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.


Author: Marta Randall

I was born in 1948 in Mexico DF, Mexico, but have lived in the United States since infancy. I have taught in several sf writing workshops and served in Science Fiction Writers of America as vice-president 1981-1982 and president 1982-1984. My first story was published in New Worlds 5 (1973).