My mother had just died last week. We’d had a rocky relationship all of my life. I loved her but she found fault in nearly everything I did. My father and mother had met in college at OSU in the early 1950’s. My father was from Peru and studied agriculture to bring back advanced agricultural practices to help his country. He was extremely handsome and all the girls on campus were after him. My mother was a Physical Education major. She was a feisty 5’2” ball of energy. She met my father and was instantly attracted to him. They had a passionate love affair and I was the result. Mother was not happy about this outcome. She had always been a good girl. And now she was pregnant with me. She and my father decided to lie to her parents and tell them they had eloped to Mexico and had married. My grandparents were shocked, of course. Especially since their new son-in-law couldn’t speak English very well.
Mother worked and supported my father until he graduated. I had been born during Papa’s last years of studies in 1954. However, it was a difficult birth. Mother spent three days in labor. I was finally delivered with forceps. The clamp cut into my face and left a scar on my left cheek that I would live with for the rest of my life. After delivery the doctors told my mother not to bond with me. They told her I was probably retarded and should be institutionalize. In later years I’ve wondered if this was because I was half Peruvian. There was a great deal of prejudice against ‘half-breeds’, in our country, which is what I was labeled by most of my mother’s family.
My maternal grandmother would not allow me to be institutionalized and took over my care. My father was very concerned and helped grandma find formula I was not allergic to so I would live. Their love and care kept me alive. My mother had no interest in me and I don’t recall seeing her very much in my early years. Grandma was my mother and loved me unconditionally until she passed away when I was seven.
After graduation, my father had landed a job working for the United States Agricultural Society and our little family was sent to Bogatá, Columbia to start a milk pasteurization plant because many people were dying from milk fever. I was about three at the time. I remember how upset Grandma had been that we were leaving for deepest darkest South America. She was worried for our safety. I was excited we would be living with my father. I adored him and he also loved me unconditionally. My mother was now going to need to be responsible for me. She did her duty with me but I was more of a nuisance, her cross to bear, more than anything else. Grandma sewed an entire wardrobe for me including a warm red wool overcoat with a big brown button in the front. She also made a cute traveling bonnet to complete my ensemble. I was excited and felt privileged that I was going to get to ride on a big airplane with giant propellers. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t have a camera, of course, so I decided to make my brain my camera. I can still recall the scenery from the airplane as we flew to our new home in South America in 1957.
Papa had set up a house for us. It was fully furnish and paid for by his company. It was a beautiful home built in the Spanish architectural style with a lovely balcony that overlooked the front yard. The spiral staircase in the foyer led up to my room. We had a maid named Anna. She became very important in my life because mother still did not want to have much to do with me. Mother would oversee my care making sure I was bathed and fed. But she was emotionally distant. And nothing I did seemed to please her. So Anna became my main caregiver. I also had my father who came home from work everyday full of hugs and kisses. I didn’t feel unloved. I just accepted that this was the way mothers were. However, I was always looking for ways to get mother’s attention and love. Mostly I succeeded in annoying her.
Anna and I went to the market everyday to buy ingredients for dinner. We would walk to the market and Anna would warn me to always hold her hand when crossing a very large dangerous road that we needed to cross to get there. In those days the roads were not paved. And there were no traffic rules. The cars would drive at whatever speed they cared too and the streets were very chaotic.
I loved going to the large outdoor market with Anna. I loved the colorful sights and smells. All the merchants knew her and everyone knew my father was an important businessman. We were given special cuts of meat and the best ingredients. I was treated with special sweets by the vendors. Often we would buy a live chicken for dinner. We would take it home and I would help Anna prepare it for dinner. My job was to pick out the pin feathers, not an easy task for little fingers. But Anna taught me how to prepare the chicken for soup. I wasn‘t scared when the chicken was killed because Anna did it gently with kindness to the bird. She even took the beaks of the chicken and made a necklace. This was for good luck she told me.
One day my mother announced to Anna that she would be taking me to the market. Anna and my mother didn’t get along very well. Anna doted on me and didn’t like how my mother treated me. But I was too young to understand and continued to try and earn my mother’s love. So when she said she wanted to take me with her to the market I was thrilled. Mother told me to hurry up and get ready. I ran upstairs to my room to pick out my prettiest dress for this special occasion. While I was getting dressed I could hear my mother and Anna arguing over me. When I came downstairs I could see Anna had been crying. As she helped me button up the back of my dress, she asked me if I wanted to go with my mother and she begged me not too. I was excited and craved special attention from my mother. I told Anna I was going and even felt proud that mother had chosen this special outing just for the two of us. Anna‘s eyes were large and scared as she watched me go but I was too young to understand why.
Mother didn’t walk with me. She marched ahead of me. I hurried on my short little legs to keep up with her. We had arrived at the dangerous road. I’d caught up to her and stood next to her as she studied the traffic. I instinctively reached my hand up to mother remembering the admonishments from Anna to never cross the road without holding onto an adult’s hand. But mother‘s hand wasn’t there. She was gone. I looked for her and saw she was already halfway across the busy street. I was confused but couldn’t do anything but follow her. I was scared. I ran across the road to catch up with her. In my fear and haste I tripped and fell over a large rock in the middle of the road. There was a car heading towards me at that looked like it was going a hundred miles an hour. I screamed out for my mother. She stopped and turned and looked at me and said, “Get up or I will inform your father you are dead.” She then turned her back on me and marched away.
I had never been so scared in my life. My body froze in fear as I watched the car heading for me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I managed to roll away from the car as it’s wheels missed me by inches. I stood up staring in disbelief at my mother‘s disappointed expression as she watched my near escape. I brushed the dirt off of my dress. I felt the most terrible feeling that I’d ever felt in my life. My mother didn’t love me and had tried to kill me.
A terrible feeling of shame came over me. I was not worthy of love from my mother. Mother‘s cold eyes told me if I was going to survive it was going to have to be up to me. I was not loved by her. I was too ashamed to tell anyone, not even my father. The only one that understood was Anna. And now I knew why she had been so scared for me to go to the market alone with my mother. Mother fired Anna the very next day and I trembled at the loss of my friend. I knew then that this event had given me a second chance at life but I would never the same.