This story is about my Mother (Maruja Gomez) and the great times I remember growing up with her. Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and it sits in the valley between two mountains in the Andes mountain range ranges called the Andes. Because of this, the city enjoys a relatively mild climate of 60 degrees all year round. In the early 1960s, we lived in the modern part of Quito, as my Mother was a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family. Every few years, she would move to another job as the families she cared for transferred to another country. So I remember three sets of families, their life, and my Mother working for them.
A) When I was around four years old, a set of 3 young career women (an airline hostess, a diplomat, and a scientist). They lived in a rather posh section of Quito, and my Mother was a live-in housekeeper for them.
B) A little later, a young family of an American Doctor, his wife, and their three young children. They lived in a rather big house in the suburbs of Quito. They had a rather large property and a carriage house where my Mother and I lived.
3) Finally, a career officer in the Ecuadorian Airforce, his wife (an American correspondent), and their two children. They lived in another suburb of Quito close to Ejido Park. They loved my Mother so much they wanted to take her back to Chicago, USA. They would take me as well. Unfortunately, my Mother was pregnant, and they could make room for another child. Our chance to go to America was no more. Abd, I was on my way to my Grandfather, Luis Felipe, for another spell while my Mother coped with the fallout of another pregnancy.
My Mother is remarkable as she has existed her whole life with a 3rd-grade education. She is a brilliant woman, and the reason she left school in the 3rd grade is that her Mother died during childbirth (giving birth to the youngest child in the family, my uncle Vincent. My Grandfather was left with four kids, including a baby, to care for. My Mother, the only girl, was pulled out of school to be the Mother to all the kids. Imagine being 7-8 years old and caring for five males: her father and four boys (including a baby). Since then, she has been a force to reckon with.
I remember Sundays meant getting a bath, getting dressed in your Sunday best, taking the bus to the local church a few miles away, and going to Sunday mass at 7:00 am. After church, we would get lunch at a street vendor by the local park, El Ejido, and eat there. I would play in the playground, and finally, my Mother would collect me, and we would be on our way for the afternoon activities.
She spent Sunday afternoon thanking God for our good fortune and doing a good deed for someone in return. My Mother would visit her friends and her family. She always liked to travel and call everyone in her family. She would drag me to these visits, and I would go along and be bored or play games while she talked with her friends or family. If kids were in the house, we would play games and amuse ourselves while the grown-ups would have coffee and chat.
My Mother took me to visit our 2nd cousin (Guillermo Proano) at the local mental hospital where he had lived for a long time. I always remember him being there. Later, he went home to live with his Mother and sisters. I met once again when I was twenty and visiting Ecuador. He was a quiet and gentle soul at the time. He was still living with his Mom and sisters in northern Ecuador.
We also visited another 2nd cousin, a Nun, at her convent in Cotocollao (a suburb of Quito). She was Sister Bernardina. As far as I know, she is now a Mother Superior at a more extensive convent in Chile. I must check some of these facts with my Mom as she stays in touch with everyone.
We visited friends and stayed overnight. The party started by going to the local open-air market for groceries to make something unique for the party. It could be anything; all the invited people would bring something to eat and a bottle of the local aguardiente (hooch). Everyone would arrive at 8:00 pm, and the partying would start with drinks, empanadas, finger food, dances, and games. The party would go on until early in the morning. And everyone would sleep wherever they could find a place. The children would go to bed by 9:00 pm. The parents were not too strict, and the kids organized their games. Everyone knew somebody from their work, school, and neighborhood. They were all friends and would always get together every weekend and all the holidays—any excuse for a party.
My Mother, Maruja, will soon be 93 years old and still living in Quito. She lives with my half-sister, Ana Cecilia, and they have an apartment south of downtown Quito, close to the airport. The weather is even more temperate and suitable for my Mother’s health. They live together and do things together as two spinsters. My sister is good for my Mom as she keeps her busy exercising and walking, going to doctor visits, shopping, cooking, and visiting family when possible. It’s a good way of life for my Mother, and my sister is divorced and close to her grandchildren—a win-win situation.
This ode is to my Mother (Rita Maria Virginia Gomez Calderon); it couldn’t have been easy living with children to support and never having someone to depend on. You have always shown courage and never gave up. Your children love you, and they are always around you. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren also are part of your life. You have given more than you took your whole life. This story is your story.