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By June 28, 2023July 17th, 2023No Comments

Cleotilde and Chavela

Don’t ask me why, but this morning I woke up thinking about Cleotilde and Chavela. As children, my siblings and I used to call them “Cleo” and “Chave.” Perhaps they are out in the universe thinking of me as well. They used to work in my childhood home as housekeepers. All day long they would do chores along with my mother. We were not a wealthy family per se, but we managed to maintain a middle class life.

Chave looked almost like she was Chinese, like someone who was easterly; she was very petite, and wore a long, single braid that hung all the way down her back past her waist. She was a woman of few words. Chave would arrive very early at the house to prepare breakfast for the family before we went to school, and my Father to work. My mother would stay home with Cleo and Chave.

Chave and my mother would then put together a menu for our main meal at 2:00 PM for our return home.

I have a clear memory of Chave and my Mother putting together this menu. They would both be scratching their heads, “Ma’am, what should I do today?” Chave would ask my mother. “Should we do meat? Fish?…” and they would go on and on until they were both satisfied with the choices. They always did a good job, we used to have a main course, a second course, and we would always have fresh juices instead of sodas.

When I would return from school, I would arrive home almost fainting from the heat in Guadalajara. I wore a school uniform, and part of it was (get this) a wool pleated black skirt, with a white long sleeve shirt. Very, VERY, hot. Chave would always greet me with a tall, cold glass of water. That glass of water was revitalizing, I thought it was so sweet of her. It never failed, every day she was right there.

Cleo would clean the house and tend to the laundry. She would have mountains of clothing to iron. She would put the ironing board at the foot of my parent’s bed. I would lay down with my hands crossed behind my head, lounging while she ironed, and I would almost demand, “Tell me stories about your childhood!” and she happily did.

I was like, “Are you serious that you had to milk the cows in your hometown??” for me, growing up in the city, that was unheard of. And she would then tell me “I have drunk bull’s blood, too!” … I think she was pulling my leg now, but I’m sure as a child my eyes were as big as dinner plates when she said it.

Cleo had a bigger framed body, and a contagious giggly laugh. She also had a protruding bump on her temple. I would ask, “What’s up with that?” and she would say, “Oh, I don’t know, my doctor is treating it with homeopathic pills.” But that thing never went away, so it’s hard for me to believe in homeopathic medicine. Contrary to Chavela, Cleotilde was very affectionate. If my mother was upset with me, I would run into Cleo’s arms and get lost in her warm embrace. Her body was very soft and comforting.

One day, it came up that Cleotilde did not know how to read or write. And I told her, “Oh, get outta here! How do you get around and take the busses?” she told me, “I take it by looking at the color of the bus.”  Even at my young age, my heart went out to her. Imagine depending on so many people for everything, never having the pleasure of reading literature, or not being able to read the news. In life, you do what you must. She worked through life the best she could, just like I have in a foreign country (America.) I didn’t speak English yet when I moved to the states, I did as Cleotilde did–relying on colors or smells to make my way around in life.

I know when I arrive where they are in the universe, Chave will greet me with a cold glass of water, and Cleo will greet me with a warm hug.

Mucho Love