August 1, 1955
On last Tuesday night, we were asked to the home of the Public Affairs Officer [Dad’s boss] for dinner, and also to meet a gal who was a friend of their maid’s, to see if she was someone we’d like. Josefina, from Spain, had just lost her job with a local family. We had been tossing around this whole maid question: what we truly wanted was some to be on call for sitting as there is much outside stuff that we are expected to take part in. Having someone around with the house in complete chaos right now seemed too much. So, we went in with the idea that if we liked her we’d hire her when we were settled, letting us live just the three of us in our new home for a few weeks.
Janie [I was 9 months old] had been a perfect angel all that day, sitting quietly in her stroller watching everyone while eleven men moved our things into our new apartment. You can imagine that all was pretty much in turmoil around here. Janie of course became tired and by the time we got to the the PAO’s she was both sleepy and hungry. As soon as we got there she started to fuss, and first their maid and then her friend grabbed her from me, thinking that they knew best what the baby needed, when all she wanted was Momma and the bottle and quiet. Well, it was a hectic night, let me tell you, with babbling in Spanish and English and Janie wailing on and on. She seemed frightened to death and it about broke our hearts to see her so truly unhappy.
[This part isn’t in Mom’s letter, but here’s another scene in the story I heard many times. After Mom fed me, she put me down to sleep in one of the bedrooms, and she’d no sooner walked back into the living room that I let out a muffled cry. The maids rushed in and found me where I’d rolled over, wedged between the wall and the bed. I was fine. Mom was mortified. And I’ve wondered if a little guilt played a role in Mom’s decision to hire Josefina.]
Well, it turned out that we were expected to hire her then and there. It was a surprise and we felt quite obliged, but we both had nightmares about Janie disliking the gal. Bob picked her up on Wednesday, and we waited to see Janie’s reaction. She loved her! We were so relieved.
And I’d also heard so much about maid trouble, that they weren’t hard-working, that they couldn’t iron, etc. I’d been doing our laundry in the hotel sink for weeks, ironing on the night stand, so our laundry had really piled up. And here, too, we were pleasantly surprised: Josefina irons, and irons and irons! I didn’t tell her what not to iron, so everything, including Janie’s cloth diapers and Bob’s underware, came back all ironed and folded beautifully. She cleans well too and keeps the kitchen spotless, water boiled for the prescribed ten minutes by the stove timer. I’m still doing the cooking but Josefina is at my elbow trying to learn; for someone with no notion of our ways, she is quick to pick up what is to be done, including setting the table using the pictures in my cookbooks. The first couple of days I thought we’d make breakfast simple by having cereal, but when the Wheaties box was empty she put a box of Betty Crocker cake mix on the breakfast table. We all had a good laugh.
We’ve had a tremendously busy time getting our things put away. The first day I was filthy, uncombed and unlipsticked. A mess. At lunch I went into the kitchen to fix myself a sandwich with a glass of milk, but would Josefina let me carry it into the living room? No, I had to come sit on the couch and be served, and had one heck of a time keeping a straight face. Josefina works till all hours, won’t even take time off as we try to insist. These gals from other countries are very lonely here, actually. They have no family and nothing to do but work. She is so happy with us, she told me, that she will stay in Venezuela until we leave and then go back to Spain. Her salary ($75) goes entirely back to her family in La Coruña
My Spanish is picking up quite quickly now with all the communicating both at home and out in Caracas. Josefina’s brand of Spanish is much purer than Venezuelan Spanish with the ends of words dropped, so the brand of Spanish I’m learning is the best kind. Good for the baby too.
[Fina, as we came to call her, became an indelible part of our family. Spanish became my first language, and that of my sister when she came along about a year later. When we left Venezuela, Fina stayed in Caracas with a Canadian family with whom we were close. Eventually, she did go home to Spain, where we saw each other again. But that’s a whole other story….]