Donald Reminisces

“Donald, go! The sign is green. Are you day dreaming?” I touched his shoulder alerting him. We had stopped on Francisco Glicério Avenue waiting to cross General Osório. These were the two busiest streets of downtown Campinas.

“Oh yes, Mother, I was. I guess this letter is going to cause a great change in our lives right?

“Right.”

“I was reminiscing. Disconnected scenes were coming to my mind like a broken and mended movie…”

He pressed the gas pedal and in a little while, I glanced at him and saw a furrow between his eyebrows. He was immersed in thought again.

******

I saw my mother and myself in the open air market in Ipatinga. We walked among the stands piled high with fresh fruit and vegetables. I still remembered the different smells as we passed by. The owners would give us samples of their fruits hoping that we would judge them the sweetest and buy. Mother usually bought one hundred oranges for the week, bunches of bananas and a couple of papayas. She would never buy apples. She’d say they were too expensive. Our maid would squeeze oranges for every meal and we would enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice with our food. I missed my mother. I wished she could stay more with us, but she had to teach so many classes. I’d wait with anxiety for the evenings that she didn’t teach. Then she’d sit by our bed, talk with us, read stories and then pray with us.

In preparation to go to the United States, she sold everything we had except the house. The day that one of her teacher friends took away the Volkswagen Beetle, I felt we became very poor without a car. I cried when she gathered piles of papers, took them to an empty lot and set fire to them. She gave me the task of staying there with a stick stirring the pile to make sure that everything would be burnt. I watched tests that I took and reports I had written burn slowly and disappear into ashes. It seemed to me we destroyed our past, our roots. Even my brother cried. He said, “I didn’t want my mother to burn our ancestors.” He meant the old stuff that we used to keep in boxes in the attic. David liked to go through them. He’d find something interesting like mom’s braids from when she had long hair, and ask her to tell about them. When I told mom that we cried by the bonfire, she hugged us and explained that we couldn’t take all that old stuff with us to the United States. ‘Things aren’t important, only people are,’ she said. Mom told us she was taking only clothes and two precious jewels, which were her two children. I felt better.

During the time in the United States we went through many new experiences. Snow. They told us it beat records that winter. I made friends with Danny and Tony. The two of them, my brother and I made a tunnel in the mound of snow beside the church. We also slid down the same mound on pieces of cardboard. We shot baskets in the spring when the snow finally melted. There was one thing I didn’t like. I felt embarrassed that we lived in the basement of a church. I didn’t want any of my friends from school to discover where I lived.

Our neighbors cried when we said goodbye. The immigration didn’t permit us to stay longer, so we had to go back to Brazil. I told them, “I will return.” When we arrived in Brazil, I remember David telling mom one night, “Mother, you wasted all the money you spent on me going to the United States, I already forgot English. I wished I hadn’t gone. If I hadn’t gone, I would be happier here. I liked the school in Germantown. When the bell rang at the end of the day, I wanted to stay longer. Here at this public school in Campinas, when the classes start, I can’t wait to go home.”

I noticed the change in mom’s expression and I said, “Don’t be mean, David! Don’t you see you’re making Mom sad?”

I would come back home from school and find dinner ready: rice, beans, a tossed salad, and beefsteak. I had mixed feelings. I was said because I wanted to stay in the U.S., but at the same time, I was happy to be in Brazil again because of the food. Here we eat real food twice a day, not sandwiches. One day, along with lunch, she left a message telling me not to play soccer with my friends but to stay home and keep my brother company. David had a broken arm.

I thought mom had gone downtown to buy a present for me. My 13th birthday was the next day. I wanted a new pair of soccer shoes and a soccer ball. When I was younger I wanted a teddy bear to hug at bed time. The truth is, I still wanted the teddy bear, but I knew she couldn’t give me those three items. She hadn’t found a job yet. We were living with the help of aunt Eunice. Sometimes I woke up at night and mom was praying aloud and crying. I wanted to grow up quickly so I could help her.

My mom must have left the present in our neighbor Lenita’s house, because she arrived without a package, and she always gave me something on my birthday.

Later that night, I was watching an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie and Mom sat beside me and started a conversation. I think she was trying to make peace with me. She had yelled at me because I didn’t want to wash the dinner dishes. I was like that older son from the Bible whose father told him to go to work on the vineyard and the son said, “I don’t want to,” but later he changed his mind and went. My brother was the opposite. He was like the younger son who, when ordered to go to work in the field, answered, “Yes, sir,” but didn’t go.

Then Mom asked me, “Are you enjoying your last twelve-year old hours?” During the commercials she told me about my birth and how I made her so happy, and that the doctor put me in the oxygen balloon because I wasn’t well.

I said, “Well it seems I started having problems since I was born.”

She got that worried expression – a crooked mouth, “No, what you have are issues common to all teenagers. They soon will pass.”

“I do have problems that are just mine.”

“Do you want to talk about them then?”

“I don’t want to talk about problems now. I want to watch this movie.”

“Alright, when you are ready we will talk about your problems.”

When the movie ended she prayed with me and thanked God for my life. While she was praying I noticed her voice got shaky. I lay down. When she gave me my good night kiss, some teardrops fell down onto my face.

I woke up during the night to mom and David talking. David was crying from the pain of his broken arm, and she had to give him pills. This is what happens when you disobey your mother. David knew mom had told us, “Don’t climb onto the garage. The roof tiles are weak. They will break and you will fall down and get hurt.” Well, he disobeyed and now he had a broken arm. Then I saw a package at the foot of my bed. I got so curious that I couldn’t sleep for awhile. Mom thought I was sleeping so she kept her light on and read the Bible aloud. “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” Then I heard her praying out loud, “Lord, I’ve looked for jobs as a secretary in so many companies. They don’t want me because I have no experience. I am tired of refusals, tired of waiting, tired of feeling incompetent. I need to take good care of my children and don’t have the means. Now I know what Jesus meant by heavy loads. Mine is too heavy. Help me Lord. I want to take your yoke, show it to me clearly, so that I can take it.”

When I opened my eyes in the morning, I grabbed the package, tore the wrapping paper, opened the box and there it was: my long desired, leather soccer ball. It smelled so good, it was smooth and firm, and above all it was mine. “Thank you, Mom,” I said and started kicking it around the bedroom.

“Donald, you have to get ready for school.”

When I came home from Physical Education that day, I am embarrassed to confess, I was crying. Mom asked, “What happened, Donald?”

“Rui threatened me again. He said he was going to beat me up after class.” She set aside the letter she was writing. “I came home before the end of the class so I wouldn’t have to fight, but the others made fun of me saying that I was a coward.”

“Boys of this age can be cruel. They sometimes use all their teenage energy to do harm. Let’s think calmly about what you can do in this situation. You came home early to avoid a fight. Are you happy with that decision?”

“No. The others think I’m weak.”

“Well then, try to talk to Rui. Ask him why he acts like this towards you. Maybe you did something that provoked his anger. If it was something that you said, say you are sorry. Say that you are for peace, that you don’t like violence.”

“Mom, you are a woman. You don’t understand. Things don’t work that way. If I say that those things, they are going to tease me even more.”

“Yes, son, unfortunately you don’t have a man to guide you in these matters. My orientation has always been to avoid fights. There is a Scripture verse teaching that whenever it depends upon you, keep peace. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t depend on you anymore. If this is the case, stand up to Rui. Maybe tomorrow you will come home with a black eye, but after that they are going to respect you. David had an experience like yours in the U.S. and after he stood up to the bully, they became best friends. Another thing that we can do is to pray. Now, how about a happier face? Come with me to the bakery so we have more time to talk.”

“After that, may I play soccer with my friends? I want to use my new ball.”

******

I watched as Donald steered the car into our driveway and parked. He sighed and looked over at me. I was so grateful to be his mother. What would this big adventure bring for him and for his brother and me?

 

Beefsteak with Onion
Servings 4

1 pound sirloin steak cut into 1/3 in. thick slices
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
4 cloves of smashed fresh garlic
2 sliced onion
3 sliced tomatoes
1/3 C of water
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Season the meat with garlic, salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Put two slices of steak into the pan and fry them on one side until golden brown. Turn them and fry the other side. If necessary,  add a little bit more oil. Fry all the steaks and set them aside. In the same frying pan pour the onion and tomatoes and sauté them until they wilt. Add water and vinegar and let it boil; if necessary, add more salt. Pour this mixture on the meat. Serve with rice, beans and steamed broccoli. Bom apetite!

Avocado Tree of Faith (continued)

I am working with Alcita to help her with this project. It is a fun way for us to spend time together and it has always been a pleasure to listen to her stories. This second post continues the first story we included for this ongoing project.

Just a small note: I actually made a flan following the recipe included in this episode. We served it to some new friends and it was a hit. Ok, if I can do this, so can you. Read and then give the recipe a try. As always, your feedback is the greatest joy for us both – especially Alcita.
Thomas

******

Let me refresh your memory. I received a very important letter, an answer to a specific prayer, and went to wait for Donald, my oldest son, in front of the company where he worked. I was excited to share the news with him. We were returning home and my thoughts drifted to the past, when we were praying for a house, and Donald, four years old then, showed his faith by planting an avocado seed to take to our new house. Here we go.

******

The wait continued. Everyday, on my way to teach English to the women, I’d drive my Beetle beside Bela Vista, the neighborhood Usiminas was constructing. It covered two hills and a valley in between. I’d look at the many houses without roofs. Workers, like ants, kept busy going up and down in their labor. A few days later, I’d see young trees planted by the sidewalks. Every time I passed there, I’d pray, “Please, Lord, reserve one of these houses for me. You know my needs. You are the owner of all the riches of this world. Everything belongs to you and not to humankind. The earth, and the good things that are on it, belongs to you and they exist for us to use them and take care of them. Make it possible for me to live in one of those houses and call it mine. Only you, God, can turn this dream into reality.”

The following year, after the Carnaval, the big boss, Mr. Coelho, made an opening day speech at the school. Besides other subjects, he said, “I am very happy to announce that for the first time in the history of St. Francis, the teachers who don’t own a house can sign up to buy one. You will compete with the hospital and Usiminas employees. Your time in the company, level of income, and number of children are going to be taken into consideration.”

He kept talking and my thoughts drifted into prayer. ‘You see, Lord, the longer the worker has been with the company the more preference she or he has. This is my first day on the job. The higher the income, the better their chances are. I am starting with just a few classes; therefore, I’m going to be making little money. Some workers have many children. I have only two. It is not humanly possible for me to buy a house. Nevertheless, I believe in Scripture. For there is nothing God cannot do. You can change this situation.

Working at St. Francis meant passing by Bela Vista even more frequently than before. The red tile roofs of the new houses glowed in the sun. The smell of the paint on the walls and of the hot asphalt spread on the streets would reach my nostrils. An army of workers kept busy everywhere. With wide-open eyes, and paying attention to the traffic, I would pray, “I believe that you have reserved one of those houses for me. This neighborhood belongs to you and not to Usiminas. According to your will, permit me to have one of them.”

One morning, my husband called me excitedly.

“Alcita, come here, hurry!” They were announcing on the local TV news that Bela Vista was finished and the houses would soon be distributed among the many departments to allocate to the workers that had been selected.

I called Maria and asked, “Where is your husband’s office? I needed to talk to him.”

“You don’t need to go to Paulo’s office to talk to him. Come here at lunch time.”

“No way, Maria, I don’t want to bother you.”

“You are a friend. I’m going to ask the maid to put one more plate on the table. Come, have lunch with us and talk to Paulo today.”

“Well, if you insist, I will.”

“I’ll be waiting for you then.”

I drove up the winding road that ascended to Castelo, the rich neighborhood for the engineers. This time, not to teach English to the managers’ wives, but to have lunch with one of them. I parked in front of this enormous two-story house, with a second floor balcony that ran the entire length of the building. Four white columns resembling an ancient Greek temple supported it. I could hear the buzz of the bees going from flower to flower in the garden bordering the path as I walked up to the front porch. I could smell the sweet scent of roses. ‘This is a castle, compared to my humble rented house,’ I thought, as I pressed the bell on the front porch. A maid in a blue uniform welcomed me in. She guided me to a spacious living room where Mr. Coelho and Maria waited for me.

After the greetings, Mr. Coelho said, “Alcita. I don’t have much time, so let’s go to the dining room and eat right away.”

We had beef stroganoff, rice, and a mixed salad of lettuce, palm hearts and tomatoes. While we ate a fluffy flan for desert, Mr. Coelho said, “So, Alcita, Maria said you wanted to talk to me. What can I do for you?”

I took a deep breath, while praying in silence, ‘Put the right words in my mouth, God.’ Then I started my small speech, “My husband worked for Usipa Club for 5 years and never had a chance to buy a house from Usiminas because Usipa’s workers are not considered Usiminas’ employees. But, we at least had a house to live in for free. Then they fired him.  We had to move away from that house, and pay rent. For more than a year, he was unemployed. I had to make ends meet with what I earned giving private English lessons. Recently, he started teaching at the Methodist School, but as you know, most teachers don’t make enough money. We desperately need to buy a house to stop paying rent.” Mr. Cordeiro had a wrinkle of concentration on his forehead. His attention was only broken for a few seconds when a humming bird entered through the window, flew around the room and left.

I continued, “I heard your inaugural speech the first day of school and noticed that according to what you said, I am not qualified to buy a house. In my opinion, the person who created those rules forgot to take into consideration the workers with the greatest needs. If they had, I would certainly qualify. I know you have the power to make decisions concerning this matter. However, I also know that you have rules to follow. I just wanted a chance to share my situation with you and ask if there is a small possibility for me to get a house this year. If there is not, I understand and will wait for another opportunity. I’m sorry to have bothered you at your lunch hour.”

Mr. Coelho looked at Maria and his expression softened then he turned his gaze and spoke to me. 

“Alcita, I understand your problem perfectly and don’t be embarrassed thinking you are bothering me. I would do the same if I were in your situation. I am not going to promise anything, but you came at the right moment. I’m leaving now for a meeting where Bela Vista’s houses are going to be distributed among the many departments, to be allocated to their workers. I’ll see what I can do.”

On my way back, as I drove by Bela Vista, I prayed again, “Lord, I did everything I could. The rest I lift up to you.”

Next morning, the principal of St. Francis’ telephoned, “Alcita, could you come here now, I need to speak to you personally.”

I entered my Beetle and, passing by Bela Vista, I prayed, “God, keep one of those houses for me.”

I kept wondering what urgent subject the principal wanted to discuss with me. Could it be that the daytime English teacher, who had most of the classes, had gone to the hospital to deliver her baby and the principal needed me to substitute for her immediately?

In his office, he beat around the bush in the Brazilian way. Finally, when I was wondering why he was taking so long, he came to the point. “Alcita, yesterday in a meeting where the ownership of the houses in Bela Vista was decided, only two were set aside for the teachers: one for the full-time teachers and one for the part-timers. The one for the full time teachers was chosen by lot and Mr. Medina got it. As for the one for the part timers, Mr. Coelho said it was for you. So, I need to confirm with you if you want that house.”

“Of course I want the house,” I said, my voice choked with emotion. “I’ve been praying for it for more than a year.” Then he showed me the plan of the house, its value, and the down payment. I could barely see or hear him as my thoughts floated above it all. Nothing seemed real, though I was conscious of one thing: I didn’t have the money for the down payment. However, I knew that at the right time, God would give me the resources to come up with it.

“Go to Usiminas’ central office to get your house key. You can move in whenever you are ready. Later, when Usiminas calls you to sign the papers, you must pay the 20% down payment. Congratulations to you on acquiring a brand new house!” He got up, came around his desk and shook my hand.

My eyes flooded with tears as I drove back by Bela Vista.  “Thank you, Lord, for guiding me to talk to the right person at the right time. I praise you with all my strength and gratitude. One of those houses is mine. I give you ten thousands thanks!”

That same day, with great excitement, my husband, our two children, my mother-in-law, the maid and I squeezed ourselves into our Beetle and drove through the empty neighborhood. We looked for the address written on the tag attached to the key. We all laughed nervously as we searched for our own, new house.  

“Here it is,” my husband said and parked the Beetle.

“Great!” I said, after getting out of the car and taking a quick look. “It couldn’t be better located. I’m so happy that it is on a corner with a big space in front for a garden and a spacious back yard for the boys to play.”

“And we can plant my avocado tree,” Donald said with a big smile.

I kept talking excitedly to myself, “The house’s walls are white and the doors and window sills grey. A brand new house and it belongs to us. Unbelievable!”

Exploding with joy, I put the key in the lock, turned it and opened the door. My heart skipped a beat at what I saw. I yelled, “God answered my prayer in its smallest detail – the vinyl floor!”

We moved the next day and brought with us the avocado plant that had sprouted and was about two feet tall. We called it the Avocado Tree of Faith. My husband dug a hole, and planted it. The ground was hard and dry but with care the plant kept growing. It was a reminder that God is merciful and cares for our needs.

******

Pudim (Flan)

Ingredients:

4 eggs
1 can sweet condensed milk (14 oz.)
1 can milk (measured in the same empty can of condensed milk)
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup hot water

Make a caramelized sugar syrup first. Pour the sugar in a saucepan and set it on a medium high burner for 13 minutes. Stir three or four times. When the sugar is completely melted, dark and boiling, remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly pour in the ½ cup of hot water. Stir well. Return the saucepan to the burner and bring it back to a boil. Let it boil and melt for five minutes on medium heat. Set it aside.

 Preheat the oven to 260 degree.

Mix the eggs, milk, condensed milk, vanilla, cornstarch and salt for about 20 seconds in a blender.

Use half of the syrup to coat an appropriate flan pan or a 10 in. wide, 2 in. deep glass pie pan. Pour the blended mix into the coated pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the flan becomes light brown. 

Remove from the oven, let it cool and pour the left over syrup on top. Cover it with aluminum foil and refrigerate it.

“Bom apetite”.

A Taste of Brazil: Part 1

For seven years I had thrown myself wholeheartedly into an adventure in prayer. The answer flew in from far away in the form of a letter. These days God doesn’t use winged angels to deliver messages. God uses people – in this case David Trembley was God’s messenger. I couldn’t contain myself. I literally jumped up and down. After seven years of praying, God had answered me with a resounding “yes!”

I needed to share the news, but my son David was at school. My other son Donald and my sister Eunice were at work. So, bursting with excitement, I went about my household chores with great energy. The plates shone more brightly when I washed and dried them, the newly mopped tiles on the kitchen floor seemed greener than ever. I started ironing. No, that job was too monotonous, didn’t match the surge of vitality in my chest. I put the iron aside. I just couldn’t keep the news to myself any longer. I grabbed the letter, jumped in my Volkswagen Beetle, drove to where Donald worked and waited in front, inside the car. When he came out and recognized the blue Beetle, he approached, worried. “What is going on, Mom?” he asked.

“Get in and I’ll tell you.”

I handed him the letter. When he finished reading it, he asked me incredulously, “Does arranged marriage still go on?”

“Yes, sometimes. Especially with older people.”

I took the passenger’s seat and Donald drove. He didn’t say a word after that. He took the roundabout way through downtown. I guessed he needed time to think about the content of that letter and how it would change our lives forever.

I also kept quiet. I was enjoying my feelings of great anticipation. I’ve heard that when people are dying they see their whole lives passing before them in a matter of seconds. Well, I was not dying. In fact, I was just starting to live. Watching Donald drive, my mind wandered back. This day represented years of prayer and faith in God. Years ago he played a part in another story of faith and prayer.

******

The Avocado Tree of Faith

“I’m so tired,” I sighed while installing my audio-visual equipment for teaching English to a group of engineers’ wives in the Castelo Club created by the steel mill Usiminas. Without thinking, I complained out loud, “Yesterday, instead of resting after church, I spent hours making pão de queijo.”

“Pão de queijo, yum!” said Maria Coelho, one of my students who had arrived earlier than the others. “My mouth waters when I think of the ones that my mother used to make. I ask every woman that comes to work for me if they know how to make pão de queijo and none of them do. Isn’t that interesting? The people from this region of the state of Minas Gerais don’t know about pão de queijo. By the way, the ones you brought me the other day were delicious! Thank you very much. I didn’t give any to the children. Paulo and I ate them all.”

“If you want I’ll bring you some that I kept in the freezer.”

“Oh, that would be great! Paulo loves them. He learned to eat pão de queijo when we were dating. Once I asked my mother for the recipe. She said, ‘there is no recipe. You have to learn by observing other people making them.’ Well, I never did. Do you think you’d be able to write down a recipe for me?”

“Sure, no problem.” The other wives didn’t care for this kind of food. They didn’t grow up eating the regional delicacies of Triangulo Mineiro and Goiás. For Maria and me – these were the tastes of our childhood.

“You know, Maria, just like everybody else, I dream of owning a house and ridding myself of rent. But, my husband and I don’t have the means to buy a house.”

“Can’t you buy one through Usiminas?”

“No. Even though my husband works for the Usipa Club, he’s not considered an employee of Usiminas.”

“So why don’t you finance a house at the bank?”

“Oh, Maria, you don’t know what it is like for me. I may have a good education, but private teaching doesn’t make it possible. I’ve been married to Sebastião for five years, and we’ve never been able to save a penny. Banks only lend money to people who have property for collateral.”

“I know what you mean! I haven’t always had it easy. Now, since marrying Paulo, my economic situation has improved. With a department head income, we’ve been able to save.

“That’s the difference. With my husband’s income as a swimming coach and with what I make, no bank would lend us money to buy a house.”

“I have an idea. Why don’t you fill out an application to teach at St. Francis School? It is one of the Usiminas Foundation’s projects. Paulo is the head of that department. The school will need more teachers next year, and for the first time the teachers will have the opportunity to buy houses from Usiminas.”

“I’ll do that then, Maria. Thank you very much! I am praying night and day for God to resolve this situation and I trust that He will. Meanwhile, I’ll do what I can.”

“I’ve never prayed for anything. What do you do?”

“Oh, Maria I’ve had wonderful experiences with prayer. When we have time, I’ll tell you some of my stories. You just talk to God about your desires and trust that He hears you. Then you wait. Right now I’m praying constantly for this house. I pray when I am working, when I am resting, when I am driving and sometimes I think I even pray when I am sleeping. To make this dream house even more touchable, I draw it. During any free moment on any piece of paper that happens to be in front of me, I draw it. The division of the rooms varies, but the floor covering is always the same – vinyl.”

“Why vinyl? I’ve never seen a house with vinyl. Have you? Mostly they use ceramic or wood tiles.”

“No. I’ve seen it only in Hospitals, doctor’s and dentist’s offices. But it doesn’t matter. Even though nobody else has a house with that kind of floor, mine is going to have it. I want it for three reasons. It keeps a house cool, it is easy to clean, and cheap.

“Interesting! You’re praying for a house”- Maria paused and with a quick movement of her head she flipped her long blonde hair over her shoulder – “with a vinyl covered floor!”

I followed Maria’s advice and took all the necessary steps. My effort was rewarded. I was hired to teach English to the high school evening classes in St. Francis. It was September, and I’d start working in February when a new school year would begin.

It was a long wait. I kept praying and waiting. Donald my four year old son, would also pray. One day at dinner it was his turn to say grace. He bowed his head and just said, “Oh God, make that Usiminas sell us a house.”

For dessert I gave each one a slice of a huge avocado with some sugar on top and some drops of lime juice. With a spoon we carved the soft pulp and ate the delicious mixture.

When Donald was done he excused himself from the table, took one of the big, round, avocado seeds lying on the counter top and said, “I’m going to plant it to take to our new house.” He put some dirt in a can, buried the seed and poured some water on top. He left it outside the kitchen door to sprout.

To be continued:

Cheese Biscuits – Pão de Queijo.

Ingredients:

3 cups sweet tapioca (yucca or manioc) starch
¾ cup water
¾ cup oil
11/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
6 medium eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 C of extra oil – to grease your hands
Preheat the oven to 350º

Measure the tapioca and salt into a Kitchen Aid mixer bowl or any other large mixer bowl. Heat the water and oil in a pan, stirring constantly otherwise it will explode. When it boils remove the pan from the stove immediately, pour this hot mix on the starch and stir well with a wooden spoon. It becomes lumpy, similar to pizza dough. Let it cool. Attach the bowl to the mixer base. Use a flat beater and start kneading the dough. Set the mixer on medium.

Add one egg at a time and wait for it to be mixed before adding the next. Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the edges, the bottom and the beater blade. Add the cheese during one of those stops. Continue kneading until the dough is soft and smooth without any lumps.

To prepare the individual biscuits, wash and dry your hands. Pour a small amount of oil in a bowl and use some of it to coat your hands. Put a tablespoonful of dough on your hands and roll it delicately to form a ball. Set the balls on a baking sheet ¾ inches apart. Keep greasing your hands as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers. This is important as otherwise you will make a mess. Scrape your hands and grease them again as necessary.

Once you have filled a standard sized baking sheet, bake them on the center rack with the oven set at 350 degrees. Let them bake for 33 minutes or until they start to get golden yellow. Usually they become hollow inside. While the first sheet bakes, prepare the next set of biscuits.

The recipe will make about 55 biscuits. They are good with hot sweet coffee. “Bom apetite!”

Tips: These biscuits are better if eaten the day they are baked. Still good on the second day, but on the third, they become too hard unless you keep them frozen in a ziplock bag. To thaw, just leave them outside for a few minutes or heat them in the conventional oven for 3 minutes. If you heat them in a microwave, they become mushy.

Talk Given at the First Presbyterian Church of Rio Verde

We will covered  2 subjects today. First, we will take a look at some families of the Bible. Second, I will provide some basic and practical principles for mothers, fathers, grandparents and anyone else in charge of caring for children.

Relationships in the family are not always perfect. It is our duty as parents to do everything possible to relate well. It is our duty to teach our children the right way.

Prov. 22: 6 says, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

Prov. 29:15 states,  A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.

In a family, you need to set boundaries. Otherwise, you have a real anarchy. It’s like a country. We have to obey the laws of the country. Otherwise, it becomes a real mess.

Sometimes the Proverbs 29 passage is translated as, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I recently enjoyed hearing an interpretation that says that the rod was the two wooden rods on which the Torah parchment is rolled up. Rod, then, could mean the correction of the word of God. Use the rod, means teach the word of God. The reader uses the rods to open the Torah. Open the Bible and read to your child. Teach the word of God to your child. You are the model for your child. You must be an example on a daily basis. In everything you do you should be an example for your child.

Now let’s look at a few families of the Bible and see their behaviors in reference to the family.

The Bible is without doubt a very realistic book. It does not hide anything, It says everything. So some examples serve as positive examples and others negative.

Adam and Eve
Let ‘s start with the first family. Everything was going well until disobedience entered. Disobedience creates distance and breaks trust. Where there is disobedience, one can expect a bad result. It is in this family that the first crime happens. Cain kills Abel.

Isaac and Rebekah
Let’s move on to Isaac and Rebecca. Rebecca’s story is beautiful. She came from far away to marry a cousin she did not know. I identify with her in that respect. Only after 20 years of marriage did she have children – twins: Esau and Jacob. Esau, in his teens, began to hunt. He put his bow and arrow on his shoulders and went into the bush. He killed an animal and brought it home.

Esau was the “Daddy’s little boy.” Jacob was the “mama’s boy.” Red light: We, the parents, can not have favoritism. Jacob stayed at home so, of course, he helped the mother or the maids in the household chores. He even learned to cook. One day, Jacob had just made lentil soup and Esau came in from hunting. Esau was exhausted and hungry, he said. “My brother, I’m starving, give me some of your soup.”

I understand this. I grew up in a large family and sometimes a brother or sister had something to eat, but only for him or her. Of course, all the others wanted a little. I remember a particular scene. My brother Nenenzinho was very mischievous. If you read Ask. Seek. Knock. A Life Shaped by Prayer, you will recognize the names of all my brothers. One day Nenenzinho was in the yard where he picked an ear of corn and baked it in the stove’s embers. All of us wanted a piece of roasted corn. So he would not have to share it with his brothers, he put it under his arm. (He was shirtless) He even spat on it so he could eat his ear of corn in peace.

Esau wanted soup that Jacob had cooked. Jacob saw an opportunity. He was interested in Esau’s birthright. He bought it from Esau for a bowl of lentil soup. Esau was not being serious when he exchanged his birthright blessing for a bowl of soup.

Much later, when Isaac was very old and wanted to bless Esau and pass him everything he had to his name, Rebecca cunningly and maliciously planned to deceive Isaac and make sure that the blessing was given to Jacob instead of Esau. This sealed the deal that Jacob had done years before. Another red alert: lies, deceit, betrayal, dishonesty can not take place in the family.

Jacob and Rachel
Later, Jacob, in his own family, also showed preference for his son Joseph. His brothers were envious and angry with Joseph.

Eunice and her Greek husband
Now let’s go to the New Testament. Eunice and her Greek husband had a son named Timothy. I looked at the Scriptural references where Timothy is mentioned. What a model son! He was converted in Paul’s first mission trip. In the second trip Paul took him as a helper. Paul had a lot of special affection and care for him and describes him as his beloved son several times. Reading all the verses in which Timothy is mentioned, we find that Timothy was a faithful, sincere, affectionate, energetic, bold, kind, and responsible son. Timothy is a precious example to us all.

Let’s read,
To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. II Timothy 1:2-5

Where did Timothy get all of these qualities and the ability to be a pastor? He was raised by parents who provided him with a religious education based on Jewish, and later Christian, principles. He learned to be a faithful man because of the influence of his family.

Mary and Joseph
There is a scene in Luke 2:41-51 where we see that Jesus caused some trouble for his parents.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Here’s the best example of family. Mary and Joseph had taught their son, God incarnate, obedience to them.

I taught in two different states in Brazil for many years and frequently told my students that their behavior was a reflection of their family. Children reflect how they were raised in their own behaviors.

Now let’s move on to a practical part. I lived with the Gordon family in Brazil from when I was 16 until I was 25 years old. I learned a lot from them. Here are some principles that Mrs. Gordon used with her children. She loved to pass on these principles so that in the future the children she raised could use them with their children. I did what I could to apply these principles to my two sons.

Here is a list of Mrs. Gordon’s principles with my comments:

  1. Be clear and consistent in your rules and decisions. Once you resolve to implement a rule, do not make exceptions. Do not say, “Today I will let you.” Or, “Ok, but this is the last time.”
  2. Present a united front with your spouse. If there are differences of opinion, discuss the subject away from the child and make an agreement. The child will quickly learn to go the father to the mother and vice versa to get permission for something the other banned. My mother is an example. After answering a question, she did not answer a second time.
  3. Give few orders but insist that each order be obeyed. Inattention to this is one cause of failure in discipline. The child learns: “Oh, my Dad, or Mom give me a consequence, but then they forget and don’t enforce it.” I have also seen parents who have too many rules. They are constantly saying no to one thing or another. Soon the child gets used to them and the parents’ remarks make no difference.
  4. Make very clear and simple instructions. When the child is very small, he will understand the words to the letter. He will not understand complicated language.
  5. Never talk badly about your child. Do not tell her that she is beautiful, intelligent and then criticize or call her names like, you are fat, you are stupid, etc. The child becomes what we believe. Encourage them by saying often how much you love them. This is enough.
  6. Do not let the child give you orders. Never give in to the child’s will if she starts crying. Let the child understand well that crying never gets you what you want. Start early. For example, I would stand at the door and not let my mother-in-law, her husband or the maid come in and get Donald when he was a few days old and cried at bedtime. The child understands very early how to bend the adult to his will. If you do not train the child, she trains you and you will stay well trained.
  7. Distinguish between accidents and disobedience before scolding or punishing a child. For example, breaking a dish while the child is helping wash dishes should not be punished. Now, on the other hand, if the child knows he should not kick a ball in the house and does it anyway. Then, if something gets broken, there should be some discipline.
  8. Do not show irritation or anger when giving discipline.
  9. Never lie to the child. Let your speech be yes or no and mean it.
  10. Get the facts before you scold or punish. Do your best to avoid injustice. When we are unfairly treated we become very angry. The same happens with the child.
  11. Allow the child to calm down before expecting him to give explanations.
  12. Teach children to put away their belongings. There should be a place for everything and everything in its place.
  13. Do not give excessive toys to your children. It is a common but destructive practice. The child will soon despise their toys and always want new ones. Perhaps they will not play with them and prefer to play with Mom’s plastic containers or the lids of pots. I was thinking about how to avoid it if every year we celebrate birthdays and friends and relatives give toys? I came up with a suggestion. Open a savings account for each child and then call and tell relatives and friends that the money that they will spend on toys could, instead, be deposited in the child’s account. This money could be used when the child is in college. Another suggestion I practiced was to hide some toys and after a month or two, swap the hidden ones for others that were in use. My youngest son, David, learned where the toys were, and when he wanted one that was hidden, he took one in use and brought it and asked me to exchange for a toy he wanted. I thought it was fair and always switched as he requested.
  14. Encourage the child to form the habit of helping at home. Starting at 5 years of age give a small task such as empty the trash. Be sure to follow through and make sure that this task is completed so that it will form a habit. As the child grows, the task grows too.
  15. Never show favoritism towards one child over another.
  16. Do not show concern if the child does not eat what is offered at meal times. She soon realizes that you are concerned and discovers that your wanting her to eat can become a game. The more you insist, the more she refuses.
  17. Be careful about making promises and be sure to keep the promises you make.

These rules are difficult to follow. Many parents give up. I think keeping strong in our desire to be good parents would be impossible if it were not for God’s grace. Fortunately we have a divine parent who loves and wants to help us raise our children in obedience and peace. Let us ask God’s help before we start the day and often during the day.

It has been my pleasure to speak with you this morning. I hope that my words and the examples I have provided will give the parents here some inspiration. Parenting is a hard job and we can use all of the help we can get.

Ask. Seek. Knock. A Life Shaped by Conversations With God – Women Suffering Injustices of Unequal Status

This is the final free installment of this book. If you have gotten interested enough and want to purchase the book, see the information at the right of the screen.

The situation for women in Brazil has improved greatly since I grew up there. But, the principle stories included in this chapter are representative of the poor status for women during the time I was growing up. Women in rural areas suffered even more than those in urban areas. It is tough growing up a woman in such a macho culture!

Chapter 7
A long shack with a kitchen in the middle and one bedroom on each side became our home for one year while Papai made bricks and tiles in this new place. Thick trees and bushes surrounded that area. Minha Santa did all the heavy work
since our mother was in the last months of a later in life pregnancy. My chore was to wash the dishes in a creek by a forest. I enjoyed that job. Bare faced curassows came to eat the leftover food I threw at the edge of the brook for them. They looked like hens and walked in pairs. Their feathers were the color of night. Frequently, a group of long-tailed monkeys appeared, jumping playfully from branch to branch, hanging by their tails and making faces at me. I considered myself honored by these private shows.

One afternoon, while doing my task, I talked with Benice, a granddaughter of my
stepfather. Her family had also come to work in the brickyard.

Benice said, “You know, Senhor Queiroz asked my father to ask Aunt Crioula if she
wants to marry him.”

“That short guy?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I doubt that Crioula wants to marry him. He’s too old for her. Besides, she likes
Jairo.” Jairo was one of the sons of the farmer, in whose land we were living.

“Every Saturday night he comes to see her,” I said.

Benice added, “I heard when my father spoke to Aunt Crioula. She laughed out loud and said: ‘Me, marry Mr. Queiroz! You’re crazy, Juca. He’s much older than I am and he’s not a widower; he’s a separated man. If he finds a woman who wants him, she has to agree to live with him without marriage.’ Divorce was not legal in Brazil until the 70s. My aunt continued, ‘Besides, Dona Florinda wants me as their helper at the farm. Now that their two older daughters are married, and it is the season to make brown sugar, she needs help.’ My mother replied, ‘What you want is to be near Jairo. But remember, I’m telling you, rich farmers don’t marry poor girls. Even if Jairo wanted to, his father wouldn’t let him.’ Aunt Crioula answered laughing, ‘Don’t worry, sister.’”

Weeks later, Benice and I went to the farm to play with Zélia, Dona Forinda’s
youngest daughter.

While we played with our cloth dolls under a mango tree, we put together pieces of
the story that each one of us had heard.

“Is it true that Crioula went to live with Senhor Queiroz?” asked Zélia.

“It is,” I answered.

“Poor Crioula!” Zélia added.

“One day, Zélia, your father, came to our house at dinner time,” I continued.

“When he arrived I noticed something was wrong. He didn’t joke, as he usually does. He called Papai outside to talk. From there he went away. Papai then called my mother for a conversation outside. After that he got his hat and also left. When Papai returned, he brought Crioula with him. She had red eyes and went straight to bed. When I woke up next morning Crioula had all her belongings packed. After a while, Papai arrived with Senhor Queiroz. Senhor Queiroz was mounting one horse and pulling another, and then Crioula went away with him.”

Benice added, “When they passed by our place, Aunt Crioula dismounted and entered the house. Senhor Queiroz stayed on his horse. Aunt Crioula had tears in her eyes while she hugged us goodbye. When she left, my mother started crying and my father said, ‘Crioula is paying for giving in to the temptations of the flesh.’

‘Yah, but Jairo also gave in to the temptations of the flesh and didn’t have to pay for his sins,’ mother argued.

‘But men are different. For men everything is permitted. She was lucky to find
Queiroz – a man who likes her and accepts her as his woman after what happened.’

‘Poor little sister,’ mother said. ‘It is a tragedy to be born a woman.’”

That afternoon, when I came home, my brother David had come for a visit. His jolly personality helped dissipate the sadness of the latest happening.

“Come here, I want to hug you, little sister, who is not really my sister. You are one
of the daughters of our neighbor, Senhor Jeremias. They had too many kids, so they threw you in the canal. You came floating down to our chácara, like Moses. We rescued you and raised you. This is why you are not as blond as the rest of the family.” teased David.

“If I am Senhor Jeremias’ daughter then you are really my brother because you and I have the same tone of skin,” I answered.

“I’m really becoming old,” David said. “My little sister is so big now that she doesn’t cry anymore because of my jokes as she used to. I am married and am going to become a father soon.”

“Is it true, David? When?” My mother asked.

“The baby is due in December.”

“How nice, my son.”

Dinner consisted of rice, beans, fried okra and yucca beef stew that Minha Santa had prepared. While we ate, David continued, “Yes, I am a serious married man, now, and I have to work a lot. I have a plantation of corn and rice. I wonder if you will let me take Doutor to help me out. Will you, mother?”

“Of course! I like the idea. He never accepted his stepfather well. You can be a father to him. He likes you a lot. I am happy for you, David. You married a nice girl, a daughter of a farmer, people we know and trust. Not like your brother Joaquim…” With the back of her hands she dried some sudden tears.

“Oh, mother, you have to accept it and stop suffering. This is not good for my little
brother or sister who is coming soon. Joaquim is happy with Almira. They already have a baby son.”

“A son! I didn’t know the baby was already born.”

“I’m telling you. You have to make peace with Joaquim. Let them bring the grandson for you to meet.”

“Alright, I can forgive Joaquim. He is still young and doesn’t realize the
consequences of what he is doing. But his uncles? They should have known that what they did to Senhor Armando is wrong, and then when they pushed Almira to Joaquim…”

“Mother, senhor Armando also wasn’t a law abiding man, you know that.”

“Yes, but one mistake doesn’t justify another. What morality allowed your brother-in-law and your uncles to call the police to arrest Senhor Armando? Their intention from the beginning was to take the women away from him. What a pity that of all your uncles only your father converted. If they also had converted, their lives would be different. They would keep away from gambling, loose women and confusion.”

The story that my mother referred to started on the land that my father’s father had left as inheritance to his youngest son, Sebastião. Senhor Armando, who had come from another region, had rented the farm.

Everybody knew that Senhor Armando had three women: Zulca, Almira, and Mara. Zulca, more courageous than the others, escaped from him by hiding in the bushes and walking until she arrived in the city, 70 kilometers away. Almira and Mara were left. Almira had five children. Mara none. Two women for a man was not something too weird in that region; my uncles João Ferreira and Lino also had two women. Senhor Armando’s women were sisters; uncle João’s women were also sisters. The scandal was that Senhor Armando’s women lived in the same house.

Aleixo, Sebastião, José (Neném’s husband) and others often spent the weekends
in Armando’s place playing a card game called ‘truco’ and flirting with his women. This situation went on for a while. Finally, after one of those Sundays, Senhor Armando reacted, “I have to end this situation,” he yelled at Almira, who busied herself by the stove making dinner while the young kids hung on her skirt. “I can’t stand being betrayed by you.”

“Betrayed? The betrayed one here is me, and I am not allowed to complain.”

“There you come with excuses and exhibiting an air of innocence. I see very well
when you stay behind Sebastião’s chair, as I instructed you to do, how you enjoy touching Sebastião’s back with your belly.”

“Me? Virgin Mary! What bug bit you today, man? You always asked me to help you
by giving signals of the cards that your adversaries have. You enjoy the easy money that you get from the Ferreiras playing truco. I was only helping you. So then why are you jealous and mad?”

“Shut up!” yelled Senhor Armando.

At that moment Mara entered the kitchen and asked, “What is happening? Why all
the yelling?”

“And you, too,” Senhor Armando turned to Mara. “I see Aleixo winking at you.”

“You’re becoming crazy, man. If you continue this way, Almira and I will have to do what Zulca did: run away from you,” answered Mara.

“Run away? You’re going to see what happens if you run away.” Saying this, he took his gun out of his waist, and pointed it at Mara’s face. “If you run away, I’ll kill you.” Almira came up from behind with an iron frying pan and hit him in
the head. He instinctively raised his right hand and contracted his muscles. The bullet hit the ceiling, as he crumpled to the floor. While he was seeing red stars and screaming ugly names, the two women left with the children crying and running after them. They took refuge in Uncle Lino’s house.

This incident created an opportunity for the Ferreiras to take away the women
from Senhor Armando. Aleixo wanted Mara and Sebastião wanted Almira. My brother-in-law went to the city to denounce Armando. The police came the next day to arrest him for bigamy. Handcuffed, he was taken to Quirinópolis and was never heard from again.

Uncle Sebastião’s wife heard that her husband was going to have Almira as his
second woman. “One of us is going to hell,” she said. “Either I kill her or she kills me. No partnership in my marriage. No way!” Uncle Sebastião backed off.

Uncle Aleixo built another house and took Mara over as his second woman. But,
what to do with Almira and her five kids? So they offered my brother Joaquim, who was still single, a house and supplies for a year if he agreed to take her as his woman. He did.

The day David went back with Doutor, mother went into labor and after two days
Jesuíno was born. He was the scrapings of the pan, as his siblings would say, because he was the last one.

Before Jesuino was born, I had enjoyed hiking in the savanna among the scrubby
trees and bushes. On one of these occasions, I met a wolf. Seeing me, it halted and I turned back and ran for my life. After that I always asked Doutor to go with me on my hikes. Now I lost my carefree life roaming the savanna. My protector was gone and I had the responsibility of watching my little brother Jesuíno. Even when Jesuíno slept, I had to stay put. So, I searched in a box of old stuff and found a book that had lost its first pages. Books were rare in our house. I started reading it.

The beginning was difficult. I couldn’t quite understand, but I didn’t give up. I learned from Minha Santa that the book was the New Testament and it was the second part of the Bible. I read about the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion and resurrection. I had so many questions, and I wanted to learn more. I commented to Minha Santa, “Jesus was the son of God and also God. I think that because He was God, He had the power not to suffer pain on the cross.”

“Oh, yes, he suffered. He was God, but He became man and came to earth to die in
our place for our sins, so that if we believe in Him, we have salvation.”

I also remembered my mother’s explanation about accepting Christ as our savior.
Minha Santa’s words then, had an impact on me and I started thinking about the
consequences of sin in the world around us, like the suffering of Almira, Mara, Crioula and mother. Crioula, because of a mistake, had to accept living with a man she didn’t love for the rest of her life. Almira and Mara were enslaved by a tyrant for many years and then manipulated like puppets by other unscrupulous men. My mother almost lost her life in that backlands giving birth to Jesuíno with no medical help. I didn’t know such concepts as social injustice, women’s oppression, illiteracy, the third world, but I noticed many things were wrong, and I plunged into the reading of the New Testament. I didn’t have a sudden conversion. The teachings of the gospel worked on me little by little.

Ask. Seek. Knock. A Life Shaped By Conversations With God – Chapter Six – Malaria and Nené Marries

Life in  rural areas of Brazil during my childhood was hard and dangerous. Folks adapted to it and thrived but some of the dangers, such as malaria, were a constant part of life. This chapter tells about some of these realities and my own bout with malaria. I tell of another very disruptive event in my life. I was the youngest child for many years and when my older siblings would move away for one reason or another, it would affect me profoundly.

Please reply to this post and share a story of your own in which you faced danger or lost a loved one when they needed to move away.

Chapter 6

A hut made of standing logs and covered with palm tree leaves became our temporary home, while Papai, my brothers and some employees worked in a brickyard. You could stick your arm in the crevices between one log and the other. The crevices hadn’t been patched with mud. The cabin had a kitchen and two bedrooms: one for the girls and one for the parents. The boys slept in hammocks in another hut off to the side.

Neném and Crioula, seventeen years old, and Lica, fifteen, busied themselves all day long with the chores of cooking and laundering. Mother carded cotton and spun it. Minha Santa, twelve, brought water from the river for the household use. Doutor, nine, and I, seven, ran and played hide and seek by the river and around the lagoons formed where the men took mud to make bricks. While doing so, swarms of hungry mosquitos attacked us without pity. We would slap our faces, arms and legs to kill them, and scratched ourselves with fury to lessen the itching of their bites. In consequence, the uncovered parts of our bodies became
covered with mosquito bites. Nevertheless, we kept having fun playing and also watching the men work. One cut blocks of damp earth with a spade and threw them into a cart. Two horses pulled it to the mill. Another worker put the mud into the mill and threw pails of water in it. This one also guided two other horses in a circle pulling a wooden bar that caused the grinder to grind and soften the mud, which then came out through an opening. The next step was to shape the mud into molds of bricks and tiles and then let them dry. The firing of bricks and tiles only happened when there were hundreds of them dried and piled up.

I woke up from a dream in which Minha Santa was sanding my leg with a grainy leaf we often used to smooth the wooden benches. I yelled and asked Minha Santa to stop it, but she didn’t. For some seconds, I was not sure if I was still dreaming. Something coarse and repulsively slimy was scratching my leg. It started at my ankle and went up to my knee. I continued yelling, and this time my voice came out clear and strong. Our parents ran into the girls’ room. By the rays of full moon they saw what was happening. One of my legs stuck out between the logs and a cow was licking it. They rescued me and then gave me sweetened water to calm me down, but I only went back to bed after Neném agreed to let me lay down on the outer edge of the bed.

One Sunday after lunch, Joaquim, David, Bedejo and Lázaro were playing cards when they heard dogs barking. The barks started coming nearer. “Well, well, what do you think the dogs are chasing?” asked Lázaro.

“I imagine it is a tapir,” answered Joaquim. There are many tapir by the river in this region.

“Alright, then let’s go hunting.” added David. Not having a gun, they took a machete.

Mother decided to watch the hunting, and we all followed her. We walked in the
direction of the ferocious barking dogs. Tall grass, bushes and small trees covered the marshy terrain in that area. The barks started to come in our direction. We were in between two lagoons. We couldn’t get away and the tapir was going to pass where we were.

“Let’s run and climb up that tree,” my mother said. We had barely finished climbing and spreading out on the thin branches, when the tapir passed with the dogs close behind.

“Alright, the danger is over,” my mother announced, helping us get down. The tapir circled and came back in the opposite direction. In a hurry, we climbed back. Exhausted, the tapir stopped under our tree. The dogs caught up with it and snapped at its hindquarters. A tapir is a brown animal, as big as a large pig. It has a long, stiff neck and can’t turn its head. In order to defend itself from the dogs’ teeth, it had to turn its whole body. The dogs drew back, went around and assaulted again. On these turns and attacks it bumped the tiny tree packed with people. We stood on the branches and hugged the trunk, which swayed with
each bump. Terrified, we watched the battle between the dogs and the beast beneath us. We trembled with fear that the branches would break and we would fall like ripe bananas in the middle of the combat and be cut to pieces by the tapir’s teeth. Finally, in desperation, the tapir jumped into the lagoon. Its legs became stiff; it couldn’t run anymore. Joaquim and David came up from behind and mounted it like a horse. Joaquim, who was in front, stabbed it to death with his machete. It was then the men’s task to drag the tapir out of the lagoon, skin and quarter it. Then the women took over. The whole family enjoyed tapir meatballs for some days.

I felt cold. Even beside the stove I couldn’t get warm. Neném, who was cleaning the kitchen after lunch, asked, “Why aren’t you outside playing with Doutor?”

“Because I am tired.”

“Oh, yes? Tired of doing what? Doutor,” she called. “Take Alcita out to play. She is
here disturbing me.”

“Let’s go play!” he said, taking my hand.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to play. I’m tired and cold.” Instead of playing, I went to bed. “Cover
me with a blanket. I am cold. I want another blanket.” Doutor got hold of another one and placed it on top of me. Doutor knew something was seriously wrong. On a hot day like that I was under two wool blankets, so he ran to bring our mother, who had gone to take lunch to the men in the brick yard. When she entered the room, my sweaty body trembled uncontrollably.

“Malaria,” mother told the girls. “I knew this was going to happen. Here we come to live in the middle of these mosquito infested lagoons and the result is this! I knew it would happen. I am returning to the chácara, today and I’ll take the three younger ones with me. I hope that Minha Santa and Doutor haven’t gotten malaria yet. You, girls, must stay to cook for the men. I pray that you have resistance to the malaria bug.”

Minha Santa and Doutor mounted a horse and mother and I another one. Even rolled up in blankets and under the hot sun of our tropical state called Goiás, I trembled with cold. After a couple of hours, we arrived home. Minha Santa stayed close and kept me company while mother and Doutor went to the woods looking for a quinine tree. They returned with a cloth bag full of bark. Mother crushed some in the wooden mortar, added water, strained the yellow liquid with a cloth and gave me the bitter remedy. “Drink it, honey, it is the only medicine for this disease. You must sleep now.”

I didn’t sleep exactly, but I didn’t wake up for three days. Strange things happened. I looked at my hands and they seemed big and hairy like a yellow monster. I tried to reason why my hands had that appearance, but my thoughts dissipated. Sometimes, as in a mist, I saw people by my side, putting spoons of soup in my mouth. Bitter soup. I couldn’t notice any difference in what I swallowed. Everything tasted bitter. Later, they told me that Doutor and Minha Santa had taken turns staying by my side and refreshing my burning mouth with
touches of cold water and my forehead with a wet cloth.

After two weeks, I got up. A few days later I had a relapse. Mother kept giving me the quinine for two months. After the attacks of tremor ceased, she gave me small dozes and only two times a day. While I was still frail, I enjoyed getting my chicken soup in bed, and for dessert and sometimes for a snack she gave me marmalade, a jelly made of quince. All the other sweets we ate were made at home. Not marmalade. It was bought in a store, and for this reason so special. We could eat it only when we were sick.

Papai finished his contract in the brickyard and had enough money for Neném’s
wedding expenses. The house hummed with excitement for the return of the rest of the family and with preparations for the wedding.

The day Neném was going to leave our house with her husband, José Lirinha, my
mother called Minha Santa and Doutor aside and ordered them to take me out for a long walk. She wanted to spare me the grief of seeing my favorite sister go away. A summer storm had ripped through the area the day before, but now the sky was blue and the sun brighter than ever. The parakeets sang on top of tall trees and the boisterous macaws ate the fruit of the muriti palms. The three of us even found some gabirobas on the bushes by the trail. We filled our hands with the greenish, velvety fruits, as big as marbles and ate. I broke some in Futrica’s mouth. Everything seemed beautiful and good, but I felt something strange in my chest that made me sad.

“I want to go back.”

“No, wait, we haven’t found murici yet,” Minha Santa argued.

“I don’t want any murici today. I want to go back.”

“Aren’t we lucky? I see a murici tree right there, see Doutor? And it is loaded with
ripe fruit.”

She left the trail and started running towards it. Doutor followed behind, so I had to tag along. Minha Santa shook the tree trunk and then we collected up the soft, small, round, yellow fruits from the ground. We ate the sweet, juicy pulp and spit out the seeds. After that I said, “I’m going back,” and started running. They followed me. I arrived home breathlessly and not seeing Neném I looked for her everywhere. “Mother, where is Neném?”

“Oh darling, come here, you’re already a big girl, but you still can sit on my lap. You see, Neném is a married woman now. She went away with her husband to live in her own home.” I hid my face in mother’s shoulder and sobbed. After a while, my mother soothed my long brown hair and said, “You just have to get
used to living away from her, honey. This is how life is. I know you are going to miss her, but you have your other sisters, your brothers and me. You can sleep with Crioula now. And, after all, Neném is not dead. She will come to visit us and we’ll visit her once in a while. Go play with Doutor.”
Instead, I went to bed, the one that Neném and I used to share. I lay face down and cried bitterly.

That separation marked my life forever. Even after becoming an adult, I always cry
when I say goodbye to someone dear. Decades later when I had to say farewell to Neném until we meet again in heaven, I suffered as if I were still a child. Even now, as I type these words, tears are running down my cheeks.

Neném opened the way for her siblings when she left the nest. With the passing of the years, the others also flew away. The remaining: Crioula, Minha Santa, Doutor, mother and I went with my step-father to another brick yard.

Ask. Seek. Knock. A Life Shaped By Conversations With God – Chapter 5 – Broken Dolls and Shattered Lives

The memories in this chapter touch on subjects that are often hard to recall and often the kind you hide from the world. I grew up in a time in Brazil when there was no formal justice. There was justice but it was often hard to obtain and especially hard for poor women. I wanted to include some of the hardships and challenges for rural people at that time. Lots has changed, thank God, since those days.

Courage and resourcefulness in the face of adversity, which I found in prayer and family is a theme of my book. I want to show that my life presented many sides of what it means to live in this world.

What memories shaped you?  I have found prayer and the relationship with others to be great sources of comfort and strength. Perhaps the same is true for you. Please share your thoughts on this topic.

Here is Chapter 5 for your reading pleasure.

Chapter 5

The sky was colored deep blue, with only occasional nimbus clouds passing by to give relief from the heat of the bright sun. I was pestering my sister to help me get ready to go to my friend’s house and show her my ceramic doll. My best friend, Zilá, had two, a pretty one with a pink face and an old one that had lost its eyes. I frequently went to the Silva’s’ to play with their daughter, but Zilá only let me play with the old one. I could never touch the pretty doll.

On one of these occasions, Zilá had gone into the house to bring some bananas for a snack. I had taken advantage of the situation and held the pretty doll. Zilá came back and yelled, “Leave my doll alone!” She attacked me with her fingernails and teeth. Frightened and hurt, I got hold of Zilá’s long hair and pulled her away from my shoulder.

Zilá’s mother, Dona Josefa, hearing the cries, came to the kitchen door, and seeing us fighting like roosters, yelled, “Pull her hair also, daughter. Beat her up! Beat her up!”

Afraid of Dona Josefa, I abandoned the fight and left running. I jumped the wooden fence and took the trail to my house. I had never crossed the marsh that existed between our properties by myself. I feared anacondas. That day a greater fear made me forget about anacondas. Crying, with scratches on my face and bites on my shoulder, I told my mother about the fight.

“Friend fights don’t last. One minute they fight and the next, they play. You should have waited for Doutor to pick you up,” my mother said as she sat in front of her loom and wove.

“No, I couldn’t. Dona Josefa kept telling Zilá to beat me up. I became afraid that Dona Josefa would do to me what she did to the girl that lived in their house.”

“What girl?” my mother asked with surprised eyes.

“The orphan named Amélia who lived with them.”

“How do you know about this? Who told you?”

“I’ve heard it many times.”

Amélia had been like a slave to Dona Josefa. She spanked the girl for no reason. Amélia could only eat leftovers. She slept in a hut in the back yard, rolled up in rags, without a mattress or blankets. One day when Dona Josefa became even more furious, she not only spanked Amélia until blood came out, but she also held the girl’s head under water until she almost drowned. Dona Josefa pulled her head out just to sink it in again. Finally, she left the girl in the yard to die. Amélia crawled away and hid in the sugar cane field where my parents worked on a contract basis. They found her three days later covered with sores and maggots. She had a fever and was delirious. They took Amélia home in a hammock. My mother put cow’s desinfectant on the sores to kill the maggots and bathed her. She treated her infections and fed her with chicken soup. Amélia cried fearfully if any man approached her. She didn’t talk at the beginning, but she learned to trust my mother. As time passed, her sores healed, her face gained color and she started answering my mother’s questions. She told what had happened to her at the Silvas’. Their two teenaged boys had raped her. One of them would hold the girl while the other used her.

One day when Dona Josefa found the boys trapping her in the hut, she poured out her anger on Amélia. “Is this how you pay me for letting you live with us? You are a disgraceful orphan, with no consideration. If I hadn’t taken you in, you would be dying of hunger. Is this the way you thank me? You are a shameless girl, corrupting my boys like this. I’ll kill you, you scoundrel!” Dona Josefa went on demonstrating that the violence of her children was nothing compared to what she was capable of.

When Amélia recuperated, my mother took her to her grandparents, who lived quite far away and we never heard from her again.

******

After my sister bathed me in the trough, dressed me with clean clothes and untangled my hair, I crossed the single log bridge over the canal in front of our house, and took the trail to Zilá’s. I felt light with contentment. First, I didn’t have to play with my friend’s old doll. I was taking my own. Second, no one needed to take me there anymore. I had the courage to go by myself now. I was so anxious to show my doll to my friend that I didn’t walk. My waist-long hair flew in the wind. In my haste to show off my new doll, I stumbled and fell down. I got to my feet holding the doll in one hand but also a piece of its head in the other. I went back home crying “Mother, look what happened.”

“Don’t cry, honey, I’m going to fix it.” She stopped weaving, went to the kitchen, put a little bit of manioc starch in a pan with some water and cooked it to make thick glue. She cut a piece of pink cloth, bigger than the broken part, spread the hot glue around the hole on the doll’s head, and put the broken piece on its place and then placed the cloth on top. “See, it’s almost new again. It’s good that the broken part was the back of the head, instead of the face. Now I’m going to sew a bonnet for it, and nobody will be able to see the mending on its head,” my mother said, trying to console her youngest daughter.

******

“What? Were the cattle financed?”

“They were.”

We were all in bed. We usually would hear only soft murmurs from our parents’ room, but that night was different. The loud talk frightened us.

“You should have asked about the origin of the cattle before you bought them!” My mother yelled.

“But Marcília, André Silva is our neighbor. I thought he was our friend, I trusted him.”

“This is your problem. You trust everybody, so you lose money in every transaction you make. But when the representative of the bank comes, André Silva will have the money that you paid him, and he will pay the bank.”

“But Marcília, this is what I am trying to tell you. The representative of the bank already came. André told them that I took the cattle to Minas Gerais, sold them and didn’t pay him. Therefore, the man wants the money from me. He’ll come in a week to get the money.”

“When he comes, you show him the receipt. You owe nothing to the bank. André is the one who owes. He has to deal with the bank.”

“The problem is that I don’t have the receipt. André said that he would give it to me later and never did. The man from the bank asked me to go to André’s house with him. André told the man, in front of me, that I never paid him, and Josué Silva, his brother, confirmed his story. There is more, hit men surrounded them, so the representative of the bank became scared. Instead of pressing them to pay, he pressed me. He said he would go after whoever had the cattle in Goiás. Since they don’t have jurisdiction in the State of Minas Gerais, and I was the one who took the cattle there, I have to pay.”

“You don’t have to pay anything! It was not you who financed it”

“Marcília, there is no justice in this part of the country. The justice here belongs to the strongest. Those people pay to kill whoever crosses them and throw the bodies in the river. They do everything in order to take advantage of others. If I don’t pay, the bank will sue me and then I have to pay even more. The man is afraid of André, he’s not going back there to charge him.”

“We don’t have the money from the sale of the cattle. It wasn’t as much as you said it would be. We spent it all already.

“I know. We have to sell our milk cows in order to pay.”
I felt a crack. Something inside me had also broken and like the mending on my doll’s head, nobody would know about it.

“I don’t believe it!” My mother shouted. “You’ve succeeded in losing everything I owned. First, my cows that you sold and the money leaked between your fingers like sand. Then you sold my land and bought these cattle saying that we would make lots of money. Now you are going to sell even the cows that give milk to the kids! It’s a good thing that this house and land belong to the three younger ones and can’t be sold without the permission of a judge. If it were not so, you would sell even this place.”

“You humiliate me, Marcília, by saying things like that.”

Papai got up and went to an empty bed in the boys’ room. I could hear my mother crying.

******

“What happened?” I asked one morning when I got up and noticed the house in chaos. Wooden boxes full of kitchen utensils and beddings covered the kitchen floor.

“We are moving to a brickyard near the Clear River,” explained Neném, while giving me some manioc starch biscuits and a cup of coffee.

“I don’t want black coffee. I want milk with coffee,” I demanded.

“There is no milk.”

“I can wait for them to finish milking the cows.”

“There is no milk, I am telling you,” said Neném with tears in her eyes.

“Why?” Didn’t anybody milk the cows today?”

“There is no milk today. There will be no milk tomorrow. Senhor Samuel sold our cows. Don’t cry, silly. Taste the coffee. I made it very sweet for you.”