A Candle Lit, a Flame Extinguished  

I remember the night that Anna first came to me.  It was late in the evening when she arrived at my parish and the building was almost empty.  When she entered, Anna carried rosary beads in her hand believing they brought good luck.  Trusting that her prayers would be answered, she came inside the church and lighted the votive candles.  Then she knelt at the front of the church to offer her prayers to the Virgin.  Later she came to my confessional.  

The few parishioners who remained were old women dressed in the familiar black full-length dresses with black mantillas draped over their heads.  With rosaries in hand the old women prayed the ancient prayers over and over.  In the world of the barrio prayers were important.  It has always been left to the old to pray for God's intervention for the young.  The pews held grandmothers each with a story about children lost to the gangs, drinking, and drugs.  These tragedies had left the women offering prayers old and deformed.  As Anna looked about she could see the faces of the old women.  They were deeply wrinkled and worn from the many sorrows and cares of this world.  These women had died a thousand deaths for their children and grandchildren.  Life had been unkind to these caring elders.  One could see that the weight of the world had left them bent but not broken.  Their backs were hunched from the strain of their load.  But nothing would keep the old women from their nightly prayer vigil.  Still, many prayers seemed to go unanswered.  These women were the salt of the earth.  With one foot in this world and the other in the great beyond they awaited patiently for the time when the Virgin would lead them by the hand into the spirit realm.  Though they secretly longed for the peace it would bring, the old women knew that time was precious for their loved ones.  So they became permanent fixtures in my parish praying incessantly for their children and grandchildren.  No need was too small: a job, an expected birth, the illness of a relative.  All these needs would be prayed for during the night and again at the early morning mass.  In these times the women had much to pray for.  

Anna Castillo-Von Furstenburge joined these old women on that first night.  Weeping for the father she had loved so much and the mother she had never known.   As Anna prayed she exhausted herself shedding tears for dear Uncle and her beloved Helga.  She then lit candles for them all.  Glancing down at her watch, Anna realized that she had been kneeling at the altar for more than twenty minutes.  Making the sign of the cross she stood and walked toward the pews.  When Anna reached the first row she sat down next to an old woman.  Noticing a Spanish language newspaper she noted the date and commented to herself on how quickly the last three years had passed.  The years had gone by like a speeding train into a darkened tunnel, but at least now Anna could see light at the end of it.  When Anna returned to the pew, she continued her prayer.  Her thoughts traveled back to that evil morning, the morning her beloved estancia, Casa Castillo, was burned to the ground.  The memory of that night’s love making with her husband of only a few short hours still smoldered deep in her soul.  But her love for him was now just a faded memory after three long years.  When she later gave her confession, I was amazed at her ability to remember her wedding day in such detail.  It was as if she had been married only the day before.  

She sat in the pew for sometime, watching as several old women preceded her into the confessional.  When the last parishioner left, she stood ready to enter.  That was the first time I met Anna.  As I began to leave the confessional, she walked toward me.  I stopped and waited.  “Are you here for confession?” I asked in English.  She didn’t answer.  It was clear to me that she didn't understand.  I quickly realized that she wasn’t an Anglo.  I then asked her again, this time in Spanish.  Nodding her head, yes, she entered the confessional.  The confessionals in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church are cramped, dark, wood paneled boxes rather than rooms.  With small screened windows between the confessional and the adjoining cubical, the spaces are black and silent.  It must have seemed to Anna an eternity before the window facing her and separating our two cubicles was opened to receive her sins.  She began, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been a long, long time since my last confession.”  The rest of the religious phrases trailed off toward God.

How different that summer day in June of 1950 had begun.  Anna had been married that morning in the estancia chapel.  The building could only accommodate one hundred guests.  Because the little private family chapel would be filled to capacity Anna’s father had erected a pavilion just outside to house the other guests who attended.  Many had come from the surrounding estates.  With the Don’s permission the Brenners had invited over fifty Germans from all parts of Argentina.  These guests stayed largely to themselves.  Respectful and kind, still the Germans remained aloof even at such joyous event.  Anna wore a beautiful full length, white, beaded wedding gown with a white mantilla on her head.  Decorated with her mother’s diamond necklace and matching earrings the magnificence of her appearance was only heightened by her innocence and humility.  Having led a sheltered life at the estancia the world had not yet corrupted the young bride’s soul.  With a childlike view of life, Anna had not understood fully what her marriage to Hans would mean.  She knew only that she loved him.  

The wedding party was made up of seven bridesmaids and two beautiful little flower girls.  Two handsome young boys acting as ring bearers carried one wedding ring each, on a white satin pillow.  The little girls wore pink dresses and carried mixed bouquets of flower that matched those of the bridesmaids.  The bridesmaids were childhood friends of Anna’s from nearby estancias.  Each was honored to be in her wedding.  The young women chattered amongst themselves as they waited for the procession to begin.  

Hans agreed to allow Anna’s male relatives to join in as part of his wedding party but he insisted that Clause be among them.  Rolf served as his best man.  The ushers wore black tuxedos and white shirts.  Hans and Rolf wore their military dress uniforms as was required by the Bund.  The Bund also requested that a flag with the Swastika be draped in the church but Don Castillo refused.  Taking a hard stance on the flag, he would have none of it.  But he did agree to the wearing of the uniforms.  After all, his future son-in-law had earned that privilege in battle.  

The two young lovers were a stunning sight as they stood at the altar.  Anna was the bride that all women dream of being.  She was strikingly beautiful in her elegant French gown.  Hans was handsome in his formal German officer’s uniform with wide red piping along the leg of the pants and the polished buttons of his perfectly tailored tunic.  They looked like a prince and his princess at a coronation.  The Don’s eyes welled with tears as he gave away his only child.  He and Hans looked at each other for a brief moment, as if to say it is done.  

The wedding went smoothly as did the festivities that followed.  Preparations for the wedding and reception at the estancia had been underway for months.  Though the party held that evening was attended by more than three hundred guests, in better times, the estate would have had many more visitors.  But the Don’s politics kept many an old friend away for fear of being labeled as a dissident.  Leaving nothing to chance the great hall had been decorated by Frau Brenner.  The Don had graciously given her a blank check with which to fund the extravaganza.  Knowing that Helga would make the occasion an affair to remember he had spared no expense.  The varieties of flowers were extraordinary in their Italian crystal vases.  Floral table settings were placed in ornate bowls of solid gold.  The china purchased in England had been shipped over for just the occasion.  New drapes and window coverings had been ordered from the best fabric houses in France.  The entire interior of the massive estancia had been repainted and the grounds had been replanted with new flowers and shrubs.  One of Argentina’s most celebrated chefs was hired for the wedding and he and his staff had done a magnificent job.  The wedding day had met its promise.  The young newlyweds were in their glory.  The Brenners brimmed with pride at the sight of their son and new daughter.  Hans had finally found his future and Anna was deeply in love.  As the Don looked about the estancia he said his silent prayers of thanks that all had gone well.  The hour had grown late and many of the guests had already left knowing that they had many miles to travel before morning.  One by one, the autos pulled away from the estancia.  As they left the guests pressed envelopes full of cash into Hans’ hand.  These small gifts would leave him and his new wife quite well off.  Their successful start in life was assured.

It was late when the young couple finally retired to their marriage bed.  As Anna and Hans enjoyed the pleasures of their wedding night all but the gauchos had retired after drinking well into the early morning hours.  Knowing how gauchos could behave once drunk, the Don ordered their weapons placed in a storage area before the festivities began.  When the drinking was over, the estancia settled down.  The noise of the party was replaced by the soothing sounds of the night.

Her confession was long.  I could tell that she needed to bare her soul.  Anna’s fond remembrances of the day now shifted to the horror of those terrible early morning hours.  She began to relive the terror that befell them in those predawn hours.  As the lovers slept they were awakened from pleasant dreams by the sounds of tanks in the far-off distance.  Hans’ well-trained soldier’s mind forced him awake.  Getting out of bed he opened the French doors leading to the balcony.  He stood straining to make out the approaching sounds.  Concerned, Hans quickly put on his uniform trousers and tall black boots.  Walking over to the dresser where he’d placed his pistol, he removed it from the holster and checked the clip for ammunition.  It was fully loaded.  He then quietly walked down to Rolf’s room.  As he neared the room, Hans found the door ajar.  Calling to Rolf, there was no answer.  Hans then cautiously made his way downstairs into the foyer where he found Rolf entering through the large front doors.  Rolf’s only word was, “tanks”.  Both men instinctively knew something was wrong.  There had been rumors at the German Club that the Don’s last editorials had angered the Argentine military General Staff.  The military wanted to put an end to his commentary on their affairs.  Several prominent members of the Argentine German Bund had called the Don a marked man.

Both men agreed that it was best to take no chances.  Having dispatched Rolf to inform Clause of the tanks, Hans proceeded to the Don’s room to give him the news.  Don Castillo immediately understood the implications of this news.  Within minutes, Clause and the Don were both dressed and meeting with Rolf and Hans in the foyer.  In a short time, Jose entered the foyer having heard the voices.  Hans explained the situation militarily.  There was no reason to believe that these were simply military maneuvers.  Troop movements for this purpose were always conducted during the day.  The fact that there was no military base nearby meant that the troops had been on the march for sometime.  Nothing about these troop movements made sense.  Rolf agreed with his colonel.  Clause recommended to the Don that all of the gauchos be awakened immediately and armed.  Agreeing, he ordered Jose to wake the men.  After arming them, Jose brought the gauchos to the courtyard outside.  Don Castillo and Uncle agreed that Hans would take charge.  As many more gauchos entered the room Hans bounded to the top of the staircase.  Anna could hear her husband shouting orders as she left her bedroom to investigate the noise coming from the foyer.  The entire house was now awake.  Soon Helga was standing next to her.  Both women were frightened.

As Hans stood shouting orders from the landing above the great wooden staircase, even with the terror of those moments, Anna could still recall his beautiful muscled chest gleaming with sweat as the adrenaline coursed through his veins.  There he stood without a shirt wearing only his military pants tucked into his tall black boots.  She remembered the sight of him holding the German Luger pistol in his right hand.  As she looked at him, it somehow seemed that all was not lost.  Hans was in his element.  A battle hardened officer he was familiar with war and knew his craft well.  There below at the bottom of the staircase was Rolf.  Each order given by the young Colonel was relayed to the gauchos through his trusted sergeant.  In the very midst of the chaos these two showed no fear.  Both knew their duty and responded confidently as they had done so many times before.  Ordering the sergeant to hold the walls at all costs, he then instructed Rolf to divide the men into four groups.  Rolf quickly instructed the four lead gauchos to divide their men into four groups of sixty each.  Each leader was ordered to secure and hold one of the estancia walls.

Accustomed to following orders without question the gauchos left to take up their positions.  There was no idle chatter.  Each moved rapidly to check his arms and ammunition and then hold their assigned walls.  Within minutes, the estancia was a well-protected and armed camp.  Rifles at the ready they were all prepared to defend their patrones with their lives.  These gauchos were hard strong men who were not given to fear.  Most of the Don’s gauchos had been raised on the estancia and had learned to love it as his own.  The gauchos were prepared to die for their Don.

The estancia took on an odd calm as the men silently awaited further orders.  All checked and rechecked their rifles.  As they did, the tanks could be heard in the far-off distance closing in on the estancia.  With the gauchos positioned Rolf was commanded by Hans to take the main gate and hold it until further instructions.  Rolf’s position was pivotal to the defense of the estancia and he understood exactly what the order meant.  Both men knew the gate was where the attackers would strike first.  They would have to take the main gate to access the estancia.  Clicking his heels and saluting his Colonel, Rolf began walking away to carry out his orders.  Stopping suddenly, he turned to say one last goodbye to his colonel.  Both men looked at each other and smiled.  Having known battle before each man was prepared for what lay ahead.  Each had fought against an enemy of superior strength before.  They were ready to meet death if it were to come that day.  The soldier in each took over as they both returned to the life and death matters at hand.  

But this time it was different.  Both were uneasy.  Each felt the psychic disconnection that was taking place.  An unearthly divide had begun.  The sense of it was so great that Hans reacted as he never would have in the past.  As an officer, he would have never broken the strictness of command.  Personal comments were forbidden in a battle situation.  As Rolf turned to leave and take his post, Hans shouted to him.  “Take no prisoners.”  Both men laughed uncomfortably knowing somehow that this was to be their last battle.  Hans accepted that this was to be his last command.  As she watched, Anna realized that these comrades in arms were saying goodbye.  If there was fear, neither would admit it.  They were too well-trained and disciplined to accept fear or the possibility of losing.  They were warriors.

All were now in position.  Hans held twenty men inside the estancia as reserves.  These he would use at the very last moment should a retreat be needed through the south wall gate where the Don took up position.  Uncle was dispatched to the west.   Miguelito, Clause’s houseboy, had been assigned the east wall.  All were waiting for further orders when old crusty gaucho, Martin, who had been dispatched to spy on the Argentine soldiers, ran into the foyer calling out to Hans, “There are five-hundred at least.”  He then shouted with a slight panic in his voice, “and four tanks.”  Hans shouted back his thanks for the report and then sent the old man to help Miguelito at the east wall.  The old gaucho nodded and left.

As the old gaucho left the room Anna remembered her fear.  She rushed into Hans’ arms.  Holding her tenderly, he kissed her deeply.  At that moment, a loud ground-shaking explosion broke their embrace.  Hans shouted out loudly, “Men it’s begun.  Be brave and make every shot count.”  Before his sentence could be completed a large hole appeared in the wall close to the front gate of the estancia where the Don and Rolf had been standing conferring on strategy.  Within seconds, Argentine troops began to pour through. 

The gauchos charged the soldiers with a loud shout engaging them in hand-to-hand combat.  Accustomed to abusing citizens and university students without resistance the peacetime soldiers hadn’t expected such valor.  The gauchos were not docile or afraid; they were men determined to kill or be killed.  The soldiers had never met such fierce resistance.  The gauchos attacked furiously using their rifles as clubs at close range and their large knives with speed and accuracy.  The gauchos wouldn’t give an inch forcing the disciplined soldiers to fall back.  Then, closing ranks, the soldiers charged in unison.  The gauchos fought instinctively never allowing themselves to become easy targets.

As the crazed gauchos fought on Rolf lay stunned under the rubble of the front gate.  Regaining his strength and mind, he pushed aside the large wooden beam that had once been part of the estancia main gate.  There beside him lay the Don.  He was dead.  A dazed Rolf could hear killing all around him but the darkness prevented him from making out too much.  Within seconds, the light from the burning estancia buildings allowed him to see all that he needed to know.  The soldiers had broken through the perimeter.  Picking up a rifle that lay nearby Rolf shot two soldiers dead as they ran by him.  To his left several gauchos had climbed atop two of the three tanks in the courtyard.  Setting them on fire with petrol taken from the workmen’s shed they killed the tank drivers and gunners as they tried to leave the burning tanks.

Running across the courtyard Rolf joined two gauchos on top of the third tank as they poured petrol down a small opening near the hatch.  One lit a rag while a second forced it down the opening with a rifle barrel.  Within seconds the flames engulfed the interior.  Rolf and the others jumped to safety as bullets flew by.  The crippled tank exploded with a loud bang.

Rolf watched as soldiers engaged groups of gauchos as he made his way to the south wall.  Though these men had no formal combat training they held strong against the soldiers.  They bested a superior force of well-trained soldiers outfitted with automatic weapons.  He respected these gauchos who fought so fiercely and with complete abandon.  Showing no fear they seemed to be in their element.  This was the last thing he saw as a tank shell hit his position at the wall.

Inside the burning estancia Hans ordered Jose to take Anna to the south gate and outside to safety.  As Jose and Anna began to leave, Uncle entered carrying a wounded Miguelito.  Hans hurried to them at the estancia’s entrance.  Uncle stood there his eyes filled with tears knowing that the bright young lad was passing on.  Clause had known the boy since birth.  Hans placed his hand on Clause’s shoulder as he closed Miguelito's vacant eyes.  In a soft voice he told Uncle that it was too late, Miguelito was dead.  Clause nodded his agreement and walked across the foyer to placed Miguelito gently onto a sofa.  As he did a group of soldiers broke through into the foyer.  Rushing to meet them, Hans fired his revolver and killed four of them before they knew he was upon them.  The surviving soldier got off a shot before being felled by a gaucho rifle shot.  The shot found its mark in Hans’ upper chest.  Uncle now once again in control of his senses fired at a soldier coming through what was left of the doorway and killed him instantly.

As Jose forced Anna down the hallway toward the back door, she saw Uncle engaged in a struggle with several soldiers.  Beating them with the butt of his rifle he attacked with the power of a raging bull.  Then as Uncle strangled a limp soldier a rifle bullet tore through his skull.  Anna could see that the head wound was fatal.  Her precious Uncle was lost to her.  Then what every woman dreads most happened, through the thick black smoke that filled the foyer Anna could make out Hans firing a machine gun taken from a dead Army officer.  Hans killed several oncoming soldiers with a spray of deadly bullets while retreating into the hallway in front of her.  But even as the dead and wounded soldiers dropped to the floor many more made their way into the narrow hallway.  Several gauchos rushed the oncoming rush of charging soldiers.  Clubbing and shooting as they lunged forward, many on both sides fell.  But still more soldiers appeared in the hallway.  Too many gauchos had fallen.  There were too few left to defend.

As a rush of cold air cleared the smoke from the foyer Anna saw him.  There stood Hans bleeding from several bullet wounds and slumped against the wall.  As the life drained from his body the frightened soldiers halted their attack for a few seconds.  Their fear of this dangerous blonde man kept them from taking him prisoner.  Following orders the soldiers rushed him there in the hallway with bayonets.  Anna watched as the soldiers one after another, plunged their bayonets into her husband’s beautiful body.  His back against the wall Hans glanced back at Anna.  Smiling weakly, he slid to the ground giving her one last loving look.  As the life in his eyes gave way to the vacant stare of death, Hans’ limp spiritless body fell forward onto the floor.  Anna’s husband, the love of her life was dead.

There were only three gauchos left out of the twenty reserves.  With a shout they rushed the soldiers killing five where they stood.  Fighting the remaining soldiers back into the burning, smoke filled foyer they killed several more.  While the fierce fighting continued, Jose seized the opportunity for escape.  Grabbing Anna’s arm he pulled her down the empty hall and out the back door.   Everywhere in the darkness outlines of fighting soldiers and gauchos could be seen.  Locked in battle for the estancia, pockets of men were killing and being killed in the darkness.  Jose held Anna tightly by the hand and hurriedly guided her across the courtyard to the south gate.  Once through it they were safe.

Making their way up to hills above the estancia, the new day was beginning to break.  The darkness changed to gray with the morning light.  As the minutes passed the landscape around them began taking shape.  Only then could they look back at what had been a killing frenzy.  In the early morning light Anna could see the estancia still in flames.  There was now only sporadic gunfire coming from the last tank.  Three tanks in the compound were on fire.  Anna could see no survivors.  All inside appeared to be dead; not one soldier could be seen moving.  As Jose and Anna turned to walk away they heard the last burning tank explode.  The destruction lasted for a few seconds and then all was quiet.  In that moment of deafening silence she felt her life was over.  All that she had known and loved was gone.  Hans, Father, Uncle, Helga, Rolf and even brave little Miguelito were gone.  The estancia, Casa Castillo, her home for a lifetime was now a burning hulk.  Frightened and alone, Anna wondered where she would go.  What was to become of her now that they were all gone?  Reaching for Jose, she held him tightly.  Angelita, my little angel,” he whispered, “we two are the only ones left.”  With those words, he led her up into the hills away from everything and everyone she had known.

Dazed and exhausted from many hours of walking, Anna asked Jose to take her to town.  She begged him to take her to a church; she wanted to pray for her family.  Jose was forced to say no, telling Anna she could not go to town or anywhere else where the government had eyes or ears.  Jose cautioned her; the Church in Argentina was no more than an arm of the government and could not be trusted.  After walking some distance, Jose tried again to reason with her.  Angelita, we must leave Argentina at once.  The soldiers will be looking for us by now.  Doña Anna there is no place in Latin America where either of us will be safe.  The Government will not leave any witnesses to their crime.  We must make our way as quickly as possible to the United States.” Jose was firm in his delivery.  There was no other way.

Anna later told me that she could hear only my calming voice.  Then, lost in her tortured past, my voice soon faded into nothingness.  Anna suddenly realized where she was.  The hellish memories of the past disappeared and she returned to the present.  Her words gave way to a story that even she couldn't believe.  It was as if she were talking about someone else's life.  In her tortured mind Anna felt responsible for the terrible things which had befallen her family.  Truly believing it was a curse that she’d brought down upon them all, Anna was burdened by guilt.  Father, Uncle, Helga, her beloved Hans, little Miguelito, and brave Rolf were all dead.  Believing that somehow she had failed God, Anna was convinced this was His penance for her.  Anna accepted that these horrors were payment for her sin of love of self.  She told me about the terrible ordeal.  She spoke of wandering in the wilderness and of the many months of hunger and pain that had left her living like a wild animal.  Finally she spoke of the rape she had suffered at the hands of the men at a small farm.

Recounting how she had been taken there after they had killed Jose, Anna felt there was no one left to protect her.  Only humiliation and abuse were to keep her company.  In Anna’s twisted mind these banditos were sent by God to punish her for her sins.  And punish her they did, raping her continually for two days.  Anna told me that our Lord had not totally forgotten her.  God had intervened, sending an old woman from the village who took pity on her.  While the men slept in a drunken stupor, the old woman helped her escape.  Taken to an abandoned estancia nearby Anna was able to recover from the beatings and internal damage.  After giving Anna food and water the old woman left quickly never to return.  After a few days, Anna recovered enough to begin her trek north.  She could think of only two things, freedom from her past in Argentina and the safety of America.

Anna told how she traveled for several weeks by night.  Only at night did she feel safe.  During the days she sought shelter in abandoned buildings or caves.  Living like a hunted animal, Anna learned quickly to steal what food and clothes she needed.  The rural people were trusting, leaving clothes hanging on lines overnight.  Stolen chickens made up the staple of her diet.  Occasionally there were hot freshly baked loaves of bread left out by the peasants to cool in the very early morning hours.  Even after arriving in America Anna still dreamt of the soft warm bread.

Anna recalled how she suddenly began gaining weight, her belly swelling.  Even though she had eaten little or nothing Anna began to be sick in the mornings.  By then it had been three months since her escape from the estancia.  Thinking it was due to the constant hunger she dismissed it.  Soon Anna felt something happening to her.  At first there were rumblings in her stomach.  Then early one cold morning Anna felt something moving within.  At that moment Anna knew that she was with child.  

One day, while resting by the roadside, a tall stranger rode by on horseback.  By the way he carried himself he appeared to be an Estanciero.  Stopping and dismounting his horse the man walked toward her.  When he asked if she was ill, Anna was somewhat frightened and told the man she was just tired.  After introducing himself as Don Raul, he offered her food.  After exchanging a few pleasantries Anna accepted his kindness.  He then inquired if Anna was from his district.  Fear immediately gripped her.  She told the man that she was only passing through on her way to meet her father.  Don Raul then insisted that she accompany him to his parent’s estancia.  Too tired and ill she couldn’t resist and agreed.

After their meal, Don Raul pulled Anna onto his horse, seating her directly behind him.  He assured her that it was only a short distance to his parents’ estancia.  While riding to his estate the Don told Anna that his was one of the many families of the Estanciero class in the area.  His family had long ago chosen to leave the outside world with all of its problems and politics to others.  The family’s world became their cattle and horses.  The pleasant conversation made the time pass by quickly.  As they rode through the gates of his estancia, a gaucho ran toward them and took the reins from Raul.  After they dismounted the gaucho led the horse to the stables.  Don Raul then asked Anna to sit by the fountain and wait until he could make the necessary preparations.  She watched as he entered the estancia and Don Raul’s parents greeted him at the door.  They appeared to be a close and loving family.  

Anna remembered Raul’s parents peering out the windows.  Doña Isabella, Raul’s mother, was a perceptive woman.  As Anna sat by the fountain, Doña Isabella studied her.  Her shoes were worn and her clothes tattered, but Isabella could see that Anna was not accustomed to this shabby state.  Clearly Anna was under nourished and appeared ill.  Commenting to Raul and Papa that Anna was no peasant, Doña Isabella pointed out Anna’s fine features and bearing.  When Papa asked what they should do with her, Mama told Raul to give the poor girl something to eat.

When the front door of the estancia opened, Anna could hear Doña Isabella shouting to prepare a room for her and insisting that Raul invite their new guest into the house.  Anna knew that only pity for her condition could have led Doña Isabella to do this kindness.  Both Papa and Raul had expected just such kindness from Mama.  

That late afternoon was spent lunching on the veranda for several hours.  Anna’s table manners, choice of words, and bearing said it all.  It was obvious that she was from a good family; no one could disguise this.  Mama was a good judge of character.  Very attentive to Anna during their long meal together, Mama listened for hidden meanings in everything the young woman said.  Noting the sadness in the young girl’s eyes, to Isabella, Anna appeared detached and lost.  Anna was contemplative.  Mama sensed no fear or bitterness only utter loneliness.  To Isabella the young woman seemed terribly troubled.  She was sure that something wicked had befallen Anna.  

As the meal came to an end, Mama announced that Anna would stay the night at the estancia.  Mama was insistent.  “No, no, there will be no further discussion on the matter little one.”  She said, with kindness in her voice.  “You will stay here with us for the night.  And tomorrow, well tomorrow, we shall see what the day will bring.”  With that, Mama led her away into the house where a room had already been prepared by the servants.  Opening the armoire Mama revealed a collection of dresses.  Isabella instructed Anna to take what she needed.  Before leaving the room, Mama told Anna that a bath had been drawn for her.  

Anna stayed with the family for several days and was treated as a daughter.  But as with all good things, her stay with them came to end.  It was late in the evening when Doña Isabella came to Anna explaining that an army officer had been in the nearby town asking questions about a young blonde woman.  Two of her servants had been shown a photograph.  The servants told Doña Isabella that the photo resembled Anna and Isabella was concerned.  Anna was truthful, telling Isabella that she was the woman in the photograph.  “It is better for your family that I tell you nothing about my past, for it would put your lives at risk.”  She cautioned Isabella.  Anna then insisted that she must leave that very instant or risk being captured.  The two women agreed that Anna should leave immediately.  No further questions were asked.  Mama left the room, allowing Anna to gather together a few things and prepare to leave.  When Isabella returned to the bedroom, she held a small pouch containing several gold pieces.  Telling Anna that gold was far better than paper money, the two embraced.  In tears, Anna left.  As she walked out into the courtyard, Anna could hear Isabella's words.  “Go with God, my daughter.”  

Once again Anna was alone.  Carefully concealing her movements Anna traveled along the back roads for the next several winter months.  Resting during the day she traveled only by night.  The difficult journey stiffened her resolve.  Living off of the land, Anna was now in the sixth month of her journey and swollen with child.  Having long ago left her beloved Argentina, it was becoming increasingly more difficult for her to walk long distances.  A decision had to be made.  

Moving north through Bolivia, Anna was careful not to spend any of the precious gold coins given to her by Doña Isabella.  This gold was her future and she knew to use it wisely.  It was Christmas time when Anna arrived in Cochabamba, near the center of Bolivia.  Anna decided to stay until she could give birth to the child.  Anna was directed by a passer-by to a jewelry shop owned by an old Jew, Señor Abraham Kraemer.  Entering the shop, Anna had only one thought in mind to bargain with the Old Jew for the most she could get for her gold coins.  The two had bargained for some time when Abraham saw that Anna was tired and couldn’t continue the session.  Even though she’d shared nothing about herself with him, the Old Jew quickly understood her predicament.  A kind man, Abraham offered Anna some water.  He liked this straightforward young woman.  She was strong and tough and not yet hardened by life beyond repair.  After a brief rest, Anna returned to the table as tough as before.  They soon struck a bargain.  Two gold coins for two months shelter.  Abraham didn't know why he agreed to such a poor bargain on his part.  Perhaps, it was the fact that she was with child.  Abraham knew only that he would do for this young one what many had done for he and his wife.  

Many had shown the Kraemers kindness even though they were Jews living in a world where Jews had no value.  There were a precious few had who reached out to save them.  Sensing that Anna would have been one of these, his heart was opened to her.  This was how Anna came to have her child in the home of this old Jewish couple.  In a world of hate and bitterness, they came together.  Lost souls in search of rest Anna, Christina, and the Kraemers found each other.  

Anna later learned that the old Jew had also been forced to live carefully and in fear for most of his life.  Fleeing Germany, in the late nineteen thirties, the Kraemers had run to the safety of Bolivia.  Having run from a life of terror and fear, Abraham could see the same signs of fear in others.  The old Jewess, Ester, enjoyed Anna’s company.  The last two months leading to the birth of the child were enjoyable for them both.  By the time the baby was due, they had become very close.  Neither had pressed deeply into the others past; they had only concerned themselves with the present.  For the past several years the old woman had missed the company of well-educated people.  The two women spent hours discussing literature, art, politics, and the cinema.  Both had a love for the opera and the symphony.  Once the old woman found that Anna spoke French they enjoyed their lengthy conversations in the language.  

The last few days of Anna’s pregnancy were difficult ones.  The child’s life had been endangered by Anna’s difficult trek through the mountains and countryside of Argentina.  Her daughter, Christina, was born with great difficulty on a cold February day in 1951.  Anna’s labor lasted eighteen hours.  The child was very small and weak.  The child looked a great deal like her father.  She had the strong fine features of a Von Furstenburge.  Anna could only hope Christina had Hans’ heart.  

Knowing Anna’s financial predicament the Kraemers were concerned.  Without telling Anna the old couple bargained with a doctor friend on her behalf.  The cost of the delivery was minimal thanks to Abraham's friendship.  The doctor cautioned Abraham that the baby desperately needed to gain strength before being taken on a journey of any kind.  Wanting to help, the old couple invited Anna and the baby to remain with them as long as they wanted.  Offering Anna free room and board as a gift to the child, the Kraemers opened their hearts and pocketbook to their new daughter and granddaughter.  From then on, the four became a family.  Grandpapa Abraham would return in the evenings from the shop bearing little gifts for his newly adopted granddaughter.  Grandma Ester cared for her baby girl through the day insisting that Anna regain her strength.  

For a time, things were wonderful.  It seemed that life was again rich and full of promise.  The days passed peacefully for more than a year, until a government official visited Abraham’s shop.  It suddenly seemed that Abraham's papers were not in order; there was a problem with his visa.  “Of course,” the official said, “something can be done to fix this.”  When the old man asked the nature of the problem, he was told only, “As a guest, one must consider with whom one associates.”  The official’s words were obvious and deliberate.  To Abraham this could only mean one thing; Anna's presence in his home had caused some difficulty for the Bolivian government.  Señor Kraemer,” the visiting official began, “we in the government wish to be of assistance to our friends.  However, there are some things that our friends must do for us.”  Abraham now understood the situation well.  The government wanted something from him and if he cooperated the government would make his visa problem go away.  

After delivering the thinly veiled threat the official walked behind a counter.  Reaching into a jewelry case the official chose a diamond bracelet and placed it in his pocket in full view of his host.  The message was clear; the government could take from Abraham what it pleased.  If Abraham resisted, even for a second, he would be severely dealt with.  Spending a few more minutes eyeing another jewelry case the official turned his back on Kraemer, toying with his new bracelet.  Señor Kraemer it has been brought to our attention that you are harboring a fugitive from our good neighbor Argentina.  By doing so you place yourself and your lovely wife at risk.”  The official’s words had found their intended mark.  Abraham was shaken by the threat.  He knew nothing of Anna's past, except that she was now in mortal danger and that his precious Christina could be harmed.  “What is it you want?”  Abraham asked respectfully of the official.  “Only that you turn the young woman over to a certain man this evening.  This woman must be given up to the Argentine authorities for questioning.  It is in regards to the death of her husband, a young immigrant, who was a German officer in the last war.”  As the official once again reached into a jewelry case and extracted a gold ring, he cautioned Kraemer.  “There can be no questions regarding this matter.”  The words were menacing and were accompanied by a cold stare from the official.  Señor,” the Old Man offered, “surely there’s another way?  Perhaps another more rewarding way for all parties involved?”  Understanding Abraham’s offer, the official looked greedily at him.  

After quickly considering the possibility of Abraham’s questions, the greedy official offered a compromise.  Señor Kraemer, perhaps our government might be persuaded to review the situation for, let us say, twenty-four hours.  In that time, if the woman was no longer found on Bolivian soil, then the incident could be considered closed.”  The Old Man knew what would come next, the Bite, the bribe.  Kraemer seized the initiative.  Señor perhaps I could help to defray some of the costs that have been borne by our government in this unfortunate matter.”  The old man offered respectfully.  Kraemer then reached down behind one of his paneled jewelry cases and into his safe.  Without a word the old man placed a small pouch in the official’s hand; in it were ten beautiful diamonds.  Smiling greedily, the sweating official opened the pouch.  “Your gift to your government will be long remembered.”  The official commented arrogantly as he moved toward the doors of the shop.  “Remember,” he said in a threatening voice, “you have only twenty-four hours to move this package out of the country.”  With those words he left the shop.  

Once the official was gone, Abraham closed the small shop and raced home.  As Abraham entered the house he shouted, “Anna, you must gather your things together quickly.”  There was panic in his delivery of the news.  “There’s no time to lose.  They know you’re here.”  He said in a trembling voice.  “Who knows, Abraham?”  His wife prodded nervously.  “Never mind that now Mama, we must get Anna and the baby to safety.”  Abraham allowed no more discussion.  All three knew that time was of the essence.  The Old Man understood clearly the message he’d received.  Anna and Christina would have to be off of Bolivian soil within twenty-four hours or they would live no longer.  He’d learned from his days with the Nazis that one could not rely on hope or kindness when it came to such matters.  Anna and the baby had little time.  Bundling up Christina and placing a few of Anna's things into a leather satchel, Abraham moved them quickly out the door and into the rain soaked streets.  Walking fast down the street to an alleyway, Anna heard an automobile motor start.  The old man sensing her fear turned to Anna and told her not to worry, that it was a friend.  As they walked into the alley the old man reached toward Anna.  Embracing her, Abraham smiled kindly.  He bent down and kissed Christina tenderly on the cheek.  Mama held Anna and the baby closely as the cold drizzle fell on the sad little family.  “You will go with Fernando.  He will take you safely across the border into Peru.”  Abraham assured Anna with a forced smile.  “Once there, you’ll make your way to this house.”  He instructed while pressing an addressed envelope into Anna’s hand.  “The people there are personal friends of mine.  They will help you.”  His words were promising and gave Anna hope.  She stared into Abraham's tearful eyes.  “Papa, why have you been so kind?  You’ve showed so much love and compassion to strangers.”  Anna’s question was from her heart.  Anna, people love people, and who knows why?  God allowed me to see beyond any superficial differences.  When we first met, to you, I was only a Jewish jeweler.  And to me, you were just a Catholic girl in trouble.  But God brought us together.  You and Christina filled a void in our lives.  In the end, we’re just people but more than that, we are a family.” Abraham smiled broadly at her.  

In tears, Anna reached out to embrace them both.  As Anna turned to enter the automobile, mama and Abraham held each other tightly.  Before she could enter, the old man grabbed her hand.  Opening it up, he placed a small wet leather pouch in it and wrapped her fingers around it.  “Daughter this will take you and Christina a long way.”  Pushing her into the back seat of the auto, Abraham closed the door after her.  Then he shouted, “Fernando take good care of my daughter and grandchild.”  Without answering or bothering to look at Abraham, the young man simply nodded his head, yes.  As the auto sped off into the black rainy night Anna looked back at the old couple.  She could see them waving goodbye as the auto turned the corner speeding off into the darkness.  Frightened as she sat in the speeding automobile Anna knew only too well that there were many that wished her story to never be told.  These people would go to any lengths to silence her.  Everywhere Anna had gone they had found her.  Anna knew that she must be more careful.  In the future every move she made would be calculated.  

As she thought about the past several months with Papa and Mama Kraemer tears came to her eyes.  Once again hope for the future had been ripped from her grasp.  The auto sped into the night as Anna wondered what Hans would have thought had he known that an old Jewish couple had saved his only daughter’s life.  Abraham was right.  People didn't hate other people; they hated what they didn’t understand.  She had begun her relationship with the Kraemer's thinking of them as Jews and nothing else.  Now she thought of them as grandparents to her daughter.  Relaxed by the sound of the motor and vibrations of the roadway Anna fell asleep holding her daughter close.  Her exhausted mind retreated into the darkness of a deep sleep.  

When Anna awoke she was afraid and rather hungry.  Feeling alone and vulnerable, she instinctively held Christina closely.  Her hands shook and tears welled up in her eyes as Anna fought to regain control of her emotions.  Now was not the time to give in to her fears.  

The driver, Fernando, hadn’t spoken a word for the past several hours.  Intent on getting the three to their intended destination, he thought of nothing else.  As for Fernando, he was interested only in fulfilling his obligation to Señor Kraemer.  The truth be known, he was angry that this woman in the back seat had placed his friend in mortal danger.  Abraham had always helped his family.  Whenever there was a need the old man could always be counted upon for help.  The young man would ensure that the woman and her child were safe across the border in Peru, but beyond that they were on their own.  Anna tried to strike up a conversation with him, but to no avail.  Knowing better than to waste her energy she fell back to sleep.  

When Anna awoke the next morning they had crossed the border into Peru.  They drove into the city of Cuzco, in the southern part of the country.  Soon, the driver pulled the auto into a driveway of an estate.  After parking, a tired and grumpy Fernando said nothing.  Straightening his tie and coat he got out of the auto and walked toward a large house at the far end of the driveway.  He was gone for several minutes before returning to the auto.  “Preparations have been made for you and your daughter.  You are to proceed to the house.”  Those were the only words spoken by Fernando as Anna and Christina got out of the auto and watched him toss her bag on the ground.  As quickly as he’d delivered the message he was gone.  

Anna and her child stood in the driveway abandoned next to their discarded bags watching as Fernando drove away.  A minute passed before an older man appeared at their side offering to carry Anna's few belongings.  The tall thin stranger walked Anna and her daughter to the large villa.  There was no one to greet them at the door, only the silence of an empty house.  The man guided them to a large elegant suite at the top of the staircase.  Once in the suite he assured Anna that they would be comfortable there.  As he left, the man informed her that lunch would be served at noon in the sunroom downstairs.  Closing the door softly behind him, the kind man left Anna to her thoughts.  Placing Christina safely on the huge bed Anna made her way into the cavernous bathroom.  Surveying the toiletries, she sampled bottles of perfume.  She then looked through drawers finding combs and brushes.  Anna was pleased with what she saw.  She then turned the ornate marble tub handles and ran a warm bath for her and Christina.  After locating a bottle of perfumed bath soaps she poured the contents into the steaming bath water.  

Returning to the bedroom, Anna looked through the drawers and closets and found sleeping gowns.  Anna took one and placed it on the bed next to Christina as she admired her little girl while she undressed.  Next she woke up Christina and the two made their way into the bathroom.  Holding Christina close, Anna carefully stepped into the deep wide tub.  She slid into the warm, comforting water.  Holding her daughter against her breast Anna relaxed in the soothing water.  She needed to feel pampered.  Anna had forgotten what it meant to be a woman.  Fate had afforded her little opportunity for life’s extravagances.  Christina and Anna bathed together for some time before getting on with the rest of their day.  

After toweling off and dressing, Anna clothed Christina.  They languished on the large bed for some time.  Lying quietly, Anna played with her little girl.  She ran her fingers through Christina's golden ringlets of hair.  The little girl smiled happily.  Anna’s child had Han’s strong jaw and deep-set blue eyes.  She also had his keen mind and intelligence.  As Anna continued playing with her daughter there was a knock at the door.  The voice announced that luncheon was to be served in half an hour.  Thanking the man through the door, Anna placed pillows around her daughter and made her way into the bathroom.  She searched for makeup in the dressing table drawer; everything she needed was there.  She made up her face quickly and was pleased with what she saw in the mirror.  With her makeup complete, Anna chose an afternoon gown from the closet and then changed her daughter.  Bathed and rested the pair walked downstairs and into the sunroom.  

As the two entered, Anna found an elegantly dressed woman with light brown hair already seated at the lawn table.  Looking up from her newspaper the beautiful woman smiled politely at them.  “Come in and join me.”  She invited.  “Please sit down, won't you.”  She offered in a formal tone.  Anna immediately sensed that this woman was cold and callused.  There was certain arrogance in her bearing.  Once seated, Anna introduced herself and Christina.  The woman’s response to them was detached.  Lunch was soon served.  After the three had eaten in silence for several minutes, Anna asked the woman's name.  “My dear, I think it best that we don't attempt social niceties.  You will be here only until I’m able to arrange passage to Colombia.  As indelicate as it may seem, do you have the diamonds for me?”  The woman asked greedily.  Startled by the request Anna was put off.  Then remembering the pouch that Papa had given her, Anna replied coldly, “Yes.”  The woman stared for a moment before replying indifferently.  “Well then, we shall begin making travel arrangements.  It will of course take several days for documents, plane tickets and the like.”  In a business-like fashion the woman explained what Anna could expect.  

Anna said nothing more, preferring to remain silent and finish her meal.  The woman returned to reading her newspaper.  Once finished with her meal, Anna purposely interrupted the woman’s reading.  “I will give you the diamonds once I have the documents and plane tickets in hand.”  She announced soberly to the startled woman.  Fernando had failed to explain the arrangements to Anna.  Remaining silent for a time, the obviously slighted woman was upset.  “Well then our discussion is at an end.”  The angry woman responded curtly.  “Young lady should you or your daughter need anything during your stay, please feel free to ask the servants.”  These were the last words the woman spoke as she got up from the table and left the sunroom.  

Over the next two weeks, Anna and her baby saw little of the woman.  Eating their meals alone, they dealt only with the servants.  Anna spent her days studying books on geography that she found in the woman's study.  She used this time to carefully plan the remainder of her trip northward to the United States.  It was at the end of the two weeks that the woman invited them to dine with her.  As Anna and Christina entered the dining room the woman welcomed them with her usual distant demeanor.  Asking them to join her, she held an envelope in her hand as they were seated.  Opening the envelope the woman began looking through the papers.  “My dear,” she began, “it appears that your travel papers have arrived and are in order.”  Anna offered no comment, only smiling.  The woman seemed distracted until Anna decided to close the negotiations.  “Madam, I have the diamonds for you.”  Anna offered in a calculated fashion.  The woman's manner changed immediately from aloofness to that of a mercenary interest.  “Well then, may I have them?” The woman replied harshly in a demanding tone.  Clearly their stay at the villa was at an end.  Anna placed four perfectly cut diamonds on the bread plate in front of the woman.  The woman’s eyes had watched hungrily as each sparkling diamond found its way onto the plate.  When the last diamond lay on the plate, she stared coldly into Anna’s eyes.  With the price paid the woman wasted little time in dispatching her guest.  Her last words were to order her chauffeur to take Anna and Christina immediately to the Lima Airport.  Standing up from the dining room table the woman turned her back on her guests and lit a cigarette.  She said nothing more as the two left the room.  

Anna’s tickets listed their destination as Bogota, Colombia.  Wasting little time packing their bags the two quickly entered an awaiting car.  The driver said nothing to them as he looked straight ahead.  As the auto drove away from the large house the past two weeks became hardly a distant memory.  Anna realized more than ever that the world with all of its glitter was a cold and heartless place.  Four diamonds had bought Anna and her daughter a short stay in a very cold house, owned by an even frostier woman.  At least tomorrow’s plane ride would be a welcomed distraction from her fear of the future.  The roads were in need of repair and the rainy weather conditions poor.  They stopped along the way only to care for Christina's needs.  The drive had been a long one as the two arrived at the airfield hungry and tired.  The driver left them at the airdrome entrance, not bothering to carry their bags into the terminal.  Anna was excited to be leaving.  They then made their way into the waiting area.  While they sat waiting Anna noticed that the building was new.  The terminal was a modern building with small shops and a restaurant bar.  A futuristic metallic ticket counter was its most dramatic feature.  Looking out the wall of windows, Anna noticed two large towers for air traffic control and a few planes on the tarmac below.  

After a short time, Anna and Christina made their way to the metallic airline ticket counter.  Taking their luggage the clerk gave Anna a claim ticket.  The boarding line was small and Anna had little trouble securing their seating assignment for the flight.  With forty-five minutes left before departure the stewardess announced the take-off time to the group of passengers over the speaker system.  Anna looked around and noticed that the passengers were fashionably dressed, with two obvious exceptions, Anna and her daughter.  Before leaving the estate Anna had helped herself to a few of the dresses and suits in the closet.  This, she felt was only fair given the cost of the flight and stay.  Four diamonds would have purchased months of hotel rooms and several flights.  She thought that this made her theft seem less of a sin.  Even so, Anna hadn’t worn any of the clothes.  Preferring to wear her old clothes, the two appeared to be poor relatives of someone waiting at the other end of the world.  

Time passed quickly and soon the boarding for the flight's departure was announced.  Those preparing to board were requested to walk through the ticket gate and onto the tarmac for boarding.  Anna and Christina were first to make their way through the line and board the airplane.  Relieved that she would be yet one more country closer to America, Anna silently thanked God for the airplane.  It was a beautiful cloudless day in May 1952, when Anna and her daughter flew away from the Lima airdrome.  But she could think only of the difficulties that still lay ahead.  

The flight went smoothly.  Within hours their plane was making a lazy descent to the Bogota Airport.  It landed smoothly coming to an uneventful stop.  As they deplaned, the passengers were directed to the customs officers.  The long line and exaggerated procedures were needlessly tedious.  Customs reviewed passports and hurried the arrivals through.  When Anna and Christina finally arrived at the head of the line the customs official asked for their passports.  “How long will you be staying in our country?”  The official asked almost mechanically.  “Two weeks.” Anna responded, pretending to be in control of her fears.  “Do you have anything to declare?”  The large man demanded.  “No.” Anna replied uncomfortably.  “Well then, enjoy your stay Madam.”  He said with a wide, toothy grin.  

Next, Anna and Christina made their way to the currency exchange office and converted Peruvian currency for that of Colombia.  In a momentary panic Anna reached into her small bag and reassured herself that both pouches were intact.  Sitting on a bench she opened each pouch to look at the gold coins and diamonds to be sure they were still in her possession.  Anna carefully removed the diamonds from their leather pouch and watched as they sparkled against the lights that washed over them.  She was relieved knowing that the gold coins and eight diamonds would keep her and Christina safe from the world for a time.   Having exchanged currencies they secured a taxi and left the Bogota airdrome.  Once again faced with a need to re-establish a home for Christina and herself, Anna ceased marveling at the glitter of the big city.  Her only thought was of survival.  Asking the driver to take her to the heart of the business district, they were dropped close to a jewelry shop.  

Entering to negotiate the conversion of her little fortune into currency, Anna remembered the information Papa Kraemer had given her about the value of diamonds and other precious stones.  She would not be cheated.  Anna quickly completed her hard-nosed negotiations with the owner of the shop.  Receiving an excellent price for the high-grade quality diamonds she now had the money needed to find lodging and to provide for her and Christina.  With passports in hand and enough money to last her for several months, Anna could now play the part of a tourist.  A happy Anna hailed a taxi and instructed the driver to take her to a hotel close to the business district.  Dropping them at a hotel close by, the driver raced off to his next fare.  The Hotel Greco was pleasant and located near stores and restaurants.  Having secured a room the two settled down for a quiet day’s rest.  They slept the day away and ordered room service the following morning.  The next few days and nights were spent studying English and the financial markets.  Anna’s plan was to learn both languages necessary for her future.  Vowing to never again allow herself or her daughter to be victims of this heartless world, she knew that money would be their only protection in life.  

Over the next six months, Anna studied hard.  At every opportunity Anna attempted to speak English.  Each time she met an American, she tried to communicate in the language of his country.  For her, English was difficult with its tenses so different from her native Spanish.  But she worked hard to learn.  There were so many differences.  The language confused her.  Finding finance equally confusing, there seemed to be no logic to the fluctuations in the markets.  It appeared that the selling of stocks was based upon emotion rather than utility.  But finally after months of study Anna began to understand.  

One day while lunching with Christina in the hotel restaurant things suddenly changed.  While reading the financial section of the newspaper, Anna was approached by a well dressed young man.  In a business suit and smiling broadly, he introduced himself as Señor Alberto Vega.  Offering a kind word about Christina’s beauty, he left with a wink.  In the following weeks, Alberto made a point to say hello when he found them lunching.  One day he happened by while Anna was reading a book on finance.  He asked Anna what her interest was in such dry material.  She explained her interest in the value of stocks.   He then offered to tutor her on the stock market and commodities.  Alberto explained that he was a commodity broker in his father's firm.  Anna accepted his kind gesture and over the next few months Señor Vega taught her much about the markets.  But there were two things about him that made Anna feel uncomfortable.  First, Señor Vega always appeared to be in the vicinity, no matter where she and Christina happened to be.  Wherever they went Alberto was soon to follow.  Second, whenever they were together he found reasons to inquire about her family and background.  

It was in December, that Anna began feeling nervous and unable to shake the feeling that she was being followed.  Over the next several months, Anna returned to her room to find her belongings moved slightly and the dresser drawers left ajar.  The closet doors were left open and her clothes appeared out of order.  At first, Anna thought these oddities were only a result of her paranoia.  Later she found out differently.  One cold night in January, Rosa, an employee of the hotel, knocked on her door.  As Anna opened the door the young woman instructed her to be careful and said that she would return later that night when her work was done.  In the early morning hours, Anna heard a knock.  Opening the door she saw a frightened Rosa standing before her.  “Please let me in, Señora,” Rosa pleaded in a quiet, frightened voice.  “What is wrong Rosa?”  Anna asked, concerned.  The young girl began explaining.  Over several weeks Rosa noticed a man letting himself into Anna's room while she was out.  At first, Rosa thought the man might be a gentleman friend.  But once she saw him entering the room using a small instrument instead of a key.  When the man realized Rosa had seen him, he ran after her.  Catching her in the stairwell, he threatened her, demanding she forget what she’d seen.  Explaining to Anna that the man was a government official, Rosa said she feared for the Señora.  As Rosa began to leave Anna thanked her for the information.  Rosa refused the money that Anna offered.  After Rosa left Anna rushed to the sofa and turned over one of the pillows.  Unzipping the pillow cover she searched the stuffing for her precious diamonds.  To her relief they were there.  Next, she removed a second pillow cover and searched for their passports.  Reaching deep into the stuffing Anna found nothing.  Frantic, she began ripping off the fabric.  The passports had been taken.  Fear soon got to her and tears streamed down her face.  After several minutes, Anna began to think clearly again.  She realized that they had little time to escape.  Anna reasoned that the authorities would be her next callers and they would want to see her passport.  If she couldn’t produce the documents they would have little choice in the matter.  The officials would be forced to detain her until extradition could be arranged.  Anna packed quickly, gathering up only those things needed for a short trip.  With Christina in her arms she moved hastily out the door.  Choosing not to use the lift, Anna ran to the stairwell and down to the lobby area.  There she saw Señor Vega with two policemen talking to the hotel manager.  Anna turned quickly and ran down the corridor to the back exit.  As she left the building she could see a group of policemen waiting at the front of the hotel.  No one noticed her walking in the dark alleyway as she and Christina made their way into the night.  Walking quickly for several blocks Anna finally hailed a cab.  She paid the driver to take them to Medellin and there, she and Christina took a train northward through Panama.  

The train continued on its way through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and finally, Guatemala.  Each time Anna reached a border crossing there had been the Coima, the bribe.  Without passports she and Christina were the perfect victims.  There was always a government official who specialized in the Coima.  They were very kind and understanding, always ready to lend a helping hand once the helping hand was full of money.  They were all the same, turning a blind eye after the bite.  By the time they reached Mexico, Anna’s precious stones were no more.  Each crossing had cost her dearly.  Anna now had only enough money to reach the American border with Mexico.  Tired and hungry, she and Christina finally reached the town of Tijuana.  Only by the grace of God had they made it to the border without major difficulty.  When Anna saw the American flag blowing in the breeze across the fence from Mexico, she nearly wept.  The United States, the sound of those words brought tears to her eyes.  Over the past hellish years she had thought of nothing else.  They were now so close and yet so far.  

Anna went over again and again in her mind just how she would get them across the border.  Knowing her English was poor, no, worse than poor, terrible, she ran the many possible scenarios through her mind.  Exhausted, tired, and hungry she began feeling faint as she stood in front of a large market on the Avenida Revolution.  Pushing herself hard, Anna began putting together her final plan.  The market was a large, open affair offering many colorful items to the Americano turistas.  There were brightly colored clothes, shoes and leather goods.  By the reactions of the Americanos these were goods they needed.  A dark complexioned, portly man approached her and asked if she was feeling ill.  Anna was now aware of how bad her predicament was.  They were running out of time.  Christina was sick and Anna was exhausted.  If they were to survive she would have to act quickly.  Anna had very few American dollars left.  She quickly studied how the Americanos were dressed.  The women sported cheap cotton slacks and lightweight blouses.  Others wore the colorful native Mexican peasant dresses they had purchased from the marketplace.  Anna made her decision.  She would buy a peasant dress and look like any other Americano turista passing back across to the other side of the border.  Having purchased clothes for herself and her daughter, they were now the picture of turistas.  As Anna and Christina moved toward the turnstiles separating Mexican foot traffic from the United States, she watched carefully as the border guard asked questions of the returning tourists.  “Country of origin?”  The guard questioned almost mechanically.  The returning Americanos rarely answered the question acting as if the guard didn’t exist.  They walked through and continued their conversations without so much as acknowledging the presence of the questioner.  Watching for several more minutes she made mental notes.  It wasn’t so much what they said, but how they said it.

Americanos moved very quickly, always rushing.  They were very loud and demonstrative, acting almost like children.  And there was a certainty about them, a sense of purpose.  It wasn't arrogance, it just a sense of continual movement.  They knew who they were and what they were about.  It was not the superiority of an Estanciero; it was more the easy confidence of the Germans.  As Anna and Christina moved closer to the turnstiles she grabbed her daughter's hand and pulled her close.  Anna’s eyes met those of the American in uniform.  “Country of origin?” he asked almost automatically.  The woman in line just before Anna had simply answered, “USA.”  Anna said the same.  “USA.”  Not reacting to her response, the official just continued to ask the same question of those who followed behind her.  At the moment the turnstile closed behind them, Anna and Christina were in America.  After almost three long years, she had finally arrived on the sacred soil.  Tears welled up in her eyes as she made her way to an open parking lot.  As Anna stopped to get her bearings she held her daughter closely.  “We will be fine now my daughter.”  She said in a very quiet, soothing voice.  Christina only smiled.  

Several turistas stood and waited for something as they talked and laughed loudly.  Soon a large bus arrived.  Always alert, Anna pulled Christina along and joined them.  The driver was an older man.  He asked no questions only directing traffic to the rear of the bus.  Soon the bus was full.  Once all were seated the bus pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway.  As they traveled along she was reminded of the large buildings her own capital city.  Soon Anna was asleep, the kind of heavy sleep a child experiences when returning home from a long journey.  Traveling for what appeared to be several hours before stopping, Anna was awakened by the sounds of people hurrying to disembark the bus.  Talking and laughing the turistas pushed and shoved as the bus emptied.  Quickly Anna took Christina's hand and they too departed the bus.  

She read the bus terminal sign.  It read “Los Angeles”.  Anna was almost at the end of her ability to cope.  Tired and afraid, she was confused as to what to do next.  Then she heard it, that sweet sound, Español.  Two women in front of her were sweeping the floors and laughing.  Approaching them a frightened Anna asked in Spanish where she might find a church.  Both women seemed surprised to find this Americana speaking a strange accented Spanish.  They told her of a church in nearby Lincoln Heights.  They were very kind to her and provided directions.  The younger of the two women, Rachel, noticed the little girl looking intently at the snack bar across the room.  The little girl appeared hungry and tired.  The women sensed something was wrong.  Anna appeared disoriented and frightened.  “Are you alright?”  They asked in a concerned tone.  “No.”  Anna responded.  Crying, she collapsed on a bench.  Feeling lost and afraid, Anna was at the end of her rope.  The concerned women sat down beside her.  The older of the two women, Lourdes, placed her arm around Anna's shoulder and held her tenderly as a mother would hold a daughter.  The other woman lifted Christina onto her lap and began talking softly to her.  They could see that the blonde woman in front of them was exhausted and frightened.  

Anna explained that she had spent her last dollars on clothes for her and her daughter.  Anna then confided in them that she was in the United States illegally.  Both women understood her problem.  Each had relatives that were illegal’s.  The older woman was moved by Anna’s plight and offered her and her daughter a place to stay.  The woman could see that Anna was visibly relieved by the offer.  By then, it was late and almost quitting time.  The younger woman took Christina to the snack bar and bought her something to eat.  When they returned to the bench the younger woman gave Anna a cup of coffee and a doughnut.  She ate and drank quickly before leaving.  The three took a local bus to the old woman’s neighborhood in Lincoln Heights.  By the time they arrived at the woman's home Anna was much more composed.  She now was feeling safer.  Thinking only of a soft bed and sleep, the pressure was finally off.  

The house was a little clapboard bungalow that was many years past its prime.  There was a small kitchen with very few amenities and a tiny bathroom that led to an even smaller bedroom.  “You will sleep in my bedroom, Mija.”  Lourdes announced to Anna.  The woman's smile and gentle eyes reassured Anna that all would be fine.  This woman was as good as she was kind.  They spoke little; all were tired and in need of rest.  Walking into the bedroom, Lourdes gave them both nightclothes.  After Anna and Christina had changed the woman came in to wish them good night.  As the woman tucked them in for the night she prayed the rosary over them.  Falling asleep, the last words Anna heard were the woman’s prayers being offered up to God on their behalf.  

In the late morning of the next day, Anna was still sleeping deeply.  She and Christina were making up for several years of sleepless nights.  Lourdes entered the little bedroom to bring coffee for Anna.  “Wake up Mija.”  She said in Spanish.  When Anna didn't respond the older woman simply kissed her on the forehead and left her to her dreams.  It was a sunny afternoon when Anna heard the singing of Spanish songs coming from the kitchen.  At first, Anna thought she was back at her home, at the estancia.  At the estancia the maids always sang in the mornings as she awoke from the night’s dreams.  Suddenly Anna was awake, pulling her daughter close to her.  The old woman could hear the rustling coming from the bedroom.  Anna,” she called out, “Are you hungry?”  The older woman’s voice was calming to Anna. “Yes, Lourdes,Anna replied sleepily.  After a few moments, Anna and Christina joined Lourdes in the small kitchen.  Both ate as if there was no tomorrow.  The old woman watched in silence as the two ate everything in sight.  “Are you two full?” She asked with a twinkle in her eye.  With that question they all laughed.  

During the meal Anna had many questions about this strange new country.  She had not known that so many Latinos lived in Los Angeles.  Lourdes explained how many, like herself, had come to the United States for its promise of a new future.  Here jobs were plentiful, unlike her native Mexico.  In America one could hope for a better life, one that allowed for some comfort.  In Mexico, only the rich could reach for the future.  Anna listened intently as Lourdes talk for hours about her past in the old country.  The rich had abused and enslaved in Lourdes’ world.  Nowhere was there a kind word for the brutal rich.  Anna learned quickly to hide her privileged past, knowing that Lourdes would never understand her previous station in life.  For Lourdes, this would have meant an end to their friendship.  The topic of discussion finally moved to Anna's predicament.  Lourdes asked Anna how she and her friends could help.  They discussed the possibility of a job, then a place for Anna and Christina to stay.  The old woman insisted that they stay with her for as long as it took to be settled in their new home, “America”.  She said the word with a reverence.  It was clear this was a wonderful and sacred place to Lourdes.  

Lourdes wrote a letter of introduction for Anna to bring to the rectory.  To Anna's surprise, it was written in English.  “What does the letter say?”  She asked genuinely concerned.  “It says only that you’re a poor girl in need of help from the Church.  It also says that your daughter is in need of clothes and toys.  And finally, it says that you’re not a lazy person and you want to work.  Mija, the Priest will understand.”  Lourdes reply was meant to take away Anna’s fears.  Mira Mija, there is a dark side to this place, one that you should know about.  There are groups of families who control the bad things that life has to offer.  You know, the women of the night and the gambling.  And worst of all, the Devil's own drugs.  Many of the young ones are trapped in this underworld.  They are prisoners of the dark side of life.  Once they become part of it, they can’t return to God.  So many have died so young, there is great fear in our streets.  It's as though the Devil himself has taken up residence here.”  Lourdes offered these words in a hushed tone.  

She then tried to explain to Anna about myself, my parish, and the barrio.  “The Priest has done much to keep the young ones from this evil way of life.  Even the evil barrio gangsters fear him.  There’s one, Señor Aragón, who many believe to be one of the heads of the La Familia, the Family.  He’s a friend of the Priest even though he is involved in many dark things.  It is to this Priest we shall send you.  This angel from a land across the sea will help you as he has so many others.  Mija, it’s very important that you don’t lie, for he will know.  He understands our people.  When speaking to him do so with great respect for he has many powerful friends.  Many people in the barrio get help from him when needed.  So you will go to him tonight and plead your case.  But first you must go to the church to light candles and offer prayers to the Virgin.  Then you must go to the confessional.  You will take my rosary beads for good luck.  They’ve been used to pray for the needs of many people.  Good things have come from these prayers.  Perhaps the Virgin will grant your prayers this night.”  Lourdes offered reassuringly.  

Finally, Anna’s story was at an end.  She had used the confessional and her time with me to rid herself of demons.  With her confession finished, I assigned Anna the penance of ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Fathers.  As I closed the small door to the opening between us I knew that this woman’s confession had impacted me greatly.  I had pity for her as I closed the door to the confessional behind me and walked away.  Anna felt terribly exhausted having finally told someone about her horrible ordeal of the past three years.  And yet in the end, she was still alone.  She remained in the dark confessional for a while thinking about what this new world outside had in store for her and Christina.  As Anna prepared to leave the small room she felt a sense of relief.  Somehow God had allowed her to unburden herself.  Returning to the pews Anna completed her prayers.  Soon, she rose from the pew to leave and saw me at the back of the church.  She moved quickly attempting to leave the church, feeling uncomfortable at seeing the man to whom she had just recounted her life’s story.  As she neared the end of the isle, I motioned for her to follow me.  Just then Anna remembered Lourdes' letter.  When we met on the sidewalk outside of the church she handed it to me.  Pulling my glasses from my coat pocket, I put them on and read the letter.  As I stared at this tired, tortured soul there was little I could say.  

“Do you have a place to live?”  I asked her in Spanish.  “Yes.”  She answered me in heavily accented English.  I remember smiling at her attempt to communicate in a foreign language.  “Have you a job?”  The question was asked knowing that she was in need.  “No.”  She responded ever so bravely.  “Come back tomorrow.  I will see you at 10:00 a.m. sharp.  Don't be late.”  I said in Spanish as I turned and walked away.  Anna looked relieved that I had taken an interest in her plight.  I could see that she felt comforted as she left to return to Lourdes and Christina.  

Anna returned the following morning two hours early.  Waiting in front of the church, she walked back and forth between the church and the rectory.  My housekeeper, Flora, had noticed the woman pacing back and forth when she arrived at work that morning.  As Flora began her house cleaning duties, she peered out the window and studied the woman intently wondering what this beautiful Anglo woman was doing in the barrio.  When I came downstairs for my morning coffee I found Flora peering out the window.  I asked what she was staring at.  Flora said only that a crazy gringa was walking around outside.  Later, when I went to the front door of the rectory to retrieve my morning newspaper I saw Anna.  She was very punctual and that was a good sign.  As I walked down the front steps of the rectory I called to her, “Señora would you like to join me for breakfast?”  As Anna turned toward me she smiled.  “I would be honored, Padre."  She shouted back in Spanish.  

We sat together that morning in the rectory garden and enjoyed breakfast.  It was as if we had known one another forever.  There was no pretense.  Enjoying ourselves as we talked about her work experience and her lack of a legal status, I found Anna to have all the social graces of the rich, but without the arrogance of her social class.  She shared her knowledge of the arts, music, and opera.  Anna could play the piano and sing.  But beyond these she knew little that was of utilitarian value.  Her knowledge of French could be of value to her later on.  But her lack of English language skills was a handicap.  Anna assured me that she wasn't afraid of hard work and I believed her.  I was most concerned about her illegal status knowing that if she were to be found out she would be deported.  The American government wouldn’t accept her story of Argentine grievances.  She would be viewed as just another illegal alien from Latin America.  America had a narrow view of foreigners.  No more wetbacks were wanted.  To most Americans anyone who spoke Spanish was a Mexican.  

What Anna needed was a job that demanded little interaction with the outside world.  I thought hard about what she might do.  She needed a position that would keep her from questioning eyes and ears.  Understanding Anna’s predicament, I also knew she needed a safe place to stay.  It was then that I thought of Michael Aragón.  His existence was a lonely one.  He needed some semblance of normalcy in his life.  Aragón had just adopted a second son, Benjamin.  He could barely raise Kenneth, let alone a second son.  With a large house and no one to keep it for him, Michael needed help.  The two boys also needed the influence of a woman in their lives.  

Believing that Anna would do nicely, I excused myself from the breakfast table and went to my library.  I wrote a letter to Michael explaining Anna's situation.  Upon returning to the garden I gave the letter to Anna, telling her I knew of a family in need of a governess.  As I gave her directions to Michael's home I described his situation.  With breakfast at an end, I sent her on her way.  Anna followed my directions and walked the five blocks to the Aragón's home.  Once there she became uncomfortable and left to return to Lourdes’ home.  When Anna arrived back at the house she told Lourdes what happened.  Lourdes convinced her to return to Michael’s home and follow my instructions.  

It was early afternoon when Anna and Christina returned to Aragón's house.  The house was a large two story affair, old and in need of paint.  Anna noted that the windows needed washing.  The yard was largely unkempt with grass and shrubbery poorly maintained.  Gathering up all her courage she and Christina walked up the stone stairs to the front door.  After turning the mechanical doorbell Anna stood there for several minutes waiting for someone to answer.  Then she noticed someone inside peering out the side of a curtained window.  But still no one answered the door.  As she and Christina turned to walk away, the door suddenly opened.  There stood Michael Aragón.  A tall man, he was over six foot.  His large muscular frame was strong and fit, his hair light brown and wavy.  With his light green eyes and fair complexion Anna found him quite handsome.  Behind him stood two little boys, one with very light blonde hair and the other with reddish blonde hair and freckles.  Both were very quiet and well behaved.  Neither spoke.  

“What is it?” Michael barked in English, assuming she was an Anglo.  Anna sheepishly reached into her purse and took out an envelope.  Without saying a word, she handed it to him.  He asked her to wait as he closed the door and went back inside.  Aragón opened the envelope and read the contents.  “Damn Priest.”  Anna heard him say in a loud angry voice.  Anna waited patiently until he returned to the door.  From behind her, little blonde Christina looked up at Michael and smiled.  Returning the smile Michael was moved by the child’s innocence.  She reminded him of Kenny.  “Won't you come in?”  He asked her, this time in Spanish.  As the two walked inside Michael offered them coffee and juice.  Anna said yes to coffee and Michael left for a few minutes.  While he was out of the room the two boys came out from behind the couch and walked up to Anna.  Asking her in Spanish who she was, they then asked to play with the Christina.  The three children left to play in the backyard.

When Aragón returned with the drinks he asked where the little girl was.  Anna explained that the boys had taken her out in the yard to play.  The two sat uncomfortably on the couch.  A clumsy conversationalist Aragón cared little for chitchat.  He hadn't had a woman visitor in his home for quite sometime.  “You are here for a job?”  He asked, trying to break the ice.  “Yes.” Anna responded flatly, wanting to be respectful.  Unprepared to discuss employment, Aragón began with the usual questions one would ask of a prospective nanny.  Speaking in general terms for several minutes the two discussed what the job would entail.  Anna then asked him how much the job would pay.  Michael explained that he would pay twenty dollars a week.  Upon hearing the offer, Anna immediately asked for twenty-five.  Aragón said nothing for a minute or two.  “If I give you the job you must never speak to anyone about what you see or hear in my home, not even the Priest.  Is that understood?” Aragón’s question was more a command that a question.  Having listened intently, Anna nodded her agreement.  “Where will Christina and I sleep?”  She asked respectfully.  Aragón motioned to the floor above, as he told her that the two would share the same room.  He then added that the room had its own bathroom.  Anna smiled meekly as she thanked him.  Both seemed happy with the arrangement.  Looking Michael in the eyes, she held her hand out to him.  They shook on the agreement.

Aragón liked her straight forward manner.  He liked people who were direct and to the point.  Long ago, he had learned that people who looked him straight in the eyes were worthy of his trust.  Anna then asked him when she and Christina could move in.  Aragón explained that he would need her to start immediately.  With those words the discussion was at an end.  Aragón asked her to remain seated while he went out to fetch the children.  The four returned to the living room and Anna and Christina left.  

Shortly after Anna and Christina left, Aragón explained to the boys that the woman and the young girl would be returning to live with them.  The boys were excited about the idea.  Aragón asked them if they liked the woman, both shook their heads, yes.  

Later, I received a telephone call from Michael.  We talked about his visit with Anna.  He agreed that it was time for the boys to have the influence of a woman.  Michael felt uncomfortable with the idea of a man raising children alone.  It was he that mentioned that Anna could take the boys to church, as his mother had taken him.  “At least now,” he said, “the boys will have good meals.”  

Aragón then mentioned the loneliness he’d seen in the woman's eyes.  He felt there was a story behind those eyes, one which he would someday understand.  “The way she spoke and carried herself, showed great dignity,” he commented approvingly.  Michael could see through people.  It was his business to size people up.  He could tell a phony a mile away.  He felt she was a lady in trouble, running from something or somebody, but from whom or what, he didn't know.  

I know that I always had a special place in Michael’s heart.  Even though for years we had an ongoing battle of wills.  He knew very well that I didn’t approve of his Family business.  And yet, strangely, we had always remained friends.  His psychological wounds and loss of manhood had left him an empty shell of his former self.  Though I judged his gangster business harshly, he knew that I loved him.  Anna’s coming into his life would be a blessing.  

When she returned to Lourdes’ home, Anna explained to her that she had found employment through me.  Both woman thanked God for answering their prayers.  Anna didn't bother to tell Lourdes her new employer’s name.  The two gathered up Anna's things and brought them to the front door.  Both cried as Anna and Christina left the little house.  Anna promised Lourdes that some day she would repay her kindness.


10/29/2015 02:57 PM