Friday, May 08, 2009

Celebrating the Average Woman -- Abuelita Carmen


Today, I want to honor the millions of Colombian mothers who never achieve fame. Their pictures will never appear in a museum. There are no statues of them. They seem, apparently, to leave no footprint in the world. Their lives pass practically unnoticed as they diligently fulfill their roles as mothers.

One such woman is the author of many of our recipes -- Abuelita Carmen.

Abuelita Carmen was born in a very small village in Boyacá. She was the youngest of 9 children -- the only surviving girl. Her mother's husband had abandoned the family, and Visabuela Brigida -- who didn't have the best parenting skills -- was doing the best she could to raise her children on a small plot of land where she raised beans, corn, potatoes, and arracacha.

Abuelita Carmen lost a brother to the Violencia in Colombia, and she watched as most of her older brothers left the village to find their fortune in other places (Bogotá, Mesitas del Colegio, Sogamoso).

Abuelita Carmen loved to go to school, unfortunately, she only went to school until the 3rd grade (age 10). This is when her oldest brother convinced her mother that educating a girl was a waste of time and money. Shortly thereafter, Carmen was sent to live with that brother, who owned a boarding house for steel workers in Sogamoso. There, she was expected to cook, clean, wash clothes, and otherwise do the bidding of her brother and his wife -- think Cinderella.

She felt alone and depressed. Her dreams of studying anything had vanished. She felt almost like a slave. Then, one day, at the ripe old age of 15, she met one of the boarders -- a man twice her age. He promised her the moon and the stars and most importantly, her promised to take her away from the boarding house. They married when she was 16.

A year later, she welcomed her first child -- a son. Two years after that a little girl was born, Magda. When Magda was just 9 months old, fat and beautiful, she contracted bronchitis. There was no money for doctors or medicine, and so Abuelita Carmen watched as her baby became weaker and weaker. She cried as she watched her beautiful baby gasping for breath. Then, in the stoic way of Colombian mothers, she sealed up her heart when the struggling child lost her battle and slipped from this life. So strong is the seal, that Abuelita Carmen never even counts Madga when she numbers her other 8 children. If you ask, she only had eight children -- not nine.

This same stoic woman, at the age of 43, prepared lunch for her 7 children, left food cooking for their dinner, gathered a few things, and then walked about 3 miles to the hospital -- all the while in labor -- for the birth of her last child.

Abuelita Carmen has suffered much because of lack of money and support. At one point with her first six children in school, it was time to come up with the money to send her seventh child to school. The money was not there. Her husband told her that this little boy simply could not study. So, she began making empanadas and rellenas (blood sausages). Then, walked door to door to sell them in order to raise funds to send her son to school. Her diligence and perserverance paid off, and today that son has degrees from 3 American universities.

This same woman, raised eight wonderful children. Six are college graduates, two of them with advanced degrees. They work in all walks of life: welder, head of city planning, regional supervisor for multi-national company, surveyor, anesthetist, computer science, and homemaking.

She is a woman of strong faith, strong opinions, and just plain endurance. She has a love for others. She is kind. She is friendly, and she is always helping someone. "There has always been someone more needy than me," she told me once. "So, I have a duty to help them. Maybe it is food, maybe a little job, but there is never a beggar than comes to my house that doesn't leave with something. It could have been me. My God is very Great!"

Abuelita Carmen emblemizes so much of what is right with Colombia. NO, she is not perfect -- no one is. But, she has left her mark. She has raised her kids to love and respect her, and their community. Each one has a good heart, and isn't that the measure of a successful mother.

So, to all of the wonderful Colombian mothers, and the wonderful adoptive mothers of Colombian children, Happy Mother's Day! Remember that NO SUCCESS IN LIFE CAN COMPENSATE FOR FAILURE IN THE HOME.

3 comments:

Pilar said...

thank you for this post it was wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Abuelita Carmen is AWESOME!!!!!

Anonymous said...

A very beautiful story. Thank you so very much.
anne