Chapter 4 - Struggle
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Maternal Spankings and Repression Consolidated
Das Dores is aware that her unfailing dedication to the children may jeopardize her relationship with her husband, yet she is unable to change. On the contrary, her zeal becomes a torment. Afraid that the children might get hurt or sick, she is always around them, aided by Risoleta, who insists on such good care and permanent watching.
Das Dores ’s intention is to keep the two oldest in or near the house, certainly not any farther than their grandparents’ house, under her ever-present watchful eyes. Joman, on the other hand, wants to explore the world about him, and his energy is boundless.
The days in Manoel’s house are filled with das Dores ’s nervous shouts and cries, plus the children’s constant weeping, especially Joman’s.
“Just take a look at what you done now!” she shouts, when the boy tries to climb into a shelf in the kitchen to get some cookies and ends up knocking pots and pans all over the floor. He gets spanked.
“You’re so mean,” das Dores complains again, this time because he has pulled his little sister’s hair and taken away her doll.
“What’s the matter with you, ain’t you got no head?” she shouts, when he enters the house triumphantly, holding a struggling chicken by the neck. “Let the chicken go right now!” and she slaps him a few times.
Das Dores jumps over the fence and starts running around and shouting. She finds her son in a guava tree, about three feet high. “There’s no way you can obey me. I live frightened the whole day long,” she yells at him, in a mixture of relief and irritation.
She violently yanks him down from the tree and spanks him right there and then. Paying no attention to his cries, she shouts things like, “I reckon I’ll have to tie you down” and “You’re just too wild” and “You always disobeying your mother and grandmother.”
At home, it is grandmother’s turn to scold him, “Joman, Joman, you could fall from that tree and break your arm. How come you can never obey us?”
Wild, bad, mean, disobedient and similar adjectives are constantly leveled at small Joman. None of that and no amount of shouting and spanking tame his spirit, not until das Dores confronts him more dramatically. She notices his disappearance, spends a long time in anguish looking for him, and finally finds him in the shallow creek, water up to his knees. He gets the biggest spanking of his young life and has to hear his mother’s frightening and incomprehensible question: “You wanna kill me, is that it?”
Joman, who is now four, stops crying and starts recovering from the pain, and then he feels what might be best described as anguish. From then on, he is no longer so wild and his escapades become few and far between.
Whenever Manoel witnesses such scenes, he feels sorry for the boy and asks his wife to be patient.
“The way he’s always behaving himself, he’s gotta be spanked and yelled at,” she invariably answers.
Manoel takes the children with him, whenever he can, and while he farms, they play as much as they can, to their hearts’ delight.
Only at night, after the children are asleep, can das Dores rest easy. Only then can she be tender and loving with her husband, as she was before Joman’s birth. Then she can even engage in sensible conversations. Manoel almost always seeks out these opportunities for them to talk. He hopes that his wife will change her behavior towards the children. On one such occasion, he brings up the subject again, the more so because that day she had spanked the boy for a trivial matter.
“Your fears and worrying hurt the children. You have to change, das Dores, you have to give them more slack, more freedom...” he starts to say.
“But if anythin’ happens to any of them, I reckon I’ll go stark crazy.”
“Sometimes I figure in your mind and in your mother’s, too, the children are always in danger.” She remains silent, as if agreeing with him. “I’ve been told that when you were a child, she felt the same worries and fears about you.”
“I don’t recall.”
“And when you were grown-up, you always stayed in the house.”
“That I remember.”
“You’re repeating now what your mother did then. And the children are fearful, like you were.”
“I wanted so much not to worry, Manoel. You don’t know how tired I get.”
“I can guess.”
“Children mean a whole lot of work.”
“Only if we have so much worry and concern about them. If we just raise them normal and simple, there’s no problem!”
“It sounds easy when you talk about it, but tomorrow...” she remarks, indicating that there is a great difference between what is suggested to her and what she can actually do.
Sure enough, the following morning she is shouting again, “Don’t do this!”; “Be quiet!”; “Don’t you go out!”; “Be careful!”; “If you don’t obey, I’ll spank you!” Manoel’s words to her mean nothing and he loses all hope that his wife can ever change.
Joman begins to lose the struggle with his mother, and, by the age of five, he is no longer so active and daring, like a candle whose light and fire are about to be extinguished. He seldom goes out and now even helps his mother with the home chores. Once so talkative, he is now quiet most of the time. When a visitor comes, he asks to be blessed, as his mother taught him to, answers questions with monosyllables, leans against a wall, and follows openmouthed the conversation around him, so absorbed in it that saliva drops from his mouth to his shirt. Once in a while, das Dores censors him in front of the visitors: “ Close your mouth, Joman!”
He obeys her, but, in a few minutes, it is happening again.
What can the future hold for this little boy ?
It looks as if sweet das Dores has become a witch and Manoel a weakling, but perhaps that is not really true. This brief description of how little Joman changes from being so active to being like a candle about to be extinguished is missing some essential elements that are necessary for a fair judgment. Thus, the t’s have now to be crossed and the i’s dotted.
To be fair, das Dores is driven by the need to ensure the children’s physical health—and they are indeed physically healthy.
Manoel should also be better analyzed. First off, he possesses a deep love for his wife and believes that a good marriage is one in which the wife is happy. Thus, he is wholly dedicated to this end. In all likelihood, he developed this belief, whether consciously or not, based on his every day experiences. In this respect, his own father must have had a major role, having fallen in love with a descendant of the Galicians, and having loved her passionately; the Galicians were outcast and looked down upon by most Portuguese.
As regards little Joman, it is necessary to make clear a few things which are implicit, starting with his ambivalent relationship with his mother. On the one hand, das Dores transmits to him her fears, represses his active nature, and overloads him with negative judgments; but, on the other hand, she is tender in words and deeds. A second ambivalence is to be found in the family nucleus, her parents. Das Dores, always worried, uses force, and Manoel’s boundless patience provides her with plenty of room to do so, while at the same time he makes plain his disagreement with some of her behavior. Conversely, while das Dores hugs and kisses the children, Manoel does so only while they are small, until about the age of two.
The Barriers Are Back
In March of 1941, Manoel receives some bad news from the farmer who owns the rice marshlands. After the next harvest, when the five-year lease is up, he wants his land back. How is it going to be from now on? he asks himself with a hint of fear. He regularly gives money to Florinda and, occasionally, to Zeca’s widow. Losing the rice income reverses his prospects: he had more than enough money and was purchasing cattle, but now he may well lack funds. How might he avoid this downturn? And what about his long-held dream of getting rich in Brazil ? He cannot just bury this dream. To give up on one’s dream is to give up on life itself, and he is not about to do that.
He reflects long and hard about all this and concludes that the time has come to go live in Cachoeirinha. Manoel sees financial and economic benefits to the move, but he also hopes that, far from her mother, das Dores may be better with the children and that they, attending school, will get to know other children. In the evening, when the kids are in bed, he brings this subject up with his wife. “Ain’t no need for us to move,” she replies. “You find another business and Joman go to school right here.”
“There aren’t any schools here! This teacher who comes here can barely read and write herself. Our children have to go to a real school. We have to think of their futures.”
Das Dores is now worried. She knows that her husband is right, but, deep inside, she resists. The next day, she goes to talk to her mother about what Manoel has proposed.
“You just tell him that you ain’t gonna go!” Risoleta says forcefully. “How about that, to live in a godforsaken place like that, is he out of his mind? There is a train over there, plus a river, horses on the street, people getting killed every day.” She pauses and asks dramatically, “You wanna see your children dead? Crippled?”
“He says there’s a school...”
“Rubbish, don’t be silly. If you say you don’t go, he don’t go.”
Das Dores follows her mother’s advice and once again her husband gives in and postpones moving to the town.
Every time he goes by on the road, he stops and listens to the widow’s complaints. Feeling sorry, he always gives her some money.
In early 1942, as the school year is about to start, Manoel talks about moving again, but das Dores does not budge, arguing that it won’t do any good to move now because Joman will not be seven until August, and seven is the minimum age to attend regular school.
“But I can get a jump start in setting up a business this year.”
“I’ll die in that place; I won’t rest for a second. Let’s wait until next year, ok?” she begs him, like a child asking a father. “Until then Joman can grow up some more.”
Once again, love bows to reason.
Manoel, however, tries for a compromise: the boy will start attending school now, in that teacher’s house, located a couple of miles from the farm. He wants his son to be acquainted with other children. On the farm, he only has his cousins, and he is always under das Dores ’s watchful eyes. He believes it will be good for the boy to spend part of the day away from his mother and grandmother. The teacher may have little to teach, but it will be good for the boy to have other children his age around him. That way, he may become more active and dynamic again. He says nothing of his intention to his wife, afraid that she might get offended. He argues instead that the boy needs to learn how to read and write, reminding her that she herself said the year before that the children could attend school in the region.
She keeps suggesting problems with the idea. “It’s so far; how is he gonna walk all that distance?”
“I’ve thought of that, too. Don’t worry, because Zezito can take and fetch him every day on horseback.”
Das Dores is not pleased but gives in.
The first school day is a torment for her. Again and again, she tells Zezito to ride slowly, not trotting and not even dreaming of galloping. At home, she imagines the most dramatic things happening — Zezito not following her instructions and Joman falling from the horse or leaving the classroom and going into the woods. On the second school day, she follows the horse on foot to make sure her instructions are being followed. She asks the teacher to pay special attention to her son. After all that, she is a bit less anxious — just a bit though, and every day she remains worried the whole time he is out of the house.
On the other hand, the boy shows an uncommon interest in learning. At home, he spends hours reading his school booklet and working on a tiny wood-framed blackboard.
One day, during the first month of school, Manoel himself takes his son and, taking advantage of the situation, speaks to the teacher.
“How is Joman doing?”
“He learns easily, but he’s very quiet and doesn’t play during the break. He seems sad,” the teacher explains.
“But he likes to come here. I believe that, in time, he’ll become very playful.”
However, time reveals that Manoel has been wrong. The most the boy does is watch his schoolmates play. He prefers to walk around the school house, observe the animals, and catch butterflies and small insects in the plants.
At the end of 1942, Manoel decides to face his wife’s resistance to moving from the farm. He makes a definite decision in favor of Cachoeirinha, which has been a district since 1938. He goes there regularly to buy and sell and sees the thriving progress of the place. In addition, the urban zone is no longer a riskier place to be stuck than on a farm. So, this time he does not even consult his wife but simply tells her about his decision.
He interrupts her, saying, “Remember that you promised me. I can’t wait any longer.”
“What are you gonna do there?”
He answers enthusiastically, “I’m gonna set up a bakery, of course! There’s none there, so it’s a surefire good business. And I’ll make additional money in the coffee business. In here I’m halfway, neither buying nor selling.” He pauses and then continues, “I’ll go first, start building the house, and we’ll move when it’s ready. I’ll come here every Saturday afternoon.”
He starts selling his goods as enthusiastically as a teenager getting ready to go on vacation. He sells cattle, pigs, and service animals, including the white horse, which is old now. All he keeps is a travel mule. In all the hectic preparation, he draws up a plan not only to continue with his coffee business but also to increase its scale. He goes to his friend José Vítor and proposes that he sell his small land plot and buy another one closer to Cafezinho or Itanhomi, becoming his buyer there. At harvest time, he should buy and store, as he did in the last two harvests, but on a larger scale now. He would also handle the transportation to Cachoeirinha and receive a percentage of the profits.
José Vítor hears him out, very interested, and answers, “It’s a pretty good idea, and I’m basically standin’ still here, starin’ at my navel. On top of it, the coffee business seems to be a pretty good one.”
“And you can also do me the favor of providing assistance to Florinda and the boy. After I move, it’ll be harder for me to go there.” Following a pause, he adds, “I reckon I don’t have to say that this remains just between the two of us.”
They work out the agreement’s details. When the harvest starts in May, José Vítor will already be purchasing and hauling. Manoel, besides to nail the feet in this trade, will once again link business and feelings.
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The book has 11 chapters.
Chapter 1 - The End at Hand
The victim of an incurable disease, Joman prepares to die.
Chapter 2 - Prior Events
How did Jomanís father, an immigrant, meet his mother? What was the wedding like? What was Jomaní fatherís nickname?
Chapter 3 - Tormented Passion
Jomanís birth, his fatherís extra-marital affair, and the other dramas that take place within a family.
Chapter 5 - Life's Defeats
Joman begins to get along with other boys, attend school, and experience his first disappointments outside the home. The suffering he passes through during his early years, a secret pre-teen crush, the difficulties he had fitting in, the anxieties and humiliations, the desperate efforts to have close relations with others and be respected, as well as the hazards, are the themes of this chapter, which extends up to the age of eighteen.
Chapter 6 - The Other World
In spite of his fears, Joman moves to another town where nobody knows him..How his shyness influences his choices such as those related to work. The first victories. His first real girlfriend at the age of twenty-five. His marriage. The suffering and harm caused by his shyness.
Chapter 7 - The Hand Tremors
Before the age of thirty, he is stricken with a life-threatening illness. He and his wife struggle desperately to find a cure. The loss of hope. His return to his hometown to relive past experiences in a different way and fulfill his ultimate desire: to be free!
The last four chapters Ė more than half the book Ė are pure adrenalin.
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