My life has been neither easy nor simple. On the contrary, nobody else could ever imagine what I have had to live through until now, or how I have managed to survive until now and end up still able to laugh and love life with the passion, enthusiasm and intensity I do, day by day.
What do I want to be when I grow up? I wanted to be a lot of things, but reality was something else. Over time I realized that I had a lot of talents but, just as with many others, life has slid like water through my fingers, trying to survive and to comply with my obligations as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, professional……..
As far back as I remember, I have been fascinated by pencils, books and note books. The most important and emotional day during my school years was always the first day of classes. I could never sleep the night before. Yes! School fascinated me, filled me with happiness and illusions. I was one of those rare girls to whom holidays and days off were nothing special at all, and I did not understand. why other girls became so happy when they did not have to go to school.
I have always loved to go shopping. I was enchanted by school implements in the Minerva Library, my fountain pen, my case for colored pencils with the unpronounceable German name, the protective transparent plastic cover to protect books, call “vinifan” in Lima.
Universal history and literature were my favorites subjects. Mathematics never interested me a lot, in high school I never understood what good geometry, algebra and fractions would do for me in later life. On the other hand I was enthralled by philosophy as well as by psychology and the fine arts When the time came to finish my high school studies, with the highest marks in first place, and to choose my university career, I decided that first I would study two years of literature, and during this time I would decide on what my professional path would be and what career I would choose to follow. My father was a commercial pilot and worked for Peruvian Airlines (APSA); during that time he was without work and spent difficult days when he, together with my mother, had to open a workshop, for making clothes and swimsuits for women. The truth is that they did so well that, without really knowing the business, they soon received purchase orders from other stores and began to produce the famous “hot pants” line and imitation leather jackets. I was only 17 years old and already knew that although my father had the best intentions, he was unable to pay for my studies, so he registered me in the Brown Academy of Languages and Secretariat Studies in 28 de Julio Street in Miraflores, where I studied for my Bilingual Executive Secretary diploma. The course took two years and included accounting, typing, shorthand, broadcasting and even legal studies. Simultaneously I worked in an office as a receptionist in a company called International Executives. I earned about $300 a month while searching for further income, selling cosmetics to my friends and neighbors in order to help at home with the little money which I earned with a lot of effort and pride.
I was sentimentally involved in a relationship since I was fifteen and ended up marrying before I was nineteen, I had my first child at 20 and the second at 22 years of age, only to find myself within the suffering of a dysfunctional marriage that would end, much to my sorrow, in a divorce when I was 23 years old. Then I changed my geographical address and left Lima, the city where I grew up, and moved to Miami where I have now been living for more than thirty years.
Since arriving in the City of the Sun, I have nearly always dedicated myself to working in large companies as a secretary or administrator, applying all I have learned during the course of my life.
What do I want to do with my life in the future? I was asking myself this very question just recently, when one night my angel of always, whispered gently in my ear: “Why don´t you write down all this that you feel inside” and I understood finally that I wanted to write books. Yes, I decided that I want to be a writer, and that is how I have been passing the time. Now I appear before you, having reached 55 years of age, to share with you my thought s and my writings. This is my first book.
Those who watch me going through life think “there goes a plump but happy woman”, and have often confirmed to me that I appear to be a happy plump woman. I confirm that I am very happy and especially enthusiastic and that I give the impression of not knowing what it is to have problems and even less to be a bearer of a past with sad or traumatic episodes. The procession is internal. Outside flowers and inside tremors. Few would put up with wearing my shoes. Or is it that they believe that I am fat because I want to be fat, and that fat people are happy people.. I became a “big woman” when I came to this country where the food is super charged with vitamins and where it is easy to get fat if one does not burn the calories one consumes. But I must say that have never felt bad about being overweight
Since I learned to write, I have written many letters and poems. Writing was always my way of giving vent to all m worries and problems; it has been a way of reflecting the therapeutic catharsis or exorcism as my dear Panamanian friend, the writer and the guru image, Ana Raquel Chanis, would say. I cannot complain, I have had a good life, rich in emotions and experience. I don´t know what it is to be bored. Boredom is a feeling unknown to me because I have always been active, some would even say hyperactive. I have known how to fill my life with multiple projects, events and activities. I am very communicative, one of those persons who talk and smile .at everybody, and that is how I have known and continue to know many interesting people which I do every day. I feel sure of my experiences. I am like thousands of other women who have had to emigrate from their homeland to seek the daily bread to feed their children, going out to fight the daily fight; at the same time I am unique and exclusive, like each and every one of us, because I feel we are all special beings.
I am a mixture of nationalities, ways of thinking and customs. I was born in the United States, in Texas, my mother´s land. My parents moved to Lima, Peru, the land of my father, while I was still in diapers- My ancestors were descendents of Spaniards – Basque and Andalucian - English and German.
I love living in Miami but I have never stopped missing Lima, my adored city, for which I feel a constant nostalgia composed greatly by my Internet communications and when I travel for a few days to renew everything.. Lima calls me, seduces me. When I am in Lima it is as though I had never left it, it is a part of my heart that remains there, in the streets of Miraflores. As I grew up and was formed in Lima, I feel very comfortable there, happy and complete, expressing myself in that rich and marvelous language and you will find that I write like a Peruvian. .
When I was a child I saw fireflies near my house, and now I live in he city I adore. In 1966, I filled my diary, in which I always wrote all kind of notes and stuck pieces of papers, figures invoices, photos, and mementoes, noting and editing all types of activities. The places we had visited, the climate, the names of people we met, what we ate, that is to say all treasures, that we left behind. It has been a long time since I got rid of all these treasures, one day when they appeared to be just another of my many collected trinkets, because I have always been a collector of memories. Books, poems, thoughts, letters. I do not regret it, the memories are still large and weigh more than an notebook.
Let yourself do what your heart tells you to do. Listen to inside voices that always speak to you. Feel and follow your impulses. Stop feeling afraid: Believe in God, believe in yourself. Let the angels accompany your dreams and your word. Let the fireflies illuminate each page of your book of life.
Mary Elizabeth Fernandez-Vasquez
WHY DO I WRITE?
Because I feel the need to write that is as strong as hunger, as thirst, as wanting to sleep, as desiring to be in the arms of my loved ones as the air I breathe, as living, as being happy.
Because I want to express all that I feel inside and share my thoughts, communicating with and meeting others, discovering new frequencies, finding twin souls, parallel, similar minds. Because I love to investigate, discover, learn, analyze and talk. Because I feel when I write it unites all my feelings and my soul is found with my conscience, mind, spirit, body and heart.
Because since a morning some months ago I discovered that my mission was to write. I write because I like it and because it gives me great pleasure happiness. peace and tranquility, because it does and it doesn´t, I write about things that I live through and other times those I have been told about or that I just imagine.
I write about my Celestial Father, about Angels, my grandmother, the women in my life, the men in my life, my children, grandchildren, experiences, my pain, about cats, flowers, fireflies and butterflies, pictures, photos and painters, poets and writers, artists and comedians, miracles, lesser and greater things. That poverty exists, wealth does, that there is a Christmas, that there is hate, there is sadness, depression, oppression and there is liberation, about laziness, about love and lack of love, about sex and pardon, about lechery, and forgetfulness, envy and gluttony and other worldly sins, against goodness and miracles. I write about Facundo Cabral, Mother Theresa, Cesar Vallejo, Audrey Hepburn, Chaplin and Cantinflas and about poverty and hunger. Injustice and inequality, for the motherland, the Mother country and the universe, for heaven and beyond because all of us have blood in our veins and we all want to win the lottery and continue to feel young and full of energy a
And good health and find a solution to all our problems. Because we all want to be happy and to pass through life seeking happiness. I write about the sun, the weather, the rain, the rainbow, the colors because I want to write hundreds of poems and lots of books, because I want to laugh and to make others laugh, and I want to cry make others cry because I want to feel and make others feel, because I want to love and be loved, because I want to need and be needed, because I want to live forever in this marvelous relationship with the ink color of my readers´ eyes.
I am writing for you.
La Belle Epoque
That dawn of insomnia, it occurred to me to open the box where all the old pictures of the family were kept. I found one of my great-grandfather, father of my grandmother Caridad, and thousands of words came to mind, as well as thoughts and memories, as though I was watching a movie in the cinema, all began flowing through the ways of my mind, all these personalities, painting images full of color. Suddenly the bedroom was full of old and magical odors. I could smell the fragrance of cinnamon and the cloves on rice pudding as delicious as that I ate as a child. I could feel the essence of the pieces of orange peel mixed milk (condensed and evaporated) and lots of sugar. It made my mouth water remembering that hot rice pudding during my far away childhood.
I would like to go back in time to eat again one of their delicious dishes. I close my eyes and can almost taste it. In my memory I am once again six years old, dressed in dress full of spots with a full skirt and I am running in the garden of the Chosica country house, 47 kilometers outside Lima I can smell the damp grass, the particular aroma of jasmine and that special and peculiar odor of the house of my grandparents. How lovely it is to have beautiful memories of your childhood. They are rare food for the soul.
There were a lot of pictures that I began to collect and set up on the floor while my beautiful cat, “Gordita” as usual scratched his head on my legs and stared at me fixedly, and then closed his eyes gently as though asking me what I was doing awake at 3.00 a.m. He look fixedly at the pictures while I just analyzed his looks. What clothes!…What times! How fast time passes….What memories! How fast time passes when one becomes involved body and soul in memory. They are nearly all dead today. In a transparent plastic bag I found some poems written by grandmother in her lovely handwriting. these being more than six decades old.
Suddenly I feel my guardian angel whispering fluently in my ear the words that my fingers are writing on the keyboard of my computer, at a speed that increases the faster my thoughts run through my head- I feel his presence behind my back. This is not the first time, but this time, now as a mature woman I can understand and have no further doubts that all my life my angels have tried to communicate with me in many ways. Also, far more times than I realize, I believe the spirit of my grandmother who cares for me up above, visits me when I am asleep, I feel her presence in my dreams often, and even felt her kiss on my forehead. Shortly afterwards I remember everything she told me as a child, what actually happened in real life. I have many still fresh memories and when they come to me I burst into tears because they invade me very deeply with emotion. So much so do I feel them inside me that sometimes I feel as though I will burst. Sometimes I feel such that I tremble from head to foot and close my eyes to find in the passages of my mind a child with golden hair and sweet but always sad eyes, that spill over with delight looking at the adored grandmother, a wonderful woman, so sweet, so gentle and at the same time so strong, human and generous. A human angel, a little bit of heaven, a touch of light
My grandmother did marvelous things for so many people without expecting any reward in exchange. To give and serve was what made her happy, I know that what she sought was Celestial Glory , Heaven for her children. She was a being of generosity and goodness such as I have not seen often n my life; for this reason I want to make sure that her essence reaches many people, so that they can reflect and begin to feel, think, learn and dream. She loved God, life, her country and the family, she loved friends and everyone else, but she especially loved work. I remember her, I see how we live life in these times and I cannot fail to ask how she lived with so many people. It is so difficult to live with the family, with the same blood, with beings you love.
With my grandmother I learned to have hope, to be valiant towards adversity, and to have strength of spirit, but the most important thing I learned was that success in life resides in adaptation . That we must learn to adapt. Yes, because one of the key words in the book of my life is going to be adaptation. I listened attentively to her counsel and learned her phrases: In bad times, a good face; if you are not with your loved one, then love the one you are with. From her I also learned that we are the architects of our lives, that each one of our decisions will define our destiny. How can we possibly, in ten minutes change our life completely, as well as our future and forthcoming problems at determined moments. Where will we work, who will we marry, where to live, how many children will we have, how much money will we spend or waste? If we have to leave the country, if we have to divorce, when to say yes, and when to say no. Is it worth breaking up a home for an adventure? For an infidelity? Try drugs, get drunk or eat too much. Decisions!, decisions! So many decisions that we make in daily life. Whether to resign oneself to living in depression due to oppression or to change our destinies. We must know how to select our friends, extremely important is the selection of our life partner; learning to love, forgive and accept from those of our blood although they have thousands of defects and problems, because they are “the family”, But I ask “ Do we have to honor our father and our mother when we are born and grow up in a dysfunctional home, when our parents abandon us emotionally or when, despite having parents they prove to be irresponsible, and we have to grow up without a good example, without help, but with bad treatment.
All these living experiences remain engraved in my mind and are sealed forever in the heart. Now, halfway through my life, I feel an imperious need to write down all these things that weigh so much, that I carry forever within me. I feel that I must venerate all these ancient and old people so marvelous during my infancy, my youth and my life as a mature woman, entering the third age at an incredible velocity. I must hurry because life passes in a sigh, we are here just passing through and when we realize it our heads are already covered with white hairs and we stoop when moving around.
Recently I realized that my angels had been sending me messages for a long time, but I did not know how to interpret them. Recently I took some photos within a church n Lima, with my sister´s cellular, and in one of the photos there appeared a figure apparently of smoke, that perfectly formed the figure of an Archangel with wings, the sword, the face, as though it were a ghost, a being from another dimension. It appeared to be Archangel Michael because he had a sword. Some people when seeing the photo immediately identified the Archangel and were astonished, astounded, while others said that it had a blot and that it was a trick of the camera or our imagination that made us see things that were not there. But, clearly seen is the face of Michael, wings and sword. It is Michael that has always been at my side protecting me. He who saved my and many other lives of mine several times. Now I understand many things.
Another time, on one of my trips to Lima, I met a young woman with a beautiful face and we became good friends after a few hours of conversation she commented that since childhood she has found white feathers. Sometimes she finds them in her clothes, other times when leaving the house, in bed, in her shoes, in her coat. She always keeps the feathers in a cloth bag. That day she showed me the feathers that are white, delicate, very light and do not look life feathers of our birds or other birds. She put them in my hand, I began to tremble with emotion, I felt an electricity cover my body and a celestial presence, and I stiffened all over. I looked at her and answered quite naturally: “These are the feathers of your guardian angel who is sending you a message. Then I asked for her name. She replied “My baptismal name is Gloria Angelica”.
Since that day we have been great friends. It was our angels that agreed together that we should meet, on one of my trips to Lima. It was not a casual meeting. Nothing is casual. All of life happens because we all have a mission that is written in the book of life. Between ourselves it is written that we should know each other, that we should be friends, that we should recognize each other immediately.
Time does not forgive and passes on wings; every day passes faster according to how we advance on our paths, on our way to growing old. Constantly I tell myself that we only have one life to live, and this is it and not a rehearsal ¬¬–it´s the real thing – and we must learn to live it, enjoy it and understand it. How difficult life is at times! Or perhaps it is not life that is difficult, but we ourselves that complicate everything. I feel anxious because I want to publish the poems of Grandmother Caridad, that are so pretty that each time I read them I feel a knot in my throat and I am filled with emotion that makes me cry. Grandmother Caridad was a deep and sensible soul; of great sympathy and appreciation of the simple things of life, happy with so little.
She became my first heroine and has been all my life. I have never met anyone like my granny Caridad. Now I can understand so many things: her poems, her silences, her tears, her dedication to children – hers and those of my widower grandfather, Jose Ernesto. Now I know why she was so busy. I realize now that she was a victim, as well as a saint; a being of light, an extraordinary woman in her time and in any other. She was fascinated by flowers, especially violets. She had a garden full of pots full of leafy violets flowering in the most varied colors. She loved olives, almonds, dried fruits, cheeses, jams, figs, mangoes, and ate an apple cut into eight pieces every morning for breakfast, granadillas (pomegranates) and above all she loved custard apples and island bananas. Oooh, I was forgetting, she was also crazy about lucuma (eggfruit), and taught me to make ice-cream with them and a delicious flan.
My grandmother was methodical, disciplined After her the second person most like her insofar as these virtues go was my Aunt Antonia. On the other hand my mother is a different woman, with a strong personality, exceptional and sharp intelligence, strongly marked by blows during her early infancy. A woman who cannot reach her dreams of becoming a famous actress in spite of the great musical talent that ran in her blood; from early childhood her life was full of obstacles and tragedies. Belinda never would accept that she herself had always been her own worst enemy; she would continue being, despite the blows a spoiled child always trying to be the center of attention, because she would never feel accepted by anybody than that of her understanding and human mother in law, Caridad, who died when she was only 29 years old. The death of Caridad left an enormous vacancy in Belinda´s life, since she would never again feel the emotional support nor the love of a mother that she was to know for only a short time.
Caridad and Belinda, women victims each one in their epoch of hypocritical society, of a two-faced culture, of an environment of vanity and classic materialism, very closed and superficial . Of generally male chauvinist, unfaithful, selfish, insensitive and mistaken men. I refer to those men who did not know the kitchen of their homes, nor how to boil water much less fry two eggs, not to mention changing diapers or getting up in the night to calm down a baby, crying 1because he is wet, has a tummy-ache or perhaps because it was the baby´s bottle time. We are talking of lack of commitment, of dualities and infidelity; of the non-existence of the spirit of sacrifice but of a tendency to abuse and lies, to hypocrisy, stealing and treason. Epochs in which women were just adornments – trophies - , others uniquely served to be impregnated and to bring children into the world, some were faithful breastfeeding maids
The Belle Epoque covered the years from 1915 to 1930. My grandmother Caridad’s father, my great grandfather, was called Joan Manuel Letellier. At that time he was an advanced personage, outside the series and undoubtedly very modern, unique. Handsome, tall and manly, with a noble bearing; he had a white skin and marvelous personality, with large, expressive eyes, greenish in color with full, curly eye-lashes. In those old yellowish photos, folded at the corners, one can admire the handsome young gentleman who was more like a movie artiste of those old times. Although of Andalusan and Basque origin, he appears to be more Danish or Dutch in the photograph. In that photo he looks more like a millionaire rancher because in the background of the photo there is shown the fabulous architectonic construction of a great house.
Joan Manuel Leteller, his parents and brethren had emigrated to Lima, as many Europeans had, coming to Peru and other countries to build America. Such people came poor, but with dreams and hopes of grandeur. The arrogance in my family is congenital, carried in the blood. My ancestors were curious, creative, artistic, ambitious, workers, avid readers, passionate conversationalists, but above all were “simpaticos”. A congeniality that left its seal on generation after generation.
Lima, at that time, was a captivating city, the most beautiful of ancient viceroy-ships, with that colonial style so characteristic of interesting architecture. Elegant, with fine people, cultured and very educated. Some well known, and friends of the family had progressed rapidly and were already a part of high Lima society, moving in the most exclusive circles. Joan Manuel had married a sweet young woman from the Basque country, very well brought up, with the same name as mine - in my family names are often repeated - Maria de los Angeles. My great grandparents had had eight children, three boys and five girls. Joan Manual earned a living as a dentist during the day, utilizing hypnosis and mental powers he had inherited and developed to extract molars without anesthetic. I had constantly heard my grandfather Caridad comment in family meetings that the patients affirmed that they felt no pain, that he was the best dentist of his time, the most prestigious, to whom went all the rich people of Lima who had money and also those of few resources, because great grandfather was a humanitarian and helped the poor. The dentist´s office was always full, located in a very well known street in Miraflores.
Grandmother Charity was good woman with the blood of good people in her veins. She was the daughter of a most unusual man. Great grandfather ended his university studies in the United States and spoke several languages besides English. In his youth he attended a military academy in Lima. Few finished but he left decorated by the Prestigious West Point, which the family showed off. Well deservedly he was called “The Magician”. Dentist by day, at night he converted to a Bohemian pianist. He played the piano for social events, for theatrical works and any other opportunity that presented itself. However, every Sunday he played the organ at his neighborhood church, for the noon mass. He did this all his life keeping a promise made to the Lord of the Miracles when same had saved his life as a very young man. He had counted on spending one day at the beach where, despite being a great swimmer, he was once upon a time on the point of drowning with nobody who could help him; so, closing his eyes he began to pray to the Lord of Miracles, and almost immediately there appeared a strong young man who pulled him out of the huge waves and carried him to the waters edge. The man who came to his rescue never said a word. When “The Magician” opened his eyes. he was lying on the sand out of danger on the solitary beach, and the man had disappeared. It must have been an angel, a guardian angel or maybe one of the angels of Archangel Uriel´s´ army, those charged with relieving us from accidents of nature, or hurricanes, floods or storms
Joan Manuel dominated the piano like a virtuoso, since nobody had ever taught him even a single note, he was born full of gifts and talents. People admired him and considered him not as an amateur but as a consecrated artiste. Truly , he was a being blessed by the Grace of God. In addition to this, he had an incredible tenor voice.
“Talent is like intelligence, it is in the genes and is inherited, carried in the blood, in the veins”, my grandmother used to say-.
“We carry art in our veins”, repeated grandfather “ We are a family of artistes. We are blessed by our Heavenly Father.”
. He said it, singing the words in a very flamenco tone of voice and moving his hands like a typical Andalusian. I must emphasize that in the family we all suffer from acute narcissism, during the last few generations.
Despite being so Catholic and religious, curiously, some in the family have certain powers or skills and some people have commented that they were “prophets” and others say that they were witches. magicians, seers and even spiritualists. They had a sixth sense. I, for example, from an early age, would be fascinated by signs of the horoscope, Chinese animals;. That people are born in the cycle of the Dragon, such as the Serpent, the Rat, the Rabbit, the Tiger and the Monkey…….. I also learned to interpret dreams, read palms of hands, play Tarot cards and the Spanish pack of cards. Undoubtedly, I inherited something from the Don. Since early childhood I began to listen to voices, to have presentiments. I would see auras and shadows , the future of other people, tragic accidents, or terrible sicknesses, at times death, on various occasions I would see angels who met together to make me understand what was going on,
Those on the other side of the family – the branch of Grandma Caridad- were famous for knowing everything, they walked erect, ate up the world with a sureness that some would be confounded by their arrogance, but It was just the contrary. You had to know them and, when you did know the people, you loved them. They were very anxious, creative. business minded , super-interesting.
All were complete and great people, they were not an instrument but the whole orchestra. Yes, great-grandfather and his future generation were special persons, and I had the privilege of being born into this family..
I I I
Caridad was Joan Manuel´s first daughter, the oldest of five girls, since the boys came first. All of them were educated in Lima at a prestigious school of
French nuns. Caridad, like all the youngsters of the best families at the beginning of the epoch at the time of the First World War, knew how to embroider and knit, and was a great baker and avid reader of classic works. Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, The Picture of Dorian Grey were all just some of her favorite books, as were also the works of Ricardo Palma, famous writer of Peruvian Traditions. My grandmother had the great honor of knowing him personally and was very friendly with him since his friend and school companion was one of the daughters of the famous Peruvian writer himself. Caridad also showed off with pride, as a treasure, the book that he dedicated to her so lovingly.
You could find Caridad every Sunday at the neighborhood church in Miraflores, praying at mass in Latin. Like a good Catholic her life was devoted to her neighbor, especially the poor and needy. “Love God, above all things and your neighbor like yourself” were the commandments of Jesus Christ that she repeated every day and that she and that we, her grand-daughters, would hear constantly from her lips that with devotion and sweetness pronounced words that contained great religious training.
The few times that she left the house at that time was on Sundays to go to church and when there were events such as a baptism, the first communion, weddings, wakes, burials; also, of course, the fiesta for presentation in society.
At that time “decent” women kept discretion and were señoritas who lived quietly in their homes, devoted to domestic tasks, always diligent, since “laziness is the mother of all vices”, another famous phrase that granddaughters heard every day of our childhood. Something typical of that epoch at the beginning of the twentieth century was that marriages were arranged by the parents from an early age. It might be said that Granny Caridad ended up marrying in what was an arranged marriage or probably a marriage of convenience since she would marry no-one less than the disconsolate and recent young widower of her first cousin Maria Teresa Letellier, another incredible woman of those times, women who had to accept submissively and religiously all the children that God sent her. Thus she vanished never to awaken, and died when she was 34 years old, at the moment of bringing into the world her premature fourteenth child. At that time women lasted little time and finished very rapidly. They looked old long before reaching 40 years of age. Looking at photos one cannot believe that this distinguished and brave women who looks so old was only thirty-four years of age. Pregnancies and births had aged her without giving he time to assimilate consciously that she had so many children and that her life on this planet would be so ephemeral..
Uncle Jose Augusto, brother of granddad Jose Ernesto, told me, when I was a child, that the panorama the night of Maite´s death was devastating and one of the strongest and saddest of the family. That dawn Death circled the house, carrying his sharpened mortal tool and just as always was covered with a black mantle seeking his next victim. All Jose Ernesto´s brothers were in the living room of the house, while the expert midwife was in a cold sweat and crying out desperately because the delivery had become terribly complicated and the young woman whom she had aided in so many previous births before was dying; this time the patient could not push because she was too weak, she had not strength enough even to breathe. The flowers in the garden of my grand-fathers house began to wither, trembling nervously and frightened by the passing of the Death. There was a noisy silence, a neighbors cat who wooed the cat in my grand-father´s house and visited her at night began to miaow to advise her, his hair standing on end , of the passing of Death, then ran out of the house like a scared rabbit. The large round moon did not want to be a part of the tragedy, nor of the sadness of the inevitable event and also scared, hid behind gray clouds in the Miraflores sky. The glow-worms would not glow, the few trees on the avenue opened their arms to confuse him but Death is no fool and would not be seduced. After breathing deeply, he followed on his way to comply with his terrible task. Silently, the phantasm began to appear at the window to look at the one who had only minutes to live. He saw in the bed Maria Teresa who, sweaty and complaining, is drenched working and sees from the crystals how the midwife is frightened, tightening her lips in desperation because she shows that her patient is very weak and losing a lot of blood, knows that she has but little time left. On her list are two victims: the mothers and the newborn. At this moment grandfather entered the room because he waned to see his wife and the newest child. He approaches the bed and when he touches his loved one he realizes that her body is inert, lifeless, that is when he embraces her and lays down by her side as though she were simply asleep, and he remains quietly while the tears pour down his cheeks It was a time without time, as time is when there is great pain.
Death makes him nervous…he must be on his guard! The midwife brings a wet cloth to clean the babe; she makes it comfortable, she coos to the babe , kisses it and dresses it in white and then she places it in the crib, covers it with immense love and tenderness. Then she begins to pray and to cry.
Death begins to get angry. She no longer has the time, as well as not being able to stand prayer. What a nuisance having to do things by halves. How much love in this room. Time is flying. She cannot stay but must go. It gives a large sigh that all present hear but do not understand. Daylight is breaking and she must say goodbye because, like the vampires, she cannot tolerate light. It is a new day and the birds are leaving their nests, the cocks are crowing, she hears the little gray doves, the seller of fresh fish and the milkman. The newborn sleeps quietly, outside its sad reality of being an orphan, without knowing that in its first hours it has conquered Death.
Sweet and submissive Maite has had a total of fourteen pregnancies of which two babes died, those born yesterday. When dying it left a newborn, the last boy, the twelfth live child of the marriage, this babe, who will be given the name of Jose Maria, who will grow up to become a dedicate priest in the Order of San Vicente de Paul. He will be the family priest and the most handsome of all. He will have the gift of the gab, as well as a great sense of humor, be good, animated and of brilliant witticisms. The uncle priest, in charge of administering sacraments to the Catholics and all their families. The uncle who will baptize us, hear our confessions, marry us and also give us the last rites before dying. In his position of priest he will help all marriages in the family with sage advice, serving towards equilibrium and emotional health. For the new born, on various occasions he has fought against Death victoriously, until the cheating the Fates in the form of tuberculosis began to take away the little ones.
The following day, when my grandfather left the bedroom he carried an expression on his face that staggered all who surrounded him and did not find a way to console his. To see him like this was very moving. Nobody knew what to say. Silence. A silence that said more than all the words in the world. Total infinite silence. Noisy silence. Everyone saw how the young widower took another room in the large house on Pardo Avenue - which was his office and library, which would be from this moment on his new room – and closed the door and those who remained outside heard cries that were blood-curdling and a cry that was blood-curdling. Those were the longest and saddest nights and days of those that would form the long life of our grandfather, because just like Maite had lived a short life, granddad Jose Ernesto would have to live a long time, reaching ninety, but for those days in 1914 he wanted to die. For the first time he renounced God. He could not imagine a life without his companion. He cried so much that hi eyelids were red and swollen and closed like two horizontal lines, so that the blue eyes could not be seen, eyes that had always had a special brilliance and that would lose this brilliance forever, eyes that would become sad and nostalgic, lost at a far point for the rest of his days. He carried this decomposed face for a long time, that showed the infinite sadness of losing a very dear loved one, the greatest paid that a human being can feel and not be able to explain. One must live it to understand it, one must feel it and he thought that he would never get over it. The death of Maite aged him at one blow. He was 39 years old, but from that night on he appeared to be sixty.
Thus, the things in life would never be the same. He had lost his heart, Maite had been taken from him, he had remained empty. He felt lost, so alone without his companion, the mother of his twelve children. The Andalusian who had always been a great speaker became silent. He stopped speaking, he stopped singing and dancing the flamenco; he also stopped writing and dedicated himself body and soul to work. He worked 18 hours a day for the rest of his life. The work would be an escape and his refuge. He passed three hard and difficult months since the saddest of vigils and the burial of the young wife. Time that for him was three centuries long.
Aside from being his first cousin, Maite was more than an older sister and his best friend, who was going to precede Caridad, who would end up marrying this widower in order to give him, on top of his twelve children of the first marriage, his nephews, ten more children, all that followed, all boys with the exception of one daughter who died before reaching her first birthday. He never complained of the months of terrible pregnancies and complicated births, all natural, none cesarean. That he would take charge of twelve adopted sons who were also his nephews, the sons of his first sister. He never thought that this was what life would give him now.
One Sunday, after mass, Jose Ernesto Vallecillo approached Caridad´s parents, the first and favorite friend of his deceased wife; it was at just this moment that he decided his future in a practical way, he had to get out of the lethargy of infinite sadness that had possessed him, leave the past aside and begin again. Life would follow – he repeated in his mind – life would follow; I cannot let myself fall, my children need a mother and I will go mad if I do not meet someone soon who will help me to raise them. Yes, a good woman like Caridad. Maite will understand. Then, looking up at Heaven with tears in his eyes he said:
“Maite, mi darling, my life, you are and will always be the love of loves, the love of my life, my great love, you must send me sign from Heaven that you approve my marrying your cousin, give me a sign that you hear and understand. As though Maite was really able to hear and understand from above, as though Maite was listening from above, it began to rain at this moment, to rain torrentially in Lima, something very rare since it never rains in Lima, which only has an occasional fine drizzle. On this day the sky opened, watered the plants and then there appeared a splendid rainbow. Rainbows are never seen in Lima, it was a sign from Heaven that Maite approved. Jose Ernesto raised his eyes and saw drawn in the clouds the beautiful face of his beloved. It was the first time since his beloved had left him that he smiled.
Thus it was that the paternal grandfather of Maria Angeles, the young and good-looking widower with twelve children, Jose Ernesto Vallecillo asked for the hand in marriage of his cousin Caridad. Juan Manual Letellier agreed gladly to his daughter Caridad joining her life in Catholic matrimony to the widower and to help him raise his twelve children. They were both very nervous, it was a very abrupt request for the hand of the bride, practically a desperate and most unexpected one.
Jose Ernesto had never ever thought of Caridad. He did not love her, what is more he had not even felt attracted to her. Really he had felt attracted by Camila, who was younger and beautiful but who already had a boyfriend, so there was no other choice than to content himself with the cousin who was available. Caridad had already been left at the altar and was about 25 years old, which at that time meant that she belonged to the group of old maids. Women got married very young at that time, generally before they were 16 years old; grandfather Jose Ernesto was already 40 years old and was 15 years older than she was.
To the people of Lima this wedding appeared to the a scandal. Imagine, the grandfather deciding to marry and only three months and some days after the death of his first wife – exactly 114 days - and he was marrying nothing less than the first cousin of his dead wife. Malicious questions arose. All Miraflores and its surroundings did nothing more than gossip and open their eyes in shock, indignation and astonishment Scandalous! This man was shameless, he could not live without a woman, he could not respect the memory of his wife and now he was marrying nothing more nor less than to a first cousin of the dead wife. Malicious questions were made, there was no lack of low thoughts and accusations. At that time a rigorous mourning was kept, dressed in black for a long time, but here he was abandoning the mourning in the fourth month, he may keep it inside but for this he was strongly criticized. “He is committing a sacrilege! What did people know? You would have to be in his shoes as a widower with a lot of children to be able to understand it, but that is how it is and that is what people are like.
The much discussed wedding took place in April 1915. The bride wore a dress crocheted by one of her sisters; she had not wanted to wear the one she wore some months before, when she was left at the altar. Other sisters helped to finish the sheer brides dress that was simple but elegant. Caridad was of small stature, only 1.50 cms. tall, a miniature transparent white, slender figure, well distributed and weighing 90 Ibs. or 41 kilos. Her eyes were honey-colored, although at times they changed color, she had an extremely sweet and deep. She was shy, usually speaking in a hesitant voice, she never shouted, was always a lady. Quite contrary to the Vallecillo family who were shouters and bad speakers by nature. What a sweet expressive face Caridad always had! Her large Spanish eyes, the long cut of her face and her slightly large, colombine nose, that went well with the rest of her face, the pure transparent white skin, like snow, the light chestnut hair, so long it reached her ankles, and that she always combed in tied up tresses, very small, size 4, feet. On her wedding day she wore a necklace of cultivated pearls, a family inheritance and a pair of earrings that appeared to be three tears, also of pearls. She had class. Caridad was born with class, and with class and good taste, putting Caridad in a class and an elegance difficult to find. She grew up looking like her photographs. She was also present in the month of April 1965 when she celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary. I was there wearing my first high heels and my hairdresser done hair. I was only 11 years old but I remember each moment of the event: the mass, the reception, a very Lima event, especially a Miraflores one. The much talked about 50th wedding anniversary was majestic and appeared in all the newspapers and local magazines. A famous radio and television broadcaster in the country made them a program on a popular television channel called: “This is your life!”
All the children, her own and those of her dead cousin Maite, were raised by Caridad as brothers and sisters, who did not ever feel any difference. On the contrary! She would never be the stepmother. She proposed to dedicate herself entirely to the children of Jose Ernesto Vallecillo´s first marriage. She felt their need for a lot of love because they had no live mother and she had come to this world to inherit this mission, a matter that would keep her extremely busy for the rest of her life, days full of responsibilities, activity, happiness and also much pain, worry and sorrow.
God never gives one more than can be tolerated. To Caridad God gave Maria Isabel – Chabelita – a wonderful sister, generous and good who, from visit to visit, would end up falling in love with one of the youngest brothers of Jose Ernesto, Tomas. Then my grandfather’s brother married my grandmother´s sister.. Two Vallecillo brothers married to two Letellier sisters.
Chabelita and Tomas were madly in love and made a nice couple that would have produced very handsome children, which they tried to do for ages and ages, but the good Chabelita could never get pregnant as they say in Lima. But God always provides, as each time that her sister Caridad brought a new child into the world she gave it to Chabelita to help her care for it. And that went on for a long time. From there would come the name of Mama-Aunt. Chabelita was the second mother of all grandma Caridad,,s children loving and consenting.
The eldest of Caridad´s children, Uncle Carlos Juan, who adored the Mama-Tia and spent his first infancy complete with her in the Chosica country house, a zone where there is a warm climate and the sun shines all the time, just one hour from Lima. The first born was adored by Chabelita; Caridad, happy seeing her loved sister happy in her role of aunt, was always very grateful for all her love and great help. What a blessing it was to have Chabelita as a sister! God knows why one sister was so prolific and the other unable to have children.
Jose Ernesto´s grandfather and Uncle Tomas were the two most important business associates; they had other lesser associates, but the head was Jose Ernesto Vallecillo, brilliant businessman and very good with numbers. Tomas was talented as the star salesman
Grandfather Jose Ernesto and Uncle Tomas were the two most important partners in the business; they had other lesser partners, but the head was Jose Ernesto Vallecillo, brilliant business man and superbly good with numbers. Tomas had the talent of being the star salesman, it was always said Tomas could sell sand to the Arabs in the desert and ice to Eskimos in Alaska. The two brothers formed a fabulous team, and with both their spirits for struggling, their ambition, their common sense and love for work and money, in a little time they began to collect the fruits of their efforts and before reaching fifty years old both became millionaires respected and admired among the businessmen in the city. The Grand Lord is Don Money, because where there is money, there are a lot of people behind you and all of them are used to having very bad memories.
Tomas and Chabelita lived in the same house as the grandfather during weekdays, an the weekends they went to their country house in Chosica. The Miraflores house was enormous, covering four blocks, with dozens of rooms and in it lived all the children as well as many servants. It was surrounded by well tended gardens, full of fruit trees and a vegetable garden for other crops.
Caridad and Chabelita shared the obligations of running the house. Mama-tan was the right hand of Grandma Caridad. There were so many things to do in the residence full of children and adolescents: Preparing menus every day and helping the cooks with the recipes for pastries; identifying the shirts, trousers and underwear of each child. Each under garment was embroidered with the name of the owner. One should not forget to mention that they also had to check the school homework daily from the schools, checking, reading, painting, playing the piano, cooking and embroidering.
In the kitchen, that was as large as one in a hotel, a menu was prepared every day, a very strong one, to feed practically an army: soups, entrees, salads, casseroles, main dishes and desserts. Eggs in the snow, lady-fingers, rice pudding, cornflour blancmange, mazamorra morada . All the tables were laid fully three times a day: for breakfast at 6.30 AM, lunch at 1.30 PM and for dinner at 7.30 PM; these closed down at 9.00 PM until the next day and everyone went to their own room at 10.00 PM when all the lights in the house were turned off. Everything was in that order, no changes allowed.
After meals, the two sisters sat down to chat and comment in a low voice about what had happened during the day, while embroidering sheets and towels, knitting baby clothes and quilts, embroidered underwear and at times darned socks invisibly. Sometimes they spoke in perfect French so that no-one would understand them; sometimes they spoke in a little Latin and Italian.
I do not know much about Mama-aunt Chabelita, except that one day when she was 42 years old a strong smell came from her stomach and waist and the gall bladder exploded because it had a stone the size of an orange in it. La Chabelita died that night in the early morning, nothing could save her. We all cried and mourned her death for a long time. She left some oil paintings that seemed to be painted by Renoir, painted very well and these got exhibited in Europe and the money received helped the old parents and their family. It was always commented on how generous Chabelita was, She was very altruistic and said that she greatly enjoyed giving things away. She made a long list of material things that were needed by those around her. She was equally generous with her time, listening to the problems of those who surrounded her.
When she was younger, a family member told me that I bore a close physical resemblance to Chabelita and that, furthermore, I had a personality very like hers, and above all had inherited the quality of being generous. That day I felt very flattered and happy, I could not remember having received at any other time words that delighted me so much. I wished that I had inherited a little of my grand-aunt´s taken her physical and spiritual beauty, her infinite goodness or the patience and understanding of my grandma Caridad. These women were saints. Human angels. All the sisters were very special, but undoubtedly Caidad and Chabelita were the most brilliant.
Caridad had four sisters, Chabelita who was the second, Camila the third who was married to an Englishman, an architect and had only one child, then came Carolina who was also married to a foreigner, but this one was Irish and they had many children. The youngest sister was Josefa, the only one of them who remained single, the aunt that everyone called Bebita so as not to call her a spinster; she was not beautiful, but she did have a singular grace, she was very likable, witty and amusing, happy and excitable. Always telling jokes She was another great help in raising the nephews and nieces.
Bebita was the aunt who spent hours reading tales and fables to the little ones in the family, since we were so numerous. A bagful of cousins and second cousins. It was Aunt Bebita who told us stories, and about what grandma Caridad had done when she was young. She was so good narrating tales that she would end up working for the most important radio station in Peru, telling tales to all the children in the country. Her program was heard in three regions: the Coast, the Sierra and the Jungle. Everywhere she was known as La Patita (the little duck). During a family get-together, where a lot of wine was drunk as well as lots of Pisco, she did not stop talking and told all us cousins meeting together, how grandma had been left at the altar a few months before she married widower Jose Ernesto. She still had her wedding gown, a really splendid pure white dress: an elegant Panamanian had wooed her for several months, but at the last moment, at the nuptial event he got cold feet because he was already going out with a young lady in his own city. As it finally turned out, poor Caridad had been left at the altar with hundreds of guests and with the “crespos hechos” (left at the aisle) as they say in Lima. Logically, Caridad´s parents were very relieved when the widower of a cousin, sad and taciturn Jose Ernesto Vallecillo approached them at church, with the surprising, but very convenient, proposal of marriage, although he was nothing more than a recent widower with little economic resources and an enormous family of children. At that time the petition for the hand of a recently abandoned bride would save the elder daughter from the horrors of spinsterhood. She was being talked about by all the gossips in Miraflores, it was 1915 and Lima had its scandal.
Aunt Bebita, completely drunk, repeated that Caridad must have been crazy to have agreed to marry an Andalusian , whom she would never have accepted. That is why she remained alone. Bebita, a rebel was too liberal and modern for the times. That night she began to tell how once her sister Camila the most beautiful of all the sisters, danced with he who would one day be King of England, Edward VIII, the brother of Elizabeth, and had appeared in a photograph on the first page of the newspaper, becoming the first Peruvian woman who had danced with the famous Prince of Wales – nothing more nor less . He who would never get to be King because he fell in love with an American commoner, the famous Wallis Simpson, who when looked at. some time afterwards, was found to bear a great similarity to grandmother´s sister.
It turned out that Wallis Simpson, in 1935, accompanied by her second husband, Ernest Simpson, met the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, at a friends´ dinner and there began a relationship that became every day more special and this gave rise to Wallis¨ divorce from her husband, to be able to marry the king of the United Kingdom. It was the scandal of the time. It was only one year before the Prince of Wales was to mount the throne when he decided to present her as his partner, to his parents, King George V and Queen Mary, at a gala party for the 25th anniversary of this reign and this unexpected companion of Edward´s did not please the monarchs, especially the father of the prince heir, for different reasons, such as being already married to another, and on top of that, she was an American plebeian.
In ¬¬1936 King Edward VIII announced that he wished to marry Wallis Simpson, whose position as an American, plebeian and divorced, would give rise to a severe dynastic crisis and which met with the opposition of the King and royal family, the British parliament and the Anglican church. After not finding a solution to this crisis, Edward VIII abdicated the crown to marry her. A few months before this abdication, Simpson decided to leave England to move to France, because she could no longer support the criticisms made against her and to take the personal decision to get married but not to him. One day in December of that year, conscious of her bad reputation, mortified by the continuous attacks of the royal family, parliament and the British press she decided to call him telephonically to convince her lover that once and for all their loving relationship was terminated, so that he could forget her absolutely and follow his duty to reign over his country, but it was too late because Edward VIII had just signed the act of abdication and could no longer take a step backwards. It was too late. This news left him with a strong impression and nothing was able to prevent his making this abdication effective. On that night of the same day, Wallis heard on the radio the famous speech of the King who announced his abdication of the crown and then explained the reason for his abdication in these words:
“You all know the reasons that have induced me to renounce the throne.
I wish to help you understand that, when making this resolution, I have not forgotten in any way the country or the Empire, to which , first as Prince of Wales and later as King, I have dedicated twenty-four years of service. But you should also believe me when I tell you that it has proved impossible to stand the heavy weight of the responsibility and to carry out my functions as King, in the form in which I would wish to do so, without the help of the woman I love. I wish, moreover, that you know that the decision has been mine and mine alone. It was a question which I had to judge and decide uniquely by myself. The other person affected directly has tried until the last moment to persuade me to the contrary.”
When hearing these famous words, Wallis would burst into disconsolate tears.
Behind the scenes ran strong rumors that Wallis Simpson in turn had a relationship outside and these rumors reached the ears of the abdicated king, who gave no credit to such rumors The information had been obtained through the British secret service.
Against winds and tides on¬¬¬¬ 3 June 1937 Wallis Simpson contracted matrimony with the Duke of Windsor, at Candé castle, near Tours, France, in the presence of some close friends and an aunt who had come from Baltimore, USA. By this union she automatically became the Duchess of Windsor, although never with the treatment of Your Royal Highness, due to the non-acceptance of same by the royal family of England. The married couple lived nearly all the time in France. Edward visited his family with his wife, but Wallis was never treated as “Your Royal Highness”, which always left her really mortified and annoyed the Duke of Windsor. In 1972, the death of Edward Vlll left her with a strong depression, and she lived alone and almost forgotten in her mansion in Paris until her death on 24 April 1986. She had by then reached 91 years of age. Her mortal remains were repatriated to England where the present Queen Elizabeth II showed signs of respect at a simple funeral ceremony and on this occasion she wore black. In addition to the Queen were the Prince Consort, Philip of Edinburgh, the Princess of Wales; others present were members of the Royal family, except for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who never hid her enmity towards the duchess. There were no photographers or television cameras at this strictly “private” religious ceremony, celebrated at St. George Chapel in Windsor. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Church of England, Robert Runcie blessed the simple oak coffin containing the remains of the Duchess of Windsor before being transferred to the family Pantheon at Frogmore. Now she is buried with her loved one, King Edward VIII in the Frogmore Cemetery, Berkshire. With this there ends the romantic story of the Duke of Windsor, a story that has always caught my attention.
This was as far as the story went, when Aunt Bebita returned to
change the theme and continued talking about the matrimony of her adored
The opinion of the people never was of much interest to Jose Ernesto, on the other hand Caridad always said “It is no good being Cesar´s wife without showing it.” Both lived a life so reservedly Catholic and so close to the letter of all the Commandments on the tablets delivered to Moses, that calumny, false testimony, envy, lust, vanity, hate, selfishness, and all the lower passions, negative sentiments, sins, did not fit in their clean pure and crystalline souls. Caridad took the mission of wife, mother and stepmother savior very much to the letter of the law and her only escape were the poems she wrote in an exercise book and the diary she kept every day of her life.
Caridad really was one in a million, and Joe Ernesto did not realize yet the blessing he was receiving from the heavens. Full of talent that had been inherited from her genial father Juan Manuel, she also played the piano, could paint and design furniture; she was a great hostess, prepared the best banquets and carried out marvels in pastry-making. There are not many women who have been able to have such a special life. I am sure that she never knew boredom; pain, yes, also sadness, responsibility and concern. She knew ingratitude and loneliness, but boredom – never.
What Jose Ernesto undoubtedly sensed was that he had made a good choice in Caridad, he knew her for a long time and had observed her good qualities. Undoubtedly, Caridad was a great selection; calculated and at the same time desperate, a matter of great common sense. He was not in love with her, that was clear, he never wanted to love anyone as he had loved his Maite, but he admired Caridad and liked her, love would come later. Yes, he repeated mentally, love would come afterwards and if it did not, custom is much stronger than love. And he would get accustomed to it. To love a woman like that is not so difficult. One of the most outstanding qualities of Jose Ernesto was being practical and adaptable. A quality that would be inherited by his grand-daughter Maria Angeles.
Belinda came into the world one sad day, and remained an orphan a few seconds after crying for the first time. Her mother, Winnie, Maria Angeles, the material grandmother, had a very weak heart, as well as being diabetic. Thus, on Belinda´s birthday in the month of March she celebrated the death of her mother. Belinda was the fifth of three sisters and two brothers. Belinda – the gringa – is the mother of Maria Angeles and daughter-in-law of Granma Caridad. Born in Texas, United States, in the middle of 1930. At the beginning of the 1950s she would meet Florencio, the younger son of Caridad, when he left Peru to study in a prestigious Texas university.
It is said that people do not die of sadness, but that is not so, because Oliver, Belinda´s father, cried and suffered so much after the death of his beloved young wife that one night, a few weeks later he suffered a massive heart attack and died without reaching 30 years of age. So Belinda was adopted by her aunt Mindy, who was the twin sister of her mother Winnie. It turned out that Belinda´s maternal grandmother had had three births and six children, since each birth had been of twins. Mindy could have no children and it was the sad destiny of her twin sister which made her decide to adopt her youngest daughter. Belinda´s other brothers and sisters were shared around and adopted by other family members. Belinda had four brothers and sisters but never lived with them. The two older sisters were adopted by the maternal grand-parents, since the paternal grandparents took no more notice of them at all. Poor Belinda grew up far away from her sisters whom she could only visit a couple of times in her adolescent life; her two brothers went to live at the house of another blood uncle in a frontier town off Mexico and she only saw them a couple of times. Despite being of the same blood all of them were unknown. Maria Angeles´ always lived hoping her sisters loved her and would accept her, but it was not to be.
When Belinda was 2 years old her adoptive mother became pregnant and gave birth to her only, greatly desired son. Mindy had tried to have a family for more than ten years. From this moment on, Belinda passed on to second place. The new baby, a long-wished for son Robert James Lee, would be everything to Mindy. Belinda would be converted from that day into a Cinderella. When she reached 5 years old, a day when Mindy was going through one of her attacks of bad temper and no patience as well as little love, she said to her “Don´t call me Mummy. From now on you must call me Auntie Mindy always, because I am not your mother. I am the twin sister of your mother who died the day you came into the world. You should not have been born.” The poor thing would cry for the rest of her life, tormented with a heart and soul in ashes, Belinda would grow up with a complex, very strong feeling of guilt, feeling she was guilty for the death of her parents, Aunty Mindy suffered from attacks of asthma and was a very cold and strict woman. Her son was the only person she was not strict with. Belinda adored her brother, really her first cousin, but to her he would always be her little brother, her adored little brother, who was also destined to die young and tragically.
Mindy´s husband was a quiet, timid man dominated by his wife; he was a good worker, but a drinker of beer. Belinda grew up in a home with a stepmother with a military personality and an alcoholic stepfather, her childhood was not easy. She never got any love from the mother and always felt like she was picked upon. At home she had to cook and clean, practically the aunt´s domestic maid, every day called upon for thanks for not having to go to an orphanage.
Belinda began to smoke at fourteen years of age, and would smoke
for the rest of her life. She would be a cry-baby, emotionally unstable. Her heart would be empty with a large space that nobody would fill . The emptiness that – I imagine – are the feelings of all orphans.
At the beginning of the ‘50s Florencio, Caridad´s youngest son is sent o the US to follow a career as Civil Engineer, much against his will, but obediently. It was while studying that he met Belinda, the beautiful American girl of just 17 years old, and thus began the romance between the young Latin American boy and the Anglo Saxon girl.
Florence was a boy of 19 when he discovered that Belinda was expecting a baby. He called his mother who immediately decided that her son had to marry her and she flew to the United States to meet her future daughter-in-law. Belinda is not Catholic, so the grandmother, Caridad, decided to convert her to Catholicism. Within a few weeks Belinda was baptized, took her first communion, is confirmed and married in a small ceremony.
Belinda who is barely 17 years old, appears, in her wedding photo more like a child taking first communion, is confirmed, takes confession and is then married in a small ceremony. Belinda scarcely seventeen years old in her wedding photo looks more like a girl at First Communion. Six months later, after a rushed ceremony, Maria Angeles is born in a hospital near the University, where the young father studies. Florencio is 20 years older, Belinda is still only 17 years older than her first born. The birth is very moving. During the final months of her pregnancy, Belinda felt no movement at all in her body, the babe did not kick, and did not move, and she had been told that she probably had a dead baby. When the child was born it was completely purple and tied up in the umbilical chord, but the doctor resuscitated the babe and a baby girl gave a cry that appeared to be an angelical call. It was a miraculous moment, and it is then that they decided to call her Maria Angeles, also because this had been the name of her great grandmother, the mother of grandmother Caridad. Florencio cried like an emotional child, it was the first time that Belinda saw Florencio cry like a crazy person , the naughtiest and happy child of the Vallecillo – he was always very virile and strong.
Belinda felt a happiness she had never experienced before; she also felt a great responsibility. Caridad could not be present at the birth of the child everyone thought was dead. She had been present when they got married and she took over everything to do with organizing the birth of her grand-daughter, the little American, for whom she would have a special favoritism and devotion from the first day she took her in her arms. The tiny creature must have felt the great love of the grandmother because it was a marvelous relationship that the two women had. Never was there a grandmother so proud of her grand-daughter nor a grand-daughter more fascinated by her grandmother. Caridad and Maria Angeles, from the beginning, would be a very special duet. Still today, Maria Angeles talks about her granny as though she were still alive, in her life, and says that she visits her in her dreams, that at times she wakes up and smells the perfume of her granny in the bedroom, other times she has even felt her kiss her on the cheek and touch her head as she used to do when she was a child. Maria Angeles has never stopped feeling the spiritual presence of Caridad: she feels that she is her Guardian Angel, her protector; she feels that all the blessings she has received in her life are because her grandmother did so much good, and was such a saintly woman that now she receives the fruits of her labor.
Her parents lived in the United State until the mid-50’s, when her father finished his university career and she was little more than 2 years old. They transferred to Lima and received the little sister 16 months younger than Maria Angeles; Maria Pia is precious with light eyes, a lot of hair and a snub nose. She is pure laughter and Uncle Mario became mad about her, since he never could have children of his own.
When Belinda arrived in Lima she was just over 20 years old, a very attractive young woman with a sculpted body – more like a Hollywood star. Her blond hair caused a riot; she did not speak a word of Spanish. Although over the years she learned to speak Spanish, she never lost her accent, which made her interesting and sensual. She was thought to look like Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak. Belinda feels that she gets a lot of attention not only from those she knows, but from all the people who are curious and look at her a lot, to which she is unaccustomed. In Texas she was just one American more, but in Lima she is a new gringo with good legs. She began to be aware of the cultural and social differences in a country like Peru. Her fair skin and beauty called attention, everyone knew her as “la gringa” and, fondly, began to call her “gringuita” .
During her first 13 years of marriage to Florencio, Belinda had the emotional support and economic protection of her mother-in-law, whom she affectionately calls Mamacita, the first word she learned to say in Spanish. Belinda is Caridad´s favorite daughter-in-law, the daughter she never had, and a great communion has existed between them from the beginning. Caridad with her heart of gold adopted her emotionally and became her mother from the day she first knew her and rescued her, she became Belinda´s great protector during the happy years, the few that Belinda knew. When Caridad was still alive, Belinda gave her a total of 6 grandchildren. Children who grew up together, happy in an environment of health, money and love with lovely memories of a very special and privileged childhood, with many family meetings with cousins and uncles and aunts, unforgettable events because in this family there are a lot of nice people who are cultured, creative, especially artistic. When her mother-in-law passed away her world crumbled and her marriage was destroyed.
While grandmother Caridad lived she was the matriarch of the family, the pillar that all clung to. Belinda, the gringa, has played the piano since she was a small child and she does it delighting everyone equally, just as Caridad´s papa used to do. His mother gave her a grand piano when she reached 25 years of age, and also paid for piano lessons for all the grandchildren, so that they could meet with everyone and play lovely melodies; some learned to play the violin, others the flute and still others the guitar. It is a very musical family and at meetings there is always singing, dancing and reciting of poems. What Belinda does not yet know is that other members of the family feel that she and her children have taken over Caridad´s love and that they will take over all her things on the day she dies; there is a lot of jealousy of the love and the favoritism she has for the foreigner, who they really do not like and whom they are going to destroy with their calumny.
Maria Angeles had always heard that the family had a distant relation in the nobility, but that it was better not to make a fuss about it. Granny Caridad and her sisters were of noble birth; one of their ancestors of great grand-mother Caridad married a duke who was related to the royal family of Spain. They had documents, relics and antiques to prove such nobility. The did not have any money yet, but did have their titles to the nobility and the coat-of-arms that was over the door of the house, and even a very large picture painted by a famous painter that hung in the living room. They were what is called “ruined aristrocrats”, although they had not lost their class, fineness and education nor the name. The family was always very well Received by the aristocratic and refined side of 1915 Lima, as in Madrid, Cadiz and San Sebastian.
From this far off and very antique parenthood, Caridad had inherited an object very carefully passed on from generation to generation, a relic; a necklace of diamonds, rubies and emeralds that was several centuries old when it reached her elegant neck in 1915 when she married Jose Ernesto. It was their wedding present from her parents for being the first born daughter. The fabulous necklace had passed from various great great great grand-mothers to great grandmothers to grandmother, mothers and grandchildren in Caridad´s family. Before dying Caridad took the hands of her favorite daughter-in-law, Belinda who was the last person to see her alive- and said to her: “My dear daughter, let no-one take this necklace”. She repeated the same words several times. “This necklace is for my grand-daughter Maria Angeles, do not let anybody take the necklace away from my ancestors.”
As though the wise old woman had a presentiment that the necklace would fall into foreign hands and that it would be taken from her favorite grand-daughter. Not two hours after she died, when her body was still warm, when “La Jacinta” a loyal maid and holder of the grand-mother´s keys for several decades, could not believe her incredulous and teary eyes. Some of the señores of the family, like hungry wolves violently began to search for the “patron Caridad´s treasures”, sacking like vandals all the belongings of the good lady who had just passed away.
Caridad Letellier was the owner of very fine objects: fur coats, fine handbags bearing great names, many valuable jewels, pearls, diamond brooches, rings, necklaces, as well as porcelain, some of which had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte himself as well as other famous personages; many works of art, she had been one of the greatest art collectors of her generation. They say this happens in many families when the moment comes to share around the riches, the inheritance. Transformed by the greed and ambition, they became “zopilotos” birds of prey or whatever else you want to call the family members and those whom the grandmother´s death had given them the right to go sharing out what they undoubtedly felt they deserved- They could not respect a duel and waiting to have the testament read, That disappeared as though by magic that same night with other important documents and together with all the money that the old lady have saved in her private desk – several hundred thousand Soles, at that time.
Unfortunately, the will had never been notarized, because Granny Caridad never thought that she was going to die and even less, on the same day and at the same time as cousin Maite had died, more than fifty odd years before. Another coincidence among these incredible ones is that Jose Ernesto had two wives and both of them died on the same date at the same time.
Belinda would be horrified, indignant and furious and would talk obsessively about this for many, many years, of the shameful family in-laws with whom she would spend the rest of her days fighting, until she died in Lima. She could never meet with these family members without losing some of her geniality. Any meeting would end in disagreeable fights. I remember many of these arguments from the time Grandma Caridad died; the cousins talking and completely ignoring Maria Angeles. It would never be the same again, it was as though the death of the grandmother caused the family to collapse completely, the pillar that had supported it fell to pieces forever and the family would never ever become again the lovely and united family of Caridad´s days.
Belinda had a lot of qualities but she also had a lot of defects. Among these the worst was that she was terribly spiteful and vengeful. She never forgot anything. Decades could pass and she would continue to remember fights from a long time ago. By not overcoming this defect, she would pay a very high price; she would never know happiness again. Maria Angeles could never forget the transformation in her mother after the death of her grand-mother. Since then her mother never got along well with the rest of the family, not that is to say that they had ever got along that well, but at least with granny Caridad alive, there was always good behavior and bad words were swallowed as was the desire to finish by pulling someone´s hair. She always said, time and again, that her family in-law envied her because she was younger and more beautiful but what they most envied was the love and favoritism that Caridad demonstrated so that she and her children were always the most favored. Belinda was the adored daughter in law, her children the most spoilt grandchildren, creating a sphere of jealousy, lies, conflicts and rumors. Now, with the death of grandmother, the in-laws who never understood the mentality of foreigners, had declared war and let their true colors be shown.
Grandma Caridad, when alive, was extremely generous. Among her generous works of charity were various orphanages, homes for the aged, dining rooms for the poor, big donations for building churches and to buy the wooden banks for many Lima parishes. Hundreds of people came to her burial; in the first row were cousins, aunts and some grandchildren dressed in exactly the same clothes that Granny Caridad wore, with a hard face and showing no signs of shame, as though it was the most logical and normal thing; dressed in Granny Caridad´s fur coats, with grand-mother´s handbags, with her pearl necklaces, her earrings and her rings. It was incredible and in such bad taste. Although all wore dark glasses, none of them really cried and managed to seek others looking at and admiring the jewelry. – Vanity and greed. What ugly sins, so strong and so low. Brazen egoism. If I had not been present and someone just told me this I would not have been able to imagine such vanity. To this day I feel nausea and disgust that twist my guts. I think it happens in all wealthy families, it is part of human nature; greed, interest and love of money – damned money –blinds them.
I could not believe that their eyes could see it. She, Belinda, was deeply sad and unbalanced. Dressed in black with a hat with a black veil covering her pale and teary face, she was only just over 30 years old, she was still very young to lose her mother, because Caridad had been the only mother she had ever known and loved, her adoptive mother, her adored mother had left her the night before. She lost her natural mother the day she was born; 30 years later she was suffering an even greater hole in her heart and a sadness that would accompany her evermore because she would never stop missing Caridad, the most special being in her lifetime.
Belinda did not care about her mother-in-law´s jewelry, pearls and fur coats did not matter, nor did the material things that she had left, but she remembered her last words, could still , in her mind, hear the voice of the departed telling her not to let them take away the family necklace from her, the necklace that belonged to her daughter Maria Angeles. She had been told tales of similar cases in other families but for the first time she was the protagonist. She felt that the necklace was hidden in some house in the family and the fight would last a whole lifetime, until it became one of the reasons for her marital breakdown years later. From this moment on, there began horrible fights between Belinda and Florencio, the father of Maria Angeles, who did not like the confrontation with any of his brothers or family members, even though these were mistaken. Florencio was blind or simple and naturally straight forward and simply did not want to see, he would live always in denial, incapable of accepting reality. For him his family was special, was perfect and he always felt very proud of his name and of being the younger son. They were the Vallecillo Letellier, the neighborhood aristocrats, the best in Lima society.
After the burial, Mama Jacinta, the faithful employee of the house, approached Belinda and told her what had happened the night of madam Caridad´s death. How she had been thrown out of the house with ill treatment and humiliated with insults, and told that she had nothing to do with them at all. Jacinta was shattered. She had adored Caridad, but not only she adored her, but Caridad had also deposited her whole confidence in Jacinta, who was the boss´s right hand, but now she was homeless without a job after more than 50 years of service. Belinda told her that she could continue working for her in her house and she would always have a special place. That is how mama Jacinta went to work in her boss´s home, the wife of little Florencio, because she had raised a lot of Granny Caridad´s children, whom she loved as though they were her own children, the new boss who was from the United States and who was called “la gringa” and Maria Angela and her brothers and sisters became very happy to have mama Jacinta in their own home, because she was good and pampered them.
A week after Caridad was buried, the heirs. and there were a lot of them, were called together to hold a raffle and to share out the objects left in the house; really it was what remained after the massive robbery. In the raffle, Belinda and Caridad´s youngest, won a television, Caridad´s desk – very important to Belinda because it had been designed by Caridad herself and she had passed long hours in it collecting stamps, writing her poems and dramas among other things. Then they raffled the silver plate, sets of porcelain china and then the daily dinner ware. Belinda kept the daily crockery, which she still has to this day.
Each of the children got different objects, some more valuable than others, but as there was no testament hey decided to do it this way.
Grandmother´s properties were rented and the dividends were shared in equal parts in monthly quotas. When the raffle was over, it was obvious that a lot of things had still to be done: silver articles, pictures, jewelry, Grandma´s personal articles, especially the necklace of emeralds and rubies, the red and green necklace that Caridad , in her lifetime, had announced was to be for Belinda and was to be delivered to her grand-daughter the day of her majority or on her wedding day. The necklace was of enormous value, especially for whom she knew had really taken it with the excuse of being worthy of this piece for many reasons, which justified its robbery. The mother of Maria de los Angeles would weep for a long time for said necklace and would get furious each time she remembered the blessed necklace of her daughter´s great grand-parents.