Even though I was not even 4 years old, I have quite a few memories, mental photographs, of the three months I spent with Granny & Gladys when my mother was at the hospital with Gabriela. I can’t be sure that the images I have of Granny and Gladys with me come from this period of time, it’s difficult to pinpoint how old I was the time we went to Sados and they bought me a doll – that I think I might have named María Eugenia – that came with lots of lots of little toys in the box. But some other images, those of the hospital and the park, could only come from this time.
Gabriela and my mom stayed in the only private room the hospital hard. At that time (and perhaps now as well), the Hospital de Niños had large rooms with multiple beds for all its little patients. I don’t know why my sister was given that room, a few years later, it’d be my (second) cousin Fernando who would occupy it. Fernando, a wonderful, smart, funny little boy, son of my first cousin Barullo, got leukemia when he was 7 years old.
I remember hearing about it when we got back from our trip to Mendoza, the summer before I turned 6. They thought he had hepatitis – to this day, I associate hepatitis with Fernando, though I think it was my friend María Marga, who would have it some time later. I think we all wish it had been hepatitis. I don’t remember when the correct diagnosis came, but I think they knew right away that he was going to die.
I liked Fernando. He was maybe a year and a half older than I and he was very smart. I think he wore glasses – as a child I always associated smart people with glasses. Fernando taught me the game “Carta Alta”, which he had created. It was a simple game, each person got a deck of cards, put one down, and whoever had the higher card would win. But hey, he was 7; I never created any card game. We played carta alta at the hospital when we went to visit him. Perhaps we also played it at the country house his family rented the summer before he died. I don’t think I went there very often, but I remember the large pool – where once my father pushed me down with his leg under the water, I still remember the feeling of drowning. I have not forgiven him (but then again, I seldom forgive).
Fernando was just half of a duo, Fernando y Esteban, Esteban being his younger brother, about a year younger than I. I had a crush on Esteban growing up, but I wonder to what point it was a transfer of a crush on Fernando – because I remember really liking Fernando. He was Gladys’ godson, his death was very hard on her. She paid for the cleaning of his nicho until she died.
I won’t say that I remember Fernando often. But then again, that’s true of Granny as well, and Tito and Zuni and those people I loved but whose deaths are back in the past. Gladys, of course, is another matter altogether. It’s been two years, and of course, I don’t cry now multiple times a day as I did in the beginning, but when my kids see me crying, they know why.
But now, the tires I’m shedding are over Fernando. It’s strange, I was only 6, and yet I still feel his loss.
At Granny’s home, perhaps even at this age, I had a wood crib. I remember how nice it was, with dark, shiny wood. I wonder what happened to that crib. My crib at home, which by then was probably Gabriela’s, was white. Gabriela would sleep in that crib for quite a few years more. Our room was quite small. Later, she would have a red fold-out couch for a bed. I can’t imagine it was that comfortable.
At Granny’s I also had my Teddy Bear. Granny and/or Gladys had gotten it for me. It was a somewhat large bear, pretty hard and definitely not cuddly, but I loved him very much. His name was Teddy Bear, and as nobody else had a stuffed bear named Teddy Bear in Argentina, that made complete sense. I still have him, much paler, with brownish paws, but here. I need to take a picture.
Every day or almost every day, my aunt Gladys would take me to see my mother in the hospital. Before or after we would play in the Parque Saavedra, a large park with a lake which was in front of the hospital. Gladys would buy me an ice cream bar. There was a little kid, I think even younger than I, who was also at the hospital. He’d escape the ward and come into our room. I remember he liked to hide in the wardrobe. Gladys would buy ice cream for him as well. Gabriela spent the summer of 1973 in the hospital, I remember the days being sunny.
Some houses have pieces of furniture which defines them. At my house, I think it’s the large Indian bookcase that I bought on e-bay (Ok, off e-bay, from a Chatsworth importer who advertised on e-bay). It’s massive and beautiful, our best piece of furniture and the one that has held up the best. At Granny’s house, it was the Grandfather clock. It’s a beautiful and tall clock. Granny had it made by a master carpenter, the time piece comes from Germany, I think. Every day you have to open it and pull the weights up, and slowly, during the day, they make their way down. They are very heavy. The clock sounds the hours and once at the half hour. It has a beautiful sound – now I wish I had recorded it. One of the sounds that defined my childhood. Gladys left the clock to me, but there is no practical way to bring it to the United States. It’s too large to send via a carrier – and no practical way to export it. I love that clock.
The living room in their apartment had three comfy chairs – my grandmother’s (pictured at the left), one matching the sofa, and the red velvet one you see in the picture above. There were two rocking chairs, one was Gladys’ (the one pictured in the photo below) and the other one became mine. There was also a sofa. On one side of Granny’s chair there was a little table with a glass top covering pictures. On the other side there was a beautiful combinado, a large piece of furniture containing a record player and a radio. The record player still worked when I was little, and I remember going through their record collection. It was from when Gladys’ was young, she particularly liked foxtrot. There was a song about Pecos Bill, el vaquero más auténtico que existió, in Spanish, that I liked to listen to. On top there were china figurines. Two were of little lamb, and Granny used to sing me the “Mary had a little lamb” song, in English. I’m not sure I understood beyond the first few lines. Granny also taught me Twinkle, twinkle, little star and “Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you”. And there was one song: “Awake said the sunshine, it’s time to get up. Awake pretty daisy and sweet buttercup”. I’m not sure if there was more to the song, that’s all I learned. I don’t even know if I understood it.
Other figurines were of Chinese men – two look like Buddha now. I think my brother kept them. My aunt, completely unrelated to that, used to sing this song:
En un bosque, de la China
una china se perdió,
y como yo era un perdido,
nos encontramos los dos
That’s all I remember. The other song she used to sing was:
Allá en rancho grande,
allá donde vivía
había una rancherita
que alegre me decía
que alegre me decía
Te voy a hacer los calzones
como los usa el ranchero
te los comienzo de lana
te los acabo de cuero”
One of the memories I have from those times was the rationing of food. I don’t remember in what year that happened, but I remember going with Zuni to the supermarket and being stopped by a person who worked there, who recognized my grandmother from having bought milk that day. I remember saying her “but it’s for the children”. I also remember that Granny and Gladys did some of their shopping at SADOS, a supermarket for members of the Navy, or perhaps the whole Armed Forces. That’s where they bought the doll I mentioned before. I have a vague picture of the place in my mind. During some period, they had to pay with coupons. I think the green ones were the more valuable ones – but then again, I also think the bill for $50 million was green, and I remember that being A LOT of money. Once, probably when I was 8 or 9, my mother gave me one of those bills to go to the kiosco belonging to Mercedes, quite near our apartment building, to go buy milk. It was usually 3 1-liter milk sachés for $10 million. Somehow, in the 20 meters or so between the apartment building and the kiosco I lost the money. My mother was, understandably, super mad. I remember calling Gladys in tears – she came and gave us some more money.
I bought the milk at that kiosco for several years, then they opened a mini-market about a block from my house and started doing my shopping there. Perhaps the kiosco had been sold by then. My parents had also become friends with Mercedes. I remember a little her son Atilio, whom I’d seen in the kiosco. He would “disappear” in 1977, while doing the military service. The story was that he went to deliver a letter and never came back. I have no idea why he disappeared. Did he belonged to any of the groups the military persecuted? Did his commander just not like him? He was one of may boys (they really were boys) who were taken while doing the military service. Mercedes never stopped looking for her son, she joined Madres de Plaza de Mayo and sought him until her death. We were in America by then.
Granny’s apartment had a dining room open to the living room. In the other apartments in the building this was a third (or fourth, if you count the piesita, the room meant for the maid) bedroom. There a large table and chairs were crowded between a glass cupboard and a beautiful buffet. Usually, we ate at the card table positioned in front of Granny’s chair – Gladys would seat on her rocking chair and I on mine. That’s where we played cards as well – and boy, did we play cards!
When I was little, a cleaning woman would come twice a week to, well, clean. She would move all the chairs in the dining room and line them just outside. I liked to put my dolls on the chairs and pretend we were watching a show – while she vacuumed and dusted and waxed and all that. I don’t think it bothered her. Her name, I think, was Dina.