Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Help...

I'm so far behind the times - we just finished watching "The Help". I read the book over the holidays. I felt... maybe moved, possessed... I'm not sure. It was on my mind a lot. Ever read a book like that? You put in the book mark because your eyes just won't take another paragraph but your mind is just pondering everything you've read. When it's a good book I am absorbed completely. When I finished I felt out of sorts. Where do you go from there? No sequel to pick up and continue reading about my new found friends. We bought the movies for the girls this year at Christmas. I couldn't wait to borrow one copy to watch. Tonight was that night.

I found myself thinking of our own very limited personal experience. Despite the fact that I'm a Yankee from the North and my husband is a mossy-backed Pacific Northwesterner, we had a period of three years when we shared our home with a very special woman, Rosa.

In 1985, Mike was due new orders again. Looking at yet another stent at sea while our small growing family was left behind, Mike wanted to try a new approach. He had attempted a tour overseas years (and a family) earlier but it was cancelled because of political conflict. He investigated a tour in a Diplomatic Service. It was a partnership. Both of us endured interviews and background investigations. We faced questions about the difference in our ages. Apparently we were found competent enough to represent our country and the United States Navy. Mike recieved orders to be Naval Attache at the United States Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.

We were moved to the east coast and spent ten months in Virginia going through diplomatic training. Mike learned the ins and outs of being a gentleman spy and I endured hours of classes on being a proper spouse. We sat through seminars on how to dress, how to entertain, where our forks should be placed and what was acceptable and not acceptable. We went through intensive language training to be prepared to live "in country".

Our oldest son was born during the east coast stay. It caused some havoc in my language training and, as I've always believed things happen for a reason, I was fortunate to get one on one training with a young lady from Peru and still be momma to our newborn son.

Once in country we lived in a residence hotel. We had to purchase a vehicle, find a home to rent, open utilities, and hire help. We looked for weeks with realtors. The home had to be appropriate for entertaining diplomats, secure enough for us and not too ostentageous. There were high rise penthouses - stunning views - but I felt panicked thinking of living so high with two small children and a rail between them and upteen stories below. There was the house with the fleaswhere Erin noticed her moving spots on her legs... and the home with the oven full of cockroaches... How about the home with the "lucky" centavos scattered all over the rooms in the corners - and our little 3 year old daughter who thought she'd hit the jackpot.

We met a gentleman who built a home for his family and they weren't happy about moving so he was renting it out. The houses have names instead of house numbers. Our home was called "Las Ventanas".

"Las Ventanas" (The Windows)

We lived behind tall cement walls around the yard and an electric gate to come and go. We were required to always have someone at home, as I was expected to travel with Mike to the other countries where he was accredited, which meant leaving our family behind.

Our first housekeeper was Ana, from Columbia. She spoke no english and scared the daylights out of me. Housekeepers were hired to work Sunday night thru Saturday morning. They usually packed up and went away early Saturday. We also hired Jaime to be our gardener... a loose description of his duties. He was tall, dark (and cliche good looking) and intimidating to anyone who might think they want to harrass us or our children. He worked in our small garden yard trimming shrubs and trees and washed vehicles. The kids loved him too.

Within a couple of months we discovered Ana was stealing from us (most noticeable was the handmade wood train my Dad made for Matt's 1st birthday). One Sunday evening I bagged up her belongings into a large black bag and met her at the front gate when she buzzed to come back in. We informed her we knew she was stealing and she wasn't welcome back. She made threats and we were concerned for awhile but we never heard from her again. You can't argue with the truth.

Friends in the Embassy conversed as did the housekeepers. The Army couple had a lovely Grenadian woman who had a friend she recommended - and that is how Rosa came to be a member of our family.

Rosa, or RohRoh as the kids called, was in her late 50's. She spoke English and was also from Grenada. We found it easiest to communicate in Spanish. Weekends she gathered with the other Grenadian maids. They would go from house to house to spend Saturday night cooking, laughing, eating and watching their stories. I loved when they gathered at our house.


It took some adjustments to having someone in the house all the time. It was tough to fly out of country and leave our children behind with someone, but it didn't take long to develop a routine and a comfort level. The kids loved her. She loved them. It was even harder to relinquish control of the tasks around the house... well most of them... well maybe a couple of them... Ok so I hated ironing and cleaning up after I cooked and gladly turned it over - but I digress.

We quickly developed our routines. Rosa cleaned and looked after the kids. I enjoyed cooking so I prepared most meals. Eventually as the kids grew old enough they helped by setting and clearing the tables. It was special to walk away from the kitchen mess and enjoy an evening with my children. As time passed I even enjoyed asking Rosa to prepare some of her 'local dishes', instructing me for future use.

When I was pregnant with our youngest, I was sick for the first two trimesters. We're talking horizontal, in a dark room, the only movement was getting to the bathroom to toss my cookies. Rosa use to bring me arepas (a white corn masa biscuit) with ham and white cheese, encouraging me to try and eat.

(Now I mention the movie again.) There is a scene in the movie where the maid Minnie shares something in confidence with her naive but loving employer. She closes the door and the scene cuts to the two of them sitting on a bench, the employer with a stunned look after Minnie has revealed the horrible awful thing she'd done.

I chuckled as it reminded me of the afternoon Rosa and I were in the kitchen. She was cooking and I was visiting. Her son had recently come to Venezuela from Grenada with her older daughter, for a school visit. We talked about her family and how difficult it must be for her to be in Venezuela helping our family while her own children were left behind. She shared a story of her husband, who was a bit of a philanderer, and his girlfriend. She caught him leaving the girlfriend's home (with whom she learned he had a family also) after a visit and chased him along a path with a machete attempting to 'chop of da arm, senora'. I felt this huge knot in my stomach as I pondered our next trip out of country and the three small beings we were leaving in her care.

When Mike got home I quickly found a way to share the story with him. He looked at me ever so casually and said "who better to entrust with our family than someone who will go to great lengths to protect her own". Point taken.

Granted we never had the civil issues as depicted in the movie but hello, that WAS over two decades ago and we were in a Third World Country. Everyone was racially mixed. Indian, South American, Caribbean, European. It took me quite awhile to not cringe when I heard them refer to one another (fondly mind you) as Negrito, etc. Besides we were two Yankees who welcomed Rosa and all she had to share, not to mention her cooking was to.die.for. yummy. She loved us and we her.

The biggest disappointment was leaving her behind. Our next duty station was to be in Puerto Rico, living on a base. It wasn't practical to bring her with us. We've lost track of her in the past twenty years. I think of her often and hope she was able to return to her children and share her love with with them as she did with us.

Rosa with Matthew, Krieger and Erin 1988 Venezuela

We were hardly in the same world as the storyline in "The Help". It wasn't the 60's nor was it the Southern States. After watching I felt like we were a bit like Celia Foote with her welcoming ways. Something I can definitely live with.


Shawzie said...

Beautiful Mom! Brought back some great memories.

Shawzie said...

Beautiful Mom! Brought back some great memories of RohRoh.

Trana Family said...

I love reading your stories! Amazing, you can feel the love you and your family have for her.