Growing up my children were forced to accept the reality both parents had to work. No way around it, no pardon, no unhealthy rich uncles on the horizon, just a fact of life. Baby sitters came and went, some good, some not so much. At the beginning of the summer before my daughter was to begin first grade and my son kindergarten, we faced another black hole with regards to babysitters, with no one acceptable lined up to fill it. That summer we ran our usual ad in the local paper “two perfect angels in search of a firm hand and a gentle soul” and began the inevitable trial and error process to select a suitable “pseudo parent” for our two young terrorists.
Marta came first, a rather androgynous looking woman in her mid thirties, who I first mistook for a man. Not being a person to go by physical appearances, after checking her excellent references I offered her the job. She arrived on a Monday, and said goodbye the following Thursday when I came home to find both my children had been given a “bowl cut” while I was at work and I had to dig deeper to discern which was my girl and which my boy. Sigh.
Mrs. Smith arrived on the scene next (we never referred to her by her first name), and after Marta was a breath of all-purpose flour. Aptly named after the frozen pie crusts you find at the grocery store, she was an able hand in the kitchen, and to say her baked goods were outstanding would have been an understatement. Mrs. Smith was a well put together woman in her late forties. Mr. Smith, the pastor, having gone on to a better place several years prior to our hiring her, and on meeting her she seemed perfect for the job. Deeply religious, the children were involved in Bible studies in the afternoons and said their prayers with sincerity before being tucked into bed, but unfortunately we discovered that not only had Mrs. Smith been sharing time, in the Biblical sense naturally, with the plumber next door, but our liquor cabinet had been watered down to such a point that the bourbon now resembled the gin.
Starting to weigh the pros and cons of giving up our house and having me stay home or each of us taking a child to work in a backpack, my husband found an ad in the Los Angeles Times for live-in housekeepers, English and non-English speaking. Really? No crazy mornings trying to move two young bodies toward the door, lunches already made, laundry done, are you serious? Where do I sign? I voted yes with both hands.
To preface this, I had a very attractive young husband, you understand. Being in my early twenties, but not entirely devoid of brain cells, I felt I should be the one in charge of choosing a housekeeper lest a swimsuit model show up at my front door in a frilly apron with a small overnight bag containing her entire wardrobe.
Taking an afternoon off work I made the hour plus drive into Hollywood and locating a parking space found the second floor office space I was looking for. Greeted in the lobby by a cheery English girl, I was ushered into a larger room towards the back with several other women of varying ages already seated. I chose a chair next to a lady wearing animal prints, 9″ nails and smoking a cigarette out of a long holder (you could do that then) and waited to see whether the lady or the tiger was going to appear behind Door Number Three. Please do not put me in the cast of HELP, truly I was searching for a loving influence for my children.
One by one our names were called and I assume the others, as did I, spoke to a counselor trying to assess our needs and pair us with appropriate housekeeper/nannies. On my original paperwork I had indicated that I spoke some Spanish (4 years in high school – although I didn’t think “voy a la biblioteca” (I’m going to the library) would be of much use) and would be fine with someone who did not speak English.
It was a weird situation when they brought the women out. Felt like a cattle call of some sort which made me uncomfortable. I struggled with my Spanish and spoke in brief to each applicant. Maria was second to the last. Guatemala was listed as her point of origin on the paperwork, and in the language section next to English a rough “no” had been written. A plump faced woman in a red dress with kind brown eyes with a touch of sadness and an easy smile that showed a sizable gap in front of her top teeth. Her eyes frequently turned downward as we spoke and as my mother said after first meeting her her body was round in the middle but supported by two spindly legs giving her the look of an olive on a toothpick. For me, she was perfect.
Over the next three years she occupied our spare room Monday through Friday. Weekends she took the bus into Los Angeles to stay with her son and his family. We shared a lot of giggles. I taught her to sew and in turn she showed me how to make homemade tortillas. After much experimentation in the realm of communication, we got to a point where we understood one another and to us, she was family. I often think of her and wonder where she’s gone in her travels. For my children it was an opportunity to learn about another country and their way of life, pick up a little Spanish, and discover that “no” was no in both English and Spanish.
Have a great Cinco de Mayo!
Spicy Mexican Potato Salad
1 lbs. red potatoes
3 eggs, hard boiled
1/4 cup jarred pickled Jalapeno juice
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
3/4 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
Juice of two limes
1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp. hot chunky salsa
1 Tbsp. prepared yellow mustard
1/2 tsp. Sazon Goya seasoning
1 cup chopped celery
1 red onion, chopped
3 Tbsp. jarred pickled jalapenos, chopped
1/4 cup chopped black olives
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika for garnish
Hard boil eggs, peel and refrigerate. Slice one and chop two when ready to use.
Boil potatoes in large pot until tender. Allow to cool slightly, skin and chop into large mixing bowl. Add 1 tbsp. vinegar and two chopped eggs and toss. Set aside.
Whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, chunky salsa, Sazon goya, pickled jalapeno juice and juice of 1 1/2 limes.
Add chopped vegetables (except avocado), cilantro, olives and dressing mix to potatoes and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
Just before getting ready to serve, peel and dice avocado. Sprinkle with other 1/2 lime juice. Mix into salad. Decorate with sliced egg and paprika.
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