helpJudith Ortiz Cofer
More Room

My grandmother’s house is like a chambered nautilus; it has many rooms, yet it is not a mansion. Its proportions are small and its design simple. It is a house that has grown organically, according to the needs of its inhabitants. To all of us in the family it is known as
la casa de Mamá[footnoteRef:1]. It is the place of our origin; the stage for our memories and dreams of Island life. [1: Mama’s house.]

I remember how in my childhood it sat on stilts; this was before it had a downstairs – it rested on its perch like a great blue bird, not a flying sort of bird, more like a nesting hen, but with spread wings. Grandfather had built it soon after their marriage. He was a painter and housebuilder by trade, a poet and meditative man by nature. As each of their eight children were born, new rooms were added. After a few years, the paint did not exactly match, nor the materials, so that there was a chronology to it, like the rings of a tree, and Mamá could tell you the history of each room in her
casa, and thus the genealogy of the family along with it.

Her own room is the heart of the house. Though I have seen it recently – and both woman and room have diminished in size, changed by the new perspective of my eyes, now capable of looking over countertops and tall beds – it Is not this picture I carry in my memory of Mamá’s
casa. Instead, I see her room as a queen’s chamber where a small woman loomed large, a throne room with a massive four-poster bed in its center, which stood taller than a child’s head. It was on this bed, where her own children had been born, that the smallest grandchildren were allowed to take naps in the afternoons; here too was where Mamá secluded herself to dispense private advice to her daughters, sitting on the edge of the bed, looking down at whoever sat on the rocker where generations of babies had been sung to sleep. To me she looked like a wise empress right out of the fairy tales I was addicted to reading.

Though the room was dominated by the mahogany four-poster, it also contained all of Mamá’s symbols of power. On her dresser there were not cosmetics but jars filled with herbs:
yerba buena, yerba mala[footnoteRef:2], the makings of purgatives and teas to which we were all subjected during childhood crises. She had a steaming cup for anyone who could not, or would not, get up to face life on any given day. If the acrid aftertaste of her cures for malingering did not get you out of bed, then it was time to call
el doctor. [2: Good herbs, bad herbs.]

And there was the monstrous chifforobe she kept locked with a little golden key she did not hide. This was a test of her dominion over us; though my cousins and I wanted a look inside that massive wardrobe more than anything, we never reached for that little key lying on top of her Bible on the dresser. Thi

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