Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The year we lived in Brasil, Mama got hepatitis and for a few months did almost nothing at all except smoke Tareytons and read 2-year-old movie magazines. We had a cook, Suliadora, who kept us fed; a laundry pushcart guy who came by one a week to wash all our clothes; and theoretically I was, at 12, old enough to keep Bill from too much trouble. If you've heard some of the stories from that time, you'll know I sometimes failed in the latter.

One of the great thrills about living on that house on Rua Joao Alves is that Bill and I each had our own room. It was for each of us our first taste of real privacy, and I seized it in my teeth. I actually had a key that locked my bedroom door, an old-fashioned skeleton key, and I began insisting nobody, not Mama or Suliadora, go into my room without my consent. Mama bristled but was too ill to fight it out with me.

Bill didn't care but, at age 8, he simply let his own room become a trash-heap. Eventually, Mama resorted to nagging us nonstop about our need to clean our rooms, and unknowingly made sure I would not cooperate by intimating I should actually help Bill with his, since he was so much younger.

Help the baby clean his mess? Never gonna happen.

One of the oddities of being a doodlebugger's kid who lived in constant transience is that we were not just isolated as a family, we were expected to be and remain friends with the other children who worked for the same company as my Dad. Our paths would cross in a sporadic manner as our fathers sometimes worked on the same crew in the same small town, and we had a bond with these other kids that I think is similar to army brats or the children of migrant farm workers. No matter the age or personality difference, we had to make nice with the other GSI kids.

Thus, in Aracaju, we were forced into the orbit of Paola, whose father was Daddy's cohort and whose mother was a feud-loving Sicilian, Fulvia, he'd married along the way. Paola would nowadays be diagnosed as ADHD with severe anger control issues. She was halfway between me and Bill in age, and playing anything with her seemed to inevitably result in her having a raging tantrum where she broke our things and ran weeping to her mother. Everyone, including Mama, was frightened of Fulvia, so we cheated clumsily during any game with Paola to make sure she won or was appeased. This seldom worked.

Until, after a round of Mother May I and Simon Says, I dimly remembered a boring little kid's entertainment called Mother's Coming. The set up was that someone played Mother, a stern-faced tyrant who stood at the end of the hall and began walking, extremely slowly, toward the child's bedroom. Someone hissed "Mother's coming!" in a tone of horror, and those in the bedroom had to get it completely cleaned up, bed made, floor swept, etc before her hand reached the knob and turned it.

This approaching maternal doom struck a deep chord in Paola, and the need for frenzied, even chaotic, tidying was a job she could handle. She would fly into action, shrieking at us to help, and after two rounds the room would be spic and span. She never wanted to take a turn as approaching Mother, preferring the release of cleaning. 

We exploited her relentlessly, without shame.


Minnie said...

Know how to get in touch with Paola? This house could use some frenzied cleaning.

Margot said...

Oh, honey, I like your style!