They wanted me to sew! my mother says, but all I wanted to do was read novels. I hid them under my mattress, and I read them at night.
Didn\’t your parents see the light in your room?
No, because I didn\’t turn it on. I used to kneel by the window, with the book propped on the sill, and read by the street light. I read many novels that way, and that is why I went to law school.
Because of the novels?
Because of the novels. I read about lawyers defending poor people against injustice, and I decided I wanted to be like them. So I went to the University of Valencia to learn to be a lawyer. Valencia was only a four-hour drive away, but in those days–before the Civil War–it was like going to America.
I still cannot believe that my mother let me go. I was seventeen, and girls from my village did not leave home except to be married. But as I\’ve told you, my mother was different. She was not afraid of what people would say, and even though like most girls of her generation she had no more than a grammar-school education, she was smart.
My mother\’s mother, my mother says, referring to her grandmother, died young, and left four children behind. Her husband worried that a new wife would make the children unhappy, so he never married again. Instead, my mother, who was the oldest girl–about twelve when her mother died–took care of the family. At one point, when she was about fourteen, she did go away to school, but she cried because she was homesick, and her brothers and sisters cried because they missed her, so finally her father hitched up the wagon and went to fetch her home.
When she was eighteen, a spirited, pretty girl, she met my father, who was from a different village and had just finished veterinary school in Zaragoza. This seemed very exotic to her, plus he was handsome, so she married him. When they came back from the honeymoon to their new house, they found her little brother and sisters already installed there.
My father was a wonderful veterinarian, very progressive, and the peasants trusted him and loved him. But he was terrible with money. He couldn\’t bear to ask people for what they owed him. In addition to his practice, my parents owned quite a bit of land which was farmed by sharecroppers, so we should have been well off. But everybody, the peasants whose mules he cured and the sharecroppers who farmed his land, found it easy to get around Senyor Boque. They were very good at finding excuses–a child was sick, the harvest had been poor–and he always said \”Fine, fine. Don\’t worry about it.\”
I\’ll explain later how this soft-heartedness of my father\’s may have saved us all in the worst days of the Civil War, my mother continues, but in the meantime there he was, with a wife and four children and a couple of maids to take care of, and perennially short of cash. And that is when my mother–remember, she had very little education–decided to take things into her own hands.
She became his administrator, secretary and accountant, keeping track of visits paid and medications administered, payments received and monies owed. When people didn\’t pay, she told him not to treat their animals, but, my mother says, softening her voice, he used to sneak out and take care of them anyway.
She was fair but tough on the sharecroppers, too. On the day when the wheat was put into sacks and weighed, she was there, making sure everything was fair and square…while my father took off on a on a pretense to look at the fields, but really so he could avoid any disagreements that might arise.
And so, because of her work and determination, we began to have more money. But she paid the price. Everybody in the village said that Senyor Boque was a saint. \”La Senyora Boque, on the other hand….\” Still, she did what she had to do.
(To be continued)