« Maria Teresa Tortolero-Rivero »

Different stages of her life

Different stages of her life

Not long ago, I shared with you the genealogy of my paternal ancestors, originating in the Canary Islands, which for six generations, dated as far back to the early eighteenth century. Unfortunately, I have not developed as complete a genealogical study on the ascendency of my maternal ancestors, but I wanted to share with you all that I’ve learned through biographical memories of my mother

Very little is known about my maternal great-grandparents, Elogio Tortolero and Paula Ojeda, except their being owners of a large estate in the south of the State of Carabobo Venezuela circa the nineteenth century. His descendants, my grandparents, Rafael Tortolero (born in 1893) and Marcolina Rivero (born in 1898), inherited extensive lands which they worked as cane growers and coffee farmers in the mountains, known as the “Fundo (buttocks) of Jorge” [taken after the name of my great-great-grand father]. The lands are officially known as “Banco Largo,” near the village of Bejuma in a beautiful region of Venezuela. Since colonial times, it was known that my mother’s family was of Sephardi Spanish origin, from the Toledo region.

Maria Teresa, as my mother had been baptized, was born near Bejuma in 1927 at a large house, which she used to describe as having seven bedrooms. Since she was a child, she wrote poems inspired by her surroundings as well as the love she received from her parents. At age 11 she lost her mother owing to eclampsia from a failed sixth pregnancy at age 39, and the following year, she lost her father from pneumonia at age 46.  As a result, between 1938-46, she attended boarding school at the Colegio de Lourdes in Valencia as ordained by her spiritual guide, “in locus parentis”, Father Francisco Martínez. At age eighteen, she completed her education as a school hygienist and secretarial accountant. The following year she contracted civil marriage to a Russian dissident, and though the marriage was consummated, her husband had unaccountably disappeared with all of her savings. As time went by, she sought out consultation from a lawyer, who eventually proposed marriage to her and became my father. They met while he was a labor union representative for the same Central Tacarigua Sugar Company near lake Valencia where my mother had started working at age 20.

My mother married my father at age 24, and after eight pregnancies, only five children survived, of whom I am the second. For eight years, between the ages of 49 to 57, she was involved in a hard-fought divorce with my father. Having been married to a lawyer for 27 years, she returned to her studies and became a lawyer at age 64 in 1991, specializing in child welfare.

In 1998 my mother stopped working as an attorney and dedicated herself to her grandchildren. In her late 60’s and early 70’s she made a concerted effort to build a corpus of her poetry. In 1999, she and I had a chance to travel in Europe for a month when she was seventy-two. The following year, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although, in 2004, she was still well enough to enjoy meeting for the first time my partner David here in New York. She was really impressed by him and my mother-in-law Eva Lowenberger. Later in 2011, my mother dies of related advanced stages of the Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 84 years. Ever since I could remember, in addition to writing poetry, my mother delved in metaphysics and various esoteric subjects, which I believed had preserved her enthusiasm for life. She told me that she had begun to read Jiddu Krishnamurti in her twenties, and I remembered that she used to speak of him with great admiration since I was a teenager. She loved all the arts, and she liked that we were interested in them. Her encouragement led me to become an artist since early childhood. Five years before her death, she wrote:

“Wings In Flight”

Keep up the pace of your escape

in step with your fate

Your way is far and wide

and if at the first try you slide

O birdie so wounded

raise your eyes towards heaven

fear not any longer your destiny

for fleeing is a coward’s way

when it’s love that’s divine.

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