Eufemia Cruz-Santana loves her sweets. A candy jar sits enticingly on her windowsill, and she offers a visitor a cherry Life Saver. A few minutes later, she digs through the bowl and hands the visitor a gold-wrapped Werther’s Original with all its toffee goodness.
“Here’s the best one,” she says.
That moment of sharing encapsulates the sweet and generous nature of Eufemia. Her life hasn’t always been easy, but as her bright room full of whimsical gifts attests, she has built up a reservoir of love among her family and, now, the Homeland family that takes good care of her.
Eufemia, who grew up in Guayama, a historic beach town on Puerto Rico’s Caribbean coast, lost her father when she was 2 and her brother was 4. Her mother remarried and had more children, and when Eufemia was 15, she moved to Chicago to live with her aunt.
Before coming to Harrisburg in 1972, Eufemia, her husband, and their five children shuttled between Chicago, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.
“Her husband came here to visit a cousin, and they liked it, so we all moved here,” says Eufemia’s daughter, Laura Segarra, of Hummelstown. “It was much better than living in an apartment in New Jersey. They liked the atmosphere.”
Eufemia came to Homeland in the spring of 2021. This fall, she celebrated a milestone birthday, her 80th, with a family party at her son’s house.
“It was a good birthday,” says Eufemia. “I always get something good.”
The windowsill in her room in Homeland’s Ellenberger memory care unit is cheery with the presents she got for that birthday.
“My daughter bought me this for my birthday,” she said, tapping a button on a teddy bear that sang happy birthday while a ball in its hands spun and lit up in different colors.
The windowsill has other gifts and mementos: a vial of sand from Atlantic City, family photos, and autumnal décor. For the holidays, Laura decorates the sill with a small Christmas tree. A toy dog curled on a dog bed is so realistic you think it’s sleeping.
“I love it,” says Eufemia. “I enjoy just seeing it.”
Eufemia raised her five children, and today she has 21 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.
“I tried to do the best I could,” Eufemia says of her years raising a family.
Laura agrees. The family attended St. Francis Catholic Church in Harrisburg. The kids learned to cook, including the traditional Puerto Rican dish of rice with gandules, the legume known as pigeon peas. More importantly, Eufemia taught her children “how to respect people.”
“She taught us how to work for what you want,” says Laura. “She taught me to be who I am now, a responsible mom.”
When the weather is nice, Laura will take her mom on excursions to visit family, eat lunch, and see Eufemia’s friend, Esther. The two have been best friends since their kids were young.
“She’d do anything for me,” says Eufemia.
Eufemia looks sparkly in a shirt studded with tiny rhinestones. She wears pendants saying “Sweet Mom” and “Nana,” her grandma names, which have become the endearment everyone uses. Her fingernails are perfectly painted in a deep red – a hallmark of Homeland, where residents get regular manicures.
“It’s nice here,” Eufemia says. “I like it. The people are so nice. Everything is nice.”
Laura adds, “They really like Mommy here.”
Homeland keeps Eufemia busy with daily activities, and she enjoys it all. She is proud of the artwork she has colored in craft classes that hangs on her armoire's doors.
“We sing,” she says. “We exercise. We play bingo.”
Laura and one of her sisters visit weekly. On this day, Laura brought her mother a lunch of sancocho, a Puerto Rican stew of vegetables and pork-neck bones, and homemade rice pudding. With Homeland watching over their mother, Laura and her siblings appreciate the peace of mind from knowing their mother is in good hands.
“When I call if there’s something wrong, right away, they get back to me,” Laura says. “If she’s not feeling well and maybe doesn’t tell anyone, I’ll call and tell them, and right away, they get on it. Whenever they do things for her, they check with me right away. We like the whole staff.”