From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Prayers, Potatoes and a Twister

“Tornados touched down near Dallas,” the report said. Hearing this made me grateful to live in the western tip of the state, where the Franklin Mountains act as a buffer against such storms. Then a memory crept in from the back of my mind. I remembered the commotion that brought me outside one day, where I found Abuelita praying and watching a twister twirling in the distance. Abuelita’s black hair was touched with silver, plaited in a long braid and wrapped into a bun. Her skin, the color of cinnamon, was wrinkled with time, and her brown eyes were intensely focused on the twister in the sky.

I was more interested in Abuelita’s behavior than the funnel-shaped cloud in the distance. At eight, I was already accustomed to her ways. “Jesús, María y José!” she’d say at the clap of thunder and “Jesús mil veces!” when lightning followed. The beads in her pocket came out whenever she had spare time to pray the rosary. Never did she allow my chatter to interrupt the litany. I never asked about the motives for her invocations of God and his Holy Mother. I grew up in her faith, unquestioning.

I watched as she stood firmly facing the twisting clouds, holding a potato and a kitchen knife. She prayed fervently while keeping an eye on the approaching clouds. She held the potato up, sliced off a piece, and said, “En el nombre del Padre, vete!” ordering the tornado to depart in the name of the Father. “Y del Hijo, no nos hagas daño,” she said, and another slice fell to the ground as she invoked the Son’s name, pleading that the storm do us no harm. “Y el Espíritu Santo, vete!” Her strong voice commanded the phenomenon to depart in the name of the Holy Spirit.

The richness of my heritage was learned at Abuelita’s knee. Her devotion to the Catholic Church was colored by the culture of her native Mexico. “Nothing is possible without the will of God” was her constant refrain. I had seen her fix medicinal potions and teas from herbs, barks and even the weeds that grew in the field behind our school. She’d brew istafiate for stomachaches, flor de saúco for hacking coughs and colds, and had a plant in the kitchen that relieved the pain of all types of burns and helped clear my acne. Yes, my grandmother’s remedies cured almost anything.

I watched while Abuelita sliced the potato, almost as if it were the twister in her hand. She seemed to be in a trance, oblivious to my presence. As the potato slices fell into the dust, I noticed the unusual form in the sky break up, just like the spud Abuelita was slicing. Abuelita continued pleading with the Holy Mother and all the saints to help her make the cloud disappear. I was enthralled by my grandmother’s determination, her prayers and the tools she used. Soon the twister dissipated until it was nothing but a few dark clouds drifting in the sky.

Abuelita lowered her tired arms and said, “Gracias a Dios, ya se fue.” It was gone, thank God.

People gathered around us and stared, tracing a line of vision that went from the potato slices on the ground to the knife in Abuelita’s hand. A woman threw her arms around my grandmother. “Muchas gracias,” she said with tears gathering in her eyes. Abuelita smiled as we turned and went inside.

I never questioned her actions with the potato, but I didn’t have to. I know that my abuelita performed a miracle that day long ago.

Margarita B. Velez

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