And more on 55 y 1 – y mis abuelos

I was describing the kitchen. To the left, beyond the counter, there was a door going down to the basement, and beyond that another counter with a sink (I think) and more cupboards (I also think). The basement, the zótano, was a strange room. It smelled very much of humidity, and indeed I remember at some point, when La Plata was flooded, that the whole zotano was full of water. Seems weird now.
But before that, I remember going down there with Tito. He kept the potatoes in there and they had started to sprout. The sprouts were long and fascinating. The potatoes still cooked and eaten.

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Zuni y Tito

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.

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A little milk pot

On the shelf above my kitchen sink there are many things – plastic cups, an apple slicer/corer, a kitchen scale – that I don’t know where else to put in my kitchen. Next to this everyday objects lies a very little milk pot. It’s made out of thick glass. At some point I will remember to take a picture of it, and some day, when Mike actually transfers the pictures to my computer, I will find it and post it here. Meanwhile you’ll have to imagine it, or remember it. If you ever had tea at my aunt Gladys’ apartment, you might. Because this was the same little milk pot that accompanied thousands (and I’m not exaggerating) of teas throughout the years.
I don’t know where the little milk pot came from – I never thought to ask. Would she had remember if I had? It’s so prosaic, and yet so ever-present. It didn’t match any other pieces of the tea set, and indeed, I can’t remember any of the other pieces of the tea set. And who knows? Perhaps if I hadn’t seen it again, I wouldn’t remember the milk pot either. But now I have it, and it brings me back to those teas that marked my childhood.
I would visit my grandmother and aunt Gladys a couple of times a week while I was going to school. I don’t remember much more about it. Did my visits end when granny died? When I started walking back from school (which I think was in 5th grade)? How often did I see Gladys? Later, when I was 13 and 14, I would spend a little over a year living with her. Oil and water. Teenager and older lady. And yet the memories are so sweet.
But every day, after school, or later, in High School, when I went to school in the mornings, at 4 o’clock, it’d be time for tea. It was usually humble, a pot of tea, toast, butter, jam. Granny, I remember, ate rye bread. I don’t know if she preferred it or did it for her health. Gladys would buy pan lactal, milk bread?, at a bakery in calle 12, not too far away from her house. The bread was nice and fresh, much better than the packaged sliced bread my parents would get. Sometimes there would be other things with tea. Biscuits – easier to make than scones, or “escones” as we called them. Cookies, but Argentine cookies are never as good as American. On very special occasions, masas finas – tiny pastries, often filled with dulce de leche, that are some of the best tasting things in the world, unfortunately, they are very expensive. But always tea, black tea with a dash of green tea (that was their secret). So delicious, so comforting, so much a part of my childhood.
Sometimes I don’t know whether it’s better to remember, feel the warmth and love of those moments, that life, but sense the agony of having lost it – or to just forget, as I did for so many years. At some point I did stop mourning my grandmother – will I do the same with Gladys? Do I want to?
My childhood will never come back, I should concentrate in enjoying my children’ childhood. And yet, as I mourn Gladys I can’t but mourn my childhood. Thus these memories and this posting.

Daycare & Preschool (mine, that is)

Both my father and mother worked from the time I was a baby. I don’t know when my dad started working in Propulsora Siderúrgica, a steel plant (I guess), but before that he worked with my mother in the LEMIT (which I still remember stands for “Laboratorio de Ensayos y Materiales e Investigaciones Tecnológicas”). The Lemit was located right outside La Plata, a mile or two from where the bosque ended. My mom, who quit studying chemical engineering after a few years, and ended up with a degree on criminological social work, worked in lab’s library. I’ve no idea what she did there, but I remember going there as a child a couple of times. It was a large (but isn’t everything large to a small child?) tidy library, filled with reports and things of the sort. What I most remember was a ceramic ashtray which one of us had made in ceramic class and given to my mother. She didn’t smoke, so it must have been used by someone else.
You have to remember that I grew up in Argentina during a time of both social upheaval as well as great social schisms. Young people had associated themselves in large networks and groups with the objective of making significant economic and social changes. Some of that work consisted on teaching and helping people in the slums – a lot of it had to do with raising consciousness, but a couple of the main leftist groups had decided to take up arms in their struggle. Meanwhile, the right had formed a death squad to go after leading intellectuals, union leaders and other “lefties”. The majority of the lefty group members did not participate in any violence, but there were enough kidnappings, murders (including the one of a former military president) and bombings done by both sides to add to an atmosphere of terror and confusion. As a five, six, seven year old child I didn’t understand anything at all – but I knew that the Montoneros (the largest of the leftist groups) were dangerous, bad people, who put bombs. Indeed, it has taken many years, much reading and several former montonero friends to get rid of those prejudices. That which we learned in childhood, is difficult to do away with.

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