Tamales, for me, have always been a community effort. The task of making them is gruelling, lasting at least 2 full days. When I was growing up, my immidiate family would come together with extended family every December to make light of the effort. We would convene at someone’s house, usually the biggest because it was a lot of us, from sun up to sun down. Everyone from grandparents to preschoolers took part in the effort. We’d be gathered around a big table with a task for everyone. There would be jokes, gossiping, singing, just all matter of chatter. The kids would eventually tire and off to the races we’d go. When we were done, each family would take home enough tamales to have a tamal dinner for a month. We stopped the gatherings when I was on the cusp of childhood and teenagehood, but I always remember them as an example of women coming together in community to get a task done that would be insurmountable alone.
Back around 2000, after a lengthy hospitalization, I came home to face hip surgery. My husband and I were splitting up but he hadn’t actually left, and wouldn’t be for a couple of months. Him staying was not something I was happy about. After the surgery I was sent home after the requisite 2 days. A pin in my right hip and my left tibia broken, totally stuck in a wheel chair. The only time I could get out of the chair was to pull myself up and down the stairs.
Both my front and back door had stairs with no hand rail and my bed was upstairs on the second floor. As I was driven home I had no idea how I was going to get into the house, let alone bed. I had been trained for a very long time not to expect any help and the whole coming home seemed hopeless.
We arrived and I was delivered to the front door where I saw a crude, rough hand rail. It was simply 2x4s nailed together to make a sturdy support for me to use to get into the house. It was the most beautiful hand rail I had ever seen, and I know, I will ever see. Inside a bed had been made up on the main floor with crisp, clean linen in what had been the “den”.
I discovered neighbourhood women had gotten together to do this for me. They understood the situation, made a decision and followed through. My community made my life possible to keep living and showed me that my training was not all that complete. Sometimes help comes without even expecting it.