I don\’t know why my mother was so different from the other people of the village, my mother says, but she was, and so was my father. This gave me a terrible complex when I was growing up, because I wanted my parents to be like everybody else.
They didn\’t go to church. It\’s not that they were anticlerical, or that they didn\’t believe in God. They sent me and my two sisters and my little brother to Mass on Sundays, but they stayed home. My father didn\’t like it that at Mass the women and children knelt in the pews at the front of the church and the men stood in the back, by the door. He thought that they were there just for show. But I would have given anything to have parents who went to church like everybody else.
And, my mother continues, her voice rising as she recalls yet another mortifying fact, my parents went to the movies! The mayor, the lawyer, the doctor all stayed home on Sunday evenings, like proper people. But my father, the vet, without whose work the local farms would have collapsed, he went to the movies. And he took his wife along!
But what was so bad about going to the movies? my daughter asks.
Only the poor people went to the movies. They were also the only ones who could dance at the village festivals, as I\’ve told you. How I used to wish that we were poor….
But the worst thing was–and here she pauses dramatically and lowers her voice–that when my father went to the cafe after lunch, my mother went with him! In Barcelona women went to movies and to cafes all the time, of course. But this was a village, and before the Civil War no woman had ever been seen in the cafe, except your grandmother.
My mother stops to recall the scandal, and for a moment my daughter and I bask in our ancestress\’s daring.
The cafe, she explains, was only for men. Every day after lunch, the men, rich and poor, went to the cafe to smoke and drink coffee and tell stories. All the women stayed home, sewing. It was a little bit like Saudi Arabia… You know, she adds, remembering another Saudi-like custom, that in the village it was customary at meals for the wife to stand and serve the family, and wait to eat until everybody had finished. In our house, of course, my mother sat and ate with us. This did not embarrass me so much, because other people didn\’t see it.
Another strange thing, my mother says, is that in winter she used to feed my father breakfast in bed.
She brought him breakfast in bed?
No, she fed it to him. With her fingers. My father used to lie flat in bed with the covers up to his chin and she would bring in a tray with a cup of coffee, two pieces of toast, and a piece of chocolate. She would sit on the bed and give him a sip of coffee, and then she would break a piece of bread and put it in his mouth, and when he had swallowed that, she would give him a bite of chocolate, then some bread, then a sip of coffee…
And after that?
After that he would get up, put on his long underwear, his corduroy pants, his wool jacket and his black beret and hop on his bicycle and go on his rounds, to cure the mules and horses that had gone lame. And you know what? All the years they were married–and my mother married him when she was only eighteen, the prettiest girl in the village–she called him by his last name, \”Boque,\” instead of his first, which was \”Josep.\”
(To be continued)