From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

The Blessing

It is a custom in many Hispanic Catholic homes to ask your parents or grandparents for a blessing (bendición) when you see them for the first time that day or when you are departing. In response, they would bless you by saying, “May God bless you” (“Que el Señor te bendiga”) . . .

Carmen Alvarado

I grew up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, and, when I was a child, I didn’t care at all for the custom of asking for my mother’s blessing. It seemed too old-fashioned and sort of meaningless in those days. The few times I did ask, I did it just to please her.

I felt ashamed because the mothers of Anglo kids never required their children to ask for a blessing when they left the house. A simple “See ya later!” was more than enough. In those days, the Anglo way seemed like a more “manly” good-bye, and I didn’t want to be laughed at by my friends or have them think I was less of a “guy” than they were.

When I was a child, I couldn’t put my feelings into words, but I knew that somehow the act of asking for bendición made me feel stained or dirty. As the years passed, I buried the memory of that shame. I hid it deep in my soul like a dark and bitter thorn that would prick my conscience every so often.

With the passage of time, life’s experiences have given me a different perspective on things. After my mother’s death in 1978, I began to miss that beautiful Puerto Rican custom of asking for and receiving your mother’s blessing. My mother’s death woke me up, as I was devastated to suddenly realize that I would never have that opportunity again.

I returned to Puerto Rico in 1987 to visit my grandmother, Doña Carmelina Eustaquia Rivera de Font. We were talking about things, nothing of any real importance, when suddenly my nose began to itch. I was instantly overcome by a sneeze so strong it seemed to rock the entire neighborhood of Santa Teresita, Santurce, where my grandmother lived.

My grandmother eyed me silently with feigned gravity and pronounced, “Bless you . . . ! And may the germ that made you sneeze, die!”

Her response caught me off guard. I looked at her, and we both burst out laughing. I realized how wonderful it felt to have received that verbal display of affection from the mother of my mother, and I was struck by the tenderness and beauty of relationships that exist between mothers, grandmothers and sons.

When it was time for me to leave, I stopped at the doorway and said, “Abuela . . . give me your blessing.”

“Que Dios te bendiga, m’ijo,” my grandmother said.

I breathed in deeply, and the secret thorn buried deep in my soul disappeared. I felt lighter and purified.

My grandmother died in 1994, but the memory of the sweet blessing she gave me that day is still with me.

Today, at times when I least expect it, I yearn to ask for and receive bendición from the elders in my family. A few weeks ago, I had a long and pleasant telephone conversation with my uncle Agapito who lives in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. We talked about all kinds of things, like family, politics and music. But before we said our goodbyes, I said, “Uncle, give me your blessing . . .”

Aurelio Deane Font

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