One of the interesting things about growing up in a house where there was staff, as Reggie did, was the relationship that one developed (or didn't) with the individuals so employed. As I have written before, there were times in my boyhood that I spent more of my hours in the company of the Annas, Ninahs, and Henrys in my parents' service than I did with my own mother and father. I'm not complaining, mind you, Dear Reader. I'm merely stating a fact.
Just as today it is difficult to find and retain reliable household help, so it was in the early 1960s when my mother, MD, was responsible for staffing and running the various houses among which we divided our time.
MD was always on the lookout for a good maid.
One day, when speaking with one of our neighbors in Washington, D.C., MD learned that a maid at the Guatemalan Embassy was looking for a live-in position in domestic employment. Apparently she wanted to leave the embassy because the hours were long and the wages were low. She could be had at a very attractive rate. MD jumped at the opportunity to hire a maid who was trained at a level of service expected in a Washington embassy. And so into our lives came Marta.
|Today's Embassy of the Republic of Guatemala in Washington, D.C.|
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Our house in Cleveland Park was a commodious, rambling structure that contained several servants' rooms. One of those rooms was in the basement, with its own separate entrance, as our house was built into the side of a hill. This afforded whoever lived in the room a degree of privacy that she would not have otherwise had, as she was free to come and go without disturbing the upstairs occupants. It was in this room that Marta came to live.
Marta quickly made herself indispensable. She was a diligent worker. She cooked and cleaned like a dervish, served at table beautifully, and had a good nature and jolly sense of humor. First thing every morning, Marta cooked and fed a hot beakfast to me, my siblings, and my father. She then walked me and my sister Hermione the three blocks to our nearby school, Beauvoir. After the return walk, Marta would wake my mother by bringing her a cup of hot coffee and the morning newspapers—to consume while propped up in bed—before MD would rise for the day.
MD, who was not a "morning person" (to put it mildly), was in Heaven!
It all seemed too good to be true!
And—as it turned out—Dear Reader, it was . . .
Several weeks later my mother received a telephone call from one of the neighborhood ladies. The woman called to ask MD if she was aware that a large, black Cadillac limousine was routinely parked overnight on the side street next to our house. Did MD know that a man would emerge early most mornings from the basement door of our house and drive away in the car?
MD was flabbergasted. She had no idea what this caller was talking about. But that's not all that surprising, Dear Reader, since she usually didn't rise much before nine in the morning anymore, given her morning coffee-and-newspaper-in-bed routine made possible by the oh-so-helpful Marta.
The next morning MD asked Marta about the neighbor's inquiries.
After a certain amount of hemming and hawing, Marta admitted that she was, in fact, seeing a man who worked at the Ecuadorean Embassy as a chauffeur, and that he would "occasionally" visit her at our house, but never during the working day, and only for a several hours at a time, and certainly never overnight.
"But Marta," MD asked, "why is it that Mrs. Westerfield said that she sees a man leaving your room through the door almost every morning?"
"It is not true, Señora. I would never allow such a thing. I am a good woman!"
"Well, Marta, I was concerned when I heard this, particularly since Telma is living with you downstairs. And for now I will take your word for it. But, please, Marta, I don't want to hear any such stories again. Am I very clear on this?"
"Yes, Señora, you have my word."
And for the next several weeks the limousine was no longer seen parked on the side street next to our house. All was quiet and in good order.
That is, until my mother received a telephone call one afternoon from the police with the news that Marta had been arrested. Would my mother please come to the station and bail her out?
Next: Woodward & Lothrop & Trouble . . .