Spat in the Yucatan, or, does it run in the family?

Victor Hamdur Amador
Victor Hamdur Amador

This is the only photo I have of my maternal grandfather, Victor Hamdur. He changed his name to Amador after he ran off with an actress, abandoning my grandmother and four daughters. Abuelita married him against her family’s wishes — you can kinda see why.

After posting this, a number of folk asked what happened after that. Oh, you open the storytelling doors, and out it floods.

All this happened in the small village of Motul de Carrillo Puerto outside of Merida, in the Yucatan[1]. Victor Hamdur and Marta Spat (mi abuelita) ran what was primarily a dressmaking shop (which probably meant that Victor swanned around while Marta worked). Each year a traveling acting troupe made the journey to the peninsula and spent some time there, performing.

The Yucatan was not an easy destination, reachable only by boat across the Sea of Campeche, probably from Vera Cruz. I suspect that theatrical troupes were no more well-off then than now, and this one apparently took the advantage of hinterland prices either to have new costumes made or old ones repaired. The visit of interest happened while Marta was pregnant again, after four daughters: Maria, Amida, Dolores, Aida[2].

Here the story splits. In one version, Victor and lady friend split before the birth. In another, Victor splits because the birth of another girl, and no son, was just too much for him to handle. In either event, when we return to our tale Victor has decamped with the theatrical troupe, having sold everything in the shop that wasn’t cemented to the floors or ceiling, and leaving Marta newly out of childbed and with no assets whatsoever[3]. I can only imagine the parade of Spat relatives come to say “I told you so!” in Spanish and Lebanese.

I don’t know when or how she learned that he had dropped the patronymic “Hamdur” and adopted “Amador,” which has the benefit of being a Spanish word and means “lover.” She neatly revised her name, too, to become La Viuda Amador (“the widow Amador”). She is identified in the newspaper notices of my mother’s wedding as Sr. Marta Spat de Amador.

The other consequent catastrophe was that there was no man in the house. Even as recently as my own childhood, a woman after the end of a marriage was considered fair game and hunted down[4]. One of her bachelor brothers, an attorney, took up residence, so the house became his house, where he was generously sheltering his sister and nieces[5].

Marta, in the meantime, was working her heart out to put a life together. She borrowed family money to replace the stolen equipment; she brought her older daughters into the business. She acted as a pawn-broker. She repaid everything and was able to send my mother to the convent school. Eventually when her daughter Dolores married (Tia Lolita – I’m named for her, too) and moved with her husband to Mexico City, Marta and Nellie went with them.

The other daughters married, more or less successfully, but except for Tia Lolita I have no memory of them, and Nell didn’t share many stories.

I should say this about my Abuelita: my father adored her and Lolita, and I daresay he married Nell to be part of their family (Dad and Nell married after a month’s courtship, and epitomize the saying “marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Abuelita lost her hearing and grew adept at lip-reading, but she and dad would sit for hours talking, except that she would speak her part of the conversation and he would simply mouth his. She was diagnosed with diabetes late in life and the doctors put her on a very strict diet. One night, while she was visiting us in California, Dad found her in the kitchen eating forbidden fruit and bread, and gently admonished her. She told him that she had raised five children and had [god knows how many] grandchildren and run a successful business and lived through hard times and desertions, and if she wanted a piece of fruit she was going to have one. Dad peeled her a peach.


[1] “In the years between 1880 and 1910, the first wave of Lebanese immigrants, mostly Christians, arrived in Mexico, driven from their native land by the oppression of the Islamic Ottoman regime, rife with religious tensions and political instability. These immigrants arrived on Mexico’s eastern shores and settled in the Yucatán peninsula, as well as in the Gulf coast ports of Veracruz and Tampico.” Los Dos

[2] Here’s a continuing mystery: after this string of lovely Spanish names, how did my mother end up named “Nellie?” I never saw a copy of any birth certificate and all her other legal papers list her as Nell or Nelly. It’s a mystery to me, up there with the mystery of her real birthday which shifted between 1918 and 1920 seemingly at will.

[3] I suspect that, as she was a resourceful woman, she may have had come cash or jewelry stashed away. After four daughters, she must have come to know Victor well enough to know to sequester some stuff from him.

[4] At some point in the 1960s a cousin, still living in the Yucatan, divorced her husband for infidelity (which left her with a venereal disease). She could not leave her house, for the mob of men who would pursue her, catcalling and shouting suggestive insults. The Mexico City family had to send a contingent of uncles down to rescue her and physically move her to Mexico City, leaving behind everything she had ever known or loved.

[5] She hid her own divorce from her family and a few years later, hid mine.


The Enormity of the Political Onus

I have caucused.

Wait, not ready yet. Need another deep gulp of my vodka-and-antioxidant drink (no tonic in the house). Okay, that’s a little better. What’s that? Yeah, it’s not yet 2:00pm and damned if I care where the sun is, because I am over the yardarm, or with luck soon will be.

So. First of all, registering to vote in Hawai’i is Fcked Up. I know: I have had to do it three times now, and am coming up on Number Four. The first time was within a month of moving here, when I got my Hawai’i driver license and learned I could register to vote at the same time. Hell yes!

The second time was when I actually tried to vote and was told I wasn’t on the list and therefore was not allowed to vote (that is, I was fcking disenfranchised) but the nice lady gave me a new application for registration. I presumed this one worked because I started getting political spam online and via post. O, I was living in a fool’s paradise.

The third time was today, when I tried to cast my ballot during the Democratic caucus and was still not on the fcking list of registered voters. To learn this I had to wait in line with a bunch of other folk, most of whom weren’t on the list either although many, many of them said they had registered online. Which the state lets you do. Except not really, sucker.

So you get to the front of the line and the worker says, Yep, you’re not on the list, you go over to that other line and fill out a registration application and then maybe we’ll let your ass into the Community Association building and you can wear your Big Girl Pants and caucus.

NB: Afterwards I came home and went online and the Hawai’i Office of Elections said hey guess what, I’m an active voter in this state – in Captain Cook, a town 36 miles and 53 minutes north of here. Apparently the state made a mistake in listing my street address but, glory be, had an option to update. Which I clicked. Which let me update the street address but refused to let me update either my town name or my zip code, so the election workers in Captain Cook are surely wondering who this Marta Randall person is, who lives at a non-existent address and doesn’t care enough even to show up.

‘Scuse me. Time for another gulp.

The fourth time will be when I mail my filled-in paper application, which I will send registered mail, return receipt requested. Or maybe I’ll hand-deliver it to the Office of Elections in Pearl City, Oahu. It would be worth the airfare. The office is right close by Ford Island and the museums which I can contemplate as I wait in line (because surely there will be one) and think about the USS Arizona and the valiant women and men who gave their lives, limbs, and sanity so that I COULD FCKING BE DENIED THE RIGHT TO VOTE.

Another gulp. Half-way there.

Okay, one line down, applications filled in and signed, and you’re given a little stiff chit, bright yellow, says pPp on it (why? Sht, this makes as much sense as anything else), which gains you admittance to the Ocean View Community Association main meeting room.

So we’re now inside. This is a big room, and hot, and stuffed with tables and chairs which have, for the most part, been pulled into messy clumps by people gathering to talk story with friends. Which I do. Amazingly, astonishingly, horrifyingly loud in there, but the sliders to the parking lot are firmly closed to make sure that only those worthy of admittance are admitted. There are three precincts caucusing in here: Ocean View, Miloli’i, and Ho’okena. The OV voters outnumber the others by orders of magnitude. Also, the Democratic party workers for OV have the brains of mollusks. Apologies to mollusks.

If you had to go through the song-and-dance fill-in-the-form routine outside (someone referred to it as the Group W bench), once inside you had to enter all your information on yet another sheet. The entries are by precinct but in no particular order, so the sheets (and there are many) are a disordered hodge-podge. Apologies to hodge-podges.

If your name is on the printout list (that was the first line outside, presumably for those Fit for Combat) you’re supposed to stand to one side of the table. Group W is on the other side. Coupled with the number of first-time voters energized by this election, and the number of voters bamboozled by the fcking state’s Elections Office, and the mollusk-brained workers, there’s a semi-orderly howling mob at one side of the table and a completely disorderly howling mob at the other side trying to figure out what the hell is going on. (At this moment I pause to note that the completely disorderly howling mob is striving within itself to resist the forces of entropy, and resolves into a crushed mob at one end (the end you got pushed into if you started on the Fit for Combat side) and a line of thrashing caucusers striving to be geometrical, so that the entire thing looks like nothing so much as a spermatozoon which has realized that, fight as it may, it ain’t never gonna reach that egg.)

Another gulp. This thing ain’t half bad, antioxidant or not.

If and when you reach the table itself, you initial your name on the list. This is easy if your name is on the printed list – that list is in alphabetical order. But if not, then you have to go through hand-scrawled entries, many to a page, attempting to find your own. So it’s loud and hot and noisy and periodically some public-spirited citizen shouts everyone down and bellows incomprehensible statements which change nothing. Does anyone try to form people into lines? Not the mollusks, that’s for sure; folk are willing but without direction, so this just amounts to a great deal of shuffling to and fro, feet stuck in the same place. As a woman who was, for a time, squashed into me by the mob observed, the place needed a good kindergarten teacher.

Then the dogs started barking.

Thank the powers on high for the Spirit of Aloha, or no OV voter would have left that hall alive.

Finally, here’s the correct side of the table. The worker’s eyes have glazed into deer-in-the-headlights horror. Find my name on the list (and for one of the few times in my recent life, I am happy that my handwriting has deteriorated so badly that it actually stands out). Initial it. Get the ballot. Check the box for Bernie and stuff the ballot in the box, and I am so outta there that not even dust is raised in my wake.

Woman coming behind me into the parking lot yelled “Thanks! I was following you!” I said, hell, I was just making it up as I went along. She said, “Maybe, but I just watched your hands!” She waved me a shaka and headed on up the road. The Power of the Finger!

I am, sitting here and contemplating the bottom of my glass, torn. An absentee ballot, which I can request, would eliminate so much of this Sturm und Drang – if the fcking Elections people actually follow through on it. On the other hand, I have always loved showing up at the polling place and hanging out with my voting peeps. On the third hand (we scifi writers are allowed to have third hands), if I think of this too much I will end up volunteering and fcked if I’ll do that.

Oh good, bottom of the glass. Any drink that good deserves another, yes? Yes.