She put an ad in the paper advertising house cleaning, and a couple, both professors, answered.
At 12, I remember family photographs of the Spanish countryside hanging in every room. The carpet I vacuumed I only saw once a week, and the pastel shirts I folded I never wore. My mother was only the cleaning lady, and I helped.I grew up in the swaddled cacophony of morning chatter between tourists, professors, and videographers.I grew up conditioned in excessive politeness, fitted for making small talk with strangers.The professors’ home was a telescope to how the other (more affluent) half lived.They were rarely ever home, so I saw their remnants: the lightly crinkled New York Times sprawled on the kitchen table, the overturned, half-opened books in their overflowing personal library, the TV consistently left on the National Geographic channel.At 14, I remember vacuuming each foot of carpet in the massive house and folding pastel shirts fresh out of the dryer. I loved the way the windows soaked the house with light, a sort of bleach against any gloom. My mother and father had come as refugees almost twenty years ago from the country of Moldova.I loved how I could always find a book or magazine on any flat surface. My mother worked numerous odd jobs, but once I was born she decided she needed to do something different.The professors left me the elements to their own success, and all my life I’ve been trying to make my own reaction.Ultimately, the suction of the vacuum is what sustains my family.It was there, as a son of immigrants, that I read about a young senator named Barack Obama, the child of an immigrant, aspiring to be the president of the United States.The life that I saw through their home showed me that an immigrant could succeed in America, too.