Victor D. López (October 11, 2018)
You were born five years before the beginning of the Spanish civil war and
Lived in a modest two-story home in the lower street of Fontan, facing the ocean that
Gifted you its wealth and beauty but also robbed you of your beloved and noblest eldest
Brother, Juan, who was killed while working as a fisherman out to sea at the tender age of 19.
You were a little girl much prone to crying. The neighbors would make you cry just by saying,
"Chora, neniña, chora" [Cry little girl, cry] which instantly produced inconsolable wailing.
At the age of seven or eight you were blinded by an eye Infection. The village doctor
Saved your eyesight, but not before you missed a full year of school.
You never recovered from that lost time. Your impatience and the shame of feeling left behind prevented
You from making up for lost time. Your wounded pride, the shame of not knowing what your friends knew,
Your restlessness and your inability to hold your tongue when you were corrected by your teacher created
A perfect storm that inevitably tossed your diminutive boat towards the rocks.
When still a girl, you saw Franco with his escort leave his yacht in Fontan. With the innocence of a girl
Who would never learn to hold her tongue, you asked a neighbor who was also present, "Who is that Man?"
"The Generalissimo Francisco Franco," she answered and whispered “Say ‘Viva Franco’ when he Passes by.”
With the innocence of a little girl and the arrogance of an incorrigible old soul you screamed, pointing:
"That's the Generalissimo?" followed up loud laughter, "He looks like Tom Thumb!"
A member of his protective detail approached you, raising his machine gun with the apparent intention of
Hitting you with the stock. "Leave her alone!" Franco ordered. "She is just a child — the fault is not hers."
You told that story many times in my presence, always with a smile or laughing out loud.
I don't believe you ever appreciated the possible import of that "feat" of contempt for
Authority. Could that act of derision have played some small part in their later
Coming for your father and taking him prisoner, torturing him for months and eventually
Condemning him to be executed by firing squad in the Plaza de Maria Pita?
He escaped his fate with the help of a fascist officer who freed him as I’ve noted earlier.
Such was his reputation, the power of his ideas and the esteem even of friends who did not share his views.
Such was your innocence or your psychic blind spot that you never realized your possible contribution to
His destruction. Thank God you never connected the possible impact of your words on his downfall.
You adored your dad throughout your life with a passion of which he was most deserving.
He died shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War. A mother with ten mouths to feed
Needed help. You stepped up in response to her silent, urgent need. At the age of
Eleven you left school for the last time and began working full time.
Children could not legally work in Franco’s Spain. Nevertheless, a cousin who owned a cannery
Took pity on your situation and allowed you to work full-time in his fish cannery factory in Sada.
You earned the same salary as the adult, predominantly women workers and worked better
Than most of them with a dexterity and rapidity that served you well your entire life.
In your free time before work you carried water from the communal fountain to neighbors for a few cents.
You also made trips carrying water on your head for home and with a pail in each hand. This continued after
You began work in Cheche’s cannery. You rose long before sunrise to get the water for
Home and for the local fishermen before they left on their daily fishing trips for their personal water pails.
All of the money you earned went to your mom with great pride that a girl could provide more than the salary of a
Grown woman--at the mere cost of her childhood and education. You also washed clothes for some
Neighbors for a few cents more, with diapers for newborns always free just for the pleasure of being
Allowed to see, hold spend some time with the babies you so dearly loved you whole life through.
When you were old enough to go to the Sunday cinema and dances, you continued the
Same routine and added washing and ironed the Sunday clothes for the young fishermen
Who wanted to look their best for the weekly dances. The money from that third job was your own
To pay for weekly hairdos, the cinema and dance hall entry fee. The rest still went to your mom.
At 16 you wanted to go to emigrate to Buenos Aires to live with an aunt.
Your mom agreed to let you--provided you took your younger sister, Remedios, with you.
You reluctantly agreed. You found you also could not legally work in Buenos Aires as a minor.
So you convincingly lied about your age and got a job as a nurse’s aide at a clinic soon after your arrival.
You washed bedpans, made beds, scrubbed floors and did other similar assigned tasks
To earn enough money to pay the passage for your mom and two youngest brothers,
Sito (José) and Paco (Francisco). Later you got a job as a maid at a hotel in the resort town of
Mar del Plata whose owners loved your passion for taking care of their infant children.
You served as a maid and unpaid babysitter. Between your modest salary and
Tips as a maid you soon earned the rest of the funds needed for your mom’s and brothers’
Passage from Spain. You returned to Buenos Aires and found two rooms you could afford in an
Excellent neighborhood at an old boarding house near the Spanish Consulate in the center of the city.
Afterwards you got a job at a Ponds laboratory as a machine operator of packaging
Machines for Ponds’ beauty products. You made good money and helped to support your
Mom and brothers while she continued working as hard as she always had in Spain,
No longer selling fish but cleaning a funeral home and washing clothing by hand.
When your brothers were old enough to work, they joined you in supporting your
Mom and getting her to retire from working outside the home.
You lived with your mom in the same home until you married dad years later,
And never lost the bad habit of stubbornly speaking your mind no matter the cost.
Your union tried to force you to register as a Peronista. Once burned twice cautious,
You refused, telling the syndicate you had not escaped one dictator to ally yourself with
Another. They threatened to fire you. When you would not yield, they threatened to
Repatriate you, your mom and brothers back to Spain.
I can’t print your reply here. They finally brought you to the general manager’s office
Demanding he fire you. You demanded a valid reason for their request.
The manager—doubtless at his own peril—refused, saying he had no better worker
Than you and that the union had no cause to demand your dismissal.
After several years of courtship, you and dad married. You had the world well in hand with
Well-paying jobs and strong savings that would allow you to live a very comfortable life.
You seemed incapable of having the children you so longed for. Three years of painful
Treatments allowed you to give me life and we lived three more years in a beautiful apartment.
I have memories from a very tender age and remember that apartment very well. But things changed
When you decided to go into businesses that soon became unsustainable in the runaway inflation and
Economic chaos of the Argentina of the early 1960’s. I remember only too well your extreme sacrifice
And dad’s during that time—A theme for another day, but not for today.
You were the hardest working person I’ve ever known. You were not afraid of any honest
Job no matter how challenging and your restlessness and competitive spirit always made you a
Stellar employee everywhere you worked no matter how hard or challenging the job.
Even at home you could not stand still unless there was someone with whom to chat awhile.
You were a truly great cook thanks in part to learning from the chef of the hotel where you had
Worked in Mar del Plata awhile—a fellow Spaniard of Basque descent who taught you many of his favorite
Dishes—Spanish and Italian specialties. You were always a terribly picky eater. But you
Loved to cook for family and friends—the more the merrier—and for special holidays.
Dad was also a terrific cook, but with a more limited repertoire. I learned to cook
With great joy from both of you at a young age. And, though neither my culinary skills nor
Any aspect of my life can match you or dad, I too am a decent cook and
Love to cook, especially for meals shared with loved ones.
You took great pleasure in introducing my friends to some of your favorite dishes such as
Cazuela de mariscos, paella marinera, caldo Gallego, stews, roasts, and your incomparable
Canelones, ñoquis, orejas, crepes, muñuelos, flan, and the rest of your long culinary repertoire.
In primary and middle school dad picked me up every day for lunch before going to work.
You and he worked the second shift and did not leave for work until around 2:00 p.m.
Many days, dad would bring a carload of classmates with me for lunch.
I remember as if it were yesterday the faces of my Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, German, Irish
And Italian friends when first introduced to octopus, Spanish tortilla, caldo Gallego, and flan.
The same was true during college and law school. At times our home resembled an
U.N. General Assembly meeting—but always featuring food. You always treated my
Closest friends as if they were your children and a number of them to this day love
You as a second mother though they have not seen you for many years.
You had tremendous passion and affinity for being a mother (a great pity to have just one child).
It made you over-protective. You bought my clothes at an exclusive boutique. I became a
Living doll for someone denied such toys as a young girl. You would not let me out of your sight and
Kept me in a germ-free environment that eventually produced some negative health issues.
My pediatrician told you often “I want to see him with ***** finger nails and scraped knees.”
You dismissed the statement as a joke. You’d take me often to the park and to my
Favorite merry-go-round. But I had not one friend until I was seven or eight and then just one.
I did not have a real circle of friends until I was about 13 years old. Sad.
I was walking and talking up a storm in complete sentences when I was one year old.
You were concerned and took me to my pediatrician who laughed. He showed me a
Keychain and asked, “What is this Danny.” “Those are your car keys” I replied. After a longer
Evaluation he told my mom it was important to encourage and feed my curiosity.
According to you, I was unbearable (some things never change). I asked dad endless questions such as,
“Why is the sun hot? How far are the stars and what are they made of? Why
Can’t I see the reflection of a flashlight pointed at the sky at night? Why don’t airplanes
Have pontoons on top of the wheels so they can land on both water and land? Etc., etc., etc.
He would answer me patiently to the best of his ability and wait for the inevitable follow-ups.
I remember train and bus rides when very young sitting on his lap asking him a thousand Questions.
Unfortunately, when I asked you a question you could not answer, you more often than not made up an answer Rather than simply saying “I don’t know,” or “go ask dad” or even “go to hell you little monster!”
I drove you crazy. Whatever you were doing I wanted to learn to do, whether it was working on the
Sewing machine, knitting, cooking, ironing, or anything else that looked remotely interesting.
I can’t imagine your frustration. Yet you always found only joy in your little boy at all ages.
Such was your enormous love which surrounded me every day of my life and still does.
When you told me a story and I did not like the ending, such as with “Little Red Riding Hood,”
I demanded a better one and would cry interminably if I did not get it. Poor mom. What patience!
Reading or making up a story that little Danny did not approve of could be dangerous.
I remember one day in a movie theater watching the cartoons I loved (and still love).
Donald Duck came out from stage right eating a sandwich. Sitting between you and dad I asked you
For a sandwich. Rather than explaining that the sandwich was not real, that we’d go to dinner after the show
To eat my favorite steak sandwich (as usual), you simply told me that Donald Duck would soon bring me the sandwich. But when the scene changed, Donald Duck came back smacking his lips without the sandwich.
Then all hell broke loose. I wailed at the top of my lungs that Donald Duck had eaten my sandwich.
He had lied to me and not given me the promised sandwich. That was unbearable. There was
No way to console me or make me understand—too late—that Donald Duck was also hungry,
That it was his sandwich, not mine, or that what was on the screen was just a cartoon and not real.
He, Donald Duck, mi favorite Disney character (then and now) hade eaten this little boy’s Sandwich. Such a Betrayal by a loved one was inconceivable and unbearable. You and dad had to drag me out of the theater ranting And crying at the injustice at top volume. The tantrum (extremely rare for me then, less so now) went on for awhile, but all was well again when my beloved Aunt Nieves gave me a ******* with jam and told me Donald had sent it.
So much water under the bridge. Your own memories, like smoke in a soft breeze, have dissipated
Into insubstantial molecules like so many stars in the night sky that paint no coherent picture.
An entire life of vital conversations turned to the whispers of children in a violent tropical storm,
Insubstantial, imperceptible fragments—just a dream that interrupts an eternal nightmare.
That is your life today. Your memory was always prodigious. You knew the name of every person
You ever met, and those of their family members. You could recall entire conversations word for word.
Three years of schooling proved more than sufficient for you to go out into the world, carving your own
Path from the Inhospitable wilderness and learning to read and write at the age of 16.
You would have been a far better lawyer than I and a fiery litigator who would have fought injustice
Wherever you found it and always defended the rights of those who cannot defend themselves,
Especially children who were always your most fervent passion. You sacrificed everything for others,
Always put yourself dead-last, and never asked for anything in return.
You were an excellent dancer and could sing like an angel. Song was your release in times of joy and
In times of pain. You did not drink or smoke or over-indulge in anything. For much of your life your only minor Indulgence was a weekly trip to the beauty parlor—even in Spain where your washing and ironing income
Paid for that. You were never vain in any way, but your self-respect required you to try to look your best.
You loved people and unlike dad who was for the most part shy, you were quite happy in the all-to-infrequent
Role as the life of the party—singing, dressing up as Charlie Chaplin or a newborn for New Year’s Eve parties with Family and close friends. A natural story-teller until dementia robbed you of the ability to articulate your thoughts,
You’d entertain anyone who would listen with anecdotes, stories, jokes and lively conversation.
In short: you were an exceptional person with a large spirit, a mischievous streak, and an enormous heart.
I know I am not objective about you, but any of your surviving friends and family members who knew you
Well will attest to this and more in a nanosecond. You had an incredibly positive, indomitable attitude
That led you to rush in where angels fear to treat not out of foolishness but out of supreme confidence.
Life handed you cartloads of lemons—enough to pickle the most ardent optimist. And you made not just
Lemonade but lemon merengue pie, lemon sorbet, lemon drops, then ground up the rind for sweetest
Rice pudding, flan, fried dough and a dozen other delicacies. And when all the lemons were gone, you sowed the Seeds from which extraordinarily beautiful lemon trees grew with fruit sweeter than grapes, plums, or cherries.
I’ve always said with great pride that you were a far better writer than I. How many excellent novels,
Plays, and poems could you have written with half of my education and three times my workload?
There is no justice in this world. Why does God give bread to those without teeth? Your
Prodigious memory no longer allows you to recognize me. I was the last person you forgot.
But even now when you cannot have a conversation in any language, Sometimes your eyes sparkle, and
You call me “neniño” (my little boy in Galician) and I know that for an instant you are no longer alone.
But too son the light fades and the darkness returns. I can only see you a few hours one day a week.
My life circumstances do not leave me another option. The visits are bitter sweet but I’m grateful for them.
Someday I won’t even have that opportunity to spend a few hours with you. You’ll have no
Monument to mark your passing save in my memory so long as reason remains. An entire
Life of incalculable sacrifice will leave behind only the poorest living legacy of love
In your son who lacks appropriate words to adequately honor your memory, and always will.
* * *
The day has come, too son. October 11, 2018. The call came at 3:30 am.
An hour or two after I had fallen asleep. They tried CPR in vain. There will be no more
Opportunities to say, “I Love you,” to caress your hands and face, to softly sing in your ear,
To put cream on your hands, or to hope that this week you might remember me.
No more time to tell you the accomplishments of loved ones, who I saw, what they told me,
Who asked about you this week, or to pray with you, or to ask if you would give me a kiss by putting my
Cheek close to your lips, to feel joy when you graced me with many little kisses in response,
Or tell you “Maybe next time” when as more often than not the case for months you did not respond.
In saying good bye I’d give you the kiss and hug Alice always sent you,
Followed by three more kisses on the forehead from dad (he always gave you three) and one from me.
I’d leave the TV on to a channel with people and no sound and when possible
Wait for you to close your eyes before leaving.
Time has run out. No further extensions are possible. My prayers change from asking God to protect
You and by His Grace allow you to heal a little bit each day to praying that God protect your
Soul and dad’s and that He allow you to rest in peace in His kingdom. I miss you and Dad very much
And will do so as long as God grants me the gift of reason. I never knew what it is to be alone. I do now.
Four years seeing your blinding light reduced to a weak flickering candle in total darkness.
Four years fearing that you might be aware of your situation.
Four years praying that you would not feel pain, sadness or loneliness.
Four years learning to say goodbye. The rest of my life now waiting in the hope of seeing you again.
I love you mom, with all my heart, always and forever.
Written originally in Spanish and translated into English with minor additions on my mom's passing (October 2018). You can hear all six of my Unsung Heroes poems read by me in my podcasts at https://open.spotify.com/show/1zgnkuAIVJaQ0Gb6pOfQOH. (plus much more of my fiction, non-fiction and poetry in English and Spanish)