Norma Minsal has covered the living room wall of her Hialeah apartment with photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. That has been her world since a stroke 11 years ago paralyzed the right side of her body and left her in a wheelchair.
Minsal, 94, cannot move her body but her brain remains active and travels easily back to her childhood or the time she met her late husband, Esteban.
But although Minsal can speak passionately about the Havana neighborhood where she was born – Puentes Grandes, near the Almendares River – or the pink dress she wore to celebrate her 15th birthday, she cannot answer any questions.
She has lost almost all her hearing — and with that, much of her communication with the world — and visitors must write down their comments and questions to her.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
A pencil and a few words work their magic, and she returns to her usual smile. But a good hearing aid would allow her to chat with her grandchildren and especially with Agustina Anduray, a 76-year-old Honduran woman who cares for her 24 hours a day.
Minsal’s story is part of Wish Book, the annual holiday season initiative by the Miami Herald and Nuevo Herald to help some of South Florida’s neediest families.
The Guardianship Program of Dade County nominated Minsal for Wishbook because her apartment needs major repairs. Without them, she might be forced to move out.
“She never complains. She’s always happy,” said her son, Pedro Minsal, who does not live with her but was present for her interview with the Nuevo Herald.
“She used to have parties, to gather the family and cook for all,” he said. He added that her air conditioner breaks down frequently, and she recently spent 11 days without AC.
Fixing it will cost thousands of dollars because it needs a new compressor and the repairs will require a crane to lift the equipment to the roof, which will add $1,000 to the costs, said a grandson who has been getting quotes for the repairs.
Minsal and her husband bought the Hialeah apartment 20 years ago, after selling their longtime home. After Esteban died, she obtained a reverse loan, using the apartment as collateral, to pay expenses.
Her son said the income from the reverse loan has run out.
The kitchen and the bathrooms, which have not been renovated since the 1970s, also need costly repairs. The humidity is threatening Minsal’s health, and may require her to move out of the apartment.
Minsal came to the United States in 1962 and focused on raising her children. The youngest was then three years old.
During the interview, her son handed her a photo of her wedding.
“We were married May 4,” she said. She stopped there, because could not remember the year.
But she clearly remembers that she was nicknamed La Gallega because her parents were Spaniards, and how she met Esteban at a home she often visited.
“The mother had only male sons. But I fell in love with Esteban,” she said, as though she was reliving the moment she decided to favor him over the others.
If photos indeed reflect a life, her photos reflect a full life.
“Look, that’s one of my great grandchildren. His mother is from the Catalan region [of Spain]. And those others play soccer,” she said from the recliner where she watches TV, eats and spends most of the day.
It would be best if she did not have to move out of her apartment, if she could spend her final days near those memories, if her sons and grandchildren can continue visiting her where she once hosted family gatherings.
“She has always been very affectionate. When I got home late, she used to stay up for me watching a movie, and sometimes we would talk about it,” said the worried son.
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (The most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at Miamiherald.com/wishbook .
Follow Sarah Moreno on Twitter: @SarahMorenoENH.