Lena … My First Role Model


The first time I saw Lena, she was rounding a corner in our house that broadly consisted of the doorway that led from the kitchen, skirted the entrance corner area of the dining room, then opened into a small so-called entrance hall that lay between the front door, the dining room, the living room, the wide stairs that led to the second floor, and the telephone/coat closet/ powder-room area. This was not a big house; the first floor, though, was parceled out into many very distinct areas.

My mother had told me, on the way home from the beauty parlor where she had been for her weekly appointment to have her hair done, that she’d hired yet another housekeeper. My mother’s father, as it turned out, did not care for having persons of color in a house that he visited perhaps twice a year. Nevertheless, he determined to take on the task of choosing his daughter’s ‘help.’

I’m not sure what the count was at that time, but I’m suspecting that there may have been about seven children at that point; there would be more eventually. I was 12 years old at the time, going on 13.

My mother had hired someone new, she’d said on the way home. That’s all she’d said. Any housekeeper in our house was also, perforce, the childcare provider as both my parents were full-time medical doctors. We’d had all kinds of housekeepers, mostly they been black and brown and shades in between. I was used to being cared for by Father Divines “Angels,” consequently, I was not expecting an ancient white lady, let alone one who was smaller than I was mostly because her back was so badly deformed that her face presented itself lower than her shoulders.

My mother introduced Lena to me. Lena looked me straight in the eye… sort of. Lena was, in the common parlance of the day, a person who was termed a wall-eyed hunchback. I had heard both those terms before but I had never seen them embodied. I was, briefly, terrified. That ended quickly though as, still holding our ocular connection — such as it was — she smiled at me and I could see, in one of her eyes anyway, a kindness that was heartwarming.

I was the oldest of my parent’s brood and I couldn’t help but wonder how the others would take Lena, though it went much better than I’d expected, pretty much as it had gone with me. Lena had good energy, that’s what we’d say today. She was awesome.

The time Lena most impressed me was the first day I experienced “having my period.” I wasn’t surprised by its arrival; my mother had provided me a book years before telling me what to expect. I just didn’t know what to do about it. I wasn’t prepared. I noticed it’s arrival shortly after I got home from school that day when I started to have cramps. I’d taken that sensation for a kind of stomachache until I’d headed for the bathroom and seen the dark red splotches on my panties. Unprepared in any way for this particular rite of passage, I sought out Lena. I told her what was going on and that I had pain in my tummy. She set me up in a comfy chair with a heating pad and a very small glass of crème de menthe. She told me to drink it in tiny little sips, very slowly.

When my mother arrived home from work that evening, Lena, while standing over me — sort of — told her what occurred. My mother’s immediate response was, “Thank God. I thought it would never come.” I didn’t understand her response and thought that perhaps she thought that I was, in some way, broken; but that wasn’t it at all. It turned out that she’d had some sort of ‘deal’ with my father that he would “leave me alone” once I got my period. He never did make good on that deal.

At any rate, my mother marched me upstairs to her bathroom, opened up her supply closet, withdrew a tampon from somewhere in its depths and threw it at me.

“You know what to do with that.” She said and shut the bathroom door on her way out.

After not very long in my parent’s employ, my father made Lena disappear from our home. He did not like seeing someone every day, in his house, he’d said, who was “deformed.” It broke my heart when he made Lena go away. She was replaced with an evil husband and wife team that had been hand-picked by my mother’s father to “keep an eye on us,” which they did for many years, reporting back to my grandparents in on my every date and the hours I kept. Since I’d taken after my Cuban father, I was a little brown myself and, as it would turn out, he had plans for me.

Lena remains my role model for how to be a decent human being in the world regardless of what other people may project onto me or how they may react my very being. I treasure her memory to this day.

Astrology-Informed Artist; Author of self-help books on healing with Ozark Mt. Publishers; survivor