My Mother’s Hands Smell Like Masa

I was young, nine maybe,
they were small. Not mine, hers.
The fingernails were bitten fiercely,
to the bone, it enhanced
the stubbiness. Mostly,
I remember the smell,
placing her hands
between my own
and putting them to my face.
...they smell of fresh masa and clorox.
They smelled clean.

When she ran low I would get her flour.
In the back,
next to the washer and dryer
rested a large tin garbage can
lined with blue plastic.
I would remove the lid
and scoop out the flour,
my small body reaching,
struggling over the edge
and into the belly.
She rubbed her hands together
clearing the masa from her palms
and fingers, peeling like glue
and took the flour from me.
I loved that sound,
the rubbing of the hands,
the rubbing of her small stubby hands.

Today I went with her to see
if the lump in her breast was cancerous.

We both sat nervously,
waiting for the doctor.
I picked up her hands.
She had a ring on her finger;
she lost so many rings. She
took them off and placed them
on the counter before making
tortillas, before rolling the masa.
She was proud of her mother’s
ring, circled with our birthstones.
It fell into the kitchen sink
She still has no fingernails,
Fingers still stubby, more blue
veins now, dried cuts.
They are calloused, scarred,
no more softness.

The doctor interrupts.
“Good news” the doctor says.
My mother signs the cross
with her stubby scarred hands.
I hold them for a moment longer.
“you want to come over
for dinner, Jita?” she asks.


Tonight I walked into my studio and heard guitar playing sound from the backroom. I know it’s Orion, messing around on his guitar. I feel pride walking into the back room listening to his passion for music. I sit there staring into him as he plays. He changed my life. He is my life.

I still remember finding out I was pregnant. I was only 20 years old, just fresh in college, and working at Sounds Easy Video. I met his father at Sounds Easy, on 900 East and off 2100 South.

My life changed forever.

I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. My father went through Segregation in Monticello, Utah and my mother only went to the 2nd grade, just enough to learn English. Although I learned English as a first language, I learned it with my mother Spanish accent. Therefore I, as well as my five siblings, never fit into the school system. So when I graduated high school it was like winning an Oscar for my family because it meant that someone in our family “made it”.

When I met Terry, Orion’s father, I was living with my little sister, the only younger sibling I have, and her three girls. My sister had just turned 18 and the father of her children was in prison. She was finally free. I came home from working at Sounds Easy to parties every night. Girls with guys in the bedrooms, loud music, there was no peace and quiet. After three months of dating Terry, he offered for me to move into his place. Naturally, I accepted. I was pregnant immediately after.

We went to the hospital so I could get on birth control for the first time. They said I had to take a pregnancy test first. Fine. I knew I was being responsible; we had only been together a few times. I was practically a virgin.

“Well, you’re pregnant,” are the words that I still remember the woman’s voice echo over the phone a few hours after my test.


I told my mom.

“I had hopes for you Ruby,” is all she could say.

I knew it was coming from a place of concern. After all, her other three daughter were pregnant between the ages of 13 and 16. I was the one that she had high hopes for. A few minutes later she called me back at work.

“Ruby,” she says, “I’m sorry. You have been a good daughter and you will have good children.”

She herself was not supposed to have children, or get married. Grandma had destined her to take care of the family, which is why she was the only one kept home from school. After each wedding proposal my mother received grandma would lay herself on the railroad tracks and threaten to take her life if she were to ever marry. When she turned 21, my father stole her and took her to Monticello so he could marry her without the hassle of grandma. Grandma cursed the marriage, three years later they were divorced. So when I received my mother’s blessing about my new baby, I knew he came into my life for a reason.

Terry and I had an agreement. We decided we would stay in college and pursue our dreams so we would have the tools to teach our son to pursue his own dreams. I am an artist today because of my son Orion.

Orion the constellation of stars that seem too high to reach, too out of touch but with tenacity, nothing is unattainable. Orion is a name that you can say in every language, that you can see in the sky in every part of the world. He had guided me onto my path, just like my grandfather was guided by the stars when he was out in the mountains as a Sheepherder, or when my great Basque relative came over the seas, or when my great Puebloan ancestor looked up at the sky, there was Orion keeping them company.

Orion says his first memory was a dream he had while in the womb. To me it’s believable, to others maybe not. I too remember being in the womb. I don’t tell many people because it’s unexplainable, and we are taught to believe in things that can be explained. I’m not religious, so I don’t know about faith but I do know that I can empathize with my son and his unexplainable memories. He also remembers nursing. This, you can probably believe. He was 2 ½ when I weaned myself off from the satisfying bond I will always cherish with my son. The sagging boobs, the stretch marks, all of it, I will cherish. It’s the mark of my son and as I said earlier, he changed my life.

We had heard that music soothed the baby in the womb, so we played classical music all night long while we slept. When he was ready to come out into the world (eight days late), he came out at the same time the song “Tears In Heaven” started to play in our room. What irony. The song about Eric Clapton losing his son to his tragic fall off a balcony plays while our son is born. Perhaps it is the spirit of this song, the love for Clapton’s son that continues on with Orion. The music has never ended.

Orion could sing before speaking. He could sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” before speaking in full sentences. Then came Bob Marley with “Don’t Worry ‘bout a thing…cause every little thing’s gonna be alright”. At age six, he got his first guitar and first lesson in music. At nine he auditioned for Tully Cathey, University Professor of Jazz. He was accepted as Tully’s first child student.

The Beatles. Reggae. Classic Rock. Ska. Punk. Horror Punk. Metal. They came in that order into his life.

Horror Punk. He discovered Horror Punk in Junior High. But I wonder if he had known about it in the third grade if he would have listened to it then. He once wrote a story called “X and Files” in Denise’s third grade class at the Open Classroom at Washington Elementary. Orion has never been one to be censored. Inspired by the real “X files” he concocted his own version, with aliens, guns, and blood. He always had a fascination with Horror, with its special effects, with its story outside of our own interpretation of reality. After he wrote his third grade story about these outlandish ideas, beyond reality, his teacher Denise decided that he could read his uncensored story to the group, but he would have to take out all the questionable stuff from the one that would stay in the classroom for future generations of third graders to read. Hence, he had the “censored” version and the “uncensored” version. He was happy to be able to read the “uncensored” to his peers, with bloody pictures and all.

No one knew Orion played the guitar. No one wanted to know much about Orion. He wasn’t too popular with the kids. However, when he played “Feel like Making Love” with his friend Mitch in 5th grade, his love for performing started. He had a hard time making friends until this point. Until this point, he changed schools, changed housing arrangements because of the several cousins moving in, and had scarred memories of the death of his cousin Orlando. Until this point, he didn’t know his voice. At this point, everything changed. The stars were aligned just right, and Orion shined.

Mitch was the heavy set kid that every one picked on. Orion never said anything when his friends Michael and Matt singled out Mitch by calling him names. When Mitch’s mother Lewetta came in to speak with the boys, she ended her talk with tears. The next I heard was that when a boy from the other class teased Mitch, Orion got into trouble for throwing rocks at the perpetrator. Lewetta told us that Orion was the only one who really listened. Was it his own empathy of being an outsider? Who knows what exactly changed his mind but Mitch and Orion have been friends ever since.

Orion started to busk at the Gateway mall shortly after his debut in his 5th grade class with Mitch. He played everything from his early love of the Beatles to the classic tunes of Led Zepplin, to the blues by Robert Johnson. On a poor night, he made $30 an hour, on a good $100 an hour. That scared us, his parents. We made a decision. He would put away half in savings, spend ¼ on his music and the remainder he could spend at his leisure. Eventually he earned enough to buy a classical guitar. He now owns 4 guitars, and a PA system that he has since grown out of.

He doesn’t busk like he use to, instead he has replaced that time with open mic on Tuesdays at Mo’s Bar and Grill. There he jams with musicians like Terrence. On solo gigs you’ll see Terrence rip on his two guitars that he mounted together.

We first met Terence when he played a gig for Display business when it was on Pierpont. He was playing the Beatles tunes. It was during the time Orion was in his own Beatles craze. It was also at that time he still had a “boy” voice. When people would call up and mistakenly call him “Ruby?” a common mistake people make with young boys and their mothers. Terrence and Orion hit it off right away. Orion showed him his Jimmy Hendrix tunes he taught himself. They talked music the whole night.

They take care of Orion at Mo’s. He belts his voice with passion, and plays masterfully on his guitar. No fear, he’s a natural.

Orion and Terrence played together at Centro Civico Mexicano just a few weeks ago on Mexican Independence Day. He premiered his new song “Si se puede”. It’s a song that was inspired from the marches. The sound was horrific. What disappointment. He’s so good, and no one could hear it with the respect it deserved. I lost my patience and complained to the person in charge. “You’re too hard on them mom” was how Orion responded. “At least they’re letting me play here.” I returned to the person in charge, swallowed my pride, and took back what I said with many apologies. My son, he’s so grateful, so humble. Who taught him that? I just want to boast and brag about his talent. It’s rare. I’m not just a boasting parent; he’s put in his time since he was six years old. He deserves a spotlight. But no, let’s just focus on what we have at hand and be grateful. Learn from circumstances. He’s right. Someone once told me he’s an Indigo child, maybe his is, I know I learn a lot from him. The last night, Orion was able to manage the men adjusting the sound, his performance was brilliant. Orion “thanked” everyone for their support.

As I looked into Orion playing his guitar at the studio, I think about all of it. He’s been singing before he could even speak. He’s genuine with his expression as a musician, but more importantly as a person. His courage, his strength, is always there. He gives me strength. I think about the time when Orion happened be at his grandma’s house with his cousins and aunt Melody. His aunt, my only younger sister who I moved away from to move in with Terry 15 years earlier, was one year clean and sober. That night Orion called 911 when Melody hit the floor. His older cousins were screaming, unsure of what to do. The operator gave Orion instructions, instructions he gave to his cousin on how to perform CPR. When Terry and I darted into the house after receiving the call, the paramedics were already there. They told us that our son was feeding and calming down his young 6 year old cousin in the middle of the frantic household of daughters. We were told later that their mom, Orion’s aunt, had overdosed and Orion saved her life. I don’t know if it was before or after two of his uncles died from the same illness but he has a song about that too, drugs that is. Orion is just Orion. He doesn’t think about throwing rocks at Mitch’s perpetrator, or sharing his room with several cousins, or “thanking” those who support him, or calling 911, or even how talented he is, he just is. He changed my life. He is my life.