Yesterday, Sunday, would have been Minga’s 78th birthday. I turn 74 in May; she and I are just about four years apart in age. That difference seemed greatest when I first met her in 1967, at the outset of the Peace Corps years. She already had six children. She lived with Roberto Delgado; she’d already had children by three different men. Although I’d had a boyfriend for six years, I probably don’t have to tell anyone with a Catholic upbringing from that era how limited my experience was. Minga had a quiet authority and competence even then. I was struggling to define myself as an independent woman, finally out of the shadow of a mother whose constant theatrics sucked up all the oxygen in the room.
The age difference came into proper perspective when I returned to Panama ten years ago, and that was re-affirmed each year that I returned. Minga and I were both older women living alone. We were both mothers, and grandmothers — she first, then I. We were both political junkies. We were both grappling with issues of aging: she with mobility and overall health, me with role changes and relevance.
MInga’s birthday was always a big deal for her large extended family — cake, a birthday meal, balloons, lots of family around, a pinata from her daughter Mari. I love my Cinco de Mayo birthday, but the celebration of it is usually quieter, especially in these later years.
In 2016 friends Emily and her mom Mary were in Panama for Minga’s birthday. Minga and Emily celebrate their birthdays on the same day, so we had a big Mickey/Minnie Mouse themed party at Minga’s house. It was grand.
The bottom pic is Minga when she and I first met. She is twenty six.