by Linnea Otto
“Here is your food, my queen.” Doña Violet beamed to a child who stood barely taller than her knees. Her voice held such a tone of reverence that it seemed she was truly speaking to royalty. The child responded with a goofy smile, showing the gaps in their mouth that outnumbered the teeth.
This woman, Doña Violet, is an angel. She works nine hours everyday making food from scratch for over seventy children at the youth center where I work. Despite this, every morning when I enter the kitchen, she drops whatever pot she’s stirring or pan she’s scrubbing and spins around to greet me. If I forget my water bottle in the refrigerator over the weekend, she freshens it with new water before I get to work on Monday. When she cooks something that has meat in it, she makes me a vegetarian portion. When I don’t wear my glasses, she notices and asks me where they are. In an environment swarming with people, she not only makes me feel like a valued individual, but manages to devout attention to each and every child. When the food is hot, she will sit for an hour at the preschool table, reminding each kid to blow every single spoonful so that they don’t burn their tongues. When kids are running late for lunch, she will stand in the kitchen as she eats, waiting to serve the remaining children. On the day of the third and fourth grader’s play last semester, she made a special lunch of fried shrimp to celebrate.
However, despite her shining smile, her eyes are tired. She has been working at the youth center for over a decade. The heavy lifting, working on her feet all day, and the daily temperature above 100℉ in the kitchen are taking a toll on her physical health. When I offer to help her with simple tasks such as cutting vegetables or lifting a heavy crate, her face warms and softens as if I had just volunteered to carry her several miles. Only once or twice has she admitted to me that her arthritis has been bothering her. “I’m doing well today…but my wrists hurt,” she’ll say. And with that, she’ll brush off her apron and begin serving the seventy plates of food to her awaiting kings and queens.