5 Life Lessons from Mama Chelo

Mama Chelo bequeaths her cookie jar to me. It is currently on display at the Gilbert and Sullivan museum just outside of Philadelphia

Mama Chelo bequeaths her cookie jar to me. It is currently on display at the Gilbert and Sullivan museum just outside of Philadelphia.

Those of us who knew her were all so blessed, fortunate, luck luck lucky, to have shared the planet with Consuelo Calderon Villarreal, best known as Mama Chelo.
She imparted this wisdom to me at various stages of my life.

1. Sprinkle Mosquitos
We all know that Mama Chelo was prone to a wee bit of exaggeration and drama, in the true theatric sense of the word. That took immense creativity. At one point in her life, she owned a luncheonette. She purposefully put the lunch specials sign upside down in the front window. So folks would come inside to tell the charming, pretty lady with the adorable accent that she made a mistake. Then, just a few minutes later, those individuals would find themselves ordering that very same lunch special. When kids came to get ice cream, she offered them chocolate sprinkles, or as we call them in my Philly homeland, “jimmies.” “Do jou wan mosquitos on dat?” Of course kids said, “Yes!” And of course, they always want to get ice cream at Mama Chelo’s luncheonette. She was leaps and bounds ahead of the marketing moguls of today. So when you are stuck and don’t feel like you have the resources to make it happen, remember, get creative and sprinkle mosquitos.

2. Build the Chimney
At some point, Mama Chelo needed a new chimney on the roof. She was a single mother. She didn’t know how to do it and didn’t have the funds to pay someone. Without the assistance of a YouTube instructional video, she got a hold of some bricks and cement, climbed on the roof and built it, brick by brick. Nike coined “Just Do it” years later, but when you think about chickening out on anything, especially your dreams (yes, I’m also talking to myself now), think build the chimney.

3. Be a Beautiful Oogely Monkey
This lesson could also be called “Shake what Mama Chelo gave you” for all my blood relatives. Mama Chelo cared a lot about what she looked like. She sewed many of her own clothes and they were tailored, tapered, scoop necked and looking back, she pulled off “hot” into her later years. She called everyone a beautiful “oogely” (translation ugly) monkey. “Why did God make you such an oogely monkey? You are so beautiful!” She always wanted to feel and look beautiful. While there were times even in her visually impaired days when she would squeeze the back of my arm (a gentler form of that fat pincher they use at the gym) and tell me if I’ve gained weight, she really did make me feel like the most beautiful monkey in the world. Think about how you show up in the world and celebrate your own inner and outer beauty.

4. Test Drive
Mama Chelo never got to choose her husband. He was chosen for her. When I was in my twenties, she told me to test drive my future husband. She urged me to live with him before marrying him to get a sense of day-to day-life with him. That was very useful advice.

5. You live in my heart and you don’t even pay rent. Vives en mi corazon y no pagas renta.
Mama Chelo made a lot of people feel loved. Express the love you have for people in your life. Declare it. Your heart is big and the mortgage is paid.

Happy 106th Birthday Mama Chelo!

Mama Chelo

Mama Chelo

relieved of bones, wiggly skin

it’s taut again



pinch her waist

she’s singing now

the world’s on fire

dancing Preciosa

cat-eye specs

arroz con “sauro-creen”

margaritas con sal

her plane dips and swallows

she’s got her choice

built chimneys

broke that pulsing red thump it

her record player

one thousand strings

canaries in hacienda white and blue

her third floor walk up


no mande here

just Tío Ramón spoiling her

Polito el toro like Spot

pollitos at the foot of her bed

til the dinner bell rang

those tears turned

upside down signs at her luncheonette

a milliner’s dream at Bonwit Teller

a life twisted by one man’s Soledad

new born teens and Guadalupe

pulled her into canción

canta, canta

no llores

each drop of you

swims in us

 Me and Chelo Communion