She would tell me that some people just can’t help it. Everyone needed to know about the evil eye and how to cure it if you fell under the spell. It was a mother’s duty to tell her children about these things early. The evil eye wasn’t the only thing mothers needed to prepare their children for. The boys were at risk of being netted by more tactics than I can remember. All traced back to a woman– one of those bad women. Mothers would start the conversation with them as soon as they noticed the boys beginning to gaze longer at the girls they once tormented and chased away. It wasn’t really a conversation– it was a lesson. Any questions would be met with a warning that the information was critical to their survival and a reminder that she would be dead soon and they would be sorry if they didn’t take her words seriously. A mother could be in her 20s and healthy as a horse and still throw out the reminder about her being dead– it was for effect.
These things were told so they knew about the dangers that a beautiful woman with bad intent could mean. All the women seemed to know of an instance where one of the wicked women back home had given a man “calzon hervido” or boiled underwear. The man would never know if he had been given the feared potion made when a woman boils a pair of her underwear in water and makes food using that water. The underwear are long gone at the point the man will be sitting down waiting to be served his favorite meal. After all, she has to be sure he is going to eat it if it’s going to take effect. The food most often used with the calzon hervido water is white rice with meat in salsa piled on top, otherwise known as moriscetta. They all say that everyone else can tell when a man has eaten food made with “calzon hervido” except the man himself. At that point, he is bewitched and not even a mother can break that spell.
The girls needed to know they should never make food with “calzon hervido” because those tricks were only for women who were so bad and ugly inside that only God could save them. The women who used these shameful bewitching tactics were not always ugly on the outside. The women would say that the beauty may be the result of an almost unspeakable pact with the devil..almost unspeakable. They could go on for more than an hour picking apart the person and her family commenting on how some never seem to age and questioning how this could be. Sometimes in addition to being beautiful, the group would add that “a veces las que parecen mosquita muerte son las peores”– the one’s that look like a little dead fly are the worst. I think they meant because a dead fly doesn’t seem like it can do any harm, it’s dead right? Wrong. Dead flies can ruin a whole pot of food or a cup of your last soda with ice.
“Teach me to cook,” I pleaded. “You love him don’t you?” “Yes, I do.” “Then you know how to cook.” Obviously she didn’t remember hot dog and egg experiment. Maybe she had fed it to the cat under the table. She was kind and would have eaten failed experiments every day. Her beautiful face could convince the worst cook in the world she was a culinary genius. The flavors secondary. To be a good cook you must always do it with love in your heart. The flavors would catch up to the expression she believed cooking for a loved one was. A meal was a message. It needn’t be expensive or complicated. In fact, simple food let the main ingredient shine. Whenever she emerged into the room to announce the food was ready, her children saw her as nothing short of a magical being that could make a small feast from a bare cupboard. The call to dinner was unnecessary. Wafts of vaporized love, the love of mother, had found their way to us long before the call. I never left the kitchen. That’s where all the women were and that’s where the stories where. News of who was a bad husband, a bad wife, and possibly not the biological child of this one or that one. I sat quietly and it was the only time I would help in the kitchen without being told to. I usually made myself scarce because I hated cooking. I’d pick up the babies and keep them quiet so the ladies could keep talking without interruption. My mother’s silence was her approval of me staying. She knew I usually ran the other way when it was time to start cooking on regular days. She knew where I would hide. She just pretended not to. Her silence was her approval of me being a child longer than she was able to.
She had heard the stories from her mother and she told them to her children and that’s how it went with everything. She would caution against eating anything from certain people. Every time she would tell me this I would ask how I would know which people. There was not a clear answer and I didn’t like that. Sometimes things like children become fussy around a certain person or houseplants dying after that person visited your home was a good sign you should be polite and accept the food, just don’t eat it. The person may not be intentionally causing these things to happen but some people just had the “mirada pesada” or a heavy look— the evil eye could exist within them even if unwelcome or uninvited. Then there were the one’s who had the “mirada pesada” or even “sangre pesado”, heavy blood and heavy look but they knew it. They might have even pursued it, invitation and all. I looked around my home. I had always had a way with plants and people often admired them when they came over. A little red thread, almost invisible, was tied to a stem low on the plant. This was how she saved the plants since she couldn’t just come right out and tell the person with the heavy look to not “chulear” my plants. It was ok to tell them to touch the plant– it is believed to be a way to minimize the negative impact of ojo.
The evil eye wasn’t something we read about– it would come up in regular conversation. It wasn’t a question of whether you believed in it or not. It just was. One of the ways we would be cured of ojo was with a raw egg. My mother and most of the older women in our family know how it goes. They say prayers while rubbing a raw egg over different parts of you, they make little crosses on you with the egg. My sister in law also gets a clean white cloth and does something that feels like she is dusting you. My mother in law has her own twists to that involve holy water mixed with lavender that she mists you with. Then they crack the egg and depending on how it looks, they tell you just how bad you were.
When I was very sick with different things brought on by lupus, many of my family thought it was brujeria and ojo. They held conversations to try and figure out how to stop bad spirits from entering the house and I would frequently wake up because I thought the roof was leaking. Family would mist me with holy water as I slept or they would perform cleanings of the house. They knew I went to the doctors and had a cabinet full of medicine prescribed by specialists. That was all good and fine. Hard science and medicine was necessary, almost as necessary as the work they were doing to keep me safe. It wasn’t a question of whether you believed it or not, it just was.