This story, as told by Olga Perez-Cormier, is part of an oral history series.
It was always exciting when Abuela would tell me that she needed to go downtown for the day. This meant she had business to attend to at “El Refugio,” the Cuban Assistance Center. This also meant that we would do a little shopping. As a reward for helping her translate and get around, she would treat me to lunch at McCrory’s.
We lived in East Hialeah. Our world was limited to our house, school, the grocery store and, very rarely, a trip outside of all of that to visit family and friends. We did not play with the neighborhood kids. She would not let us play outside of the yard. She was responsible for us so we were always within earshot.
My mom did most of the major grocery shopping, but Abuela liked to shop with her money – the money she got from "El Refugio.” I’m not sure that’s where it came from, but that is what I thought. Sometimes that meant that we would walk five blocks west to the big bodega where she felt most comfortable. She could pick up a few things and speak to anyone she needed to, in Spanish.
We would walk down 54th Street to East Fourth Avenue. It was a busy street with lots of cars, so crossing it felt like a major event. Abuela’s personality was hard. She was a very strict disciplinarian and there was no crossing her. You needed to stay by her side while crossing the big avenue.
Abuela was 60 years old when I was born. This means that she was probably in her early 70s when we would make these trips. She did not walk fast, but she never showed weakness. We moved at a certain pace and that was that. We would then walk four more blocks until we reached Palm Avenue where the bodega was. It looked big to me.
She always took me or my brother Henry with her. She did not like to take both of us together because it was harder for her to keep track of us if we wandered off. My brother was quiet and curious. He never made trouble but it occasionally found him. She preferred to take me along. I was chatty and wasn’t afraid to speak to anybody. Most of all, I didn’t wander.
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