Well, That’s Life!

This post is also available in: Spanish

Isabel’s mother recently returned to Chile after an extended visit to the California House of the Spirits. I miss her already. She is a feisty grande dame, and it is almost impossible to keep up with her.  If Isabel is a Ferret on Cocoa Puffs, Panchita—don’t call her Panchetta, that makes her mad—is a hyperactive squirrel. She tops Isabel in energy—and even in the arena of story telling. (You see almost immediately that Isabel gets her storytelling abilities through genetic osmosis conditioning, a scientific term I just came up with.) Panchita can spin a yarn that will leave you wide-eyed and wondering where these people come from. Honestly, I wonder if she and Isabel are making stuff up sometimes, but I know they are not.


Lori taking photos of Panchita and Isabel in early July 2013.

Here is a story Panchita told while she was here:

When Panchita was young her husband abandoned her, leaving her with three kids—two toddlers and a newborn. She had no choice but to go back to her father’s house. After he helped her annul her disastrous marriage (the three kids would never see their father again), Panchita realized she needed to find a way to support her family. She opened the first fashion boutique in Santiago, hiring excellent seamstresses to satisfy the whims of her upper class clients, and using her beauty and charm to smuggle in fine fabrics from Europe. When it came time to pay taxes, she would invite the collector to a fine meal of oysters and chilled white wine; usually that would soften the man’s heart and he would overlook at least some of the shop’s success. What’s a little bribery in a weary world?

Soon Panchita fell in love with Ramon, a married man with four children. In Catholic Chile of the time (and in fact until only recently) you could not get a divorce, only an annulment if both parties agreed to it. When Ramon’s wife refused his request for an annulment, he left her, although he always honored his responsibilities to her and his children. For the next sixty years, Panchita and Ramon lived together without being able to marry.

In 2000 Panchita came to California to visit Isabel, as she does every year, although the trip is a killer—it takes almost 22 hours door-to-door. One day, when they were driving, Panchita lamented the fact that she was still Ramon’s mistress and not his wife. “What’s your problem, Mom?” Isabel asked. “Do you want the white dress or something?” Panchita’s response was immediate. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “That’s what I want!” Isabel turned the car around and drove her mother, who was 80 at the time, to the Jessica McClintock store in San Francisco. She marched her into the store and said to the first clerk she saw, “Make this woman a bride!” Everyone in the store rallied around to fit Panchita into a beautiful gown with lace and pearls and a flowing veil. Willie was summoned to the shop and ordered to bring flowers and a camera. Isn’t Panchita a gorgeous bride?


Panchita on her last visit holding up her “wedding” photo.

In 2010 Ramon’s 94-year-old wife died, and a few hours later he asked Panchita to marry him. Her initial response was indifference—or so she pretended! “I would have to think about it…” But she accepted, of course, and they were married in a private ceremony. The following December, when Panchita turned 90, family and friends gathered to celebrate this extraordinary couple.  (According to Isabel, the most extraordinary fact is that they have made it this far without therapy.)

Summing up her story, which left us alternately in awe, laughter and tears, Panchita tilted her head to one side, shrugged and said, “Well, that’s life!”

29 Responses to Well, That’s Life!

  1. Isabel Noriega Khan November 16, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I want to hear more!!! Is there a book;)

  2. Loca Gringa October 12, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Love this love story.

  3. Angela.Regina Baptista September 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Linda história! Inexistente nos dias atuais. Parabéns ao casal! Sei um pouco sobre Ponchita e Ramon pelos livros de Isabel.

  4. Angela H August 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Sarah.. I Think i am in love with you haha maybe you can misunderstand my words or maybe i am not explaining what i am trying to say haha.. Here is the thing I am from Ecuador and Isabel has changed dramatically my life in a way that nobody else has done it. Everytime i read a book of her or a story in your blog i am so secure that she is my main role model (oh my I hope my mother never watchs this). This story bring tears to my eyes, i was so sad when i finished reading Paula, because knowing all these “Characters” and thinking that i will never know anything more about them. Then you wrote these beautiful post in this blog that bring me back to life, to joy and to understand that true love really REALLY exists.

    Thank you Sara for sharing this with us, with me… I was having a one of those days when dont understand life, but now it has a real meaning AGAIN. Sorry if i am maybe being a little dramatic, haha this blog really changed my attitude. Thanks again.

  5. Letvs August 13, 2013 at 5:12 am #

    Being called Panchetta would make me mad, too. Ha, ha. De tal palo, tal astilla. These mamis are so special. Love your blog.

  6. Sarah Kessler August 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Here is Isabel’s responce to the comments left for the Blog about her mother:
    Thank you for all the wonderful comments about Panchita, She will be happy to read them.
    Aquí está la respuesta de Isabel a los comentarios recibidos por mi blog sobre su madre.
    Gracias por los maravillosos mensajes sobre Panchita; a ella le encantará leerlos.

    • Florencia Victoria August 12, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      Dear Sarah! As you can imagine … I miss Panchita .. is blessed to have her for Isabel .. I feel so identified with my daughter have a close relationship of complicity gestures skin I feel so much more between Panchita and Isabel …
      My Mommy all I wanted was a white wedding with my stepfather, when the Vatican gave the dissolution of his first marriage to my mom .. my stepfather, my father’s heart, died,, my mom stayed in deep sadness and frustration … THAT’S LIFE! What what Elizabeth did for his mommy is wonderful!
      Love this post .. Isabel definitely inherited all her mother’s beautiful! ..
      Lori is dancing to take pictures,, your feet are ready to take a turn in the air!
      Sarah dear eternal hug for you and the whole tribe!!
      I love them way too affections
      Florence Victoria!!

  7. Luisa SChaves August 9, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    ¿Por qué nunca aparecen mis comentarios para Isabel?

  8. Denize August 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Que tal Isabel
    Allende escrever um livro sobre sua mãe?

  9. Isabel Cristina Aleluia August 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    My dear, please thank Panchita on my behalf for being such a lovely and strong woman and for having given us the talent and kindness of Isabel… I wish I could meet both of them!

  10. yanesky August 7, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    un maravilloso final feliz, y en la dureza de la vida real.

  11. Maru August 7, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Amo a Isabel Allende y ahora amo a Panchita !!! gracias por las miles y miles de horas que he pasado sumergida en cada uno de los mundos que creas… simplemente, gracias por tus libros Isabel !!! espero poderte conocer antes de escribir “la suma de mis dias”…

  12. Victoria August 7, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Love conquers all! <3

  13. Carmen rosa Bello( guga) August 7, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    Panchita, un beso y muchas felicitaciones!

  14. Cristina August 7, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    Isabel, tu mama me encanta, es una mujer fenomenal, un beso grande

  15. pilar gonzalez August 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    que valiente su mama mi madre fue casada por segunda vez porque mi padre la abandono y recuerdo que hay veces recibia insultos por ser separada gente ignorante pero 50 anos atras eran asi las cosas en Chile

  16. Aida Pozuelos August 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    Extraordinary! I love Isabel and I am sure her mom is as wonderful as Isabel. I have all her books and they are amazing, my first book that I brought in this country was La casa de los espiritus. Thank you for share this history.

  17. Alicia Fajardo-Wagner August 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    A wonderful story of true love! I also have a similar story. My husband left me with 3 kids, but I met my true love and God blessed me with our own child!

  18. Homero Gomez August 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Panchita muchas felicidades. Un abrazo desde Mexico

  19. Ruth August 6, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Thank you for sharing Isabel’s life with us. Panchita: Way to go! Congratulations! What a story! Tale care!

  20. Briseidy August 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Pues si, asi es la vida! Esas son mujeres que inspiran!

  21. Holly Pence August 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    I did love that story. I can see where Isabel gets her beauty & her way with words. Ramon & Willie are lucky men, indeed.

  22. Teresa Megre August 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    A beautiful love story. Moving!

  23. Paulina August 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    Hermosa historia de amor , podemos de decir que todos nuestros suenios pueden ser realidad si asi lo deseamos …Bendiciones.

  24. Isabel Maria August 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Esso es una bella historia de amor ! Muy bonita Panchita !

  25. claudia quinn August 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Que historia de amor mas bonita!!!!! <3

  26. Laury August 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    Wow…. que lindo !!!

  27. Barbara August 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Congratulation Panchita and Ramon! That’s Life!

  28. Nelson Balmaceda August 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Extraordinarily y Bella historia de amor

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