Chapter XXIX - Visiting Helen
I was anxious to see Helen and my two granddaughters for the first time. Linda was seventeen months old and Kathy ten days old.
We passed many houses and by the looks of them one could assume the people living in them were poor. Some of the houses consisted of only one room with a door in the front and one in the back. John teased me that their house was like that but I did not believe him because I knew Helen would not live like that.
Finally we arrived. Helen embraced and kissed me and asked me about my trip. She took me to my room to freshen up. The room was a large one with a bathroom and shower. I was grateful for the chance to freshen up, since I felt dusty and tired. I had not changed my clothes since the day before.
When I emerged she introduced Linda, a beautiful chubby child with a head full of blonde curly hair. I extended my arms to her and invited her to come to me but she refused flatly to come. Helen said, "Linda, go to your grandmother," but she backed away and would not have any part of me.
I said, "Helen, don't push her. I am a stranger to her and she will have to get used to me. She's too young to understand." Then I asked about Kathy. She said, "Kathy is asleep. I've had a hard time with her formula and she cries a lot."
She wanted to know everything about everyone. Then she said to me, "Ma, you should go to bed. You must be exhausted."
I said, "You, too, with a small baby to care for. You need your sleep."
I awakened the next morning to the sound of gushing water. I got up, dressed, and walked out of my room. Helen was already preparing breakfast. I said, "The sound of water woke me up."
She said, "Lena comes early and uses the water hose to freshen the patio."
I asked, "Who is Lena?" She replied, "Lena is the woman who comes every day to do my wash and help with the housework. She's a Venezuelan."
After breakfast I started to wash the dishes, but Helen said, "No, Ma. Lena will do that."
I said, "Don't you want me to do anything?"
She replied, "How about taking Linda for a walk in the stroller? I can take care of the baby then."
I went to pick up Linda to place her in the stroller and she wouldn't let me touch her. Lena came and put her in the stroller and she smiled at Lena. I started to push the stroller and she turned and looked at me distrustingly, as if to say, "Don't you dare touch me."
As I was walking I noticed oil wells in the back yards of people. The streets were very wide and the houses were freshly painted. The lawns were well attended and there were flowers in front of the houses. Lagunillas was a pleasant settlement provided by and cared for by the oil company John was working for.
Helen had four very pleasant rooms with an open porch. Linda had a plastic pool on the patio and she spent many hours playing in the water. I would sit outside watching her playing. I decided, after many attempts to become her friend, to leave her alone. At first she was puzzled. Then she would look at me from under her eyelids to see if I were still there reading a book or a newspaper. I could see that she liked to see me sitting there watching her play. She felt as though she had company. I continued to walk her in the stroller and every morning she liked to antagonize me by standing up in the stroller while I was pushing. I knew that she could fall on her face and get hurt.
After many attempts to seat her, I shook her by the shoulders and told her in no gentle terms that she had to stay seated or I would not take her out any more.
The mornings were pleasant until about 10:00 a.m. Then you had to go in because it got very hot. Helen had an overhead fan in the living room and I would sit under the fan and feel quite comfortable usually reading or chatting with Helen.
After a few days of not seeking her attention, Linda decided that I was harmless and not an intruder in her family circle. Nor did I seem to be a menace to her. After all, in the short period of ten days two strangers had come to disturb her tranquil life. First of all there was the baby that took all of her mother's time, and secondly there was a new stranger, supposedly her grandmother.
She was happy just the way she was and she did not need them. Why had they come to disturb her happiness? However, it was better to be friends with at least one of them, the least harmless, and that happened to be me. She decided to make a peace offer of her most cherished toy, a Teddy bear, her own friend in bed when she went to sleep at night. Grandma was quietly reading under the fan when Linda came and quietly put her beloved Teddy bear on her lap. Grandma smiled and patted Linda on her head. Later I told Helen, "Linda and I are good friends now. She offered me her bear."
Now the tension was broken and she would be more able to accept her baby sister.
Kathy was very small. It even was hard to hold her. She cried a lot because the formula did not agree with her. After different formulas, finally one of them agreed with her and she began to gain weight and adjust to her routine.
John took a day off from work to show me around Maracaibo, the second largest city in Venezuela. First he showed me where he worked with the oil company. I saw how oil was processed before it was shipped out. I have only a hazy remembrance of many pipes of all different sizes carrying the crude product to be processed and shipped out. It was an immense operation with huge furnaces.
Then we proceeded to Maracaibo. I saw the old part of the city and the way the Indians lived. Sometimes their homes were nothing but straight canvas over four posts. They cooked in the open over stones. The old part of the city was very crowded with buildings close together and the streets were paved with cobblestone.
Then he showed me the new part of the city, which is beautiful. I did notice that they liked to be colorful in their buildings, as many were painted in bright colors.
Between the old and the new section was the very poor section. Streets were not paved and when a car passed there would rise a cloud of dust. Homes had windows but no panes. They were protected by iron bars. I couldn't figure out what there was to protect.
Then John drove to the Hotel del Lago to have our dinner. The hotel was a very beautiful, modern structure with a cocktail lounge. After dinner we decided to walk the beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the lake. We sat under the palm trees facing the lake. The outline of the land surrounding the city on the other side of the lake was fascinating.
It was late afternoon when we left the city and started for home. On the way the sky started to cloud up and we hoped to reach home before it started to rain.
On the road near nowhere was a lady standing near her car and signaling. John stopped his car and asked her if she needed help and she said that she had a flat tire and she was afraid she was going to miss the last ferry to Maracaibo. John took the tools out of his car and started to work on the lady's tire. The clouds had grown darker and very menacing and it had started to thunder and lightning. John kept working imperturbably on the lady's car. I thought that rain was imminent and that he would be soaked, but as if by magic, the ugly cloud blew away and not a drop of rain reached the ground. When we got home there were puddles of water, the testimony of a heavy shower. John said, "if I had not helped that lady, she would have missed the ferry and been stranded."
Invariably, every day while I stayed there the heat of the day reached the highest point in the late afternoon. Then it would cloud over and a half-hour shower would cool the air. The nights were balmy and refreshing enough to sleep.
After two weeks I told Helen I was ready to go home. She said, "You already want to go home! You just got here."
I said, "Helen, I have been here two weeks."
She replied, "Ma, when relatives come here, they often stay at least three months."
I said, "Helen, I need to go home."
She could not understand why I wanted to go so fast. She said, "Richard is in service and Marie lives in New York. There is no reason for you to go."
She could not understand my reason and I would not tell her. I had to go home because I needed to cry and cry for the loss of my husband. After his burial I had to rush to the store, and after closing the shore I came to Venezuela. The tears were still bottled up in me. We compromised and I stayed one more week.
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