Worms – The Sequel

The back door of the kitchen in the house in Guatemala led to a smallish courtyard where the wringer washer sat, and where the maids spent part of their days doing our wash.  I loved the lazy schloomp-schloomp sound of the sudsy wet laundry agitating in the big white barrel, and the staccato pop-pop of buttons snapping off my father’s shirts as the sopping clothes were mashed and mangled through the wringers.

My mother’s linen closet held an impressive array of tablecloths, placemats and napkins; large dinner napkins, medium-sized luncheon napkins, and itty-bitty cocktail napkins; even tiny round ruffled ones that had a slit in which to slip the stem of a wine glass, fitting it like a little flat slipper: all part of the requisite stash of the well-equipped hostess.

My family’s stiffly starched and pressed linen napkins were neatly rolled into circular holders of intricately carved ivory, each personalized with our initials, “P,” “B,” “J,” “S,” and placed on the dining room table atop our stiffly starched and pressed linen placemats. A good 40 years or so after the last time I uncoiled a napkin from one, my mother passed along to me the yellowed ivory napkin rings, but I don’t dare use them because I’m afraid the elephant police will come to take me away.

I was 9 years old, and one laundry day I stood outside, mesmerized by the motion of the Maytag as it cha-cha’d across the courtyard. One of the laundresses, Josefina, took a little breather, peeled two fat mangos she’d pilfered from the fruit bowl in the kitchen and offered me one.  We were secret collaborators in a taboo act, as we both knew she wasn’t supposed to steal mangos, and I wasn’t supposed to eat between meals. Gleeful in my gluttonous act of rebellion, I ate my mango right off the seed, the juice tickling and trickling down my chin.

I don’t know who was more unpleasantly surprised, me or the little white worms whose hitherto happy home together with its Lilliputian occupants, I had just greedily gulped down. I clearly remember standing stock-still and slack-jawed, gazing at the last surviving, panicked little critters as they crawled up my sticky upraised arms.

Desperately wanting to cry, I instead began gasping like a codfish, unable to emit even the tiniest of squeaks; a fortunate circumstance because had I hollered for my mother, she most certainly would have slapped me silly and fired the beloved maid.  But, before I regained my voice, the horrified Josefina, muttering a string of “ay-ay-ay’s” and “carambas,” rushed to wipe me clean. When she was done, she threw the napkin and its nauseating contents into the dancing Maytag, washing away the incriminating evidence of her felonious and maggoty act of kindness.

4 comments on “Worms – The Sequel”

  1. Reminds me of the time I was in Yiayia’s kitchen and I bit into a beautiful ripe apricot and discovered HALF a worm. I’m not surprised you remember every detail of that story. I loved it!

  2. You’re a terrific writer, Susie. After a few more of these, I suggest you publish them in the form of a coffee-table book and watch it roll in!

  3. What memories! My mother had the same linen supply as yours. On her death it was agonizing to let them go. My siblings and I, not to memtion the grands had no use for them.

  4. Wow…
    I think it is the fear that jogs my mother’s memories….
    Beautifully biting!


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