Uncle Rodrigo

Posted in Excerpts at 01:51 pm by admin


Uncle Rodrigo and His Chimarao

Uncle Rodrigo and His Chimarao

Living with a unique and eccentric person can be a real challenge.  My Brazilian uncle would fit into this category. 

Uncle Rodrigo and his wife Martha, Dad’s younger sister, came to live with us in Coqueiros in 1944, a year before we returned to America. I was ten years old. They took care of our house in Brazil while we were in America and stayed on with us when we returned. My most vivid memories of Uncle Rodrigo were when I was a teenager and returned to Brazil in 1947.

While we were in America Uncle Rodrigo removed all of the screens from the windows of our house in Coqueiros, as he was sure they kept the fresh ocean air from entering the house.  Aunt Martha waited on him and did her best to take care of his needs.  The first thing every morning was to have hot water ready for Uncle Rodrigo’s Chimarao.  This is the green tea served in a gourd used by the gauchos of Rio Grande do Sul, Rodrigo’s home state. Aunt Martha always made sure his white linen suit was clean and pressed and his white tennis shoes spotless. Most afternoons, he dressed up in these clothes, carried his black cane umbrella and took the bus to town.  We have no idea what he did in town and never had a need to know.  However, around 4 or 5 P.M. he returned to Coqueiros.

Stella, my best friend, also lived with us during this time. We often caught the Coqueiros bus at the same time Uncle Rodrigo did. If we saw him coming towards the bus or we were able to see him on the bus, we disappeared and caught the next one. If we happened to catch the same bus, Uncle Rodrigo would always stand up and introduce us to everyone as we entered the bus. In a loud, gentlemanly, and dramatic voice for everyone to hear, he would say in Portuguese, “May I have the honor of presenting my humble chair to my beautiful American niece, Grace Kolenda.  Would you give me the pleasure of accepting this seat from your devoted Uncle?” 

Then I would look around and see shocked looks and sometimes smiles on the other passengers, and I wanted to crawl under the seat. I accepted his offer as fast as possible and thanked him profusely, to avoid a prolonged speech.  This was my uncle, and everything he did was exaggerated. But I was only sixteen, and was embarrassed by all this.

In my book, Divine Betrayal, I describe Uncle Rodrigo’s dramatic and prolonged prayers at the dinner table. When mother knew it was his turn to ask the blessing before the meal, she would leave the food on the stove until after his long prayers!

Uncle Rodrigo's Script

Uncle Rodrigo's Script

Uncle Rodrigo was a romantic poet.  He used a pseudonym, “Circe.”  When he decided to create, he took over the large dining room table, placed paper over the wood, brought out his ink well and feathered quill, and with wide, sweeping motions began to write.  We all knew not to disturb him while he was creating, and when he finished, he looked for someone to listen to his poems.  Stella would always make herself available.  She listened intently, and then would tell him how much she loved his work. Often she would say to me, within hearing distance of Uncle Rodrigo, “Grace, your Uncle is very talented–I love his work.”  Uncle Rodrigo would beam from ear to ear. 

At times it was difficult to suppress your desire to laugh.  Uncle Rodrigo had to sense this, and I think that many times I hurt him.  Today I would have understood, admired his idiosyncrasies, and accepted his uniqueness. He was my friend, and showed this in many ways. I often feel sad that I did not show him the respect and love he deserved.

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    Maybe is better to write in portuguese. Realmente a internet é fantástica!
    Encontrei seu site por acaso quando vi a fotografia do vovô Rodrigo e entrei no link da foto para entender quem era a sobrinha do “uncle Rodrigo”.
    Seu site é ótimo e fiquei muito emocionada com as histórias que li e que conheço mais ou menos. Congratulations!
    É claro fiquei muito curiosa com o seu livro e já mandei buscar. O mais interessante é que o frete para o Brasil ficou mais caro do que o livro.
    Meu nome é Lourdes e sou filha do Paulo Kolenda filho da vó Martha e da Gessy. Estamos morando em Brasília ainda, meu pai faleceu e minha mãe ainda está conosco aos 91 anos.
    Quero o seu endereço de email para mantermos contato e passar para Rosa, Claudeth e Martha. Veja que curioso. Neste final de semana teremos uma reunião da família Lemos em Pinda e vamos nos encontrar com o Mark e o tio João. Vou contar a todos que encontrei você na internet.

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