“Mom” (excerpt from ARFB)

64. Fred & The Arnuco Family
The Three Marias. From left to right: Lucy, Penny, and Vicky, ca. 1960s. Photo by Fred Ellis.

Note: My mother is speckled everywhere in “A Reason For Being” that to include just one excerpt would do her an injustice. Therefore, to capture the very force of nature that is my mom, I’ve decided to include little snippets.

 From Chapter 2: The Three Sisters (aka The Three Marias)

Mom’s (Penny) Arrival

The knock on my hotel door was the interruption I needed as I walked away from writing a eulogy that I clearly had no business writing. The responsibility was a heavy burden, but Vicky was right—they couldn’t entrust the eulogy to be given by the man they called Satan. According to her, his version of the eulogy would be a poor attempt at a rendition of a Jack Nicholson performance.  According to Vicky, she wouldn’t be able to do the eulogy, as cursing was not allowed in the Catholic Church and she feared that asking my mother to do it would lead to a ten hour rosary, which to Vicky meant no cigarette breaks.

I opened my hotel door and the sight before me made me gasp. Standing with her luggage was my mother. I had the urge to wrap a robe around her.  She had shaved her head and the new growth showed stubs of gray hair. Her face, round as a Chinese Moon cake, and her almond shaped eyes, could have made her pass for a Buddhist monk. As I stood looking at her, iPhone in hand, I automatically began texting my sister Jackie, without losing sight of my mother. Shit. Mom shaved head. Looks like a monk. My mother looked at me, gave me a hug, told me that I looked too pale, and walked right past me to get to her side of the hotel room in one swift movement.

“How are you, Jeng?”  she asked, already unpacking her Mary Poppins suitcase.

“I’m fine, Mom… How are you?”

My mother began to cry as she laid her clothes on the bed.  Frozen, I stood and watched her unpack—ignoring Jackie’s text: Aww hell to the naw. Love you and all. Ain’t gonna shave my head for yo ass.


My mother started to create a whirlwind of activity in our room as she always did whenever she is occupying space.  As a child, I always felt lazy as I watched her do her chores with such thoroughness.  She constantly reminded me that whenever a woman starts a chore, she must always make sure that she finishes it with great efficiency. She worked her way to the bathroom and I followed her in waiting for her to say something through the sniffling.  She unpacked another bag and I noticed that it was filled with her toiletries.  There were bottles of lotions, face creams, more lotions, her make-up, a hairbrush, and some of her medication.

“Mom, are you trying to open a pharmacy?” I asked her.

“No, Anak. I need to make sure I take my Xanax for my stomach.  You know I can’t eat anymore greasy foods after my gall bladder was removed.”

Jackie, who is a registered nurse, once told me that we shouldn’t rely on our mother for any organ transplants should any one of us needed one, because our mother had absolutely none to give, “that woman has lost about every organ humanly possible! How the hell can one person do that? Well, our mother did!”

“But, Ma—you have enough medication here to open an illegal drug business.”

Nako! I know!  But, I need to take these to make sure that my blood pressure doesn’t go up also.”  She continued piling her toiletries on the bathroom counter.  I was tempted to ask her if she was planning to poison Satan with her pills, but thought better of it.  She was mourning, and I had to find a balance between my sarcasm, and humor.  I did.  Every sarcastic shit I said was in my head, and every humorous thing that slipped from my mouth, I did so in a whisper so that she couldn’t hear.  I had to be mindful though since she was bald and her ears were exposed, I made sure not to be overheard.

After I quickly read Jackie’s text, I watched my Mother finally finish her unpacking. I couldn’t bring the image of her in a Buddhist monk robe out of my mind.

“Mom, when did you shave your head?” I asked and was grateful she had her back turned to me because she would not have approved the expression of disbelief on my face.  It was the same expression I had when one of my sons stuffed a reese’s pieces candy up his nose.

Nako! When your Auntie Lucy started losing all of her hair. I said to myself, I will do it too!” she declared with her typical dramatic flair.

In that moment, I realized that a rare episode of role reversal occurred between the sisters, Vicky took the scarf that once belonged to Lucy—something that Penny would have done, just as she did with the blouse. The scarf held the last breath of her sister. Vicky would have been the one to shave her head to show solidarity, but instead, it was my mother who somehow found the will to be the one to do it.


Excerpt from Chapter Four: The Viewing of Fear, and Pomp and Circumstance. During Lucy’s viewing and wake at the funeral home. 

      I looked to my right and my mom was sitting there.  Bald head, eyes closed, intensely praying.  I was wondering if she had remembered to put sunscreen on her head to avoid getting sun burned on her scalp, when in an instant, she stood up and walked to the front of the room and kneeled at the single pew in front of my aunt’s casket.

            Oh, son of a bitch, if only I had a free hand to grab my iPhone and record this to send to Jackie!  My mom began reciting the rosary loudly, and with such dramatic flair that I sat there frozen, and in awe.


From Chapter Nine: The Funeral

           The priest with the one hand presented his prayer.  He had only one hand, and I asked my mom what had happened, she told me that she did not know the full story, but he was the priest and I should not be so curious.

“Ma, I was wondering because how does he give the communion, and also do the cross?”

“Shhhhh. Nako! I do not know, he just does it!” she shrugged me off.  I had the urge to sing the song Mr. Robotic by Styx while simultaneously doing the robot dance with one of my hands to respond to my mom.


The family proceeded out of the church first, Lucy in her casket carried one last time by the same men who brought her in followed.  As Lola Esther walked beside me, and my mom on her other side, we approached the foyer slowly.  I immediately noticed that someone left a purple orchid on Lucy’s funeral program.

“Mom, look at that flower,” I told her.

“Jeng, pick it up.  That’s Tita Lucy telling you thank you and you did a good job.”  I always believed that my mother designed her own antics and versions of superstitious beliefs and they all varied according to whatever justification she could come up with.  But in this case, I didn’t question nor made fun of it.


From Chapter Ten: Port of Entry

          But regardless of such dramatic outcomes, I have a love for my mother that could never be defined nor explained.  It is an unconditional love that accepts the fact that she is a perfectly flawed person.


Mom, ca. 2011. During the Kennewick, WA visit. How bold must one be to shave one’s head in the act of solidarity? My mom, that’s who. Photo by JAH.
The author and her Mother taking an Indian Cuisine course, ca. 2016. Fairbanks, Alaska. The hair eventually grew back. Photo by JAH

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