My father passed away when I was six years old, leaving my mother to raise my brother and I -alongside my aunt Virginia-, creating a single-parent home. Growing up in a conservative and patriarchal society as were the Acores of the 60s, made it very difficult for my mother to support a household with a limited income, resulting in her having to work in ‘desdobramento’, kind of two shifts in one day, teaching elementary in two house schools in Ponta Delgada.
One of my mother’s great attributes was storytelling. She often spoke about her childhood years in the small village of Povoação (São Miguel) where she was raised, and life was a daily struggle. The stories that she read me sparked my enthusiasm which led me on my reading way. She preferred fairy tales: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ( even nowadays I feel the ‘stepmother syndrome’ of that story), The Little Red Riding Hood (it was the only story without a happy ending but my mother subverted it, resuscitating the grandmother in a magic trick), Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (in his mythical Arabian city) and Cinderella (I lived that story vicariously, through my mother’s imagination, and I travelled in a time machine to a distant place to meet my Charming Prince).
One day I received a book from prima Clarinha, a cousin of mine living in the US. Mother Goose was the cover of the book. I began coloring it with my crayons but as I did not know how to read it since it was in English, my mother, -pretending a good translation- sang a lullaby as if it were in the book: "A Lua nasceu e cresceu no além, A Noite chegou também, Vai dormir meu amor, Que eu velo por ti, Só aos Anjos a lua sorri". Only some years later I realized rthat Mother Goose was a collection of old fairy tales well spread in North of America. The first soap opera of my island was ‘ O Romance da Gata’ which first aired daily over the radio, and was listened enthusiastically by almost all women all over the Azores, but as my mother had no time to listen to this ‘radio-novela’ , I regret, even today, not having understood what it was all about, since it received so much attention from so many women. During my girlhood I had doubts, questions as many girls of my generation, and one afternoon, timidly I asked mother: "How are children born"? Without hesitation, she made up a story with birds, bees, flowers and hearts to explain the idea of conception and pregnancy. It was magical! And I believed that the world of women had no pain.
My mother paved a bridge to wider reading. It was not easy, since she had to buy foreign literature in Portuguese translations. I read fiction books based on real facts as The Gulag Archipelago (Stalinist’s mass deportation to Siberia) and adventure books as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn along with stripes in black and white with Moaks and Sioux and the beautiful Pocahontas (the Red Skins of the far west) with tepees, scalps and smoke warning signals and pipes of peace and cowboys with guns and bisons in the prairies and folk music and saloons, all of them heroes of my initiation to American literature.
Only many years later I recognized that most of those motives and words in those stories were derogatory, stereotypes of prejudices, gender and racial biases of a western privileged dominant culture with its myths and taboos, constructed under the inconsistent matrix of its invisible power.
In the early 60s the concept of day care or kindergarten was foreign to Portugal. Hence children were raised at home by their mothers or by other women of their extended family mainly by their vavós. I was fortunate. My mother, an elementary school teacher was my first teacher. Her early maternal instruction had a vital influence on my cognitive and academic development. My mother as a teacher was very pragmatic. She used an amount of verbal instruction, asked many questions and rarely praised me.
When I recall my maternal teaching, I associate it, to a certain extent, with the teaching style of the American (Anglo) mothers of the 18th century, as my mother relied on the use of visual clues -as they used to do-, she demonstrated fractions by chopping an orange in different parts, she would perforate drawings on a tiny pillow with a crochet needle to make collages of different colors and shapes to further develop my selective attention. As my mother did not rely on intrusive behaviors such as direct commands, she fostered a stimulating instructional environment using scaffolding (instructional support borrowed from constructivism and whose terminology and concept was unknown to her).
Being an educated woman, her maternal instruction was rooted in her experiences as a teacher. Usually she asked me perceptual questions: "what is this?" as she patiently waited for the answer. During the course of my instruction my mother developed more complex cognitive conceptual questions: "why do you choose this statement?", "why is it important"? At times she would praise me with a ‘very good job’, yet once in a while, she would reprimand me: "Cabeça no ar", and when I didn’t have the quick response, my mother would tug my ear "you could do better had you paid attention".
My mother was a practical, and ’tough’ woman. On weekends as a reward (at least it was what I thought) my brother Carlos and I went to the matinee to Coliseu Micaelense, the most affordable ‘casa de cinema’ in Ponta Delgada. O Sr. Aguinaldo, at the ticket wicket, would censor the most appropriate ‘fita’, for the children at that particular age. My mother would pick us up 2 hours later; as she herself was not ‘allowed’ to frequent a theatre as being a widow carried a stigma.