As a young missionary, I spent a lot of time listening to my Spanish speaking peers, trying to copy the sounds and expressions until they were my own. I had a woman who worked with me in my home, and I used her like a constant tutor, asking questions, practicing my grammar and accent until our exchanges became conversations.
One of the first things she taught me was how to make fresh salsa. We’d cut the tomatoes in half, carefully choose our jalapeños, peel the skin off the onion, and pick the cilantro leaves. Meanwhile, she would chatter at me about technique I hardly understood, but imitated nonetheless.
This woman, Meme, eventually wove herself into the fabric of our family, becoming a Mexican grandmother to my children. We’d move back to the US fifteen years later, and she would follow us here, not knowing any longer life outside our family rhythm.
She’d balk at the blandness of US jalapeños, and still mock me for putting in salt at the wrong stage of the recipe. She’d carefully spread salsa on her eggs, chicken, and popcorn. It was the great forgiver. If I made something particularly “American” and it didn’t suit her taste, she’d pour salsa over her lasagna or pesto until it tasted familiar.
Last year she became ill, and while it took a while to understand exactly what was wrong and how bad it was, I told the doctors I knew it was serious when she couldn’t remember at what stage to add cilantro to our most recent batch of salsa.
Two days after she passed, a hundred people gathered to honor her memory and impact on their lives. I asked for a show of hands — “How many of you have sampled her salsa?” The whole room signaled yes and it was a seminal moment for me. Love is giving away what you have to offer. For Meme, it was a supreme salsa.
What do I have to give away? I thought in the days following, and wonder still. Although she loved being known for her salsa, what really made an impression was how she shared. In a world with lots of competition and comparison, it stands out to be a sharer and lover of people.
Maybe it’s time that we have, or a skill, or excess resources, or childcare, or a piece of art… Or maybe it’s a recipe and the time it takes to create something for another’s pleasure. But her legacy for me is the value of spending our days making, creating, giving, and sharing with a world who needs more Meme in it.
— 4 tomatoes, cut in half
— ½ onion, peeled
— 2 jalapenos
— Boil in water, approximately 10 minutes, until soft. (Meme would tell you to put salt in at this point, but I would wait until later.)
— Using a slotted spoon, lift vegetables from the water into a blender and mix with one bunch of cilantro leaves.
— Add salt to taste and blend. Enjoy warm.