Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents – of blessed memory. They were both born right after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). They survived thirty years of darkness in the shape of a fascist government. My parents were not perfect, but they taught me a lot. Even if they were overly critical at times, I always felt they believed in me. And I’m sure they’re proud of the person that I’ve become.
My mother (Carmen) was born in a small village in southwestern Spain. In the Middle Ages, that area used to be populated by Jews and Muslims. In fact, my mother’s village is part of a region called La Jara cacereña. The Spanish word jara comes from the Arabic word ša‘rā, and it means ‘land full of vegetation.’ La Jara cacereña is part of a broader region called Extremadura.
Like many before her, my mother would end up emigrating. Being the eldest daughter, she couldn’t go to school. She was required to work the fields and take care of her younger siblings. She’d eventually teach herself to read and write. She always had an appetite for knowledge, most likely because she didn’t have the chance when she was a kid. That’s something that I always credit her for passing on to me. I’ve always been a curious, autodidact person. As a young adult, my mother moved to Madrid to become a servant. There, she would meet my father.
My father (Antonio) was born in a town called Medina del Campo, which is located in a region called Castilla y León. The Spanish word medina is another example of the Arab influence in the Iberian Peninsula. It comes from the Arabic word madīnah, and it literally means ‘town.’ My father’s ancestors were from nearby villages such as Ataquines and Palacios Rubios.
Unlike my mother, my father had a formal education until the age of 14. He was a bit of a rebel. On one occasion, he threw a handful of gravel at the car of Francisco Franco (Spain’s dictator from 1936 through 1975) when he was driving through his hometown. I’m not surprised that happened. Years earlier, the fascists had killed two of his uncles for having different ideas. I guess that’s why my father always advised me not to discuss politics in public. Although my father was a good student, he chose to drop out of school to start working as a salesperson in clothing stores.
My parents had four children. I’m the youngest. I always felt a significant generational gap, even among my siblings. By the time I was born, things had changed dramatically in Spain. For instance, the country had (apparently) become a democracy. My siblings were born between 1970 and 1976. My parents were almost 40 when I came into the world. Growing up, I could barely relate to anybody.
We were living in Galicia when my mother passed away in 1994. She had developed a very aggressive form of ovarian cancer. At age 48, she died only a month after she started feeling sick. In 2014, my father died of heart disease at age 69. That issue began when he was a kid after he contracted hay fever. Throughout his life, he went through two valve replacement surgeries and a lot of medications. I’m grateful that, to this day, my siblings and I have never experienced a chronic medical condition (ברוך השם).
I wish my parents were still alive. My mother and I were very close. I was only 10 years old when she departed. Too soon – I always say. It was hard to understand and accept that something like that could happen. My father and I were not close while I was growing up. I remember being scared of him. But our relationship would eventually become healthy, especially after I left the family nest.
How different would things be if they were still here? I’ll never know. It’s the path that I’ve lived that’s taken me to the present. And I love it. That’s why I miss my parents: I’d like to share the present with them. Still, I feel their presence in the many things they’ve taught me. Even if I think I was too different from them, I recognize I’ve inherited many of their traits: my mother’s love of nature and passion for learning; my father’s determination and caution. After all, I’m their creation.