Five days before Christmas 2010, I received some news that broke my heart. My great-aunt Pearl had passed away in Panama. Aunt Pearl, also known as Tía Perla, had been a part of my life since I was in elementary school, when she visited my paternal grandmother in New York for the first time. My grandmother Sylvia was her older sister and stepped in to raise Aunt Pearl after their mother died around 1928.
Since the early ’80s, Aunt Pearl would visit my family in Brooklyn every summer, and we always looked forward to her arrival. Not only was she sweet and kind, with a great sense of humor, she was also a marvelous cook. Any meal Aunt Pearl whipped up was amazing. She introduced my palate to new, delicious experiences, like duck; iguana; lights (lung); and beet juice with milk–to name a few examples.
Born in Panama, Aunt Pearl’s first language was Spanish. But she diligently taught herself English after she retired. Aunt Pearl’s favorite activities included taking care of her parakeets Tito and Tita, solving word search and jigsaw puzzles, cooking, and going to church. She also loved listening to music–from mariachi bands to reggae. Aunt Pearl would’ve turned 89 this month. She was such a vivacious lady, that I believed we’d be celebrating her 100th birthday in the future.
I am ever grateful that I thought to record Aunt Pearl preparing her famous meals last summer. I’ve watched the footage numerous times since her passing, and it uplifts me. This summer will be difficult to enjoy without her presence. I am not looking forward to it. But I am thankful for all the wonderful memories and laughs and hugs.