My grandmother whom we called “Ama Abuelita”, on hot summer nights she would tell stories known as “cuentos.” There were a lot of hot summer nights in Corpus Christi, Texas, where we lived. The stories often had a moral to them. I was a child and I did not always understand them. I did not understand the difference between doing the right thing even though you don’t want to, and doing the right thing because they feel right in your heart.
During the day grandma was very strict, we had to keep the house and yard clean at times. If we had free time we had to read. At night, however, she relaxed. Ama Abuelita would cut watermelon and give us a slice as she told my brothers John and Frankie and Linda and myself her cuentos. We would sit in the dark on her porch swing and she would start her stories.
One of the cuentos I remember was a story that happened way before we were born. It was about an aunt that was grandmother’s step-daughter and another aunt that sneaked out of the house to go to a dance. Grandmother had forbidden them to go. She told them that it was dark and she was afraid for their safety.
While at the dance they met a handsome man. All the young ladies wanted to dance with him. They suddenly noticed that his feet were not the same. One was one a goat hoof and the another was a chicken foot.
“Things like that might happen when the handsome devil knows your heart. The two young ladies’ hearts were not pure for disobeying their mother.” Ama Abuelita said.
“So, you always have to listen to adults?” I asked?
She said “Only if you do it because you love them and want to do it with your heart.”
Another cuento she told us was a lesson on genuine kindness. She said you can be good but if you don’t it with sincerity then it’s a waste of energy. She told us about a girl that was a loving daughter and another daughter that would do things just to get them done. The mother preferred the latter.
The loving daughter did not mine being a second choice to her sister. One day the mother told the loving daughter to wash a black cloth until it was white, so she went to the stream and tried to wash the black cloth.
An elderly woman saw her and said, “There are some children in that old house. If you go and take care of them I will wash your cloth.”
The daughter said, “I will go but you do not have to wash it. I will go and take care of them.”
She went to the old house and her heart was moved and immediately changed the children and fed them and also cleaned their house.
The old woman said, “You are a loving person and I saw your heart. Here is your cloth and it had been washed sparking clean and white.
When she returned home, she had a small diamond on her forehead. The mother wanted know who had given her the diamond? She had not noticed that she had a diamond on her forehead. She told her mother of this old woman who needed help with some children. They needed food and changing.
The next day mother sent her favorite daughter to the creek to wash a cloth. She imagined that the daughter would also receive a reward. When the old woman showed up and said that there was an old house where the children needed help. She went to old house and saw the dirty children crying and she changed them and gave them a bottle. She also cleaned the house.
The old woman showed up and said, “You indeed took care of the children but really did not want to do it.”
When that daughter got home she had a rooster’s crown on her forehead.
I asked grandmother. “Did they not do the same thing?”
She replied, “If you do a job and you really don’t want to do it but you do it any way, what is the point? You need to do a job with your whole heart and expect no reward for it. That is what you should strive for in life.”
I did not understand as a child the difference between the two girls. Now that I am older I think I understand a little bit more.
The cuentos that I heard are getting dimer in my memory with age. There were so many of them that I don’t remember, but think I remember only the ones I did not understand. My Ama Abuelita has been gone for many years now.
All that’s left of her are her words in her cuentos.