The baby Jesus in Elsa Rivera’s Nativity scene holds the letter written by her grandson. On it, 5-year-old Jonathan Alberto has listed the toys he’d like.
But Rivera has another request: Good health, for her and her family.
Rivera, her daughter Cristina, her two sons David and Daniel, and her granddaughter Alyssa all have epilepsy.
To spend days in and out of doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, and to see her children suffer as well, has been Rivera’s burden for nearly 30 years. But that burden became heavier when Rivera’s husband left her and their children three years ago.
Besides the 12 medications Elsa takes daily — she is also a survivor of thyroid and uterus cancer — she keeps in her head the list of prescriptions Cristina, Alyssa, David and Daniel must also take.
In addition to the epilepsy, Cristina, 27, also suppers from cirrhosis and was recently diagnosed with lupus. But it is not the prospect of a liver transplant that robs Cristina of her sleep. She is worried about being a good role model to her daughter Alyssa. A single parent — Alyssa’s father is in jail — Cristina takes her daughter to school on a trailer attached to her bicycle. In the absence of a car, they ride the bike around Homestead despite the pain and discomfort it causes both of them.
Rivera is a professional accountant, but has not been able to work for several years because of her frequent epileptic seizures. She lives on a small Social Security pension.
“My children know that I cannot buy them Christmas presents, but I tell them that it’s most important for the family to be together and united,’’ Rivera said. The house of Doña Elsa, as her neighbors call her, is also the place where Daniel, his wife and their son Jonathan live, plus a dog and a cat they picked up from the street.
For the holidays, she planned to make cakes, pies, alcapurria fritters and “sancocho,” a typical stew made with fish or chicken, plantain and cassava.
For Rivera, giving her children the gift of Puerto Rican traditions, is invaluable.
There’s always a smile, a hug, and a slice of pie she has baked in her recently repaired kitchen.
“My biggest wish was to have a good kitchen and my children made it happen,’’ Rivera explained. “I got the materials at a very low cost — I was almost cooking on the floor — and they made sure to install the cabinets, fix the floor and even open a hole for the oven. Now I can cook in peace, though sometimes the refrigerator gives me a hard time.’’
Rivera was nominated for Wish book by the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida.
For this holiday season, Rivera asks is for peace and tranquility for her family and to have them at her table to enjoy her delicious recipes.
“My best gift for them is food,’’ said Rivera, “which besides uniting us at a table, it’s delicious the way I cook it!”