She turned to me excitedly, "Did you know it was going to be like this?? It's like Macau!" Macau was where our mother hailed from and it was undoubtedly reminiscent, from the architecture down to the cobbled streets. I was likewise awed at this resemblance, in fact it had taken me aback.
I smiled politely, "Lo ciento mucho pero no, we haven't been to Ek Balam yet. Good effort though." I gave him a friendly pat on the back to send him on his way while the Lovely Libran eyed me a touch suspiciously. I shrugged, "Seriously don't know him." Still the eye. "Not my type, hello?," I repeated. This she had to concede to. Still, all the strange familiarity had become eerie.
In the following days, we'd made our way back slowly, spending time in the pyramids of Ek Balam then to Tulum, where the last and final thread of the familiar was woven in. Our innkeeper Hugo was a chatty man from Philly who wore a perennially open shirt, the strip of exposed skin and greying chest hair almost a uniform. He'd encouraged us to stay in for dinner as we were too disillusioned with the now encroaching city vibe to do much else. It was the dessert that did it.
Was our mother there in the kitchen behind the bar? She could've been. This flan was her flan. With this last visceral clue, the days we'd spent in the Yucatan shook out all the puzzle pieces of our mother, and somewhere a sentence once begun was finally completed.
Most of her family had emigrated from country to country, adapting as they needed to. Some from Portugal, some from Mexico, someone said there was a grandmother from France, and even she had left Macau to move to another country. Our generation didn't use Spanish or Portuguese as she did, not even Chinese as our father did. So much of thought, and process is hidden in language, and because all three were more of a mystery to us, we could only understand as much of our parents' native cultures from their dwindling presence. Every piece watered down as they themselves changed. And out of all their children, I had continued on from the country of my birth to somewhere else as if it were an instinctive tradition to roam one more further.
I'd ordered that flan as much as possible and when we returned to Los Angeles, the Lovely Libran had set straight to piecing together the recipe. I'd shown her the splattered, dog-eared cook book our mother had given me, her handwriting scrawled on blank pages sharing her secret recipes, but there was not one for her flan.
It didn't deter the Lovely Libran. Amidst the last busy days of her visit, she concocted plates of it, determined to capture the elusive remembrance of tummy and tongue. It was the same right after our Mother died. I had been stonily quiet - maybe from lack of sleep and jet lag after an almost 19 hour flight, while her and the Cornucopia Capp sister (so-called for having sprung five children) had proceeded to whip up our mother's hallmark dishes.
I suppose that's where a mother's love is, in a dish, served warm and cooked specially for you. We can be confused by the disagreements families are beset with upon adulthood, conveniently revise our childhood memories, be past the play of physical affections we used to share with our parents, outgrow our pet names, but a dish is there, every year, every time. A dish is forever.
Instead the trip had restored to me one more thing that our mother had always made special for us. Christmas. Away from the rest of my family, I'd gritted my teeth through it. To friends, I was facile in my merriment but alone, my private space hadn't a hint of the season and neither did I really, not inside. Now, a few days from her third death anniversary, I managed a wreath and a single string of merry red lights. A little of life pumping back into the red of the holidays. Not much, but just enough to take back Christmas.