Father and mother
“A poet's object is not to tell what actually happened
but what could or would happen either probably or inevitably....
For this reason, poetry is something more scientific and
serious than history, because poetry
tends to give general truths
while history gives particular facts.”
“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals
something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account
of himself is
probably lying, since any life when
viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”
- George Orwell
“We delight in
the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit
the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
― Maya Angelou
Period of time covered: 1955 to 1963.
Location: Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
My mother Clara Demeter, was a very kind person. No word
could describe her better than this one. She loved and helped my father from the time they first met until the end of her life. Not even his infidelities could destroy her love, though they caused her so much grief.
While my father was a medical student, my mother would organise his school material. As a result, she told me she had almost become a doctor. My grandmother Teresa also often
told me about this phase of their life.
When my parents were first married, mother adopted to his habits of skimping and scraping
so that he could put together funds with which to buy land. That is how it all started. So my mother was part of my father’s success and never turned her back on him. Every single day throughout her life lunch at home was a family reunion. There were
always the dishes father liked and the ones that we three children preferred. Nothing ever changed this pattern.
As soon as we were
born my mother’s main centre of attention turned to us, day and night, with complete devotion. We were very happy at home. My mother never failed to support us three in every way, always paying attention to our health and our moods, giving support and
understanding, as well as advising and directing when necessary. And when I was in a bad mood, even rude at times, my mother would continue to behave with her habitual calm and self-control. We could not win with her, so had to relent and go back to peace!
My mother was very fond of gardening. Everything she touched bloomed and thrived. Through the forty years that we lived at the Chacara, her
horticultural interests progressed from the early cultivation of roses to an interest in the cultivation of various tropical plants with colourful foliage. These eventually surrounded the house, as well as following the high walls around the gardens of the
property. And multi-coloured exuberant bushes also shot up from the odd hidden patches in the grass, while verdant creepers climbed tree-trunks and palm trees which swayed gently in the breeze.
The last and longest phase of my mother’s gardening was dedicated to orchids. These were first nurtured in a greenhouse until they bloomed, and when in flower they would be brought in to adorn the interior of the house, to our great delight. There would
be sequences of large orchids, resplendent in various colours, or cascades of small and delicate orchids in various hues of pink, yellow, white or green.
So much of my mother’s way of being was most certainly learned from her mother, our grandmother Teresa. She was a dear person whom everybody adored. There were aspects of my mother’s personality which she could only have inherited from her. One
was her unwavering devotion to all she loved, most especially her children.
I always try to follow the example of my mother and
grandmother Teresa, but it is not easy as I am very different from them. So at very difficult moments I do try to think what my mother or grandmother would have done.
It was my maternal grandmother
who inspired me to become a writer by recounting passages from the book her sister Alice had written, stories which she added to with her own memories. However, at first I wanted to be what my father wanted - a business-woman.
When I ventured into publishing I soon discovered that there was so much to learn beyond the actual writing. And being such a beginner some people thought I would
not be up to the task. I remember when someone asked me if I paid someone to edit my books. Bewildered I replied, “What do you mean?” This person explained that this was someone to make sure I do not repeat myself. “Oh no” I said, “for
this I use my own memory”.
Then I was asked, “Do you employ a researcher?” Again I retorted “No,
I do it myself. I would not know what to ask a researcher? As questions appear step by step you research them.” And I added, “This is really the fun part of it all.” Is this really just my life’s curse again? I was always expected to
be useless and stupid because I am an heiress.
But I suppose
my education did not include the study of poetry. Would you believe me if I told you that I do not really like it? There were, however, a few poems that made an early impression on me. I wanted to emulate them, be it just the beat of the words that I perceived,
or in some cases it was the idea behind them that left a lasting impression. They would come to mind time and time again.
I heard in school was Barbara Eliodora by Alvarenga Peixoto. This is part of the story of the first insurgence in the struggle for independence from the Portuguese. Barbara was born in Sao João del Rey in 1759, and Peixoto, though born in Rio de Janeiro,
spent his formative years in Portugal. Back in Minas Gerais he was eventually convicted for his participation in the independence plot, and exiled to Africa. From there he wrote a poem dedicated to his great love back home, Barbara Heliodora.
This is my translation into English of Alvarenga Peixoto’s poem to his beloved:
“Barbara beauty, a northern
star, whom my destiny knew how to guide.
While apart from you I sadly drift, longing and sighing the hours away.
Amid the rocks of uncouth thoughts I grow tired of searching for you.
I cannot see you, but so desire, with no hope of ever finding you.
I also wish to spend the nights and the long days with you,
But most proud and jealous fate has deprived
me of this fortune.
In your arms fond embraces. Beloved daughter you may rejoice,
my star, you with her. I search for means of my demise.”
By Alvarenga Peixoto
Another poem, from yet a another part of the world that also evokes longing for a homeland lost is the ballad Mignon Song by Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe:
"Kennst du das Land,
Wo die Zitronen blühen,
Im dunkeln die Gold-
Kennst du es
— Dahin, dahin!
Möcht ich... ziehn."
Which can be translated into English as:
“Do you know the land where
The lemon trees bloom, and the
Golden oranges glitter in the dark?
Do you know it well?
— There, there!
would like to... go there.”
And now a translation I found of the famous poem by Gonçalves Dias:
Song from Exile
“My land has palm trees where the thrush sings.
The birds that sing here do not sing as they do there.
Our skies have more stars, our valleys more flowers.
Our forests more life, and our lives have more love.
In dreaming alone, at night, I find more pleasure there.
My land has palm trees where the thrush sings.
My land has beauties that cannot be found here;
In dreaming — alone, at night — I find more pleasure there.
My land has palm trees where the thrush sings.
May God never allow that I die before I return;
That I do not see the beauties that I cannot find here;
That I do not see again the palm trees where the thrush sings.”
Unfortunately, Antonio Gonsalves Dias never saw his beloved land again.
The ship in which he sailed back home, the Ville de Boulogne, sunk in the middle of the Atlantic.
In my teens I came across yet
another poem entitled Remember. I still prefer the Portuguese version I found because the main emotion in it is a longing caused by distance, and in the original English version it talks about death.
I have recreated an English version of the poem Remember, by translating the Portuguese version I learned by heart as a child, without reference to the original English verse, and so transformed it into something else, distant from the original.
me when I am gone to a silent and desolate land,
When I am no more beside you, and only shadows grieve my memory.
When you no longer may tell me of the future that you longed for,
Think of me and of the past, and all the happiness that we lived through.
However if one day you forget me and suddenly remember again, do not cry.
If in the midst of all your
sorrows, remains some of the love we once shared,
It is better that you forget me and be happy, than remember me and be sad. “
The wonders of translation! Especially in poetry. It is such an inexact science. I will now quote the original, by Christina Rossetti 1830–1894.
“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness
and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”
I wrote previously about painting a true portrait of my father. But I have not forgotten the need to do the same for my mother, and for myself. My mother
suffered greatly from the vile ongoing campaign waged against our family in Belo Horizonte. As she died three years before my father, fortunately she did not live to suffer the torment of the later years.
I would not have wanted her to go through that, as it would have been too painful for her to see her children suffering. Mother did not like people speaking ill of my father either.
In spite of his infidelities she still loved him because she could only see the most important part of him - a very good person.
On hearing accusations against me I was outraged at the implication that my mother did not properly care for her children, myself in particular. The venom hurled at my father for having been disrespectful to me is not only totally false but also criminal.
I will set the record straight yet! To my horror, the inference in those lies was that we lived an immoral life at home. That was not true. My parents were both very good and dedicated parents.
It is easy to paint a watercolour of the way I see myself because I am still alive. But my parents are no longer here to raise their voices in outrage. So I will do it for them. And
I will do it through my books using words with which to paint a portrait of our lives. My story will live longer than the fabrications created about us.
I am a very fortunate person. I had a wonderful father and a perfect mother. Picturing my father as evil or trying to distance the memory of my mother from me is pointless. We were a happy family ― until the world outside caused our burden to become too heavy
Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
– Ernest Hemingway