|Mom, in her early teens.|
A bit of background on Mom: she's the third of four daughters born to poor folks in a small village in central Portugal. It was a very rough life—her father died of tuberculosis when she was about 4, leaving her mother hard pressed to care for herself and her family. The girls had to be left with their maternal grandparents (my great-greats) for a time, so my grandmother could scratch out an income for them all.
The way Mom tells it, while her grandfather was a gentle old fellow, her grandmother was quite stern, and when they weren't working the family farm, they were praying the Rosary. Life was not only hard but mostly humorless for my Mom and her sisters, yet they found a way to make their own fun. The gals developed a method of cracking one another up on the sly in the form of The Cat Face. It's just what it sounds like—when their grandparents weren't looking, they'd catch one another's eyes and contort their faces into expressions they imagined to resemble a cat's. The evening Rosary sessions became less prayer-like and more suppressed-giggle fests. I have to say, knowing what I do of my great-greats' no-nonsense attitude re: the Lord, I'm mightily impressed with my Mom and surviving aunts (the eldest passed away many years ago of heart problems). It took a lot of guts for them to goof off, however innocently, given how dire the consequences would've been if they'd been caught.
|Mom, flashing her gams, but not The Cat Face.|
The "tradition" is that The Cat Face can be shown to females of any age or children of either sex, but never, ever to adult males. Never, never, ever. Mom's speed and stealth have only improved over time, and her daring has grown so that at a table full of family, she will still keep an eye out for a moment that the gals are looking her way and the guys aren't and boom, baby—The Cat Face strikes again, leaving all the men wondering what the hell the chicks are laughing at. My sister has worked at perfecting this art and will often trade Cat Faces with Mom whenever she comes to town for a meal, leaving me choking on my vinho verde. I, alas, am not as adept as they, and can't manage a proper Cat Face to save my life. The shame of it haunts me.
One Christmas around the dinner table, I teased my Mom about no longer being able to get away with doing The Cat Face as quickly as she used to. She didn't realize she was being baited, as I had a camera waiting in my lap to catch her in the very act. So naturally, she had to prove me wrong and SNAP, FLASH! I got a picture of it!!! My aunt and (female) cousin's hoots of hilarity, plus the look of shock, and then fury on Mom's face were all the reward I needed, even if the picture didn't come out (which it totally did). I would dearly love to share it with you all today but, even if Mom hadn't threatened me with unspeakable acts should the photo ever come to light, my sister warned me not to break The Cat Face Code - no men may ever see its grotesque glory. My apologies, y'all—call me a tease if you will, but I must respect the Code or forfeit my honor. (Such as it is.)
So, Happy Birthday, Mom, and Viva La Cat Face!