Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

una vieja hermosa (a beautiful old woman) August 31, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:42 AM
The family matriarch oversees the making of pupusas from her chair.

The family matriarch oversees the making of pupusas from her chair.

She perched on a chair, back rim rod straight, eyes fixed on the griddle before her.

I watched, considering how I could, unnoticed, photograph this lovely old woman with lines etched deep in her skin by weather and smiles and age.

Just the way she held herself, like a queen presiding over royalty, intrigued me. Her entire demeanor spoke to wisdom and respect and knowledge earned perhaps by years of struggle.

None of this I knew with certainty. All of this I speculated solely from observation.

She sat, some five feet from a food tent during International Market Day at Central Park in Faribault. Under the tent, members of her extended family tended to frying pupusas and to customers who were waiting to buy the beef and cheese-filled flat bread.

I waited too, seeking the opportune moment to snap images. After awhile, I decided simply to walk near the woman, aim my lens and push the shutter button. I snapped two profiles before she noticed the whirr of my camera and turned toward me. I lowered my camera, bent low and asked if she was in charge.

She gazed up at me with a puzzled look, then spoke in Spanish. Just like that, a boy, about 12 years old, stood beside us. I repeated my question. He translated. She spoke. He translated back: “Just watching.”

I chuckled, not quite believing this matriarch.

“Is she your grandma?” I asked the boy.

“No, that’s my grandma, and my mom,” he said, pointing toward the tent. “She’s my great grandma.” Four generations together. The boy told me she was 86.

I hung around, standing in line for a pupusas and hoping to capture more images of this elder who had so captivated me.

She did not disappoint. Although I missed getting a picture, I saw this regal woman rise up from her chair, reach across the hot griddle and pat the top of a pupusas. Just like that. And she wasn’t in charge?

A bit later I was rewarded again. From across the tent, I observed a man embrace her. I quickly took a picture, with no time to properly compose the frame.

If love has a face, then I saw it, in that moment, in the smile and eyes of that beautiful old woman.

From a mere five feet away, the old woman quietly observes as family members fry flat corn bread.

From a mere five feet away, the old woman quietly observes as family members fry flat bread.

Beef and cheese-filled pupusas fry on a griddle.

Beef and cheese-filled pupusas fry on a griddle.

A man, probably a family member, embraces the old woman.

A man, probably a family member, embraces the old woman in a touching moment outside the food tent.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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