Zunilda MainettiLast night I dreamed about Zuni. It was strange, I don’t remember dreaming about her in years, decades even. I don’t even remember how she looked in my dream, what color was her hair – black when I was little, white by the time I was a teenager. And then, today, as I walked and tried to remember my dream, I realize that I cannot remember Zuni’s tone of voice. I can’t hear her saying anything in my mind. The last time I saw her was when Kathy was born, she came to America to stay with us for a while, I was 15. It saddens me a lot. If I heard her speak now, would I recognize her voice? I don’t remember Tito’s, but I was 6 or 7 when he died. I think I remember Granny’s voice, at least sort of. I may have mentioned this, but the only accent I can make is that of Granny speaking Spanish. It’s my one vocal talent 🙂
I don’t remember much of my dream last night. Anything, really, just that Zuni was there.
I remember Zuni, in general, as an “alma de Dios”, a soul of God, the nicest, most given person that you can imagine. She was profoundly religious, went to 7PM mass at the neighborhood church every day. She had me baptized at that church when I was a baby, and against my father’s wishes, fearing, I imagine, an eternity in limbo if something happened to me (now, of course, limbo has been abolished).

She only lived 3 blocks away from our apartment when I was a kid, I of course spent quite a lot of time at her house (specially when my cousins were there), and she came to visit quite often. And yet, my memories of her are so limited and imprecise. Sometimes it’s harder to remember those people you see everyday, who are a fixture in your life, than those who make brief appearances.
Some time after my grandfather died, I’m guessing about 3 years later, Zuni “married” her next door neighbor, Mr. Nieva. I say Mr. – because I can’t remember his first time. And I said “married” in quotation marks because I would only find out decades later that theirs wasn’t a legal marriage – my grandfather had worked hard for the 3 pensions he left to my grandmother, and she didn’t want it all to be for naught, even though Mr. Nieva was well off and would have left her an even better pension. It was blessed by the Church, however, they had a “marriage” ceremony at the church, which really tells you that the Catholic Church is much more understanding than we give it credit for.
She moved in next door to Mr. Nieva’s house, which of course, then became another playground for her grandchildren. It was very nice, specially at the beginning, to discover all sorts of treasures throughout the ancient house (well, it may not have been ancient, and indeed I think it was built around the same time as my grandparents’ house, but it was definitely done in a much older style).
The most prominent part of the house, was Mr. Nieva’s study. I remember it like those studies you see on TV – with a wall full of bookcases and a massive desk. I don’t think I ever looked at the books on the bookcase (if it was even there, and not just a figment of my imagination), but somewhere around that desk I found a very thick stack of old Trudy cartoons – each one carefully cut from a newspaper, probably in the 50’s. I had the best time reading them. Trudy was a woman who seemed mostly concerned with shopping – but the cartoons were still funny.
I also remember finding rolling skates in an old walk-in closet behind the stairs. They’d belonged to Mr. Nieva’s grand-daughters, who must have been adults by then. I tried so hard to learn how to roller skate on my own, but it didn’t work – I still can’t do it.
It was at that house, I think, that we celebrated my aunt’s Cuqui’s wedding. I remember a tiered cake and us pulling on ribbons to try to get the ring – so it definitely had to be a wedding. Cuqui’s or Zuni’s – who else could it be?. For those who don’t know the custom, in Argentina, at least when I grew up, wedding cakes had dozens of ribbons coming out of them (see here for an example). Most of them were tied to little trinkets, but one was tied to a golden ring. Before the cake was cut, the guests would pull from the ribbons and whoever got the ring, would get married next. How the cakes are not destroyed by dozens of people pulling on them, remains a mystery.
I don’t know if Zuni liked being married to Nieva.
FĂ©lix! I remember his name! It was FĂ©lix – and that’s how we called him. It’s strange I hadn’t remembered it before, it was such an unusual name, and the name of a cartoon cat at that. I don’t think we liked him much when we were children, he was already in his 80’s and not the warmest person in the world. But I think he was good to my grandmother, and certainly very patient in withstanding all these children in his home.
When he died, and he died at the same hospital where I was born – I went there once to visit my grandmother who tended to him every day -, Zuni moved back into her house.