By Iris Slocombe
When Bert and I retired in the Lakeside area we had no intention of employing a maid. I felt I could cope well without help as I had always done. However, a friend pointed out that if we could afford it we were in effect robbing someone of the opportunity to earn money.
I wanted an older woman who would have an idea of what needed to be done, without much supervision. I met Guillermina, who desperately needed work. Her husband, Leobardo, had injured his back and was unable to do more than the minimum on their plot of land where he grew corn for the family.
Guillermina cleaned the house and was happy to do any ironing. She wanted to wash by hand in the shallow stone “Mexican washing machine” servicio sink.
She distrusted all machines, especially the vacuum cleaner! We had a dryer, but I preferred to hang the clothes on a washing line in the glorious sunshine. She willingly helped with anything, even weeding the garden, a job the gardener felt was beneath his dignity! Guillermina was totally illiterate. Her father did not believe in education for girls, saying he did not want any ‘uppity’ women in his home, though all his sons went to school.
This meant that though Guillermina could answer the phone, she could not take a message or write down a phone number. I decided to teach her myself. But she found it embarrassing, and her three children teased her. She was an intelligent woman, and had decided early on in her marriage that she wanted no more than three children. She had two girls and one son. All went to school, at least as far as the fifth grade. She found the expenses for their education very hard to meet. So Bert and I decided to help her. We went to a papeleria to buy their notebooks, and discovered the local stores charged far more than the big ‘box-stores’ in Guadalajara.
We packed her whole family in the car and headed off to Guadalajara to buy their supplies. In return she often brought me fresh corn and other veggies from her garden, and mandarinas which I used to make marmalade for sale at our church bazaar.
Guillermina was scrupulously honest. When we had to go out of town we were happy to ask her to stay overnight in our home, and to care for Bella, our much-loved Akita dog.
When she was in financial difficulties we loaned her money, and of course did not charge her interest: she was careful to repay every peso, often by refusing to be paid for her daily work until she had cleared the debt. When her elder daughter reached her 15th birthday, I was invited to be a ‘godmother’ and was glad to buy the girl’s dress for the big occasion. This made me Guillermina’s ‘comadre’ and gave me the opportunity to learn more about Mexican customs. I was surprised to find the dress was almost as elaborate as a wedding gown. There was a special Eucharist, and I was invited by the local priest to read one of the Bible selections in the village church.
By this time we were close friends. We often visited her family in their adobe home and shared a real Mexican meal with the family. Guillermina was careful not to over-spice the food, knowing I had a problem with very ‘hot’ food. Her chicken and rice were delicious.
Guillermina worked for us for years, and took care of the home while I was in hospital in Houston. Eventually she quit because her husband had a stroke and needed her to stay home. We still visit them occasionally.