Songs are a lot like food: in no time at all, they can take you back to another place.
When my sister and were really small, a young woman named Cristina came to live with our family. She was 21. A new mother and wife, Cristina came to us in the 80s from Portugal – a country not exactly known for its stable economy or employment market, then or now.
My mom had just returned to a day job after a few years raising my sister and I full time. By chance, my parents had friends desperately trying to get their niece to Canada to make a decent living for herself, so that she could support her family. That niece was Cristina.
For six years she helped raise us. She bathed us, changed us, disciplined us, cooked and cleaned for us, played with us, read to us, made us laugh, dried our tears, scolded our bad behavior and dressed us for the ice rink. But most of all, Cristina loved us. And we loved her.
I remember she had the smoothest skin that smelled like fresh cork – soft and earthy. She had the thickest black hair, a ton of beauty marks and the longest legs. She was the tallest person in our house. And in a household of short people, that was useful.
Those first couple of Christmases away from her family were tough. I remember her crying – big, fat, round tears – while talking to her husband on the phone while she could hear her 2-year old daughter coo, 6,000 miles away.
I was so young then, I had no idea what this young woman sacrificed to give her family a better life.
Her first year in Canada, Cristina learned English primarily though my sister and I, soap operas and the radio. I always got a kick out hearing her sing in English, trying her best to hum the lyrics she didn’t know and enunciate the ones she did.
This was her favorite song. She would belt it while washing the dishes, between bites at the dinner table (and sometimes during), while walking us to school or just while it was playing on the radio, which was her favorite, because she would squeal, squeeze my little shoulders, then turn up the music.
I love this song, not because of Christmas, but because of Cristina.