Clemen From Tierra Blanca, Guanajuato & Now On BowenWednesday, August 27, 2008
In 1973 Rosemary and I were so busy teaching (in Mexico City) that we had no way of taking care of our daughters Ale (5) and Hilary (2). My mother had died and we had no baby sitter. So we hired Clemen Valdez to be our housekeeper and baby sitter. She was especially sweet and patient with Hilary who was a terrible baby. The only way she would drink her milk was with Chocomilk (a very sweet instant chocolate powder). Clemen was from the interior of Mexico, from the state of Guanajuato. Her town's name was Tierra Blanca.
By 1975 we had made the decision to leave an uncertain Mexico (both politically and economically). We told Clemen that we were going to do our best to bring her with us. Somehow that did not work out but by some miracle Clemen appeared in Vancouver in 1976 and Rosemary does not rembember the paper work that had been involved.
The situation in Vancouver was no different from Mexico City. Dave Barrett and the NDP lost and we soon had no baby sitting facilities in Burnaby. Clemen was our babysitting ticket and our cook while Rosemary and I worked. By 1979 Clemen was gone to better wages in West Vancouver.
But during her stay with us she managed to keep Spanish in our household alive. To this day both Ale and Hilary speak Spanish fluently. We also got used to the best Mexican food anywhere in Vancouver. It was at home as Clemen made tortillas from scratch. We especially liked her sopes ("deep dish" shaped tortillas) with beans and chicken or meat. My friends were always curious about the woman who answered our phone with an accent, "Bueno!"
Clemen had two other remarkable talents. Anything she planted in our small garden plot grew. And, unlike Rosemary, she could make me a decent cup of tea. I kept telling Rosemary that she could learn from Clemen to brew tea. One day I caught her re-heating (and boiling) that morning's tea. But somehow she could even do this and I had not known.
Rosemary decided that Clemen had to go home to see her family so she dispatched her with Hilary who was 7 and Ale who was 10. They flew to Mexico City and took a bus to Querétaro. From Querétaro they took a second class bus to a small town where Clemen hired a burro and the three went for a half-day treck to her home. Ale had eaten a sticky sweet Gansito (a sort of sweet confection wrapped in cellophane) before the treck and was quite sick. She could not walk so Clemen put her on the burro. this made it worse as it seems that riding a burro is no different from riding a camel and Ale got seasick. At Clemen's home, Clemen's father whispered into her ear, "You must take care of these two girls as if they were our own and then some."
Our story winds down to note that Clemen got married to man, Mike, from Bowen Island and she lives in a large property adjacent to a lake in the middle of the island. She has two grown-up sons Kirk and Todd. Both are avid mountainbikers. One of them was suspended for many days from school for cycling off the school's roof and then maneuvering down the front steps of the school.
Clemen has goats, turkeys, chickens (that lay eggs of every imaginable colour) exotic geese. She sells to the islanders her produce, fruit and it seems that Greek restaurants like her goats.
We visit her every now and then as we did a few weeks ago. Ale, who lives in Lillooet was not able to go. But in this picture here you can see Clemen with Lauren on her lap, Hilary (on the left) and Rebecca (on the right). Clemen says that Lauren is exactly like her mother Hilary and has a special affinity for her. Both Lauren and Rebecca watch Clemen make tortillas and love to get some right out of the comal (the hot flat skillet on which she cooks and heats her tortillas). They love staring at the goats.
Clemen can now speak English quite well (with an accent) but I believe it must be a special treat for her to talk to us in her language. It is something I will never take for granted the fact that 34 years later here we all are under a tree in Bowen Island. Who would have known back then in Arboledas, Estado de México?