-“Don’t look at anyone during the ceremony,” my grandmother Yolanda said to Gladys, my mother, right before they were ready to leave their home in Colón to attend the wedding of one of her nieces in downtown Montevideo.
Gladys was a young, beautiful and red-haired teenager that was already turning heads but whose conservative Italian parents were raising her in an outer borough near their winery. Gifted with a good ear, my mother wanted to become a teacher of Music but my grandmother adamantly refused to buy her a piano because she might have disturbed my grandfather’s naps during her practice runs.
Rebelling against her staid upbringing, she did look at someone. My father Mario, the brother of the groom and a dashing tall young man, caught her eye; a few months later it was their turn to tie the knot. One year later yours truly was born, right in the middle of her act of disobedience.
My mother dedicated herself to take care of her children while my father pursued a career in a commercial bank, which meant long hours at his desk. My mother was always in a sunny mood and never let her two children know about her underlying frustration of not being able to pursue a teaching career and her passion for piano; only later in life did she confess that to us. But her rebellious streak simmered on and would occasionally re-surface.
One day, when I was a first-grader in the Lycée Français, I came back from school in a distraught mood. My mother noticed it when she was serving me the cafe-au-lait.
-“What’s wrong son?” she asked me.
-“Er…My teacher suddenly changed me to another room today, down the hallway…When we were practicing the alphabet, a boy next to me asked how to do the letter a…Mom, how could he not know it by now?”
-“Mmm…sounds strange. I’ll go talk to the teacher tomorrow. Don’t worry.”
In a typically authoritarian move of the rigid French educational system, my teacher (I remember her name and face very well but I will not identify her) had been upset by my hyperactive way of socializing in class and decided unilaterally, without consulting her superior or even calling my parents, to demote me to a room full of laggards of the tough learning system. And then you wonder why the Vietnamese kicked the French out in Dien-Bien-Phu…
I remember that I was promptly installed back in my room and seat the next day after my mother paid an unannounced visit and spoke with the director.
Unfazed by the incident, I unabashedly went back to my routine of turning front and back to chat in earnest. My mother was standing in the left side of the doorway feigning to be listening to two teachers on the right side of it. Over the years I learned her quaint way of dealing with stubborn contenders; she closed her eyes, slightly nodded her head and muttered the word “yes.”
Her seemingly passive attitude was the expression of camouflaged rebellion.
-“See! See!” my teacher said pointing at me. “He’s still talking around—”
-“Yes, yes” my mother said, calmly assenting. “ But he’s staying here…”
Those professionals, in spite of their training in Uruguay and an educational stint in Paris, could not handle my mother, a woman that only completed primary school.
That day I decided to conserve the great attributes of the French culture (my father’s heritage) but to develop the disarming wits and bold determination of the resilient Italian peasantry that had to learn how to neutralize many seemingly superior invaders over the centuries in order to survive. And that critical choice has served us very well.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.