Madre Angelita grew up near a river in Jose Maria, a village in the Sierra Norte. She also grew up in two other ranchos and would live at one or the other or the third depending on the season and if the family needed to harvest, make cheese, or more closely tend the animals. Her father lived in Jose Maria and was employed for many years as the municipal secretary. But he longed to work the land and walk in between his cows. And he missed his children. Angelita was happiest when her father was home and the family was reunited.
Angelita spent a lot of time in that river in Jose Maria. She and her sister would bathe in it and wash their long, thick hair that hung past their waist. One day when she was 12 years old, Angelita’s sister washed her straight, long, lustrous hair and went to sit on a chair. She was particularly tired that day, and she fell asleep on the chair resting her head in a pillow of her own arms that she drapped in front of her on another chair.
The next day, all her hair fell out of her head! Why? I asked Madre Angelita. Because she fell asleep before her hair had dried, she answered. I asked Angelita if she believed that a person’s hair will fall out if they go to sleep with it wet, and she told me that she did.
When the sister’s hair began growing back, Angelita and her Tia made a poultice from white tomatoes. They rubbed the tomatoes on the sister’s head and left it there for hours. When her hair grew back, it was curly.
Madre Angelita shared this story with me while I worked the knots out of her back. She’s too little and too old for the massage table, so she sat on the sofa and faced the wall, while I sat on the arm of the sofa, kneading and listening… absorbed and transcended by childhood memories tenderly wrapped and delivered in her sighing, sing-song voice.