When David Good was growing up he never noticed anything different about his mom. To him, his “mom was just mom.” And indeed, no one could really tell, by the look of it, that there was anything different about David’s mother.
But there was a lot more to the New Jersey housewife than met the eye.
It wasn’t until he was 5 years old that the way he saw his mother completely changed. That’s when the whole family took a trip to his mother’s village in southern Venezuela to see her family that he realized his mom, Yarima, was an “Amazonian jungle woman” who, prior to marrying David’s dad Kenneth, thought “the whole world was the Amazon jungle.”
During the ’70s and ’80s, David’s dad, Kenneth Good, an anthropology professor at New Jersey City University, met and fell in love with David’s mom, Yarima, when he lived in her Yanomami village in southern Venezuela for 12 years while doing field work and studying the Yanomami people—one of the most primitive and isolated people—who he came to love.
The college professor didn’t expect to fall in love, but he did.
In 1986, they were married and moved from her isolated territory to his “village” in New Jersey 3,000 miles away, which Yarima thought was just another Yamomami village, and started a family of their own.
“It was like she went through a time machine or through a portal and went through a whole different cosmos,” David said.
The world beyond the Amazon rainforest transcended imagination to Yarima.
“Every artifact, every mentifact, every sociofact of this culture, of this realm, was absolutely foreign to her,” her son David told CBS.
Kenneth recalls Yarima even went and hid behind a bush upon seeing a Jeep for the first time, thinking it was an animal, when they were at the airport headed for New Jersey.
It was a world she had no idea existed.
Ken and Yarima had three children, of which David was the eldest, and despite the unimaginable journey from the Amazon tribe to suburban New Jersey living, she was a wonderful mother and the five made a very happy family.
Until the day they took a family vacation to the Amazon.
It was on that trip back to visit her family that Yarima decided she couldn’t go back to America.
“People weren’t meant to live this way,” she told Ken, who, although heartbroken, understood his wife. He explained why Yarima wanted to stay in her village. “[Living] in an impersonal world walking by strangers all the time, a lot of them weren’t even so friendly…That was not in their cognition that that’s a way to live.”
But even more heartbroken were the children, especially 5-year-old David. He was crushed and unlike his father, he couldn’t understand his mother. “I internalized it as abandonment,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough for her.”
For the boy who just wanted to be “typical American kid,” trying to hide the truth about his mom on a daily basis took a toll on his heavy heart. Eventually sadness turned to anxiety and then to resentment and David would spend the next 15 years hating his mother and told whoever asked that she died in a car accident, so he wouldn’t have to explain how she left their family to live “naked in the jungle eating tarantulas.”
But all of that changed one day when, while in college, he picked up a book that made him do a “complete 180.”
It was a book published back in 1991 titled “Into the Heart: One Man’s Pursuit of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomami” written by his father, Kenneth Good.
The book was about his mother. And after David finished reading it, he felt like he actually knew her for the very first time.
“The floodgates opened…complete 180. I went from absolutely detesting my heritage to being completely proud of it and I knew that this day was going to come. I knew I had to embark on this mission, on this quest, to go back and reunite with my mom.”
So that’s exactly what David did. In 2011, he packed up, flew to south Venezuela and landed three days away from the Yanomami territory his mother lived in, took boats traveling upstream through the rapids, and finally reached his mother’s village.
There they were reunited for the first time in 20 years and David finally remembered what it was like to have a mother.
“I put my hand on her shoulder—I was so nervous and I couldn’t talk to her, she couldn’t talk to me and then all of a sudden just remembering that comforting feeling of having a mother that’s when I broke down and lost it.”
It was a bittersweet moment.
David and his mom caught up over two decades years of lost time, sharing pictures and memories. He said he never asked her why she decided to stay because as soon as he arrived, he knew the answer.
“They don’t experience loneliness, they don’t experience anxiety. They’re teaching me how to be human. They’re teaching me how to live.”
The greatest lesson David’s learned from all this? To appreciate his mother.
“Mom’s a mom no matter what.”
“Some day I’m not going to have a mom, and I just spent two decades rejecting my mom so I want to embrace every opportunity every moment to be with her to hang out with her.”
“Family is family. No matter if she makes me a peanut butter jelly sandwich or presents me with a piranha head and says ‘eat this!'”
His mother told him, “It’s hard on me when you’re gone so long. Don’t take so long before you come back.”