Katherine wants more. More stories and more memories; the virtual reconstruction of a world long (or not so long) gone, to which she didn’t belong. And I comply, for her and my children, and myself when I’m old and no longer remember (I’m hoping at least I’ll be able to read).
I’ve been writing of my early childhood, before the age of 5 or 6, mostly of when we lived in la quinta. But there are things that do not fit neatly into a chronological account, because they are timeless, or rather, all the memories run together without noting the clock.
Zuni y Tito. Grandmother and grandfather. My mother’s parents. Young, in their late 50’s? early 60’s? I’ve written a little bit about them before. And about their house? Surely about their house – 3 blocks away from our apartment (though it’d be years before I’d walk there by myself), large, fun. Forgive me if I repeat myself, but that house has always played in my imagination. I never lived there, I’m not sure it’d be comfortable to live there, but I played and played and played in its many rooms. So let me describe it.
The first floor had two doors – and the house had two street numbers. The main door was imposing, made out steel, with some glass? It opened to a zaguán, and another set of doors? The first thing you saw was a black faux leather bench, which I think matched the chairs by the fireplace. I think that space had the function of a waiting room, though I’m not sure my grandfather ever saw patients in that house. It wasn’t the house where my mom grew, I have the impression that they bought it not too long before my mom got married. My grandfather did have a consultorio, or surgery there. There was a large, tall (for us children), dark grayish/green examining bed. I’m not sure if we were supposed to play around it, but we did, time after time. There was a vitrina or glass cabinet where my grandfather kept some of his medicines. And there was a large metal cabinet, locked. The only thing I remember he kept there were gotitas de amor, very small sugar covered candies that he would dish out when we were there. Only a few, of course. I can still taste them, they were a bit sour but not too much. Very small.
There was also a hide-a-bed couch in the room, white frilly curtains and cupboards under the windows. On the walls, you could see the university diplomas of some of my aunts and uncles. Come to think of it, only 3 of them got a university degree, and only one uncle still lived at that house.
Next to the consultorio was the formal dining room. A large table, a sideboard, another couch, more cupboards. My grandmother would set the pesebre, or nativity scene, on that cupboard Christmas after Christmas. Christmas trees were something new, it’d be years before she’d have one. We loved to look at the small clay figures, the oversize baby Jesus, the shepherds, the reyes magos. I was still a Christian then, but I think I mostly saw them as toys. In any case, we, Protestants, did not make images of Jesus.
Both the comedor and consultorio were at the left of the main entrance. Straight ahead was the large iron fireplace. I don’t think it worked, I never saw a fire in it. There were black chairs and a low table, but it wasn’t an area used very much.
Next to this area, there was the (marble?) stairway that led to the second floor. There was another stairway, a cement one by the kitchen that led to the upstairs laundry room. For some reason, this house had too laundry rooms. One was the little patio near the kitchen – covered with grapevines and grapes in summer. The washing machine was there, as well as a washing sink. But then, upstairs, next to the terrace, was another laundry sink – and clothing lines in the terrace. We played a lot here as well.
Downstairs, as well, was my grandparent’s bedroom. It must have been a huge room once upon a time, but it had already been divided by the time they bought the house. There was the bedroom, the bathroom (with a black toilet lid!), and my grandfather’s office. Here was his huge
desk, the type that has a rolling cover and tons of little compartments, gods know for what. It was massive, some of the drawers were locked. And yet I don’t know what he kept there. There was also a wardrobe with photo alums. He had traveled to Europe many times, and once around the world with my grandmother before I was born. My mother made a scrapbook about his travels. I don’t know if she still has it.
I think I was one or so the last time he went to Europe – always by ship, it seemed. The story is that we went to see him off at the port, and he threw a streamer from the ship. Somehow my father managed to catch it.
It was from Europe that he brought me Belinda, a talking doll. She was very pretty, with blond hair, blue eyes, and a red suit. In her back there was a tiny record player, I guess this was the time before cassettes. My mother rarely let me play with her. Which is a pity because I didn’t get to enjoy her, and then, one day, one of my cousins wrote on her with a pen. I still have the doll, hidden in my closet, naked. I’m sure it no longer works, and, anyway, those tiny records are long gone. And yet, I’m still reluctant to let my girls play with it – as much as they insist. I gave them the couple of Ken dolls I had left from my childhood, but this doll… not yet.
There were other things that my grandfather brought us. To me, a little white duckling that walked. She had a head scarf and a plastic purse. Again, these were not toys we were allowed to play with often – lest we break them.
He had brought my mother dolls from all over the world – I remember the American cowgirl, an Indian doll in a blue sari (did he actually go to India?), a little geisha. My mother displayed them in the cupboard in the living room. Again, we weren’t allowed to touch them – but I did.
Behind the dolls there was the fan, with little pictures of different countries or cities, which my grandfather had brought me from Europe – always Europe, never any more specificity. I thought, or someone else said, that it was made of ivory. It seems clear now that it was a cheap souvenir. But there it was displayed, and again, I was not allowed to touch it.
Back to the house. Beyond the bedroom, we entered into the “servants'” part of the house. Of course there were no servants, though the original owners probably did have them. Indeed, even apartments in Argentina used to have a separate area, off the kitchen, with a bedroom and a bathroom, built for the servants. My aunt Gladys’ apartment has one – by the so-called “service door”, and I know of apartments built through the 70’s with similar lay outs. I doubt that’s the case with new buildings.
The kitchen was quite large and quite old. Though it was the place where the adults mostly hang out, I always thought of it as depressing. Perhaps it was too dark, the walls stained with too much humidity.
(to be continued…)