RIP Catalina... you will be missed.
I didn't have a lot of material things growing up. We were poor. Not dirt poor. It's not like we ever went hungry or anything. But we didn't have a lot of luxuries in our humble household. Mom and dad both worked back breaking jobs. My brothers and I had some chores around the house, but especially me and my brother who is just a year older than I, our main job was to study. We were always in advanced classes and even though we went to public school, we made it in, and graduated, from the best school in our area. We grew up hearing about the "real" hardships our parents faced in their youth. A constant reminder of how good we had it.
I have been fortunate in my life and, as I'm sure my parents planned all along, have a better life than they did when it comes to luxuries in life. It is easy when you grow up poor to rationalize getting something you never thought you could. When it came to hiring a cleaning lady though, I resisted. It was such a taboo in my culture. It seemed so "classist" to me. That's something rich people do. I'm not rich.
I was never much for house cleaning mind you. As a teenager I would do anything I could to get out of cleaning the pots and pans when I did the dishes. My mom constantly had to fight with me because the kitchen was my main chore and I was always doing a half-assed job. As an adult I realize later on that I frequently think I cleaned something well, only to have it pointed out that it is still dirty in some way. Partly a curse of being blind, partly because I just don't like doing it. When I was diagnosed with asthma, and a pulmonologist told me the dust mites were killing me, I heard the words I always wanted to hear: "If you can afford to, get someone to clean your house for you." When I told my mother she just laughed and said she always knew this day would come.
And so I had a few people clean for me when I could afford it. It was a great help, but it was always a little weird. Finally my good friend Page met this woman while she was teaching English as a second language as a volunteer at Catholic Services. The lady told her she cleaned houses, and if she knew anyone who needed help to give them her number. She was apologetic about still trying to learn the language, but her daughter was fluent and could translate for those who needed it. Page said "actually I do know someone and she doesn't need a translator." This is how Catalina Behera came into my life.
She came to see me with her daughter (just in case me Spanish was not as good as Page told her) and we discussed how the process would work. It was odd for me interviewing a cleaning lady, but I really did need the help. I had gotten to a point that I took my allergy pills, wore a face mask to dust and still got sick with asthma the night after I cleaned everytime. At the time I lived in a rented little duplex by myself with my cat Boo Boo (RIP). Catalina was a god send. I could only afford her once every three weeks, and so she came regularly and did stuff that seemed beyond what a cleaning lady would do. Like, say, refold everything in my linen closet. She went out of her way to be extra special.
She moved with me when I bought my first place. Cleaned out every place when I moved out, the new place before I moved in, came over on a different day if I asked her to so my house would be extra clean for company. I started recommending her to people, and got her quite a few extra jobs. Every one said the same thing "this woman is better than any cleaning lady I ever had."
But she was more than that to me. She was cleaning my condo before I moved in and I was still painting. I was telling her about all the upgrades I wanted to make to my very old kitchen. She looked at me and said: "Don't focus on what you don't have, just focus on all that you do. Look at all that you have. You are 33 and own this place all by yourself." I realized then that she was right, that she was wise, and that she was more than a cleaning lady. I mean, she really took care of me like a mom would, except she was only ten years older than me.
After I married and moved, I decided to let Michael keep his cleaning lady because my Catalina was 45 minute drive away, not knowing that she would drive that and more because she needed the work and the money. As soon as I could replace that other lady (who could not hold a candle to Catalina) I got her back. I gave her as much work as I could. Hired her for the greenhouse offices, referring her to my mother in law and aunt. I kept trying to keep her happy, because she was so good to me. Michael showered her with plants and produce. For over 5 years I have been saying "I don't know what I would do without my Catalina."
Last night Catalina's daughter called to tell me she passed away that morning. She said her dad went to wake her and she just didn't wake up. She was 48 years old.
Whenever I stop to think about it I cry. She was a wonderful woman. Honest, hardworking, and sweet. She loved my Sofia, and I know she loved me as I loved her. She was a helping hand, a friend, and a source of inspiration for years. I don't know what she died from, I hope it was as peaceful as it sounded. Wherever she is I hope she knows that I will miss her terribly, and mourn her deeply.
Descansa en paz amiga fiel.