Ludmila, Vera and Galina on the beach of Porlamar
Walking to and from school there was a children’s park where I would stop at the playground and swing, higher and higher, wanting to reach the sky. I thought I could transport myself magically to Hollywood, just like in the movies where everything is possible. I wanted to meet all of those magic people in the musicals; they all seemed so beautiful and happy. But there was something more important, more magical, that I learned from the movies: that I can reach for the stars, but to get there I had to go through pain, travel to faraway places, show courage, and above all, show passion. Just like in the famous song of Judy Garland, I could wish upon a star and open a door to a dream. I would even send postcards to my idol, Victor Mature, without a return address, just his named and “Hollywood, USA”– and he would receive it. God would help make sure.
As a girl, I did not want to be married or have children; I didn’t even want a prince or knight in shining armor. I really didn’t know what I wanted or expected from life, except to be in a perfect dream world where everybody was nice and everything was good. My old dream of having a big farm with lots of animals and a big family had vanished away. My future was unclear but I would go wherever life took me.
Meanwhile, however, I couldn’t tell my mother about my punishment by my brother in law Valery, figuring mama had enough troubles with papa. But as the days went on, his castigations got worse: ten minutes on my knees on the rock salt, and holding my hands out in a cross, which gets painful very soon. the nuns realized something was wrong and asked, but I would make up a story about playing on the rocks by Pampatar beach.
Things were not peaceful on our island in the sea! Soon my sister gave birth in the middle of the night, and chaos seemed to break loose. She was screaming like a butchered animal, and I was scared so I went as far away in the house as I could, so as not to hear it. At that point I began to sleep on a hammock, since there were no extra beds in the house.
Finally I heard that mama was coming to help Gala with the baby, and I said, “O God thank you” She will not let Valery punish me! So the next time when he said, “On your knees!” I stood up defiantly and said, “No!” “What? he screamed. “ No, I won’t do it! I won’t get down on my knees!” since my sister was upstairs, I couldn’t run up there, so I ran out of the house and down to the beach and my swing.
Mama arrived like next day, but I hid my scars and wounds from her and said nothing. I helped her distributed bread that she made for some of the local families. I didn’t have a bicycle, but that didn’t stop me. I managed to borrow one from the neighbor boy and went out to deliver hot bread and piroskies. Coming back home, I learned how to steer and use the brakes, but not fast enough: it threw me in the air, and tore my old scar on my eyelid again. That was the last of that boy letting me use his bike, because I had damaged it and had no money to pay.
Every time I felt hurt, I would go to the swing, especially since I now was not permitted to go to the movies. Valery said I described it for running off and damaging the bike. I had not a penny of my own, while the girls at school had candies and dresses and makeup. I never had a thing, but I would always go to the garden where I could pretend was one of the movie stars I had seen at the cinema. If I was lucky, I got to sneak to one of the movies with some of the girls, especially a movie that the nuns approved of. I remember that after we came back from seeing Quo Vadis, the nuns let me act out the story of the film for the others in the class.
Mama did try to get me some decent clothes, saving her money. At the time there were about 4 Bolivars to the dollar, to a 50 centavo piece was a lot of money! When she finally realized how bad the situation was with my brother in law punishing me, she started protecting me by letting my go with her wherever she worked. She was a helper to a German doctor’s wife, and I remember they had Welch’s grape juice- I still love it!
I even won the friendship of Rosita, she sat next to me in my class, the fattest girl at the school but I loved her because she was so sweet, not stuck up and arrogant like of the others. She was the daughter of the governor of the island, and after school she would be picked up by a chauffeur in a Cadillac. Sometimes she invited me to go with her, and if mama said okay, I would leave for the weekend and stay at Rosita’s home in La Asuncion. I remember the delicious food and the luxury- that was the tops of living! they even had a river and a small waterfall on their property- it never occurred to me to wonder how there could be a river on this or any island!?
One day her mother noticed my black and blue, scared knees and asked me, in a very serious voice, how this had happened? so I finally opened up and told her the truth. A few days later her husband, the Governor, called on mother superior and talked to her Mother Superior summoned my mother and they told her the school would give her a government Vega (a kind of grant) to live at a boarding school!
The grant would let me live at the boarding school and until I reached the end of sixth grade.
I was only in the third grade, and barely knew my alphabet, but I was good in history and geography and above all in religion. I almost jumped through the roof when i heard this good news. In the dormitories, I knew, they had so many nice things: sandals, toothbrushes, creams, pretty pajamas and various uniforms, I had none of those things, and I suppose the rich girls made fun of the maid’s daughter at the fancy private school. But I was too busy to notice or care, enjoying the beautiful gardens, the peaceful setting, and the love of the nuns. I was so happy to be there, safe and secure in God’s hands!