Chilean Chronicles, Part XVII: Maria Eliana and Humberto’s Many Gifts

Maria Eliana Eberhard and her husband Humberto gave us many gifts during our leisurely, languidly unfolding nine-hour afternoon and evening of eating, drinking, talking and driving on Saturday.

Maria Eliana and Humberto before heading to their house.

Maria Eliana and Humberto before heading to their house.

They gave us unhurried time and unselfconscious generosity.

They introduced us to their new friend David Rojas and his lovely wife Maria Luz, whom they had met during a month-long tour of Eastern Europe that was headed by a former priest from Spain named Faustino.

Maria Luz and David enjoy the meal and the conversation.

Maria Luz and David enjoy the meal and the conversation.

They took us our first vineyard in Chile, the venerable Santa Rita vineyard that was founded in 1880 by Don Domingo Fernández Concha, and that has continued to grow and expand in the ensuing 130 years.

The view outside the Santa Rita vineyard.

The view outside the Santa Rita vineyard.

They gave us the gift of a delicious lunch in a long, cool dining hall of a hacienda with high ceilings and a red stucco roof.

We missed the 3:00 p.m. tour by a full two hours, but we got plenty of education.

As with friend and colleague Alejandra Matus, Dunreith and I were treated to a virtual seminar in Chilean history during the past four decades.

We covered the key role Jose Toribio Merino played in the 1973 coup, the current presidential contest between Evelyn Matthei and Michelle Bachelet, the impact Pinochet had on the nation, whether they voted Si or No in 1988 to end Pinochet´s reign and the legacy of the Chicago Boys for the country.

The talk wasn´t all political, either.

Maria Eliana and Humberto shared humorous travel misadventures in Mexico and England, while David´s face glowed with pleasure as he talked about two of his three sons working with him in the same clinic where they are all neurosurgeons.

They talked about Chile’s emergence from a more isolated and less self-confident nation to one whose people are more assertive and forthright. (At the same time, they made it abundantly clear that whatever gains in self-confident have been made, the levels they demonstrate still pale in front of those exhibited by Argentinians).

Everyone laughed when I suggested that Dunreith has an Argentinian heart.

They welcomed us into their home and offered “the elevens”, an expanded version of tea time, complete with more than a dozen tea choices, mashed avocado that looked like guacamole, ham and crunchy wheat bread in small, circular slices.

Humberto shared his passion for music, his face expanding with joy as he talked about Arthur Rubinstein´s virtuosity and played for us a song that evokes a smaller Moldovan river merging into the larger, crashing body of wáter, the music rising in a crescendo as the piece progresses.

Yet the biggest gift in all the extraordinary generosity they showed us was not about Chile.

It was about my father.

In 1984, Maria Eliana and Humberto packed up their belongings and their two young boys, took the money they had saved and the nanny they had hired, and moved to Boston for a year for training in their respective medical professions. (Maria Eliana is an anesthetist, while Humberto is a cardiologist.)

Maria Eliana worked in the laboratory of Warren Zapol, one of Dad´s closest friends.

Humberto did not work with Dad, but talked about meeting him.

“Did your father have a small office?” he asked.

I said that he did.

Humberto described how he had entered the area before Dad’s office and seen his two secretaries, the notoriously straight-laced Ilse Kaprelian, a German woman who was married to an Armenian motorcycle rider named Gil, and the wisecracking Louise Hotz.

Humberto explained that he felt intimidated for a number of reasons.

He was not in the same field as Dad.

His English was limited.

And Dad was a professor.

With trepidation he opened the door.

What he saw astounded him.

There were papers and books everywhere, stretching all the way up to the ceiling.

On the desk.

On the couches.

On the seats.

Then he met Dad, who had apparently just come from the operating room.

Humberto knew this because Dad was wearing a puffy blue hat that Humberto was more accustomed to seeing on the head of a Chilean woman.

This was the professor? He wondered.

Dunreith told the table that, before he left Massachusetts General Hospital, Dad was given stationary with a cartoon version of a glasses-wearing Dad being buried in a sea of paper over the words, ¨From the desk of Ed Lowenstein.”

But then Humberto talked about how friendly and down-to-earth Dad was, how he treated him with dignity and respect and welcomed him into the community of doctors at one of the world’s most prestigious hospitals..

Maria Eliana echoed the same sentiments.

I´ve come to learn in life that the family that we know in our homes is only a part of them, and, more than that, that we leave parts of ourselves with people with whom we interact and share meaningful moments. .

Although the time has long since passed since I have hungered to know Dad, that was indeed the case for many years. One of the greatest benefits of working in his laboratory for two summers during college was that it gave me an opportunity to see how he was at work and what he meant to the people there.

Your dad´s a regular guy like us, my colleagues would say quietly. He´s not like a lot of those other doctors who think they´re better than us.

He takes public transportation, another told me.

One man, a Hungarian immigrant, told me about how Dad stuck up for him when he was working on an experiment and a doctor said that he was doing it wrong.
Your father said, Joe is right, the man told me, his stocky body suffused with gratitude.

Nearly 30 years after I worked in the blood gas lab, I have a better sense both of the impressiveness of Dad´s accomplishments as well as the importance of what he gave to Humberto and Maria Eliana.

Dad came to the United States after fleeing Nazi Germanny on a program called the Kindertransport, I told the group. He never forgot what it was like to be a refugee in a new and unfamiliar country.

The conversation passed and we moved on to five more hours of the marathon visit.

But the gift of letting me know my father in just a slightly different way, remained.

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