In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Many moms in this family, but Mami wears the crown

When I’m work-weary, I stand in the hall where my mother displays the diplomas and certificates she has earned during a lifetime, and I quickly regain perspective and gratitude.

That wall and its sepia-toned education degree from Matanzas’ teachers college and the early-exile certificates from The English Center in downtown Miami were an inspiration when I was away at college tackling tall challenges.

They still ground me, move me, but these days I also laugh.

Life has mellowed my mother, and each of those documents comes with a terrific story told Mami-style — long, anecdotal, with a historical perspective and something I can only describe as the flair for the telenovela pathos she has acquired through the years.

My mother is the storyteller of the family and everything I enjoy — my newspaper career and book-writing — I owe to her innate sense of drama.

Mami doesn’t just tell stories. She assaults you with them.

“I have to tell you this family secret,” she blurted out during an interminable rush-hour drive to suburbia from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

Her best story, but not exactly rush-hour material, and there I was a captive audience.

Worse yet, I can’t repeat the story. She swore me to secrecy (isn’t that what always happens in telenovelas?).

I can say this: Martyrs and femme fatales are her favorite protagonists.

She had older brothers who supported her education dreams, but quashed her desire to become a singer. Still, she once cajoled her way to the stage and sang at Matanzas’ famed Teatro Sauto.

One song, one time, but the telling of that story has given her a lifetime of joy.

By now, I’ve figured out that Mami uses her stories to teach. She’s adorably polite, and doesn’t call us, her children and grandchildren, on our shortcomings to our face. Those she mumbles to herself as she walks away.

Thankfully, Jeffrey Loria and her once beloved Marlins have done us a favor by becoming the No. 1 cause of her disappointment.. Whew.

“Those Marlins,” she pronounced last year after their first anemic game in the new ballpark, “need to start drinking some Ensure.”

This year she’s so disgusted she doesn’t even want to talk about them. She mumbles at the television, flip-flopping channels between Marlins games and her favorite telenovela starring a sacrificing mother whose ungrateful sons make her cry every episode.

I never want to be on the list of people she mumbles against, but I often am. I want her to last forever, so I’ve become the undesirable enforcer of doctors’ orders and safety practices.

Despite all the mothers in the family — including my daughters, who have made her twice a great-grandmother — our Mother’s Day is all hers.

My middle daughter will take her to church and to Vicky Bakery for croquetas and pastelitos. My oldest daughter will bake her cupcakes. My brother will barbecue ribs.

Next week, I’ll be expected to sit in silence as she tells a tall tale to the doctor about her eating habits.

Long as she’s around, there’s no doubt who wears the crown.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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