes cuates”; three times twins.

Nena’s name is Maria Elena, but was never called that. She was always called Nena, a common nickname for Elena. Nena is also a word for “baby girl”. Nena was a twin, born second. She was always trailing behind – in everything.  She was not very healthy, and many things just sort of passed her by. As she grew to adulthood she became known in this little town as a viguera; a person with “bad” language. She liked to sit in front of her family’s little store, right across the street from us, and watch the world go by, trumpeting  insulting remarks about nearly everyone.

We met about 26 years ago, and I tended to avoid her; not because of her language so much, but because I was learning to speak Spanish, and Nena was harder than the usual to understand.  As I came to know her better, we would have conversations. I can’t remember her ever saying anything really rude to me, but whatever Nena said to anyone was heard by everyone within a couple of hundred feet because of her extremely loud and focused voice. She was absolutely incorrigible; loud, rude and crude.

Her health, never good, began to deteriorate to a serious level a few years ago. A small-boned person, quite short of stature, she began to carry more and more weight on her frame. She looked a great deal like a ball and she had to lean back to walk on her tiny feet. People said that she carried a lot of water weight, and evidently that was true. They said that from time to time the doctors would remove several liters of water from her stomach. That was not true, except for the amount.

Several times I heard family say that they just didn’t know what was wrong with Nena; the doctors had told her, but they just couldn’t remember what it was that they had said. She died of renal failure.

The last few months of her life she developed a continuous cough, deep, rasping, and painful-sounding. Here at our house we heard it a lot, because she would visit nearly every day. She especially liked to visit on Tuesdays when Chavela would come, because she often brought or prepared here delicious meals. Nena was the first one to the table, not only at our house.  She made herself welcome in many, many neighboring homes.

She and Chon would sometimes exchange mild insults. Other people would avoid her, or just chuckle and shake their heads, saying “Oh, Nena,”. In spite of her insulting and low speech, was quite religious, and attended mass when she could.

There was much conjecture about her coffin – how would they fit the enormous amount of flesh into it? As it turned out, the coffin was a normal one, with a glass window on top.

The funeral mass was very well-attended, and included many family members who had not visited for years. Many of the attendees had never been friends of Nena’s, but attended out of respect for the family, or bald curiosity.

There were fireworks Saturday night, when Nena’s body arrived from the hospital/morgue, and there were more fireworks early the next morning. These are typically rocket-type things that are shot into the air, and explode high above. You can hear the swish of the rocket as it flies.  There was also a mariachi group, only occasionally hired in our little town (mariachis are costly). Nena had a couple of favorite songs, and they were sung, along with popular rancheras, at the velorio.

As far as I know, although Nena told stories about bus drivers and musicians that she had her eye on, she never had a boyfriend. I doubt that she ever had a close friend. She never attended school. She lived much of her life in pain. She was truly one-of-a-kind, and I already miss her.

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