Monday, August 1, 2016

My Secret Places: Where Everything Started...

Ellis et al (2010), argue that “… autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher's influence on research, rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don't exist.”

That is so true; you will be able to see that through my stories and poems shared in this blog…
My Secret Places:                                   

Location: Novo Hamburgo (city), Rio Grande do Sul (state), Brazil
Time frame: 1985-1990.

I had the privilege of growing up in Brazil in the 70s, and because of that I was exposed to lots of places to play inside and outside my house.
In the 70s, Brazil’s economy was not bad as it is today and our country was a safe place to be in. A great place to live in, to study and perfect to have a great quality of live!

When I was a child my only preoccupation was to hide from my little brother. I was 8 years old when he was born; my other two siblings were older and were not around very much. The only thing I needed to do was to find a place where my little brother could not find me, so I could have some peace of mind for a few minutes, if I was lucky enough I would get a few hours of “freedom…”

I remember playing in my room underneath my bed, as I shared a room with my brother, playing in our room by myself was out of the equation. I recall hiding underneath my bed with my favorite dolls and spending hours imagining places where they could go. Sometimes I would talk out loud, pretending that the dolls were talking to each other, but as soon as I could hear my little brother coming I would be very quiet, so he would not find my secret place.

Another place that comes to my mind as being a great place to hide and a nice spot to play was the backyard of my best friend’s house; she was also my closest neighbor. She had an enormous backyard, I remember being jealous about her backyard and all the opportunities that she had to play and have fun in that great space. She also did not have younger siblings, only an older brother, so that was another layer of my jealousy. My friend and I used to pretend that we would have a picnic in a forest faraway from home… we would walk around her backyard for several minutes while we fantasized that the place where we are going to was very distant from our houses. So, we had to walk, and walk and walk…during our walk we would see birds flying from on tree to the other. We would also see little insects that would cause disgust and fear sometimes. Before we got to our perfect imaginary place, we would stop and sit down in the middle of the bushes to rest. We would lay down on the untamed grass and look at the sky… we would look at the clouds and imagine that they were animals, people, mountains, accordingly to their shapes… we would even argue sometimes about what each shape would look like to each of us.

I remember going over her mom’s flowers and jumping over a few scrubs to get to our “perfect spot in the forest.” For some reason, that I can’t remember, we always selected the same place to have our picnics. I recall bringing a few items from home, such as plastic plates and cups, a few snacks, spoons, forks and knifes. My friend had tomatoes planted in her backyard, so we loved to pick a few to improve our “picnic feast.” We would eat those tomatoes without washing them, as her mom said that it was OK, as they did not put pesticides on the tomatoes. Sometimes we had long picnics, we would talk about our “imaginary boyfriends” that were at work while we are having our picnics, we would imagine that they would come to our houses later in the evening to kiss us good-night. As we were only nine, ten years old, the only boyfriends we had were those ones we had created in our minds… Quite a few times our picnics would be cut short by my brother running into her backyard screaming my name: “Claudia, Claudia go home!!! Mom is calling you!”

My brother never looked for me in the backyard, we were always at the same spot, but he never found us… our perfect spot was behind my friend’s house beside a set of stairs that would go to the back of my friend’s house. She also had a small dog that used to bark like crazy to strangers. I guess that her dog did not like my brother neither did my brother liked him. Maybe that is why my brother never tried to find me there… I remember hearing the dog barking first, then I would hear my brother… then I knew, it was time to go home, picnic time was over! Sometimes I would just pretend that I could not hear my brother screaming my name… but then my mom would come and call me… I would get in trouble those days and my mom would not allow me to have our picnics for a few days.
But, my favorite hiding place of all was a really special place. A place where my brother could not see me, and even when he was able to see me, he was not able to get to me… My favorite place to play was on top of huge avocado tree that was planted in between my best friends’ yard and mine. I don’t know who planted that tree, but when we moved to that neighborhood the tree was already there, and it was already big and majestic. Because the tree was in planted right on the border between my friends’ yard and mine, we never knew who actually owned that tree. The only thing we knew was that the tree was there and we could climb as high as we wanted. And we did!
That avocado tree was huge, and leafy; its branches were very strong and long and we could climb up almost to the top of the tree. My friend and I used to gather a few books, dolls, snacks and sometimes even a small radio, and we would climb the tree to play and get away from my brother. I normally would go first, she would be at the bottom of the tree handing me our “apparatus…” Every summer, we would get together prepare our bags and up we went on top of the avocado tree.

I remember how hot our summers were in Brazil, but on top of that tree we could feel a breeze on our faces. We could have a break from the warm wind and from the scorching sun. I remember the smell of that tree; it would stay on our hands when we got home. We had to wash our hands several times to get free from the avocado’s tree scent. Not that I did not like the smell, it was a good smell, but my mom did not like it. She used to say that I smelled like a homeless child when I got home. Especially because my clothes would get stained from the branches, plus a few scrapes on my skin would for sure resemble a child that spent the day on the streets…

I remember when the tree was full of fruits, just waiting for us to pick them. We would go there with a few plastic bags; sometimes even buckets and the whole neighborhood would be waiting for us to get down the tree to give them some avocados. Those avocados were delicious. They would sometimes be also part of our picnic’s feast!

My best memories are from when we used to take a few blankets and books to the top of tree, my favorite thing to do… we would place the blankets on top of the branches to make them more comfortable and we would laid down on top of those blankets and just stay there reading for hours! I remember reading my favorite novels, Pollyanna’s books! I used to read them from the top of tree and transport myself to all of the places that Pollyanna ventured to go. It is amazing now, that just by thinking about my avocado tree I get transported to those branches, to those hot summers, when I was just a child playing on top of the tree. I can even feel the breeze on my face, I can smell the tree, and I can even hear my friend’s voice…

I remember that our parents were concerned that one day we would fall off the tree and accordingly to them, break our necks… That was a very tragic statement to say the least, but my friend and I never shared this fear. We just wanted to climb the tree and be there without interruptions, just being kids, reading, playing, laughing and most importantly hiding from my brother.

One thing we also enjoyed doing was pouring water down on people’s heads… I know, that was not the best thing to do, but we sure had fun doing that. As some of the tree’ branches could grow on top of the road, we will climb on those branches and just spill water on whoever was passing by. Some people actually knew us very well and they also knew who are parents were…so they would complain to our parents, and then again, our playtime would be cut short…

One afternoon, we had the idea of carving our names on the tree branches, I am not sure who came up with the idea, but we did it. We took a small switchblade along with all the other paraphernalia that we used to carry to the top of the tree. When we got to the top, we did not know if you should only write our initials or our full names. We were afraid to be recognized by people, but then we thought, nobody else climbs this tree other than us, also everybody knows that we hide on top of this avocado tree. So that would not be a difficult task for people to guess who carved the tree…so we decided to write our names, only first names and date. I wish I could remember the date… I wish I could go back to Brazil and visit that tree to see if our names still there. Probably not, as my friend’s dad used to prune that tree very often. I lost contact with that friend, she moved to another city; otherwise I could make her climb the tree to check for our “art work.”

After spending the whole hot afternoons on top of tree making plans about our future, daydreaming and imagining things, we would go down and walk to our picnic spot. This time with a bag full of avocados, that would be part of our picnic meal. We would eat so many avocados that we would get sick…

I don’t know how come I still love avocados after being sick so many times after overeating them! I open an avocado at home now to make a dessert or a guacamole for my family, and that smell carries me back to that time were life was so carefree, when I had so many dreams, where my only fear was those giant spiders hiding on the avocado leaves.

When we were finished with our picnic, normally around the sunset time, my friend’s parents would call her inside for a prayer meeting. She was an Adventist. At that time I had no clue what that was, as my family was Catholic and the only prayer time I had was before the Sunday Mass.

One time, I asked my friend if I could go with her to her prayer meeting… she had to ask her parents… and they allowed me to take part in their gatherings. Her parents were such a lovely couple. Her dad was a joker, always making fun of us, for being muddy, for our scrapes and for our not so pleasant smell. Her mom was a little bit more serious, she would never make a joke, but we could see her trying not to laugh at her husband’s jokes. That was a hard task, as he could make people laugh very easily. I recall that my friend’s mom suffered of migraines. I remember seeing her with slices of potatoes wrapped around her forehead several times. She used to say that potatoes had the “natural power” to remove pain… Although I never believed that, I always respected her and never laughed of her looks when wearing those bandanas filled with potatoes’ slices. My friend’s brother used to crack himself up every time he saw his mom with the bandana full of potatoes. He used to say that she was the real “Potato Head.”

I cannot recall when I started attending their home prayer meetings, but I remember liking them. We would gather in their living room, sitting at their comfortable sofas. We did not have sofas like that at my house… their recliners smelled like leather; they looked so warm and inviting. My friend’s mom used to have knitted throws on the arm of each chair. I remember fighting with my friend for the most beautiful and longer one, which I never understood why, as she could have all of them to herself, as soon as I would leave her house… at least that was what her mom used to say.

I have great memories of those meetings…they were called “Sunset Prayer Meeting.” My friend’s father would read a Bible passage and explain it to us, I remember asking him a lot of questions, and he must have felt tired of the amount of questions I would ask. Most of those stories were new to me, my friend on the other hand have heard those stories several times. The best part of their meetings was when they sang together. They had a hymnbook with a rather small selection, and by the end of my tenth meeting or so, I already had my favorites. And of course, I would ask them to sing those hymns, and I would most of the time sing along with my “out of tune” voice, accordingly to my friend’s dad. That was another joke that he liked to throw on me.

The best memory that I have from those meetings were not the stories, or even the songs, which I do not recall any of them. The best part of those meetings was my friend’s family gathering. I recall their faces, they seem to enjoy each other’s presence in such a meaningful way, that I have never experienced with my own family. I felt part of that family during those gatherings! I remember thinking to myself how I wished that my family would have the same type of connection that they had within their family. That was so precious. They looked at each other with love. They joked about things, they would get serious when reading the Bible verses, but mostly the meeting’s atmosphere was so powerful that I recall it until today.

My friend moved to her auntie’s house in another city to start high school at a private school. Her family could not afford that school, so her auntie took on the responsibility to take care of my friend and pay for her schooling.

My friend would come back over the weekends. I would wait for Fridays to come, as I would wait for Santa Claus to come… She had so many things to share. She always had new and different clothes on. I was again going through a very hard jealousy process, mixed with the pain of not having my friend close to me as she used to be in the past.

Our relationship changed drastically… I still don’t know why, as I never revealed to her my jealousy. I was never again invited to their prayer meetings. We started to see each other less and less. Until she finally moved to her auntie’s house permanently, visiting her family less than once a month. I saw my friend a few times during her visits to her family. After a couple of months I moved as well and we never saw each other anymore. I guess we did once briefly, in a Concert, but we just waived to each other from far away.

My memories of these places are very much intrinsically attached to people. This feeling of connecting places with people still lives in me until now. I cannot recall a place that I have been to without remembering somebody from that place, even if my visit was just for a short stay. For me, place and people go together as peanut butter and jelly; or as avocados and tomatoes for a picnic snack.

I know, maybe for other people they can just think about the place, with no strings or people attached to it. But that must be because they do not like peanut butter and jelly and/or they do not like avocados and tomatoes for a picnic snack…

Here is a sneak peek of my special secret place:
Drawn by me...

Ellis, Carolyn; Adams, Tony E. & Bochner, Arthur P. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview [40 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), Art. 10,

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