As I said, I’m not a story teller and I have very few, if any, stories to tell. What I have are little mental images, places and feelings. But I also have a few photographs that were taken during my childhood. My dad was really into photography before I was born, but he pretty much had abandoned it by then. He did have a camera and took pictures of us from time to time – which my mother would diligently divide among our photo albums. Looking at the pictures bring up memories, so here these are 🙂
OK, this picture brings no memories of my own. My mother says it was taken 15 minutes after I was born. I was the first of four, and the ones with the hardest labor. My mother broke her water moving a heavy table, I think, and then went to the hospital (was it the Instituto Médico Platense? Those are the words that come to my mind). There they gave her pitocin, and she proceeded to have a 24-hour-labor, with no anesthesia, until they decided to do a c-section on her. To this day she tells me the story every year on my birthday – clearly it was really traumatic. The two natural births (now called VBACs) that followed, were a breeze in comparison. The other story from those days is that my dad slept with me my first night – and my mom was very worried that he’d squash me. Michaela, my oldest, slept on my breast part of her first night as well. She slept with Mike, her daddy, also.
I think this picture was taken at my first birthday. The boy in the picture is Albredito. Alfredito was the son of my mother’s friend Amalia – a classmate from her Social Work studies. He was older than me, as you can see, but I think when I was little my mom hang out with her and I saw him several times. Mom and Amalia remained friends, writing to each other once we came to America and for a long time, but we saw her less and less as we grew up. When I was 10, I think, he joined the colonia or summer camp to which I went since I was 5. I knew who he was, but I don’t think I ever talked to him. I hear that later his mom got very sick and he was amazing taking care of her.
I have a vague idea that the girl next to him in the picture is Diana, the daughter of my father’s friend Roy. I heard her name from time to time, but I don’t have a picture of her in my mind. I think once I went to her birthday party. My father called her last time I went to Argentina, wanting to reconnect with Roy. I think she’s a lawyer.
On the other side are my cousin Fernando, about whom I wrote in my last posting, and my cousin Claudia. Claudia was the daughter of my cousin Goyo, the son of Kent, my father’s brother. Goyo had two daughters with his first wife, Claudia, who was older than I and Gisela who was just a little bit younger. Goyo separated from his wife, so we saw the girls seldom, generally at birthday parties and family events. Later, Goyo married again and had two other daughters, Cecilia and Virginia. They lived in Azul, a town further into the Buenos Aires pampas, and for a while they had a green grocery. I remember visiting them there and going to the balneario, which I remember as an enormous pool (but it must have been a lake), with dirty water. Not that I cared as a child.
I remember Claudia as being very intelligent. I liked seeing them in the few occasions I did. Thinking back, I probably missed not having girl cousins – the closest one to me in age was Marina, who is five years younger than I. I loved Marina and looked forward to her and her brother coming to visit from Mar del Plata, but I will write about them more later.
I saw Claudia and Gisela and Cecilia and Virginia last at Gladys’ funeral two years ago. They all turned out to be beautiful, wonderful people. Cecilia just joined Facebook and found me there. I don’t have a picture of her – and she hasn’t posted one.
In Argentina, the celebration of Christmas is relatively recent (by which I mean several decades, but relatively speaking). Traditionally it was celebrated with visitation scenes and midnight masses. My grandmother, as I have written, had a beautiful visitation scene that she would take out on Christmas. Some churches would also put them out, and the best one of all was always the one from the Iglesia de San Ponciano. Every year my grandmother would take us to see it.
As Argentinians started to celebrate Christmas, with Christmas trees and presents, they did not stop celebrating el Día de Reyes, or Three Kings Day, which falls on January 6th of every year. The tradition was to put your shoes out – the three kings would come and leave presents on them. My mother, who claimed that she did not believe on lying to children (though she did her fair share of lying on the contexts), made it very clear that the Three Kings (just like Santa Claus and the little mouse that exchanged money for teeth) did not exist. So we missed the wonder of believing in that sort of magic. But we still put out our shoes and got presents.
I remember well the night before Three Kings Day in 1976. I had gone to spend the night at the house of my cousin Esteban – Fernando’s brother. Esteban did believe in the Three Kings, and he left grass and water for the camels. I felt so grown up in knowing the secret of their non-existence and took care to not let him know. The night before, on January 5th, we went to see the corso on Calle 12. At least I think it was a corso – it might have been just a celebration. A corso is like a parade, made out of regular people who belong to a comparsa (my god! I haven’t used these words in almost thirty years, I wonder if I remember them well). They learn special marching-dance moves and wear distinctive clothing. There can also be floats, people who drink fire, jugglers, and things of the sort. I remember the corsos in Carnabal, but I also remember being on Calle 12 that night with confetti and foam cans (my parents never bought me foam).
The next day after I awoke my father came to get me. I remember being in his arms when he told me that my grandfather Tito had died. I don’t know if I learned the details that day – that he had felt heart pains the day before, had even asked my grandmother for some morphine, and then followed her to make sure she wasn’t giving him too much, and that then he succumbed to a heart attack. There were probably more details, now lost in the darkness of forgetting. All I know is that that – along with the days Granny and Gladys died – was the saddest of my life. As I write this, I can actually feel the anguish that I felt then, the disbelief, the impossibility of making a bargain. I remember crying and crying on my father’s arms. And I remember nothing else. I didn’t get to go to his funeral, just like I wouldn’t be allowed to go to Granny’s funeral years later. I think that was very cruel, a child needs an opportunity to say goodbye as well. Later, I would get to go to a mass for him – but as a protestant I always felt uncomfortable at Catholic masses (not that I’ve been to that many).
Another place I liked to go when I was very little, was the Parque Pereyra. You could take a “ride” on boats shaped as giant swans. I also think they had a zoo, the type where the animals roam free and you drive through in your car. We didn’t go there much.
I’m not sure if I wrote about summers in La Quinta. My parents would put out a very small inflatable pool, fill it with water from the well and we’d splash and splash. Later, when my parents bought the house in City Bell, we’d have a larger pileta Pelopincho, which has a frame and plastic walls. I don’t seem to have any pictures of it.
A place I haven’t written about yet is the Plaza Moreno in La Plata. La Plata is a planned city, it was founded in 1882 as the capital city of the province of Buenos Aires – the city of Buenos Aires having been the previous capital. At the center of the city is the Plaza Moreno. Respecting the Spanish/colonial model of urban planning, the plaza is surrounded by the Cathedral on one side and the Municipal building (i.e. city hall) on the other. It’s a very big plaza, with a wide central avenue, fountains and playing areas for the kids. There is also a train that goes around it. The plaza is located only a couple of blocks from Granny and Gladys’ apartment, so I went there quite often when I was little. You can see me in the picture chasing the pigeons – back then, the plaza was full of pigeons who lived in the recesses of the cathedral. They seem to have disappeared now, at least I didn’t see them the last times I went to La Plata.
I don’t have much to say about this picture. I’m including it here because it’s one of my favorites – Margarita carrying margaritas (my name means daisy in Spanish). I think it was taken in front of the front door of la quinta. I think I mentioned that these large daisies grew next to calla lilies behind the wall of the patio.
I’m including this picture here even though I have /no clue/ as to when it was taken. No memory at all. It looks like it’s my birthday and I was probably turning 3. It also looks like the picture was taken at the preschool, the boy kissing me is probably my brother David. I think Stella is holding him.
One of the things I do remember about my grandfather Tito is that he (or was it my grandmother? Definitely my grandmother after he died) made ravioli from scratch. I still remember eating and loving those ravioli. I think that’s what he served at the party to celebrate my first birthday – for that reason I made a point of serving ravioli at the first birthday parties for both my daughters. But I didn’t cook them from scratch 🙂
My first birthday was celebrated at Tito’s house with my aunts & uncles and Granny and Gladys. Granny and Gladys were known for their cakes, and I know that they baked at least the heart-shaped one on the photo – I remember their heart-shaped cake pan. Yesterday I was looking through their recipes, and I think I found the one for sponge cake with lemon cream. I’d have made it for the tea I had yesterday, but I didn’t have time. I want to make it.
I thought I had gotten this piano for my first birthday and that that picture was taken that day – but I’m wearing a different dress than in the picture before. Of course, I might have changed. I still have that pink dress, and I know I have put it on my kids – I just don’t know if I’ve taken any pictures. And even if I had, who knows where they’d be 🙁
I remember that piano very well, it lasted for quite a long time and I remember playing with it with cousins from Mar del Plata. I think at some point we had two pianos, but I’m not sure.
In the picture, I’m standing in the “living room” area of Tito & Zuni’s house. You can almost see the fireplace and the black Italian-sytle chairs. It was a central place, but never really used much.
When I was little my father had the car in this picture. I think it was a Peugeot 304 – at least the one we got later was a 404 (and even later a diesel 404). It was rather small and I remember once closing the door on my fingers – the type of pain you never forget (it happened to me again, in Nicaragua, when I was 20-something). I also remember my father driving at night waiting for us to fall asleep – apparently on my mom’s lap.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that both my grandmother and my aunt Gladys liked to knit. Along the years, they knitted quite a lot of things for us. I don’t remember most of them – though I still have a couple of cardigans that Gladys knitted when I was a teenager – but I do remember one of them (I think Gladys) made this sweater. I remember playing with their knitting needles – long, somewhat sharp, with numbers on the heads – and seeing them knit for hours at the time (well, probably not when I was around). But there was always a knitting project somewhere. When I was older, I used to love to make the wool balls, and when I was even older, I learned to knit a little bit myself. But I had no patience and I never made anything. Ha! Just now I remember that there were several different puntos, I’m sure there is a word in English for that.
In La Plata, beyond the Estudiantes de la Plata club, there is what we call “el bosque”. It’d be somewhat inaccurate to translate it as “the woods”, as it’s not really a wild place at all, more like a large park, a very large park. There is a lake, and at least once, when we were older, we’d try to fish there. I’m pretty sure we didn’t get anything. There was also a merry-go-round, a cave, and an area where you could get pony rides. There were swings and slides and just a large area which we could explore. During our first trip to Argentina with Mike and Michaela, we explored it as well – Mika got stung by a bee.