Friday, September 30, 2011

With the Windows Down

Joel on his fourth birthday

I've always loved October best of all.  As a kid, I would rake up the leaves from the large maple that sat in the corner of our yard and throw them over the bank into the empty canal by our house.  Then a few of us would hike through the neighborhood, rakes in hand, asking neighbors if we could gather up theirs as well.  When we felt that we had enough, lining up one by one, we would jump into the wonderful piles of reds and yellows and oranges just a few feet below us, making twists and turns as we went, much like swimmers jumping into a pool.  The earthy smell of leaves and the sound and feel of them crackling beneath my feet stirs up such wonderful memories for me still.  It was and continues to be my favorite time of the year.

Therefore, when Angela my first daughter was born, it seemed somehow fitting that she should come in October.  She arrived during the second week, just a few days after my birthday.  The Pennsylvania trees were ablaze against the cloudless sky the day we drove home from the hospital with her, so Larry took the back way from Towanda to North Rome through the Endless Mountains with glorious vistas all the way.  Two years later, waiting just long enough for October to roll around again, Joel showed up on the first day of the month.  Fawn made her entrance three years later and Autumn, appropriately named, came four years after that.  And yes, they both made their appearances in October.

What used to be the most harried time of the year for me begins tomorrow.  My only son turns thirty-two.  A few days ago a card with a check enclosed went out,  not terribly personal I know, but he could use the money.  This will be the more personal gift to him, my words, which will come slowly and deliberately, because that's simply how I write.  I hope that he will value and treasure them more than anything monetary I could give.  He likes words, especially when they're written down, and he often expresses his own thoughts that way as well, but mostly in poetry.

Joel at eight years of age

Dear Joel:

A guy who writes poetry has to be pretty sensitive, but with that comes a certain vulnerability as well.  I remember the time you wrote something for a girl you liked in high school.  If I remember right, she returned it and told you she thought it was stupid.  Ouch. That must have hurt.  But that tender spirit has been with you since you were a young boy.   Do you remember packing up most of your toys while we were living in Honduras and carrying them down the street to Victor and his younger brothers and sisters?  After all, you figured they didn't have much, so why not give what you had.  And the year we were living in Pulaski,  you went with the youth group to help out at a soup kitchen in Syracuse.  You were so touched by the need that you dropped all the money you'd saved towards Christmas and put it in the offering bucket.  After our move to Alabama, you reached out to those on the fringe, the misunderstood, the troubled.  You even brought some of them home with you, a few of whom are still in your life.  I saw how you were down in the Bayou after Katrina hit, working in the relief effort.  I think it was then your father and I knew without a doubt that this is what you were made for, to serve.

This has been a hard year for you, one of the worst. I know there have been times when you didn't think you could survive it, didn't know if you wanted to.  But you have.  You've persevered, and with so many encouraging you, loving you and praying for you, you have made it this far.  Now it's your birthday.  All is new,  and there is no better time to reflect on and prepare for what's ahead.  It won't all be easy, but it will be good if you trust your Creator to work out the details. I want to remind you of something you wrote during the darkest of days:

How can I know the difference
In all these things that I've been shown
How do I end back up here
When I hate it ever so
My movement always halted
How will I ever grow
Will this cycle ever end
Or is it up to me to break it
New life always offered
Why do I refuse to take it
I swear this place away
Each and every time I'm here
Just feel, so, destined to fail
Yet each time becoming more clear
So I'll take this step, a tiny one
Not worried if I fall
I'll open my eyes and listen
So as not to miss the call
I'll open this broken heart of mine
Knowing it can fall right back apart
I'll pick myself up at any point
Just not quite sure where to start
I'll live this day, Just this day
And welcome what tomorrow brings
Just never again, these walls, this cage,
This pain, this death, this sting

The italics are mine, but the words are yours.  Open your eyes, listen with your ears and welcome the opportunities that your Heavenly Father brings your way.  Utilize the many gifts that He has given you, and begin to serve the "least of these."  Only you will know what that means.  Live each day in anticipation, and look forward to your tomorrows with expectancy.  And He will begin to show you what it is that you've been created for.

With the Windows Down 
            by Joel Burke

With the windows down
I hold back what I feel
Turn the volume down
No looks for the mood to steal
With the windows down
I can give the empty glance
Wait on the light to change
Then just give it the gas

And then the windows don't matter
No one else is around
Then it really doesn't matter
At my tone or my sound....
                                         With the windows down
                                          With the windows down

In my heart there's a yearning
For all the world's turning
Want to let my light shine
Against all of this burning
I can't even convey
The hurt of the day
Will just all blow away
When you hear my soul churning

And we share this short burst of life
With my heart so open wide
And you feel a piece of what I have
Of the one who lives inside

And in this day
I roll my windows down
This hurting world
Needs to hear the sound
So I will choose to sing
And take the looks I will
But in this hurting world
I will choose to still                
                                             Roll my windows down

 A Happy, Blessed Birthday Joel Keith.  I love you.  Mom

Joel with Larry, me and his sister Fawn in Alabama this past April 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marva and the Peanut Butter

I'm really struggling with this patience thing lately.  I've got a couple people in my life who are really getting under my skin, stretching me to the max.  I have already written about Marva and the challenges she brought to my life.  (You can check it out on my blog posted March 11.)  I need to continue her story, however, because even though God had changed my heart towards her, He was continuing to process the fruit of patience in my life through her.  That took some time.  Here are some excerpts from my journal during our final few months in Honduras:   

March 4, 1993
Marva called out to me as I passed her home this afternoon.  "Wait Miss Marcia, " she called.  "You've got to see my little girl!"  She carefully, lovingly pulled an 8 by 10 glossy out of the folder she was holding and beamed as I admired the pretty teenager posing with her escort at a formal dance.  "That's my pretty black baby, Miss Marcia. She's growing so much.  What do you think of my Cindy, Miss Marcia?"

Cindy, the one person in Marva's life that gives her pride and determination to live another day.  In the hell of her unhappy life, there is Cindy.  What does it matter that she's not seen her for seven years.  Or that she lives in a different world, so far away from her mother.  She simply is.  She is the one thing that Marva has done right in her life.

March 7
Marva tried to reach her daughter in New Orleans again.  She has phoned collect four times in the past week, and every time the person on the other end says that she is not there.  I feel sorry for Marva.  She knows that they're probably lying.

She didn't leave right away.  I ended up pulling out photo albums and showing her pictures of our families back home.  And then right before she left she asked me, "Just a little favor."  She pulled out a plastic bottle, and I thought for sure she was going to beg some more Vaseline.  But not this time.  "Could I have just a little peanut butter?" she asks.

I would rather spare my Vaseline!  Peanut butter is this family's most precious commodity and I told her so.  But I pulled out my last jar and dished out a few tablespoons into her container.  Fawn had been standing there observing everything when suddenly Marva orders her out of the kitchen.  "Leave and don't be looking at me!" she says.  "I was raised as a little girl not to be hanging around the adults when they were having a conversation."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  No one was going to speak to my child like that in her own home.  I looked Marva directly in the face and told her that I was appalled.  Unless the conversation was a private one, Fawn had every right in the world to be in the kitchen.

You misunderstand, Miss Marcia!  I'm not telling your daughter to leave."

"Then exactly what were you saying?" I demanded.

"You misunderstand me," she kept saying.  "Oh, Miss Marcia.  You are "wexed" with me, aren't you?"  Pleased don't be "wexed" with me.  I'm just ashamed to have to ask for the peanut butter."

I responded that I was not vexed with her, but that if she was too embarrassed to have to ask me for the peanut butter, and if she couldn't ask for it in the front of my daughter, then she shouldn't have asked for it in the first place.  That woman!  She makes me so impatient and angry at times.

March 10
Marva was back to use the phone this morning.  Fortunately, it was just a local call to be made.  Afterwards it was, "Miss Marcia, could I just be asking a little something.  Just a little skin cream is all I be asking."  So I gave her some Vaseline Intensive Care and sent her on her way.

April 13
Marva came to use the phone, but I think she's lonely more than anything.  She always stalls and wants to talk.  And if she can manage it somehow, she gets something out of me.  Today she asked me for the leftover egg salad that she saw in the dog dish. "Could you let me have that, Miss Marcia?" she says.

At first I thought I had misunderstood.  Food out of a dog dish?  She was serious. "Marva, that's there for the dog.  He's already eaten a bit and it has dog food mixed in with it."

"It doesn't matter." Marva had nothing in the house to eat.  Her Mr. Albert would be bringing her something at the end of the day she assured me.  But in the meantime, she was hungry.  So I gave her half a loaf of bread.

April 15
I told Marva this afternoon that we were leaving this summer.  At first she misunderstood.  She thought I was speaking of vacation, but I explained that there was a good possibility that we would not be returning to Honduras and that someone else would be living in this house.  At first she didn't say a word.  Then the tears started down her cheeks and she began to rock back and forth.   Finally she said, "Oh Miss Marcia,  nothing good ever lasts."  She started talking about all the hurts and disappointments in her life.  Her mother had lavished her with gifts sent from the States when she was young.  Even as a teenager, her mother sent her beautiful dresses from California. "I was dressed the best of anyone in the whole Panayoti Store," she said.  "I had my teeth and I was an aristocrat.  Some day you'll see Miss Marcia.  I'll have my new teeth and wear shoes and pretty dresses again.  You'll see."  And then she paused.  "Nothing good ever lasts."

April 20
I lost it with Marva today.  She came over this morning to say that she was on her way to the emergency room.  She has a tremendous amount of pain in her back and sides and wasn't able to sleep all night.  It sounds like a possible kidney infection.  She had stopped by to see if someone was going to town and might be able to drop her off at the hospital, but since our car was in the shop this morning, that was impossible.

I admit that I get tired of seeing her everyday, and sometimes it is so difficult to get rid of her.  I kept trying to get her out the door telling her that the sooner she was at the hospital, the less time she would have to wait for admittance.  But she just didn't seem to be in any great hurry.  She told me that Mr. Albert had given her money for the emergency room.  Good!  But she needed a little more to take a taxi.  So that was it.

"Marva," I spoke not too kindly.  "Why can you never come here without asking me for something?"  And I pulled some change out of my purse and handed it to her.  But she refused to take it.  The look of shock on her face surprised me.  I didn't think that what I had said would affect her.  Then she began to cry.

"No,  I don't want the money.  Oh, Mr. Albert was right.  He told me that I shouldn't be asking you for things.  I feel so bad,  I feel so bad."

And then I felt bad!  It's not her fault that she's sick.  I hurt her very deeply by what I said.  I could have just said no and left it at that.

It took her several minutes to calm down and for the tears to stop.  I apologized repeatedly for what I had said, and as it turned out, she did finally take the money.  Humanly speaking, I suppose I was justified in what I said to her.  But in the spiritual realm, I was unkind and insensitive.  My past experiences with Marva have shown me that she is quick to forget when I have been rude or abrupt with her.  Hopefully, this time will be no exception.

April 21
Marva did come back yesterday afternoon to let me known that she just had a small infection.  I guess I'm forgiven.  Clark and Linda Huffer, good friends from Topeka, Kansas have come to work and be with us for a week.  She brought us several jars of peanut butter.  I took one to Marva, partially because I know she loves peanut butter, and also to let her known that I truly am her friend.

May 1
Marva was here three times today.  Larry should never have told her that his father is ill.  Besides wanting to use the phone now, she has to make at least one trip a day just to ask about how he's doing and to assure us that she's "always remembering him in her sweet prayers."

May 14 -The day after Larry called from the States to tell me his father had died:

I don't want to think right now.  I don't want any demands put on me.  Marva was ready to kill both her neighbor and Mr. Albert last night.  She had a crowbar ready, stowed underneath her porch.  But it's as if she knows I can talk her out of her anger.  So she came looking for me, seething with rage.  I walked to her home and found her almost irrational.  She was so angry, pacing back and forth, unable to stand still.  I never did fully understand why she had murder in mind, but "her enemy" had blatantly insulted her, and Mr. Albert did not come to her defense. So she was going to do them both in.

Emotionally, I was exhausted. I didn't feel like talking her out of killing her neighbor and Mr. Albert.  I don't think I even prayed for wisdom this time.  Finally, when she decided to take a breath I said, "So you'll be just like them, Marva."  And I said the same thing three times.

She looked at me.  "What do you mean, Miss Marcia?"

"Jesus could have have lashed out at those who hurt him, Marva.  He's God.  He could have destroyed them.  But he didn't do a thing.  You'll be just like them, Marva.  Just like them."

"Just don't do anything, Miss Marcia?" she stood there with her toothless mouth hanging open.

"Don't do anything Marva."  And with that I left.

She was at my house early this morning.  "Oh Miss Marcia.  Thank you so much for keeping me from killing my neighbor and Mr. Albert.  I just got the news that my brother is here!  He's coming to see me today, and if you could lend me four lempiras to get a cab to buy some different clothes so I could be seeing him looking all nice, Miss Marcia!"

Well, at least for today Marva is thinking about other things.  For today, she's "normal."  And just maybe she'll not think about killing anyone for a long time.  At least not until I am gone from here.

May 23
Marva showed up at church tonight!  She has said all along that she would be there some evening before we leave.  I must admit that I really didn't believe she'd come through.  But she did, she did.  God bless her.

A Postscript:
Larry and I would see Marva once more when we returned a few years later on a ministry team.  On finding out that we were coming, she sent a letter with a list of items that she needed.  I still have that letter asking for a blanket, some sheets,  a black or brown sweater, a pair of size 12 shoes, some skirts, blouses, a bottle of perfume, some curtains for her front window and two jars of  peanut butter.  Larry and I packed up what we could between our two suitcases.  She was extremely pleased.  

About six months later we received a letter from the missionaries who had moved into the mission house and had become Marva's neighbors.   It's postmarked June 6, 1998.  Here's a bit of it:

Dear friends....We wanted to let you know of the death of Marva, our neighbor.  She entered the hospital Atlantida (government-run, deplorable conditions) for a month for treatment of a long-term infection in her leg.  When she came out, she was having trouble breathing-shortness of breath.  Though she received some treatment for her breathing problems, she died waiting for money from her uncle, so she could go to D'Antoni or Centro de Salud....So much of her life was sad.  Your family's care for her was a source of much encouragement.  Her daughter Cindy did not see her before she died though she had been notified of Marva's illness.  Sorry to be the bearer of sad news, but we thought you would want to know of her death.

Final Thoughts:
I still think of Marva, especially when the demands of people or ministry begin to wear on me.   I recall my sadness at the news, but I also know that I had no regrets where she was concerned.  There will always be the Marvas in my life. I just pray the lessons learned during those years will stay with me, and that when I'm called upon to give up something precious, kind of like that peanut butter, I will do it in a way that pleases my Father.

This picture was taken in La Ceiba, Honduras in 1997.  This was the last time I saw my friend Marva.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Piano

Last week there was some catastrophic flooding going on not too far from here.  The county right to the south of us got hit real bad and to our west there are lots of homes and businesses that were under water as well.  They've got some work ahead of them:  cleaning up, drying out and then rebuilding.  I know. Our family was in the same place once.

It was the summer of 1972 and my dad was about to complete an extensive remodeling project on our home.  The house was well over a hundred years old when we moved there in 1956 and it needed lots of work.  He started by working on the bedrooms upstairs then progressed  to the ground floor.   He tackled the bathroom first, then went on to the kitchen.  I still remember my mom preparing food in the garage where my dad had set up her appliances.   I'm not sure how long she cooked out there,  but it was probably for several weeks, especially considering how much had to be done.  My father had saved the living room for last, and he was just within days of finishing.  The wall paper had been replaced with new wood paneling, and where the linoleum once was,  there was now gold-shaded carpet.  All it needed was to be secured and the baseboards put in place.  What had been started so long ago was almost done.

It was Thursday, June 22nd.   I was in the dining room playing our old upright piano when I saw my mother walk through with a couple of lamps, heading towards the stairs.  We had attended a concert at church earlier that evening but there weren't many there.  It had been raining for several hours, and there was news of some possible flooding.  It was still coming down hard when we got home.   I got up off the piano bench and started carrying things upstairs, still not quite believing that all this hauling was necessary.  I didn't know it, but that would be the last time I would ever sit on that bench or play that old piano. Within an hour, water from the Allegany began to fill our neighborhood forcing us to make a hasty retreat for our neighbors who lived across the way.  They were lucky, they had the wonderful fortune of living on a hill.

Hurricane Agnes had hit with a vengeance.  After the waters receded and the damage was accessed, it would prove to be the costliest storm up to that time in U.S. history.  All I knew was that our little street in Weston's Mills was a mess.  As soon as they were able, the firemen came through and starting at the one end of Chestnut Street, turned their high-powered hoses on and began the task of forcing the several inches of mud out of each home.  The piles of water-logged couches, worthless appliances and anything else that couldn't be salvaged was piled up at the end of each driveway waiting for the trucks to come through and haul it all away.

There is a picture somewhere that shows our newly-laid carpet rolled up on top of the piano.  It was naturally longer than the old upright and one end is shown hanging over the side.  The part that hangs is wet and dirty, the rest is clean and dry.  Thanks to my father's quick thinking and the height of that instrument,  the carpet was saved.  Not too many days later he hauled it up to a friend's yard, spread it out and thoroughly cleaned it.  Several months later he laid it once again, but this time he tacked it down, securing it firmly into place. He had finally finished the job.

The hardest thing to remove from the house was the piano.  Naturally it was heavy, the old uprights were never easy to move.  But it was more than that.  It had a history.  It sat in my grandparents' home for many years,  having been purchased by my mother for her youngest brother and sister, both several years her junior.  My grandfather was crippled, unable to afford such a luxury.  But my mother saw the potential in both of them and somehow knew they needed this. My aunt told me recently that it could easily have been her salvation, keeping her occupied for hours and away from things that could have been potentially harmful.

For me, it was the first one I played and loved.  Whenever we went to see my grandparents, my favorite thing to do was sit at the piano, at first playing what I could by ear and eventually adding songs from my lesson books.  I had been taking lessons for awhile when the piano was moved from the little house in Farmer's Valley to our place in Weston's Mills.  There was no comparison between the ordinary upright I had been using to the instrument that now sat in the dining room.  It had the most wonderful touch and tone,  for me it was perfection and an absolute delight to play.  And I did, everyday.

My sister thinks it was my Uncle Glade who helped my dad push the piano to the end of the driveway.  I wasn't there, but I had touched it for one last time shortly after it was taken out of the house.  It's been almost forty years, and still that moment stands out more than any other.  I reached down as if to play a note, and the key broke away beneath my finger.  I had expected to hear something come out of it, but there was nothing.  No sound, just silence.  Later, my mother watched as the piano was wheeled away from the house to the trash pile. The two men had just a few more feet to go when suddenly music came out from deep within the belly of that old worn and weary piano.  One last time.  And it was at that moment my mother saw my father cry.

A few weeks after the flood, my mother asked me to go for a ride with her one evening.  We ended up at a home where there was a spinet piano for sale, and she wanted me to try it out.  I said it would do, and she wrote out a check for four-hundred dollars that same night.  It was the first major thing I remember her replacing for our home, for me.  At least I thought so at the time.  But maybe it was for all of us.  Because in the midst of what must have seemed insurmountable, she knew that we needed the music again.

The little spinet sat in the newly remodeled dining room for several years.  My sister Dawn has it in her home in Maryland now.  It's fine with me, as I was never particularly attached to it anyways.  It fulfilled its purpose.  It brought the music back and kept our home filled up with it for a long, long time.  As for me,  I've had several pianos since then including a couple spinets, some nice consoles and even a medium grand.  But I don't miss any of them.   It's only that old upright that graced our home until the rising waters silenced its song that still holds my heart. 

This is my young neighbor Stacy Lowe playing the piano at our house several summers before Hurricane Agnes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Yard Cleaner

There's a number of food pantries around the Elmira area.  It's understandable, times are hard and it's nice that churches and such are able to distribute food that would otherwise go to waste.  But there are problems.  From what I understand, they're being inundated with people who move from one location to another packing as much food as they can into their containers, taking more than they really need, putting heavy demands on those who are simply trying to help their neighbors.  Therefore, several of the food pantries have decided to close as they are simply unable to deal with the sheer quantity of these scavengers.  I can't help but wonder how many of these people are actually motivated by hunger or if it's just the idea of getting something for nothing.  I tend to think it's the latter.

I can't say that I've known real hunger.  Let's face it,  we as Americans are pretty pampered.  No nation on the face of the earth takes care of its people as we do, and I for one am very grateful for the privileges I have because of the stamp on my birth certificate. I'm certainly not saying that we don't have hungry people inside our borders, I'm sure we do.  But for the most part, we really don't have a clue as to what it means to struggle to get something to eat everyday.

During our years in Honduras we lived directly across the road from the Caribbean where the ocean breeze was constantly blowing stuff off the street and into our yard.  When our co-worker Lydia Hines lived there, she'd hired an old woman by the name of Maria to sweep around the mission house and rake the yard.   After our family moved in, she asked if I'd mind keeping Maria on as it was the only way she could support herself and her daughter.  "Just give her a few lempiras and some beans and rice," I was told.  "She'll be quite satisfied with that."  That's how Maria came to work for me, and she showed up faithfully almost every Saturday.

As time went by, I found out a few things about the old woman who usually wore the same faded dress and a plain white kerchief over her head.  "I wish I knew how old she was." I once wrote. "She seems so old, but I think it's her broken teeth and skin that has been exposed to the tropic sun for so long that makes her seem so.  I asked her one time. She told me that she was 80.  I laughed and told her that was impossible as she claims to have a daughter that is barely over 20.  I explained that women don't have children when they're 60 years old.  She looked at me genuinely confused.  "Well, then I don't know how old I am," she said.  Over time I would learn that her husband and son were both dead and that her daughter was crippled, unable to care for herself.  Maria was the sole provider, there was no other family.

As the months went by I could see her becoming more frail.  I wrote this is my journal shortly before we moved away:  "Old Maria thanked me profusely after I paid her today and gave her some rice and beans.  She asked if possible would I let the next people who live in this house know about her and ask them if she might continue to work here.  I assured her I would do what I could.   There is a quietness about her that wasn't there when she first started working for me.  I could say that it's because she's now a Christian.  But I believe that primarily it's because she's old, wearing out, and just doesn't feel well.  She shouldn't have to do this kind of work at her age.  She should be collecting Social Security and watching soaps, doting over grandchildren, baking cookies and working crossword puzzles like my grandmother did when she was her age.  But old age for Maria and those like her is a curse here.  There is no rest for them."

I don't remember how I first met Antonia.  She had most likely come to our gate looking for food, a daily ritual for her.  This is how I described her back then:  "Antonia is a woman without hope, without dreams.  Her children are dirty, their clothes are seldom washed.  They never wear shoes.  Once a week someone will be at the gate.  There is no more to eat.  And though they never ask for money, I know why they have come.

There is a father.  There is talk that he drinks the money he earns chopping fields with his machete.  Antonia denies it, defending her "marido" vehemently.  She claims that he has an ulcer, at times debilitating him for days.  Whatever, they seldom have food.

There are six children.  David is the oldest at 12.  The youngest is an infant.  At one time there were four others.  They all died of common ailments.  Lack of medical attention killed each of them. One day David came to the gate, and I told him that if in a couple of days he would return, we would like him to show us where he lived.  Antonia had a baby girl several days before, and I had not seen her since.  I was concerned about how the baby was doing. 

Two days later he came and Larry, Autumn and I headed several miles out of town towards the pineapple fields.  Eventually he told us to turn off into one of the fields, and for several kilometers we drove along the dirt road used by tractors to collect the ripe fruit for export. Eventually the road ended.  We stopped the car and followed David down a dirt path which led towards the river.  There on a bank overlooking the water we were led into a tiny wooden hut covered with a thatched roof.  We were in the home of Antonia, her "marido" and six children.

Antonia greeted us with a welcome smile and invited us to sit down on the beds.  Larry insisted on standing, but I sat down beside the tiny form of a sleeping newborn.  I was amazed at the size of her! She was so tiny.  She had weighed four pounds at birth Antonia informed us, and she was but nine days old.  Autumn started at her, not quite believing she was real.  Feelings of pity for this child overwhelmed me.  And there was regret, regret that we could not take her and give her promises of good things to come.

Since that day, we have had continued contact with Antonia.  Someone from the family still comes to our gate once a week "to visit" and we know that they're hungry again.  We simply do what we can which isn't very much.  And we know that this is how they will live until they die."

When Maria would finish her job, she'd call me and have me look at what she had done, beaming with pride and satisfaction. There was dignity there in spite of her station.  But Antonia and her family on the other hand were scavengers, often seen going through trashcans in the city and begging on the streets.  There was certainly no dignity there.  One day she happened to stop for a visit as Maria was finishing up for the day.  I saw the old lady look at the young mother with pity and heard her softly say in Spanish, "That poor thing."   It was obvious she saw her life as being preferable over Antonia's.  I believe it was.

Antonia with her children outside her home