Friday, October 10, 2008

Tia Mariquinhas (Aunt Mary)

Tia Mariquinhas (Taken from my previous journal)

This is the story about my mother’s eldest aunt, Tia Mariquinhas. When I was younger, I was known to be a very stubborn child (can you believe that?) and there were many times when I was compared to this particular aunt. I would hear it all the time: "You are just like Tia Mariquinhas!" I really didn't know about this aunt when I was a child, but I did sense that being compared to this particular aunt was not a positive attribute. However, the more I learned of her and knew her story, and some of the struggles she had in life, I came to realize that being like Tia Mariquinhas wasn't that bad at all, in fact I take as a compliment. She was not only a strong individual, but a bit of a rebel.

Tia Mariquinhas, as I remembered her, was a very small old woman who wore small round dark rimmed glasses. She wore a scarf over her head, which stayed neatly and tightly knotted under her chin. When she spoke, she would frequently adjust her scarf, as if the scarf was holding up her head to the rest of her shriveled body. She went no where without her walking stick which she used quite often.

Tia Mariquinhas was in her 80’s often walking miles at a time from place to place. Frequently she would walk to visit her sister’s homes. She had many younger sisters, so there were many homes to visit. During our summers there as children, my parents would come visit her at her home, and then sometimes drive her down to our home for the day. I remember listening to her as she spoke. She would speak, and then adjust her scarf, and she had a very distintive cackle for a laugh. The poor woman must have been pretty blind, because there were many times should stop in the middle of conversation, point to me, and ask who I was. I would get up, and bend down to where she was sitting, and let her examine my face. Sometimes I would be inches away before she realized who I was, and she would then say:

“Ahh….Julia…filha de Annihas, minha rica filha!” (translation: Oh, it's Julie, daughter of Annie (my mom), my wonderful child!)

Tia Mariquinhas did not have electricity or running water in her house. She lived in her father’s home, the home that she was born and grew up in along with her other 10 brothers and sisters. Although electricity and running water was available (her sister lived right next door and enjoyed these modern conveniences), she refused the electricity, and would rather wash her clothes in the little “ribeira” (small stream) that ran near the house, or in the stone washing board outside her back door.

Visiting Tia Mariquinhas was sometimes a scary experience. The house was old, and the stairs creaked. The house was drafty, and unkept sometimes, with chamber pots hiding behind some of the doors. In her younger day, she would cut sweet bread, and give us cherry liquor that she would pour in little tiny shot glasses. We would sip on it slowly, afraid to drink out of the glasses, for they were a little dusty. She also kept old religious statues that frightened me, and in a large room, hung on the walls were old family portraits. The pictures were just as scary to me, because none of the people in them were smiling. Instead, they all wore frowns, and appeared to be very stiff looking in bow ties and long, tight waisted dresses. The pictures were painted over with green gloomy hues, probably from the many years, and my ancestors all had piercing eyes and rosy cheeks-even the men with beards. She also had a large bed with a large mattress of straw, and hidden money.

In the backyard, there stood a large tall structure to dry her corn. When I was younger, I thought it resembled an Indian teepee. Tia Mariquinhas had a large piece of land there that she shared with her sister, Tia Rosinha. (Tia Rosinha was my mother’s youngest aunt. She was short and plump woman with rosy cheeks, always smiling) on this land she had chili peppers and sugar cane growing. We would often play there and find the little stream down below. The stream had stepping stones, and was often visited by geese. This was my favorite place in Ribeira Algualva, and apparently Tia Mariquinhas’ favorite as well.

Tia Mariquinhas could have been called a little eccentric. She longed for the old ways, and did not appreciate the modern times. She was known to be a strong and stubborn woman, a rebel even. If you got in her way, or messed around with her, she would hit you with her walking stick! One day we brought her home with us, but we had to drive into town. Tia Meriquinhas stayed at our home, and my mother left dinner for her in the oven to be kept warm. We didn’t arrive until later that evening, just when the sun was coming down. The first thing we saw under the moonlight, hunched near the bedroom window, was Tia Mariquinhas. It was quite a scary sight. She just stood there, with her glasses reflecting the moon, all dressed in black. She refused to open a light, and was too scared to open the oven.

The young Tia Mariquinhas was a thin, tall girl, with light hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was not only the more serious of her sister’s but was known to be the prettiest one. She married young to a very ambitious handsome man, whose ambitions took him to California. He promised his pregnant wife that he would return and make a better life for her and the baby. Her baby boy was born while he was gone, and died within the first year. Heartbroken, Tia Mariquinhas waited for her husband to return, but like many people who went to America at that time, he never did. The ambitious man found a new life, and new wife in California and never returned, not even to grant a divorce. Tia Mariquinhas would have never agreed to one, and she never gave up hope that her husband would return to her.

Maybe this is when Tia Mariquinhas got a little crazy, we don’t know.

She was very independent, and a strong and thrifty woman, who wore old, dark colored clothes, and never dressed up unless it was to go to church, which she attended every Sunday without fail. I am sure that some people from her time thought she was too modern in other ways. She lived alone, and she liked it that way. She didn’t need a man, though she held a candle to her husband, and we could never truly understand why. She was convinced, however, that someone was out to steal her money and gold. She had acquired some very valuable old gold bracelets from her grandmother who had lived in Brazil. She made it no secret that she did not trust her family members with her valuables, so she hid her treasures throughout the house—inside loose floor boards, behind pictures, and even inside her large straw mattress. When poor Tia Mariquinhas passed on, many of her nieces and nephews on the island had a field day looking for those lost treasures. I’m sure it was a real life treasure hunt.

The last time I went to see Tia Mariquinhas' house, it was locked and closed. One of her nephews had bought the land, and was hoping to one day fix the house and live there next to his mother, Tia Rosinha. Looking at the closed and locked windows, I kept on expecting to see her little face peering from the wooden shutters and lace curtains. We later found her walking stick firmly locking the back door. If that stick could only speak. So many stories it could tell!

I think I will take a nice walk today myself.

1 comment:

lisa jo said...

Tia sounds like a VERY interesting lady!! What a story you told about her....she reminds me a bit of my grandmother.....esp about not trusting anyone and hiding things everywhere. So interesting!

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