When I was a child, my mum’s childhood home was still standing (just), its rich tapestry of memories crumbling into ruins. The house was waiting to be knocked down by housing developers, hungry for square footage on the avenue. She would point at it when we passed by, the half-open front windows and wall just intact, opening into a broken shell at the back.
I always had a vivid imagination, and liked to think about stories that may have happened at the house where my mum grew up. The fourth of five children and the eldest girl, she was trained to serve her siblings at home as was then the tradition. My mum and her sister, my auntie, would mend socks, cook meals, wait on their brothers and feed their pet hens (which my mum point blank refused to eat at the next family celebration.) They were not well off, nor strugglers. The family had a car (because of my grandfather’s work as a company chauffeur) and a fridge (into which you had to place a block of ice every few days to help keep your food chilled.)
Ten minutes’ walk away, my dad, nine years her senior, lived with his parents and his older brother and sister. Those were dark years for Spain, struggling under desperate poverty after the Civil War. Sometimes, my dad’s family would wander around fields after harvest, picking out discarded vegetables and potatoes to take home. They got the entrepreneurial bug and decided to set up a stall, selling lemons and garlic at the local markets, so they could stave hunger away. It worked quite well and their prospects improved. My dad has always kept a love of inspecting fruit and vegetables at the shops, and, now into his 80s, is happy to go on a pilgrimage across shops to find ‘two kilos of the right potatoes.’
At some point along the lines, their eyes must have crossed across a crowded room. What they said to each other when they met I can only begin to imagine: the dreams and compromises, the arguments and resolutions. I do not know most of the story that took them (us) where they are today. I am their youngest child and I have only been witness to part of their sixty-year journey since they married. They have seen many changes in our society, as we have moved from traditional roles and patriarchal constraints to embrace a more flexible attitude towards different ways of living, with technology helping create a global world.
As a mum and an adult (even if sometimes it feels like I am just playing at been one), I have come to realise many times how powerful parent figures are in shaping their children’s lives. My parents had it tough… They couldn’t make their dreams come true, because of powerful socio-political and economic circumstances around them. They lacked opportunities to study, travel abroad, live independently and hold fulfilling jobs. But they chose to do everything they could to make ours come true. We always had food on the table. I was always encouraged to read. I was taken to see a trial just so I could see the workings of the court system for one morning. My sister and I went to university, and my brother got a vocational education.
I think they knew that there was no way around the obstacles, and so sometimes when you can’t achieve what you’ve wanted for yourself, you can help others achieve it, and that’s pure love.