Mis cachorros

“Mis cachorros”. My puppies. That’s how my dad called us when we were little.

Some of my favorite memories of him was of watching TV with him in bed, him shirtless, belly down and us little and getting all over him. We all (well, my dad, my brother and I) liked those old b&w historical movies – Bible tales, Greek myths, medieval fantasies, all of them combined (I swear there were movies that included both Hercules and Samson).

My kids refuse to watch anything that’s b&w, they would recoil at movies like this. Maybe I can find them and force Mike to watch them with me.

My dad with the four of us, circa early 1990s

Written the morning after my dad died.

My first great loss was my grandfather, Tito. I think – because the prodigious memory I once had is lost, even for things in my long lost childhood, and now it’s hard to put them in order. Who died first? Was I 5, 6 or 7 when it happened?

My grandfather Tito, my uncle Anibal, one of my aunts and my mother holding me. Tito was embarking for a trip to Europe. Circa 1970.

So perhaps my first great loss was my cousin Fernando. I think that it was in the summer before I turned six and started first grade. Our nuclear family, along with Granny and my aunt Gladys, had spent a fortnight in Mendoza, staying at the house of my dad’s college friend Héctor, and I think when we returned we heard that there was something wrong with Fernandito. They thought he had hepatitis. Sometime later it was confirmed it was leukemia. This was the time before treatments.

My parents, the three of us and my grandmother in Mendoza, aunt Gladys must have taken the picture.

Fernando was seven. At least, Fernando has forever been seven in my memory – which seemed very grown up when I wasn’t quite six. That summer – or perhaps it was the one after, I don’t know how long it took for the illness to progress -, his parents rented a country house with a pool in City Bell. I remember playing with him and the other kids in the living room. He had gotten a roulette wheel – later, I’d get one as well. I’m not sure why it was fun to play it, but it seemed quite special.

At my 5th birthday party. Fernando is the blond boy in the front.

Ironically, one memory of this time is quite traumatic. One time, while playing in the pool, my dad thought it’d be fun if he put his leg on my head while I was underwater, making me feel trapped underwater. I’m sure it was just for a few seconds, but it was a horrible sensation – which is why I still remember this well over 40 years later. I think through my childhood this was my one big resentment towards my father.

Why am I going back to memories of the bad things? Should I not remember only the good times? Maybe it’s a protective mechanism. Maybe it’s my mind trying to warn me against idealizing my father and vilifying my mother – a far more conflictive person, very much like me.

My other memory of Fernando at the time was when he was at the Hospital de Niños in La Plata. The hospital had only one private room, at the front, with a window overlooking the Parque Saavedra and a door opening towards a long and narrow patio. I knew the room well. My mother had spent three months with my sister there when she got sick as a baby. I stayed with my aunt Gladys and we would visit them there. It was strange to see Fernando and his mom staying in a room that I felt as belonging to my mom.

My parents and the three of us at the Parque Saavedra. My mom is holding my sister Gabriela. Sometimes we would go to the park with them when we visited them at the hospital. Early 1973.

At the hospital, we played Carta Alta – a game Fernando had invented.

If my memory doesn’t betray me, I learned of Fernando’s death while at school. I can’t recall if it was fall or winter or anything else. I can’t recall my grief when he died but I have grieved him ever since.

I think Tito must have died after Fernando, because I was spending the night my cousin Esteban – Fernando’s brother – when Tito died. I don’t remember Fernando being there. I do remember several things:

1- It was January 5th, the night before el Día de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, which was a big celebration back then in Argentina.

2- Fernando and Esteban’s parents, my cousins Barullo and Ana, took us to see the Three Kings Day parade on Calle 12 and they bought us bags of confetti and cans of foam. The latter were expensive and it’s not something that my parents would buy me, so it felt quite special.

3- I didn’t believe in the Three Kings (nor in Santa Claus). My mother claimed she didn’t believe in lying to kids (ha!) so she always told us they were make believe. My cousins told me to not tell Esteban they weren’t real and I felt quite grown up keeping the secret.

4- Esteban’s parents left water and straw for the camels. This was a new tradition for me – at my home we didn’t leave anything.

In the morning, after we got our presents, my dad arrived. He told me that Tito had died and I broke down – like I did last night, when I heard my dad died and I like I did this morning, when I woke up to the reality that he is no longer here. I remember him holding me in his arms as I cried and cried and cried. I remember the endless pain and desperation of Tito’s death which now blends with the pain and desperation of my dad’s own death. But I also remember the comfort of my dad’s arms and my dad’s love. Maybe that’s what my mind is doing, bringing him back to comfort me over his own death.

Oh, papi. Te quise tanto. Creí que te lo iba a contar hoy, cuando fuera a visitarte. Te quiero tanto. No sé como lidiar con tu muerte. Así que vuelvo a los seis años y a tus brazos.

My dad and I, when I turned one.

On memories & story telling

I’m not a storyteller.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t realize that about myself until I was in my late thirties – when I had children who actually asked me to tell them stories. It’s almost tragic, I have none – I cannot make up stories nor can I relate stories from my life. It’s not that I don’t remember things, I just don’t remember any interesting things, or at least things that make stories. I do remember places, and people and occasions and feelings, but nothing that could fall into a narrative that would occupy more than a couple of minutes. My children so far haven’t noticed – they are used to board books that don’t have anything that could be called a plot -, but they soon will, and then mommy will be even more boring that she’s now.

My children want to hear stories of when I was a little girl, so I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my childhood, trying to remember anything that could even pass for a story. Instead, I immense myself in the places and times where I spent my childhood, one day visiting the casa quinta where I lived until I was 5, another day, warmly resting in the living room of my grandmother’s house. It’s been so many years since I’ve thought about these things, these times, and I always feel so warmly when I do. It’s as if all the sad memories have disappeared, and only the security of childhood remains. Am I giving my children the same sense of warmth that I feel looking back? Only time will tell.

And then, my other big question, will I forget these memories? I have forgotten so much. So many times I look at a picture of me and have no idea where or when it was taken. What was I doing? What was I feeling? All gone now.  Now, eleven years later, I know that, indeed, I am forgetting a lot of details. Memories, when they are here, are far more fuzzy.

So I thought that I might want to record some of these memories for me, for the future, and perhaps even for my children. No doubt that they’ll be boring to read – as I said, I’m not a story teller – but perhaps one day I will enjoy them nonetheless. So I start now.


When I was one and two and three and four, not, I think, when I was five, I lived with my parents, and later my siblings, in a small house (that seemed so huge to me), somewhere in the outskirts of La Plata. I don’t know the address or the name of the locality – when people asked where we lived, the answer was always camino a Olmos – on the road to Olmos. I knew nothing about Olmos, though today the name is associated in my mind with a woman’s prison and with clandestine births. I had a vague feeling, one that I have not bother to confirm, that if you continued further down that road, you’d also arrive at Melchor Romero, a very large manicomio, or insane asylum. My mother had worked or at least visited Melchor Romero when she was studying social work in college. She had many gruesome stories of the people she had met there – the only one I can remember now was of a man who killed his little brother and ate him. Clearly, that story made an impact on my young mind.

The house where we lived belonged to my grandfather, Tito. It also belonged to my grandmother, Zuni, but I don’t think I ever saw her ethereal figure as that of someone who owned things. Things beside the high heel white pumps that I liked to wear or those thick wool skirts that smelled faintly of moth balls. Later, much later, she would buy a rabbit fur coat at the peletería, or fur store, that belonged to the father of my friend Karina (with whom, coincidentally, I have just reunited through facebook). The coat also smelled faintly of moth balls, but it was so soft to the touch. I can’t help but remember her small frame swimming in the mountains of gray fur. But as I said, that was later.

The house, as I was saying, was probably small. It had a large kitchen (or was it that large?), with a door and window opening to the patio criollo, that tiled (was it tiled?) rectangular patio where I’d first work at learning how to ride my blue bicycle (a gift from my grandmother “Granny” when I turned five). There was one bedroom occupied by my parents’ bed, our white crib and a large wardrobe. The house must have been old, built before built-in closets became standard. I don’t remember any furniture in the living room part of the living-comedor. Later, after my sister was born, when we were getting ready to move into the La Plata apartment, my mother bought a sillón-cama, a hide-a-bed sofa, where I slept. I’m sure I’ll write more about it. For now, let’s just say that it had an Italian style and was made of light-colored fake leather. A large table (I know it was large, because I’ve seen the pictures), perhaps a cupboard, that I remember very faintly.

There was another room, my father’s office. From there, I remember a metal desk lamp and a tall chest of drawers (which later would be cut into two and placed in the closet in my room, in the new apartment). My father was still studying engineering, so I think he may have had a draftman’s desk – I can’t remember it.  He did have one of those adjustable table lamps with multiple articulations.

And then there was the bathroom. A toilet, a sink, a shower (or rather, a shower head in the middle of the bathroom). I think I remember, but it could be any bathroom.

There was another bathroom outside, beyond the patio criollo. It was the one used by Panchito, our next door neighbor. For some reason, the bathroom in his house didn’t work so he’d come to use ours. The one outside, of course.

I don’t remember much about Panchito, I may very well have stopped seeing him after we moved to the city, I can’t remember his face at all. I know that even then I thought he was off, but beyond the lack of a bathroom, I’m not sure why I felt that way. I should ask my mother if she remember him and can tell me more about him.

As little or as much as I remember, my parents seem to have forgotten. My dad at least. One of my fondest memories of those years was my father arriving home from work with small “Jack” chocolates. These minute chocolates came with a tiny plastic figurine, at that time of Titanes en el Ring, a wrestling ensemble that featured wrestlers dressed up as characters. The most popular and lethal of all was the “mummy”, that could put you down by just touching you. It didn’t show up that often, but when it did, we were wild with enthusiasm. The troupe had been created by Martín Karadagián, an actor and wrestler who sometimes would show up as well – when he did, he always won. A couple of decades later I virtually met his daughter in a mailing lists for Argentinians abroad.

In any case, once in a great while my father would bring us those chocolates when he came home from work. I still remember how he looked like, so young, so masculine, with dark black hair. He was very good looking, known, indeed, for his looks. But mostly, he was a very kind man, very loving, a nice dad (usually).

As sweet as the memory of the jacks is for me, my dad does not remember it at all. We went to Argentina a couple of years ago, when my aunt Gladys passed away, and I bought a bunch of Jacks for my girls (I’d introduced them to the chocolates during our last trip there) – so I told my dad about my fond memories. He had no idea what I was talking about.

The casa quinta had a name: Stella Maris. It was my youngest aunt’s name, given to her, and the house, by my mother. Still, we always referred to it as the quinta.

The house might (or might not) have been small, but it was in a large lot with lots of fun things for kids to explore. At the other side of the ligustro, which marked the end of the patio criollo, was a single (I’m pretty sure it was a single) swing. Nothing special, but then again, children like swings no matter how simple they are. In front of the swing was a kumquat tree. I haven’t eaten a kumquat in 35 years, but I can still remember their bitter taste. I didn’t particularly like them; my mother did.

Behind the other wall that bordered the patio were tall daisies (margaritas) and calla lilies. I haven’t seen such big daisies since. I liked them, mostly, because of my name. I still do. When my aunt Gladys was alive, I sent her a bouquet of daisies (usually with roses or other flowers) for her birthdays and mother’s day. When she died, I left a few of these humble flowers with her. But I can’t think of Gladys now – because when I do, I cry, and that’s not my intent here.  Re-reading this eleven years later, when my time has taken even more of its toll on my memory, I stop to note that my father died two weeks ago and that my daughter, at my request, placed daisies in his casket.  

At some point, but I think that was later, after we moved out and my uncle Aníbal (el Cabezón) moved in, there were also bee hives (the kind you raise). There must also have been trees, I only remember one where we found a caterpillar. Actually, I remember the caterpillar, not the tree.  Silly me of eleven years ago, I remember the tree well. Tall (to me) and full of leaves.  I was afraid of the caterpillars, they hurt when they touched you.

On the far back of the lot was the quincho with the parrilla; there we would have our asados. I can still picture my father’s wooden plate, what he used to transfer the meat from the parrilla to the table. Near there, there was the skull of a cow and further away, the place where we’d burn the trash (no garbage collection at the time, I guess). It was there where I hid (though there was nowhere to hide) the day my father gave me the greatest paliza, spanking, I ever got.

I have told this story many times – to my kids, who, for some reason, like to hear it over and over. And it goes like this…

One day, when I was a little girl, my father took me to the general store across the road (that road that went all the way to Olmos), to buy something I have well forgotten. I wanted chocolate (perhaps those same Jacks I talked about before, but I don’t quite remember). He wouldn’t buy them for me. I threw a fit and ran away, crossing that feared road (I did look both ways, and then ran across it) and heading towards my house. There I met with my mother and siblings (I had two, I must have been about 4); my mother warned me that I was in big trouble, and I knew it, of course. So I went hiding, and I guess there was no place to hide because I ended up by the area where we burnt the garbage. Perhaps by then I was resigned to the spanking – I learned, later, that the best way to deal with spankings was to accept them, the expectation being almost always worse than the actual punishment – but I stopped running. And my father found me, and he spanked me, and of that I remember nothing.

And this is it for tonight. I hope there will be more nights like this, me and my memories – but I’m not very consistent. So many times I’ve told myself that I wanted to keep a diary, and I’ve never gone more than a day or two with it. Oh well. Hopefully I’ll be back.