Dorotea Jimenez liked weddings until she died.
She died at one in fact. Not wanting to cause any unpleasantness, she did it only after the bride and groom and most of the others had left the church. When the wedding was over, she went back inside the church and sat in the same place where she had sat for many years—always toward the front and to the right, about the fourth pew. And then she clutched her little bag of wrapped rice—an extra one she had decided to keep for herself—and calmly and quietly died. She was 92.
She had had her own weddings, two of them. It wasn’t as if she had been deprived of love and affection from anyone. Both her husbands—the first of whom had been killed in an auto accident in 1968, when the Robert Kennedy assassination was being televised, and the second of whom died of a family illness she didn’t know he had until he died—had loved her immensely.
The latter had been with her until almost the year that she died; he was 86. She had married young, she told her friends, for the lovemaking.
“Esos otros viejitos,” she had told her friends, “no tienen pasión.” Those other old men have no passion. She had married her second husband in her 60s. He was younger by a few years, but when she spoke of his body in bed she referred to him as if he was in his 20s. “And down there,” she added with a gleam, “18.”
When her husbands had spoken to women her age, they only said that she never lost her romance. She insisted, both of the husbands had reported, in serving them alphabet cereal at least once a week—not because she thought they would like it or because she was lazy in the kitchen—she was a traditional Hispanic woman who believed she should cook faithfully—but because she liked to spell their names with the letters in the bowl.
When her first husband died, she approached the coffin quietly with dignity and left him a love letter she had perfumed herself. It was perfume, she explained to her friends who asked her years later, that he had liked when he held her. The lipstick that she sealed the envelope and dotted her signature with was his favorite kind. The envelope, which had been made some time in the 50s, was made of paper soft to the touch and was beautiful enough that the neighbor’s children liked to pull the stationery out of the small box where she kept it on her dresser just to look at it.
She had never had any children of her own. No one knew why. They imagined that she would have been a wonderful mother, but she never discussed motherhood with them. Many of the ladies thought that she practiced birth control, contrary to local Catholic teachings, but she herself never explained it.
Dorotea Jimenez liked to describe her private life, but only its positive side. And, as if she perceived that her non-production of children might be considered a negative, she never once mentioned it to anyone or explained herself to anyone she met.
Once, at a church function, a young boy brash enough to inquire brought up the topic. Other young men were present when he had asked. She looked at him with her shiny eyes, lowering her glasses just enough to look at him in front of the others with an amused frown, and told him just loud enough for the others to hear, “Mira, mi hijito. No es cuando viene el niño, pero cuando viene el hombre lo que me ha interesado.” “It’s not the coming of the child, but the coming of the man that has always interested me.”
She was 55 then, and the young men who had overheard her had laughed, and the insolent inquirer had shaken his fingers up and down as if he had just touched a hot stove with his fingertips and was trying to shake it off.
“‘Ta bueno, abuelita.” “All right, grandma,” he had replied.
Dorotea Jimenez had watched them all walk away laughing, but looking at her with admiration and a new respect. None of them ever asked again. And she knew that the other women she spoke with would never hear of it, but that the young people of the church she attended would all know what she had said by that afternoon.
To the amusement of both of her husbands, who were secure in her love for them, she always introduced herself to all the young men in church who had reached puberty and had begun to develop firm muscular builds.
“Just let me say hello to little Johnny over there,” she would tell her husbands. And both of them, when their turn came, would walk faithfully beside her to say hello to the new local football or baseball star. After saying hello, and before she left, she was always sure to grab them with her hand on one side or another of their young, firm waist and utter, “Muscle,” followed by a moaning “umm” sound.
Her husbands, always amused by her antics, had rolled their eyes and told the young men not to worry, “No te va hacer nada. Aquí estoy.” “She won’t do anything to you. I’m right here.”
Neither of her husbands ever went to weddings with her, at least not after a while.
The first one had gone to five or so, but realized—as much as he liked to go anywhere with her—that a wedding was one place that she really didn’t want him to accompany her after all. Having realized that, he contented himself by searching small-town papers within a 30-mile radius—a one-hour drive back and forth—for church weddings. There was almost one every week during certain times of the year. He would then mention them when they were sitting at breakfast, making it sound as if he was only doing it in passing, and not letting her know that he had scoured the racks of local vendors for newspapers from other small towns located nearby.
“Se va a casar una muchachita que se llama Elizabeth Montemayor con Luis Placencia en Alice,” he would say casually over coffee. “A young girl named Elizabeth Montemayor is going to marry a young man named Luis Placencia in Alice.” Then he would casually mention the hours and the name of the church. She preferred church weddings, he had realized, and avoided those held in city or other public buildings.
Once mentioned, he always thought she had forgotten the details of time and place until he would notice, some two hours before the wedding was scheduled to begin, that she would start to get dressed and ask him to get ready to take her.
He was her driver during those occasions.
In the beginning, when he used to go with her, he would sit beside her quietly, watching some young couple getting married whom neither had ever seen before, wondering what the family thought of them sitting so close to the front, or of her tears when the young couple exchanged vows.
Dorotea Jimenez had finally told him, alleviating his sense of obligation, that he didn’t have to go inside with her anymore. The way she patted his forearm, and the way she smiled at him, made him realize that it was okay—and that she meant it.
Her second husband was given that speech—with much the same delivery—the first time he took her to a wedding. He had bought a jacket for the occasion, and she had stopped him outside, by the car, and let him know it was okay not to go in. He seemed relieved when she smiled at him, patting his arm as she spoke. They didn’t know the couple, she explained, and “you look uncomfortable in a jacket right now.”
That day he waited patiently in the heat, sitting on the passenger’s side and occasionally leaning against the outside of their car, until she had come out beaming. The look on her face had convinced him to do what his predecessor had done—search the newspapers for wedding announcements until the day he died.
Both of her husbands had been laborers of one kind or another. Before her, none of them had owned a jacket or a suit, and the one jacket each of them bought had been for her weddings.
When they married her, more because they knew that’s the way she would have wanted it, they had each worn a tux. All of the men around them, who had worked and dirtied themselves with field work as much as her husbands, had contributed two or three dollars each to help them rent it.
“For any other woman,” they had told them, “you could wear anything you wanted, but this is Dorotea Jimenez, and you should wear a tux. Dorotea Jimenez is in love with you, and you should wear a tux.” At the weddings, each of the men who had contributed sat toward the front, each holding hands with his wife, with their children in other parts of the church looking at the rare spectacle. In front of their own children, and in front of the whole church, each husband and wife behaved as if Dorotea Jimenez’s weddings brought them love and life again.
Dorotea Jimenez died at 92. When she arrived at her last wedding, she was wearing a smock a young man had given her for her birthday, December 20, the year before. The dress she wore was tastefully and elegantly decorated with a pin—a present from her second husband. As much as he had tried, and as much as he apologized to her for many years, he could never afford to get her a real diamond wedding ring. Because she had wanted to marry him so quickly, they had used the rings she had had from her first husband. It had hurt him deeply, everyone had said later, but he had told them all, individually and in small groups, “Dorotea Jimenez wants to marry me, and for that, I will swallow anything, including any trace of my pride.”
Everyone knew at their wedding where the rings had come from, and no one, not even the other men who could have afforded to help him, criticized any part of it.
“Se está casando con Dorotea Jimenez, y para eso, uno se puede comer lo que sea.” “He is marrying Dorotea Jimenez, and for that, one can swallow anything.”
At her last wedding, the day she died, Dorotea Jimenez wore her husbands’ wedding ring. She was leaning on the end of the pew, all the way to the right, when they found her. One of the older, but still strong, men, carried her out to the car from the wedding, explaining to the people there that she had gone to sleep.
A few of her friends followed him along in their cars to her home, where the women found the keys to her house in her purse. Along with her keys, they found a few small envelopes of the kind that she had always liked, a small vial of perfume her first husband had given her, and the savings her second husband had kept to eventually get her a wedding band.
He had always tried, he said, because he wanted the best for her. And the little paper bag in which he kept the savings—which Dorotea Jimenez would occasionally carry in her purse without his knowledge—was one that most of the men had already seen.
He had shown all of them his efforts and had asked many of them if he was getting close enough, not knowing the price of a ring himself. (He had been too embarrassed to walk into a jewelry store too early, without enough money, he had explained.)
And Dorotea Jimenez knew all of it—about the savings that he never mentioned to her; about him showing the small bag to the others, at work and elsewhere; about the jackets and the tuxedoes; about the heat outside while they waited; about the men holding hands with their wives at her weddings; and about the contributions everyone made.
Until the day she died at 92, when she leaned against the end of the pew after her last wedding, Dorotea Jimenez knew all of it.
Ruperto Garcia is a former Observer staff writer. He practices law in San Antonio and is working on a book of short stories.