Esther came to The States from Honduras in the late 70’s as the Mail-Order bride of a man named Walter. She was not what anyone expected, neither young and timid, nor shapely and full of fire. Instead, she was thick, forty-something, plain and docile. She spoke little English, and faded into the background of any room she entered, like a dull, flowered wallpaper curling ever so slightly at the seams.
By all accounts, her husband was a simple man with few demands and little capacity for cruelty. He had already buried two wives and now looked to this new bride, to carry him through old age. Men, after all, were not meant to care for themselves. Maybe she expected more than his little trailer in that tiny foothill town, in the dry center of California. But if she did, she never said so.
Sometimes Walter took her to visit his children, two daughters and a son. He introduced her to his grandchildren as Esther. They never once called her Grandma. She was awkwardly kind to them, stroking their hair, hugging them, and smiling as they prattled on, seemingly unaware that she understood not a word of what they said. She had no grandchildren of her own. But she did have a son.
Back in Honduras, Esther’s son Hugo waited. I don’t know what he did while he waited. Got into trouble, I suspect. Walter didn’t want the boy to come. He was happy with the way things were. But Esther wasn’t happy. She longed for home and even more, she longed for Hugo. Finally, Walter gave in and sent for him. The boy, mostly grown by now, learned pretty quick how to get in trouble American-style. For an old man like Walter, whose own children had been relatively well behaved, Hugo was a challenge. Still, he treated him like a son and did the best for him that he could.
Meanwhile, Esther became increasingly depressed. She’d lived for nearly ten years as this old white man’s wife. She’d cooked and cleaned their little mountain trailer. She’d learned just enough English to get along, a “yes sir” here and a “thank you” there. She’d brought Hugo to America, only to find he didn’t much need her anymore. How much more she must have wanted from life. And so, she began to pray.
Now Esther didn’t pray simply or quietly, on her knees beside the bed, with whispered requests slipping between her folded hands. This was not the way of her people, nor the religion of her youth. No, Esther prayed through secret rituals and incantations. Esther prayed locked in the bathroom, with candles and chanting and the innards of a chicken. Esther prayed with such fervor and intensity that one night she nearly burned their little mountain trailer to the ground.
Some might say that her prayers were answered on that night. Others might say, that her husband merely decided it was time to send his dangerously crazy wife home. Either way, Esther was on the next flight back to Honduras, leaving Hugo and Walter standing at the gate, smiling and waving, pretending as if they’d someday see her again.
This is all I can tell you of Esther, because this is all I know. She is merely a footnote in an uncomfortable history; my history. But I do remember the wide, plain face, sad smile and awkward embraces of my favored grandfather’s third and final wife.
*The attached image “Hombre” is the work of Honduran artist Victor Lopez