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Consuelo comes back

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POSTED March 21, 2010 1:57 a.m.
As always, she catches me by surprise.  There huddled at the back door, this time clutching a brand new jacket.  With her other hand she holds a sheet of pink laminated paper, as if it means all the world to her.

“I had the most wonderful birthday,” she begins in her heavily accented Spanish.  “First, I was just walking into the church when I turned, and the first thing I saw on the table was my name.”  She’d come across the article from the Bulletin the week before.  Folding it carefully, she’d stored it in a little plastic bag, together with some prayers and miscellaneous items.

“Consuelo, Consuelo, Consuelo, Consuelo,” she keeps on repeating, each time with more affection and a brighter expression on her wrinkled face.

“The man with the churros went looking all over for me,” she beams.  “He brought me this one.”  Now she holds up the pink version of that article.

We’d had pink flowers and a pink-covered card waiting for her in the rectory.  It seemed strange, given how little her feminine side shines through her tough exterior and rough way of talking.  But maybe that was what she needed.  Now, finally, she could smell those flowers before they wilted completely.  And she revels for 90 minutes in her birthday joy.

“Everyone seemed to wish me well.  Even the policeman who kicked me out came back and brought me an ice-cream cone.  It seems like even the animals are treating me better.  They come around and keep me company.”

No wonder.  As she rambles on, we hear story after story of how she’s been helping out her neighbors on the street.  From the drunk on the corner freezing in the night (“I gave him my neck-blanket”) to the homeless who come around looking for a handful of food or some easy cash, to the cat-sized squirrel

Consuelo’s seen better days.  Once a professional, she moved from the fields through various levels of work to becoming a court interpreter.  But then what she calls a frame-up job left her in jail for a year.  Later, her third husband (“the first love of my life”) was killed in a wreck just as he was coming to reconcile.  “After he died, I lost any sense life was worth living.  I had been doing good, I had been going to church, but I stopped.”

Consuelo talks for another hour about her incredibly diverse life-experience.  She’s undoubtedly alcoholic, but her Spanish-and-English comes out clear as water and all patches together a story as ragged as her old, tattered clothing under that brand new birthday coat.

And then she breaks out into song.  And she’s right on tune: “We all need someone we can leeeeeaaan on.”  As she performs the entire piece, she bows and sways and lifts up her voice to the ceiling, as if to God Himself.

But finally it’s time to go.  I’ve been miserably sick and need to rest.  She is hot and feels confined whenever she’s indoors (a blend of three Indian tribes, Irish, and German, she’s born to be wild).  But during the last twenty minutes of our conversation, she’s holding a glass of orange drink which I had filled nearly to the brim.  I had no idea she would keep it in her gesturing hand, which is constantly moving.  But it never spills a drop.

 In fact, I’m amazed at the grace with which she has taken it from me, with her wizened hand suddenly feminine, gentle, demure.  She is still a lady.

Outside, in the dark, she spins around.  “One day, we’ll get together the man with the churros, Martin, those other guys out there, that policeman, my animals, and all of you.  We’ll make a big meal and eat it all together.”

 “And I’m going to pretty up.  I’m going to wash my clothes, fix my hair, make it oh so nice, and you’ll be amazed.  There’s a pretty woman inside of me.  You don’t believe me?  Just wait and see.  I can be so beautiful.  I look at myself and all of a sudden I remember how pretty I used to be.”

 She walks off and calls to me from the courtyard below.  “Am I doing this right?”  She’s making the sign of the cross in front of the Virgin’s statue.

 “That one’s for God, Consuelo,” I reply.  “But Our Lady doesn’t mind.”
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