Published on November 4th, 2022 | by Lisa Lim0
Mi Madre: Part II, The Flower Bath
Thieving Rose Gardens
At dusk, when our neighbor was nestled in front of her television eating her TV dinner, we quietly trespassed into her garden filled with all kinds of flowers and weeds. Mi Madre taught me how to smell for lemon balm and snatch them from the earth without remorse. While I gathered lemon balm, she’d snap the necks of roses not minding the thorns clawing at her like cats in heat. Sometimes, our neighbor Pat would catch us in the act and screamed at us, but she had bad cataracts and couldn’t make us out. Once we gathered our fill of flowers we’d return home where my mother would boil them in a large pot of holy water for hours.
Fighting the Homeless for Holy Water
The holy water we collected from the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the Lower East Side. We’d fight the homeless who were desperately trying to take full baths so that we could fill our empty milk cartons with the divine flow. “Ladies first,” mi Madre would holler and hustle. I liked the smell of holy water because it tasted like spoons.
The Flower Bath
Whenever mi Madre boiled the roses and lemon balm in holy water, the entire house smelled of rot. Strange, because you would think it would smell fragrant, but it did not. After the water cooled down, she would take a flower bath and I would peep through the bathroom keyhole in wonder, holding my nose. She never gave me the flower bath. Maybe she thought it wouldn’t work on an agnostic, but I still very much wanted one.
Saintito Mi Saintito
Mi Madre was very religious and my father and I were agnostic, but I loved watching her perform her daily rituals and would pretend to pray and light candles just like her. She had these beautiful shrines in every corner of the house filled with Saintito figurines. There was St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost and Stolen Things. Lourdes, the Patron Saint of Bodily Illnesses. Glasses of water were on every table and always fresh flowers that would eventually rot and make the water smell like Chinatown sewers. Among all her religious articles, were Lotto tickets and Double Your Luck scratch offs. And lots of pennies and gray scraps from the scratch offs. Every night she’d light these large candles and close her eyes. Under a slight mustache she’d bleach blonde, she murmured prayers she called novenas. It was a kind of hushed sound that I liked to listen to like a radio. I don’t know what she was praying for, but we never did win Lotto.
The Botanica in the Bronx
Whenever mi Madre needed to rejuvenate her shrines, we would go to her favorite Botanica in the Bronx. Every inch of the store was crowded in saintitos, talismans, charms, amulets, religious candles, rosaries, Buddhas, and infinite lotions and potions. Some lotions were to help you find love. Others were to help you get rich. And some were to remove stubborn jinxes. Ma was only interested in the saintitos and rosaries, but my eyes were always hungry for everything magical.
Memories of this store still fascinate me. I remember visiting a Botanica on the Lower East Side out of nostalgia and buying a lotion to help cast a love spell. But I grew scared about messing with the magical and threw it out. What can I say, I’m a pollita at heart.
Follow MUTHA to read Part III and check out Part I here!
First published on Raising Mothers