My Photography

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Volamino, Volamina

My mom has been in Brazil for about a week now. Last Wednesday evening, March 5th, my grandfather, my Volamino, passed away. 

He and my grandmother were my older brother's godfather and godmother, which translates to padrinho and madrinha. In combination with vovô and vovó (grandpa and grandma) their names became Volamino and Volamina to his toddler tongue. Since then that's what we've all called them.

Volamina passed away five years ago, and since then my grandfather has been kind of lost. The last time I saw him was also the last time I was in Brazil, during the summer of 2009. It was about 8 months after she died, and it was hard to see how he'd wander the house looking for her. After 57 years of marriage and being parents to 11 children together, I guess life without her didn't seem as bright. 

Volamino, Patrick and Volamina in 2006

Volamina was one of the kindest, most selfless people I've ever met. Her smile was constant, her eyes bright, her hands soft. She was a natural teacher, and while she never had an full time job she was always giving classes to someone. She was incredibly talented and bright, spoke Portuguese, French and English fluently, managed a huge household that moved around Brazil many times, and raised 11 children that turned into wonderful people. Volamino was much the same. He was an esteemed engineer in Brazil working in the steel industry, and as he got older traveled all around the world as a consultant due to his expertise. He was fair minded, kind, and delighted in beauty. Music was a passion of his, and I learned from a facebook post of my aunt's remembering him that he was a graduate of the Brazilian conservatory of music in classical piano. It makes perfect sense, but it was one of those things I never knew, or had forgotten. Most of my aunts and uncles are musical--the siblings formed a choir when my mom was young and friends called them the "Brazilian Von Trapps". The fact that two of my sisters took up piano made him so happy. I remember the proud and contented smile on his face in 2006 when Isabel, aged 11 gave a little piano concert at Christmas. 

In 2006, for Volamino's 80th birthday, 9 of their 11 children came to celebrate.

I remember being 4 years old and walking in the mountainous countryside in the state of Rio, huge trees overhead, damp smell in the air, birds and insects adding their voices to our laughter. I was picking bouquets of the small red, pink, and orange wildflowers that pop up everywhere with Volamina. Every time I see those flowers, ubiquitous on the Rio mountainsides, that memory comes rushing back.

I remember being a four year old at the beach with Volamino and his red box kite and the diamond one with a funny face. In my memory he made the kites by hand out of bamboo and tissue paper, decorating them with faces, and then helped us fly them. It's one of those memories that I'm not sure I got exactly straight, but one that I wouldn't want to change even so.

Me at 4 and 5 years old. Volamino and the red box kite are on the left.

I remember our days at Sitio Santa Helena, the property with a summer house in the mountains 2 hours from the city of Rio that my grandparents retired to. It was in Volamina's family since she was a little girl, and I spent many beautiful months there with my family when I was younger. I loved the hills, the horses, the little lake with its rowboat, the chicken houses and pig pens that still housed animals when I was very small, the smell of the rain on the hard red dirt, the wall of said dirt that extended 3 meters up lining the driveway, with plenty of footholes allowing us to climb it and dance around the giant ant nests above. I loved our summer bonfires filled with dried bamboo that made huge, loud pops when the hollow chambers inside got too hot and exploded, and the flying newspaper fire-balloons we'd make on summer nights. I loved the big pool with the water slide, the little lizards that lived high up near the ceiling on the walls, and the huge blue butterflies that sometimes wandered in the house. 

I loved the hammock, the funny-looking well my grandfather made, the swings, the long walks we'd all take around the extensive property, the cobblestone drive leading from the garage down to the pool, and the rooms above the open garage that housed a walls of bookshelves filled with titles in many languages. The books were full of little tunnels going from cover to cover made by bookworms; but my literal counterparts didn't stop me from devouring the Agatha Christies and whatever else I found in English. I loved the old pool table in that same room--if I remember correctly it also served as a table for Volamino's model trains. I loved the lines and lines of white laundry hanging in the sun next to the orange trees with oranges that stayed green but made delicious juice. I loved how good everything smelled. I even loved how we'd try to watch the VHS of Apollo 13 or Snow White (in Portuguese) only to realize the mildew got to the tape again and it wouldn't play. 

I remember the terrified feeling in 2001 when we would lose sight of toddler Tessie, and my heart jumping in my chest as I'd run to the un-fenced pool to make sure she wasn't floating there. I remember the relief finding her with gardener, her staunch friend, almost every time. I remember the Nesquik popcorn we'd eat, and how I was never sure how much I liked it. I remember making trips into Mendes, the nearby town, and getting coconut ice cream at the Apollo 11 ice cream shop with Volamino. I remember the heavy feeling in the rented van as we'd make the trip to the airport in Rio, always with a stop at Bob's--Brazilian fast food--when I'd giggle at how Volamino would eat even his burger and french fries with a knife and fork.

Volamina and me in 2007.

I have so many memories from sitio, and so many more from the house they moved to in Petropolis in 2005 or so, when living in a smaller, simpler house, and closer to medical establishments, became more essential. Teaching Texas Hold 'Em to cousins, French and Portuguese lessons with Volamina, poolside reading, bathing Blungo the overweight golden Labrador, trips into the historical city and into the surrounding areas, with Volamino pointing out which mountains my uncles had climbed in their youth... I have such wonderful images in my head.

I think of my mom, in Brazil right now with her siblings, and how she must be feeling. Her memories are more vast, more deep, more painfully beautiful than mine, simply because the first quarter century of her life was spent in those places, as a part of that unique and loving family. She is the 7th of 11, and ten years separate her from my oldest uncle, and ten years again from her youngest sister. She has been so far away from them for so long. What joy it must have been to grow up in such a beautiful place, surrounded by the love only a close family can give. 

My mom with her dad.

In a way I feel it is a blessing that my grandfather passed when he did. She was able to be by him till the end, which must have been a comfort, since she did not have that opportunity when Volamina died. Now she can grieve for both of her parents in the company of her siblings and Titia, my great-aunt who has always been a part of the household. My mom hasn't been able to visit these past few years unless there was a sickness or other such emergency in the family. Now she has a couple weeks to enjoy her family, and simply just be with them. 

Of course I am sad, we all are, that Volamino is gone. It's hard to think of how I'll never see him again. But he lived a long, good life, had a peaceful passing, and is out of pain now. He desperately missed his wife, and is with her now.

At Volamino's 80th birthday party in 2006.

I wrote a poem a few months ago I'd like to share and dedicate.

To Lucia and Claudio Braga, may you be happy and together now, for eternity.

Molded by me

My heaven's shape will not be constant;
its fluid sides will undulate
like those giant bubbles I made
in the garden at four years old--
rainbow-prisons that colored the air.

My heaven will smell like mountainous slopes
from long ago, off highways outside Rio--
heady wet soil and wild bouquets
dirtied my toddler hands
as fresh storms filled the air.

My heaven will sound like my sister's fingers
when they fly over ivory and pound
out the melodies I hoard
as notes and silence hover
in the slowly stalling air.

Eu te amo Volamino. Te amo Volamina. Obrigada por tudo. Saudades.


  1. Beautiful, Claudi. I feel a little bit like I was there with you!

  2. A beautiful and personal tribute Claudia. Thank you for sharing it. Susannah

  3. my sincere sympathies! they were both wonderful people!