Celia Garcia | 64

From her Blaine kitchen came countless meals and a warm sense of belonging, earning her the affectionate moniker "Mama Celia." 

Just beyond the front door sat the woman with an easy smile, her dark eyes fixed on the kitchen television.

A telenovela — that exquisite blend of hero and villain, romance and sin — unfolded on the screen as devoted follower Celia Garcia tuned in.

But when the door swung open, Garcia’s familiar words cut through her beloved “novela.”

“Are you hungry?” she asked. “Can I cook you something?”

She spent a lifetime probing the appetites of visitors, spinning her question into an enticing welcome mat at the Blaine home where she and her husband spent more than three decades raising seven children and filling countless hungry bellies.

They called her “Mama Celia” for good reason. She nurtured kin and strangers alike, welcoming neighborhood children to her table, housing relatives, offering counsel and extra scoops of hot meals at a teen addiction recovery center in Blaine where she worked as a cook for 15 years.

In her hands, cooking was not a science. Not rooted in the rigor of measuring cups or calibrated by the teaspoon.

It was more like poetry. She never measured anything, relying instead on taste to guide her fairy dust of spices, undertaking each dish with her heart and her tongue.

Soft enchiladas. Crisp chilaquiles. Steaming bowls of pozole, a Mexican pork stew that begged for second helpings.

Beneath the hominy and garlic, a warm ingredient without a name simmered in each bowlful.

“Her food was her gateway to people’s hearts,” said her son Ramiro Garcia.

Only after everyone else had something to eat would Mama Celia serve herself.

Hannah Covington