Sometimes my Suegra’s friends give her bags of used clothing they don’t want anymore. This is something she loves. When she opens a trash bag full of used clothing, she looks like a niño on Christmas morning.
Some of the used clothing, Suegra uses for herself, the rest she brings back to El Salvador to give to family members or to re-sell at a profit. If you have something to sell, you just stick a sign on your house and you instantly have your own tienda; that’s one of the things I love about El Salvador. (My Suegra finds the concept of “zoning” completely bizarre. She can’t understand why I don’t make a living from home as she did, but I’m not sure my HOA would approve a hand-painted “Tracy’s Pupusería” sign stuck on the side of our house.)
My husband’s childhood home has gone through various incarnations. It has been everything from a tailor shop to a one-stop pharmacy. (Guerillas apparently ruined the pharmacy during the war. Injured, bloody men took their inventory, using women’s sanitary napkins on their wounds.)
At one point Suegra also ran a liquor store. My husband remembers during one earthquake all of his family ran to the shelves and held them in place, their bodies pressed up against the clattering bottles of alcohol, instead of running outside to safety. I can’t imagine instructing my children to do such a thing, but had the bottles fallen on the cement floor and shattered, they’d have lost the only thing that was putting food in their mouths at the time.
These days, since Suegra spends more time in “Los Uniteds” than El Salvador, she can’t run an actual shop, but she makes decent money from re-selling stuff she buys here.
This morning she came to me with a lacy, silk negligee she received in one of those bags of used clothes.
“Qué es, Tracy?… It’s too small to be a dress, va?”
I suppressed a smile.
“Es un… vestido de cama,” I tried to explain.
“Vestido de cama?” she said incredulously, inspecting it. “But it doesn’t look very comfortable. How could a woman sleep in this?”
“It’s not for sleeping,” I said, hoping she’d get what I meant.
“And why did you tell me it’s for the bed, pues?”
“It’s that…It’s for the bed, but not for sleeping.” I paused but she just kept staring at me, so I went on. (Meanwhile my oldest son is laughing because he has already understood.)
“It’s a little dress to show your husband, but one takes it off quickly.”
Finally Suegra understood.
“Uy!” she said, inspecting the lingerie with disdain. She walked back to her room mumbling, “Bueno, but if the people buy it, I will sell it.”