A Benediction - A short story
By Kathryn Blackmer Reyes, Reference Department

It’s 5:45 in the morning and I’m heading to the car to begin my daily commute to UC Santa Cruz. I approach my Volvo, “Red Emma”, for Goldman and Tenayuca, open the door and get in. I let the car warm up a while since it’s parked outside. Once it’s ready I turn the car around and set off down my street. As I do so “me persino”. Upon doing this, this particular morning, I hear my mother’s voice in my memory...

“Katalina, ¡no te me vayas hasta que te persine!”

I remember as I finish my own benediction and look to see if my neighbors have seen me do this in the car. I am a bit self-conscious.

“O.K. Ma, but hurry up, I’m going to be late!” I respond to my mother.

As long as I can remember, every time I have stepped out of my mother’s house “me persina”. I find it interesting that now as an adult, I do this myself every morning.

Waiting at the front door for my mother to come I fidget as if I was holding in pee. “Ma, hurry up!” “Ay voy,” she responds as she walks towards me. “Dejar de bailar”, as she would describe my fidgetting, “para que te puedo persinar bien.” Taking her right hand and making a cross out of her thumb and index finger she begins...
“En el Nombre del Padre...” her hand starts at my forehead down to my chest... ”el Hijo” and then to both shoulders, “...el Espiritu Santo... Amen.” I continue to fidget while she engages in her habitual benediction. To complete the blessing she places her hand, still in the form of the cross, to my lips so that I can kiss it. After doing my part, so desperately wanting to leave, I turn to go out the door. Realistically it probably took less then two seconds, but felt like it took forever.

“Esperate,” my mother would say.

I’d turn around to my mom. She would take her thumbs, put saliva on them and straighten out my eyebrows. I could feel the force of her thumbs on my forehead as she struggles with my ancia to get out of the house. “Maaa,” I said with a whining sigh. Giving me a kiss on my cheek she would then say “Cuidate y escucha al maestro.” “O.K. Ma,” I would respond as I headed out the door.

This small yet significant ritual, passed on to my mother from her mother and my grandmother’s mother, was daily protection from anything bad happening. And as I left home and went to college I found myself doing my own benediction as I would go take my final exams, turn in papers, and when I mailed my graduate school applications. Sometimes using the bathroom vanity as my altar. My “bendicíon” now took on a form of security. Although I am a person who wouldn’t consider herself very religious.

As I continue my drive on the highway, having crossed the Bay Bridge, through the City, and down 101, I think of grandmother and of my departures from her home in Mexico City. Several hours before heading to the airport, train station, or bus station, I found myself being called to the back room where my grandparents slept. The room was usually dark and humid and rarely did I enter it, for it was off limits to the children. I would stand in front of my “abuelita” so she could begin her benediction. As a child events seem to take forever. As I remember it I stood there for almost an hour, as she would read from her booklet, praying for my safe return to San Francisco. I don’t remember what she said. Understanding Spanish was not my forte and often she would recite her prayer almost in a whisper as if God was the only one meant to hear. I only remember her aging yet soft hand as she would place it on my forehead, my chest, my shoulders, and I would kiss the back of her hand. Kissing the back of her hand was not like kissing my mother’s cross yet it was like kissing all the santos, virgenes, and the Dios my abuelita prayed to for my safe return. Standing there for her habitual benediction I did not have the same ancia as I did with my mother. Rather with patience, knowing that my abuelita was saying goodbye to me until the next time.
I guess her benedictions worked, for I made it back safely every year from Mexico.

So I think about “persinandome.” Like my mother and her mother before her, it gives me the security I need as I drive the highways every day.

On the way back home from work, driving Hwy 17, a small curvy highway in the Santa Cruz mountains, there is an accident. Only one lane is available and the highway patrolman is directing traffic for a two-lane road. I drive by it and I see the emergency crew around an overturned vehicle and determine that the driver is still inside. It looks bad. There are several other cars ahead that are part of the accident, the passengers, shaken up, but they look O.K. This is not the first accident I have seen and it certainly won’t be my last. But for some reason I begin to cry and think of my own benediction and realize that should that happen to me perhaps I would go with God and be safe. For He is with me, for my mother and grandmother have made sure of that. And for the day I feel safe.