After so many years, the boundaries start to blur. Mothers, granddaughters, daughters, grandmothers–the skein of talk and memory passes from one to the other and grows more tangled with each pass, so that in the end you can hardly tell the threads apart.
I am listening to some recordings that my daughter S made of my mother back when my mother was the age I am now and my daughter had just finished college. She taped these sessions during one of my mother\’s visits, and in the background you can hear dishes being rinsed, a dishwasher being loaded.
My mother speaks, and periodically someone interrupts with a question or a remark, and often I can\’t tell whether that voice is my daughter\’s, or mine. There\’s no mistaking my mother\’s voice, which sounds young, like she could be thirty instead of seventy. Prompted by my daughter, she begins to tell about her own mother and to bring to life a world that no longer exists: the world of a Catalan village in the 1920s and 30s. My mother\’s world as it was \”before the war,\” meaning the civil war that sundered life in Spain into two separate eras: before 1936 and after 1939.
Before the war, my mother says, life in my village was almost medieval. The farmers plowed with Roman plows and a pair of mules. Middle class girls weren\’t allowed to do much besides attend daily Mass and, on Sundays, morning Mass and Rosary in the afternoon. And visit relatives, of course, and the sick. The married women all wore black.
At the harvest festival every year a band would come and there was a dance. But I could never dance because I had to sit with my family in a box high up in the stands, and no boy dared make the trip up all those steps, in view of the entire village, to ask me to dance and risk being turned down.
But the poor people, they were out all night on the dance floor, and they could dance with whomever they pleased. And they could go to the movies–even the women!–and see things like Mary Pickford and Buffalo Bill. The poor people had all the fun. How I envied them!
And you couldn\’t go to the movies? my daughter (or is it me?) asks.
Of course not! my mother says. But my mother was different…
(to be continued)