Meganlee Rose Rivera

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Mamá - Elsie Gonzales


I always thought the superstitions of the jibaritos, the past generations of Puerto Ricans, were fake because they were abstract and hard to believe. But one night while we sat together watching our usual TV shows, I heard my Grandmother Elsie, say, “I remember the first time I saw a living dead.”

“Whaaaat?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yes, the living dead. That was the way people from my time called them,” she said.

It was story time. I knew because she shifted her body in a certain way, crossed her legs and started moving her hands in the air for emphasis. I always found it funny the way she changed. Funny because she looked a lot like “La Comay” from the TV show “Super Xclusivo” where Cobo Santarosa disguises himself to gossip about famous people.

“But, how? You mean a ghost?” I asked her.

“Girl, no. This happened long ago, when I was a teenager. Imagine, I was living with Aunt Luisa in Carolina,” she answered. It seemed that she paused to stroke an imaginary mustache because she passed her finger across her upper lip and down her chin just as if she had a beard. But I think it was because she was remembering her astonishment.

My grandmother’s story began while she was attending a funeral burial at the local cemetery with Ti Luisa. But my grandmother, curious as always, was paying more attention to another nearby burial. Thanks to my own awful experiences at the graveyard, I had an idea about how she might have felt; you sweat a lot and because there are few paths, you have to be careful not to get stuck in the tiny spaces between tombs.

My grandmother was watching some men rearrange an old corpse in a tomb to make room for a recently deceased family member. The tombs are generally a square stone chamber set into the ground with several pairs of shelves to place succeeding generations of family, the oldest at the bottom.

“When they opened the tomb, the body looked as if it had just been buried. Everybody ran away,” said my grandmother.

“Who was she?” I asked.

“She was a girl about twenty-years-old. A pretty girl. She was whole. Her body hadn´t decomposed despite the fact that fifteen years had passed. Even her wedding dress, her long black hair, her make-up and the white roses in her bouquet were still as fresh as the day they buried her.

Títi Luisa told me that the bride died at the altar, because of a trabajo (spell) taking effect when the groom failed to arrive at the church. She became hysterical and between tears and screams, the girl died. The groom’s family didn’t believe it when a crazy man in town told them that an espiritista (witch) had killed him.

The espiritista of the town was an old woman who used to throw things that were enchanted to hurt people. The crazy man claimed he had dug a hole for her. ‘She offered me a caneca (rum) in exchange for a shovel so she could plant some plantains. I never saw the plantains.’

At the mention of rum everyone dismissed him as a drunk. After the tragedy, there was talk of a rivalry between the espiritista and a religious neighbor. The religious woman and her songs to God managed to make the espiritista move away. As time passed, a family friend bought the espiritista’s house.  The family warned him that the house was haunted, but he said he would knock the wooden house down and build a new one. In the process, bones were found and they were thought to belong to the sacrifices made by the espiritista until they found a skull. Everybody who knew of the story assumed the skull belonged to the missing groom who it turns out was killed because of envy.

Probably the espiritista was obsessed with the groom. The rest of his bones were found in a plantain grove,” said my grandmother.

“Didn´t the police investigate?” I asked.

“Hell no, Girl. Back in my day, the police didn´t do anything,” she said.

“What did they do with him?”

“They took his bones back to the waiting bride. When they opened her tomb, it was full of bones,” she said.

“But if the bride had not rotted in fifteen years, how could she be fully decomposed the second time it was opened, which was only months later?” I asked.

“Well, Girl.  Now you see, when a soul of God dies before its due time, it stays in our world.”

When my grandmother finished that phrase, my eyes watered with tears. I don’t believe in such things as trabajos. I also know there is an explanation for the fact that the bride’s body did not decompose, because back in the day, the tombs were sealed very well. However, it was very shocking for me to imagine the bride’s terrible desperation when her love failed to meet her at the altar. I could barely comprehend what level of despair and anguish could make a woman cry so much as to cause her own death.

Well, I am now convinced how influential these superstitions and beliefs are that dominated the lives of generations past. I may not believe them but I do respect their power over our imaginations. I guess one can say that yes, the girl was the living dead, because she waited for him until the family brought his bones to be with her, just as when they wanted to be married at the altar.





  1. This story reminds me of the stories my family used to tell me when I was a little girl. I also don’t believe that anything like this could happen because of spirits or spells. I do believe that there must be an explanation for what happened. But even though I don’t believe in that, I do believe that when love is that powerful strange things could happen, thus the reason why the bride’s body did not decompose until her love finally got to her.

  2. Superstitions or not superstitions, well I personally believe in paranormal stuffs, because I personally experience some times abnormal stuffs. And no I’m not in to “trabajos”, I just have that talent of seeing and feel things that other people have. And I believe that we as the new generation are a little bit unbelievers, and I believe that if our granparents believe in paranormal stuff they will have there reasons for it. We should not be ignorant and ignore this other dimension of the planet.

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