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Eating Christmas: Valeria Fernández on the devil who brought her cousins together

This holiday season, This Show is bringing you true stories about — what else — food. And Phoenix journalist Valeria Fernandez has a helluva tale about her godmother.

Valeria Fernandez first performed onstage at Bar Flies’ "Eating Christmas" show earlier this month. 

"Dios los cría y el diablo los junta!" (“God made you and the devil brought you together!”)

I was 9 when my godmother, wicked abuela Juliana, came lashing in anger to my cousins and I. May she rest in he — llo.

I came to exorcize her from my soul, but when I still believed in Papa Noel — also known as Santa — playing with my cousins in her two-story house in Montevideo, Uruguay, during the holidays was the greatest thing. There were 13 of us, but it felt like 30. Stumping up and down the wooden stairs. Turning furniture upside down; finding the key to her closet and wearing her long silky scarfs; smearing our faces, and the bathroom walls, with her bright violet lipstick.

Maybe she wasn’t so wicked.

Just like in Hansel and Gretel, I could eat her entire house on the holidays. Her living room table was filled with gigantic caramelized figs, pumpkins, pineapples and ginger and fruitcake. (Which I loved, don’t judge me). Little French-like pastries we called masitas, balls of pure chocolate, puffs stuffed with whipped cream.

I used to think she was rich because she had dozens of glass bottles of Coca Cola stored in her garage! The best of it all wasn’t the food, it was dancing with my cousins to the tunes of la Konga de Catunga and las Primas.

”Yo tengo una prima que se llama Lupita … y ella tiene un novio que se llama Antonio …”

Being part of our own unique junior Fernández clan, unscattered by the infighting of our own parents led by the magnetic and manipulative power of abuela Juliana, who seemed to like to divide and conquer.

Abuela Juliana had a way with words that wounded us. It wounded me. She always compared me to my oldest, skinniest cousin.

“Don’t worry child,” she would say, “you have big bones.”

She also said that I had butter fingers. Everything I touched broke. And I carried that into adulthood as a curse.

Still, we all cherished her approval. She doted us with toys from Europe, beautiful clothes and dollar bills. And the occasional surprise. Weeks before the New Year’s holidays, she brought a pet. A black, teenage pig. We named him Porky. She kept him mostly in a wooden box. We fell in love and came to visit every Sunday. 'Til new year came around.

The living room was dressed in leftover Christmas sparkles, the house smelled like jasmine. And for this occasion, Porky wasn’t in his box. Instead, he was trying to eat an apple on top of a silver platter, right next to the potato salad. 

There was no warning to prepare us for the butchery that had taken place. My poor cousin still remembers Porky’s agony.

It was then with great indignation and pleasure that I organized the first of many boycotts against abuela Juliana and refused to eat Porky. My mom made sandwiches for my cousins and me. From then on, she would complain about my insolence, she told me God may not forgive me. I was a child that talked back.

And as I dust off these memories, I feel a strange sense of holiday cheer and joy, because in all her wickedness, even though God might have made us, she was the devil who brought my cousins and me together.

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