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Posts Tagged ‘Maracay’

My sister Galina on the far left, frolicking in "our" river.

The river on our land was like one from a familiar scene you sometimes see in the movies, with a tree leaning over the bank from which I used to swing from the branches and fall into the water. Since I was busy helping at home, I did not go to school, and my free time was spent playing. We were all excitedly waiting for the weekly bus from Caracas, which would be bringing my sister Gala and her new daughter for a holiday visit. On the expected day, Mama waited outside while I splished and splashed in the river. Suddenly, I heard the bus horn. I hurriedly slipped into my panties and ran as fast as I could. At that age, I had no shame about nudity and anyway, all the local kids were naked in the hot summer weather, due either to the heat or that perhaps some of them did not have clothes. Mother had made dresses for me, of course, but I wore them or I didn’t, it made no difference to me.

I rushed up wet and almost naked to embrace my sister and her new baby, named Vera, which in Russian means “fate.” Fate was already in my mother’s arms, while Papa was all smiles and Anatoly stood there, shy but polite. Then Papa went out of the house, and I put some clothes on to get ready for dinner. I was amazed at all the good food Mama had prepared for the homecoming feast, many delicious roast chickens…but then a thought occurred to me and I became suspicious. I went running down to the little coop I had lovingly tended and, as I feared, my chickens were gone. I went over to the beehives to hide my tears and let go of my pain. I never even said anything to Mama, but when Vera was in my arms and I walked around the house, I made sure to inform her that she was responsible for the death of my pet chickens..She was just a baby and didn’t understand what I said, but I felt better. Of course, I got over it and life goes on. It seemed like only a few days, but Galina and her baby stayed a couple of months before returning to their home in Porlamar.

The end of the year came and our tomatoes were gigantic and deep pink, so Papa said, “This Monday we’ll start picking them!” By now it was Christmas weekend, and we were all asleep in the house. I went to the big windows and sat down to look up at the stars; across the road was a big hacienda, where the owners of our little ranch lived. I spoke to Santa and told him it was okay, I understood that I would not get any presents for the Catholic Christmas; I would have to wait for the Orthodox Christmas, which came later on the old calendar.

The next morning I went down the road as always to see my old lady friend and wish her well. I had nothing to give her, just a flower or two from Mama’s garden, but passing by the gate of the owners’ hacienda I saw their children playing with all kinds of new Christmas toys. Papa and Mama forbade me to disturb the owners, so I just went closer and peeked in, saying to myself, “One day….”

Monday came and very early, we all went down to the tomato field–Papa, mama, and Anatoly, while I went to wake up the chauffeur and his wife, who were to help us pick tomatoes. When I approached the sleeping pair, the man sat up, grabbed my arm and tried to kiss me on the mouth! I broke away from him in disgust and went running back, not saying a word because we needed his help picking the tomatoes. Still, I could not help but spit out the taste for a long while, as we crossed the grove of oranges and mangoes, which were long since harvested and sold. As we passed the beehive, I saw a little snake cross the flower path and screamed to Anatoly, “Kill it!” But nobody made a fuss about the snake- we were on our way to make a fortune with our tomato crop—they were like gold to us!

“My God!” my mother cried out. Papa also yelled in anger!, for the flimsy pole and wire fences had been knocked down, and a huge herd of cows was walking through our field and eating all our tomatoes! We all went crazy and tears ran down our cheeks. Our dreams of a rich harvest, a gold mine, were all gone–kaput!

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My brother Anatoly was a fully-grown man when I was still a child. He helped our father in Maracay.

On the road again, like a band of gypsies! Our next home, Maracay, was a small colonial city with wide streets and lots of parks with statues of heroes of the revolution at the battle of Carabobo. We drove through the city, so clean and free compared to others, and traveled about twenty minutes down a dirt road to a large ranch with orange groves, mango trees and lots of land ready for planting. Papa’s plan was to put us to work as ranchers or farmers!

Anatoly arrived a few days later, but by now my sister was married to a pure blooded Russian exile who carried his German aristocratic name and title with pride. Anatoly was put to work on a big tractor tilling the soil, mama was down in the rows with me pulling weeds, but there was still not enough money for my schoolbooks. I would have to walk to school, until one day a good looking young man came by the ranch to talk to papa and offered to give me a ride to school.

I remember bouncing along down the road in his big 8 wheel truck, and that night dreaming of being his wife and living with this wealthy young man in a big hacienda with lots of servants and many children! I was growing into a woman, and for the first time I felt something for a man, different from my feelings for my brother or schoolmates. He was tall, with a gentle and seductive voice, strong and sweet and protective, and perhaps he did not even notice I was staring at him strangely. This was my first girlish crush on a man, and I had no idea what I was feeling.

Well, we had a name for  a foolish child–a “mocosa,” meaning “A snot-nosed kid who needs to dry its eyes and grow up!” Of course, I never saw that young man again, but by the next day I had forgotten all about him: My sister was coming to visit us with her newborn baby, so we had to get the house ready to accommodate them!

Our strange house in Maracay

The house was very big and strange to me: one room ran into the next, and out of the kitchen there was a brick path leading to a flower garden and an outhouse. Mama planted flowers along the pathway, and papa and Tola made me a little fence corral for my chickens. An old woman they called a witch had given me a bunch of chicks; she lived in a cardboard box house down the road, and I thought she was so sweet that I didn’t want her to be lonesome, so I visited her every day.

She would make me coffee, a royal treat for a young lady, and I spent long hours down there, helping her get clean water from the river, washing her only two teacups, listening to the roosters crow and the hens cluck. After I was gone too long, my poor overworked mother would come looking for me- I didn’t realize that to her, I had gone missing from chores, wandering the countryside and maybe getting into trouble.

At school I played baseball, since my legs had grown very fast and I could hit a home run like the boys. At the school festival, a boy sang a hit song from America, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons, and what do you get, Another day older and deeper in debt!” I did not understood the words but I would dance to it; I had never seen the record and only heard a tape, but I loved the melody and the rhythm and most of all that deep voice, the baritone that I loved so much, (even those I heard in the church choir), singing so meaningfully, “St. Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”  I invented my own meaning of these words, since no one around me spoke English–I simply felt it, and it wasn’t until I began to understand English that I knew what the song meant.  Another English-language song that affected me deeply was one I heard  for the first time many years later, when I was in Los Angeles.  I wondered if Willie Nelson had written “On the Road Again” about us, as my family and I had lived such unsettled lives, traveling through the world like vagabonds.  This was to become one of my favorite songs.

Father brought home some beehives and began teaching me how to care for them. I thought the bees were so beautiful, the way they buzzed and talked to each other, with the big queen getting all the honey and the worker bees slaving away. Papa explained that we had to separate and get rid of the drones that did not produce honey: “Ludachka you just sit here and get as many you can and I will bring you a present from my next business trip, is that understood?” “Da, papa, da!” (“Yes, Papa!)
The strange thing was the bees never stung or bothered me, although if anyone else came to the hives they had to wear a mask and gloves.

Now we had honey, mangoes and oranges to sell. Father and his driver would ride into town and sell at the market, and at home we were growing tomatoes in the long summer. Anatoly would dig open a little hole, prepare the soil, and I would follow behind him and plant a little tomato seedling that Mama had grown in boxes in the house. At the end of the day, Tola would open the pump that carried water from the river into the irrigation channels, so our baby tomatoes would be watered from the bottom and not the top.

I was so young, and I thought I had all the time in the world!

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