Unsung Heroes #6: Lita 1929-2018 (Mom)
You were born five years before the beginning of the Spanish civil war and lived in a
Modest two-story home in the lower street of Fontan, facing the ocean that gifted you its
Wealth and beauty and robbed you of your beloved and noblest eldest brother, Juan,
Who was killed while working as a fisherman out to sea at the tender age of 19.
You were a little girl much prone to crying. The neighbors would make you cry just by Saying,
"Chora, neniña, chora" [Cry little girl, cry] which instantly produced inconsolable Wailing.
At the age of seven or eight you were blinded by an eye infection. The village
Doctor eventually saved your eyesight, but not before you missed a full year of school.
You never recovered from that lost time. Your impatience at being left behind prevented you
From making up for lost time. Your wounded pride, the shame of not knowing what your
Friends knew, your restlessness and inability to hold your tongue when corrected by your
Teacher created a perfect storm that tossed your diminutive boat towards the rocks.
When still little, you saw Franco with his escort leave his yacht in Fontan. With the innocence of
A girl who never learned to hold her tongue, you asked a neighbor who was also present, "Who is
That Man?" "The Generalissimo Francisco Franco," she answered and whispered “Say ‘Viva
Franco’ when he Passes by.” You pointed and screamed out:
"That's the Generalissimo?" followed by peals of laughter. "He looks like Tom Thumb!"
A Member of his protective detail raised his machine gun to strike you with the stock.
Leave her alone!" Franco ordered. "She’s just a child — the fault is not hers." You told that
Story many times in my presence, always with a smile or laughing out loud.
I don't believe you ever appreciated the possible import of your "feat" of contempt for
Authority. Could that act of derision have played some small part in their much later
Coming for your father and taking him prisoner, torturing him for months and eventually
Condemning him to be executed by firing squad in the Plaza de Maria Pita as a traitor?
He escaped his fate with the help of a fascist officer who freed him. Such was his
Reputation, the power of his ideas and the esteem of friends who did not share his political
Views. Such was your innocence or psychic blind spot that you never realized your possible
Contribution to his destruction. You could not have borne it if you had.
You adored your dad throughout your life with a passion of which he was most deserving.
He died shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War. A mother with ten mouths to feed
Needed help. You stepped up in response to her silent, urgent need. At the age of
Eleven you left school for good and managed to get a full time job in a cousin’s cannery.
Children could not legally work in Franco’s Spain. Nevertheless, a cousin who owned a
Cannery took pity on your situation and allowed you to work full-time in his factory in Sada.
You earned the same salary as the adult, predominantly women, workers and worked
Better than most of them with a dexterity and rapidity that served you well your entire life.
In your free time before work, you carried water from the communal fountain to neighbors
For a few cents. You also made trips carrying a large "sella" on your head for home and a
Pail in each hand. You rose long before sunrise to get the water for home and for the local
Fishermen before they left on their daily fishing trips to fill their personal water pails.
All of the money you earned went to your mom with great pride that a girl could provide
More than the salary of a grown woman--at the mere cost of her childhood and schooling.
You also washed clothes for neighbors for a few cents more. Diapers for newborns you washed
For free for the pleasure of being allowed to hold the babies you so dearly loved.
When you were old enough to go to the Sunday cinema and dances, you continued the
Same routine and added washing and ironing the Sunday clothes for the young fishermen
Who wanted to look their best for the weekly dances. The money from that third job was your
Own to pay for weekly hairdos, the cinema and dance hall entry fees.
At 16 you wanted to emigrate to Buenos Aires to live with an aunt and uncle. Your mom
Agreed provided you took your younger sister, and mother's namesake, Remedios, with you.
You later found you could not legally work in Buenos Aires as a minor either. So you
Lied about your age and got a job as a nurse’s aide at a clinic soon after your arrival.
You washed bedpans, made beds, scrubbed floors and all other similar assigned tasks to earn
Enough money to pay the passage for your mom and two youngest brothers, Sito (José) and Paco
(Francisco). Later you got a job as a maid at a hotel in the resort town of Mar del Plata
Whose owners loved your passion for children and put their infants in your care.
You served as a maid and (unpaid) nanny. Between your modest salary and tips as a maid
You soon earned the rest of the funds needed for your mom’s and brothers’ passage from
Galicia. You returned to Buenos Aires and found two rooms you could afford in an excellent
Neighborhood in the city center at an old boarding house near the Spanish Consulate.
Afterwards you got a job at a Ponds laboratory as a machine operator packaging Ponds
Beauty products. You made good money and helped to support your mom and brothers
While she continued working as hard as she always had in Spain, no longer selling fish but
Cleaning a funeral home and washing clothing by hand for well-to-do clients.
When your brothers were old enough to work, they joined you in supporting your
Mom and getting her to retire from working outside the home. You lived with your mom in
The same boarding house until you married dad years later, and you never lost the bad
Habit of stubbornly speaking your mind no matter the cost.
Your union tried to force you to register as a Peronista. Once burned twice cautious,
You refused, telling the syndicate you had not escaped one dictator to ally yourself with
Another. They threatened to fire you. When you still would not yield, they threatened to
Repatriate you, your mom and brothers back to Spain if you did not join the party.
I can’t print your reply here. They finally brought you to the Ponds general manager’s office
Demanding he fire you. You demanded a valid reason for their request.
The manager—doubtless at his own peril—refused, saying he had no better worker
Than you and that the union had no cause to demand your dismissal.
After several years of courtship, you and dad married. You both had the world well in hand
With well-paying jobs and strong savings that would allow you to live a very comfortable
Life. You seemed incapable of having the children you so longed for. Three years of painful
Treatments allowed you to give me life and we lived three more years in a lovely apartment.
I have memories from a very tender age and remember that apartment very well. But things
Changed when you and dad started businesses that soon became unsustainable in the
Hyperinflation and economic chaos of the Argentina of the early 1960’s. I remember only
Too well your and dad’s extreme sacrifice during that time—A theme for another day.
You were the hardest working person I’ve ever known. You were not afraid of any honest
Job no matter how challenging, and your restlessness and competitive spirit always made
You a stellar employee everywhere you worked. Even at home you could not stand still
Unless there was someone with whom to chat awhile over coffee or a meal.
You were a truly great cook thanks in part to learning from the chef of the hotel where you
Worked in Mar del Plata—a fellow Spaniard of Basque descent who taught you many of his
Signature dishes of Spanish and Italian specialties. You were always a terribly picky eater.
But you loved to cook for family and friends—the more the merrier—and for the holidays.
Dad was also a terrific cook, but with a more limited repertoire. I learned to cook
With great joy from both of you at a young age. And, though neither my culinary skills nor
Any aspect of my life can match yours or dad's, I too am a decent cook and, like you,
Love to cook, especially for meals to be shared with friends and family.
You took great pleasure in introducing my friends to some of your favorite dishes such as
Cazuela de mariscos, paella marinera, caldo Gallego, stews, roasts, and your incomparable
Canelones, ñoquis, orejas, crepes, muñuelos, flan, and the rest of your long culinary
Repertoire. In primary and middle school dad picked me up every day for lunch.
You both worked the second shift and did not leave for work until around 2:00 p.m.
Many days, dad would bring a carload of classmates with me for lunch. I well remember the
Faces of my Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, German, Irish, Italian and African American
Friends when first Introduced to octopus, caldo Gallego, cazuela de mariscos and flan.
The same was true during college and law school. At times our home resembled a
U.N. General Assembly meeting—but always featuring food. You always treated my
Closest friends as if they were your children and a number of them to this day love
You as a second mother though most have not seen you for many years.
You had tremendous passion and affinity for being a mother (a great pity to have just one child).
It made you over-protective. You bought my clothes at an exclusive boutique. I Became a living
Doll for someone denied such toys as a young girl. You would not let me out of your sight and
Kept me in a germ-free environment that produced negative health issues.
My pediatrician told you often “I want to see him with dirty finger nails and scraped knees.”
You dismissed the statement as a joke. You’d take me often to the park and to my
Favorite merry-go-round. But I had not one friend until I was seven or eight, and then just
One. I did not have a real full circle of friends until I was about 13 years old. Sad.
I was walking and talking up a storm in complete sentences when I was one year old.
You were concerned and took me to my pediatrician who laughed. He showed me a
Keychain and asked, “What is this Danny.” “Those are your car keys” I replied to his
Surprise. After an evaluation, he told you to always encourage and feed my curiosity.
According to you, I was unbearable (some things never change). I asked dad endless
Questions such as “Why can’t I see the reflection of a flashlight pointed at the sky at night?”
What makes the sun hot and how far away is it? Why don’t Airplanes have pontoons on top of
Their wheels so they can land on both water and land?” Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam, ad infinitum.
He would answer me patiently to the best of his ability and wait for the inevitable follow-up
Questions. I remember train and bus rides sitting on his lap asking him a thousand questions.
When I asked you a question you could not answer, unfortunately you often made up an answer
Rather than Saying “I don’t know,” or “go ask dad” or even “go to hell you little monster!”
I drove you crazy. Whatever you were doing I wanted to learn to do-- working on the
Sewing machine, knitting, cooking, ironing-- anything that looked even remotely interesting.
I can’t imagine your frustration. Yet you always found only joy in your little boy at all ages.
Such was your enormous love which surrounded me every day of my life and still does.
When you told me a story and I did not like the ending, such as with “Little Red Riding Hood,”
I demanded a better one and would cry interminably if I did not get it. Poor mom. What patience!
Reading or making up a story that little Danny did not approve of could be dangerous. I
Remember one day in a movie theater watching the cartoons I loved.
Donald Duck came out from stage right eating a sandwich. Sitting between you and dad I
Asked you for a sandwich. Rather than explaining that the sandwich was not real, that we’d
Go to eat my favorite steak sandwich (as usual) later, you simply told me that Donald Duck would
Bring me the sandwich soon. The scene changed, and Donald had eaten his sandwich.
Then all hell broke loose. I wailed at the top of my lungs that Donald Duck had eaten my
Sandwich. He had lied to me. That was unbearable. There was no way to console me or
Make me understand—too late—that Donald Duck was also hungry, that it was his
Sandwich, not mine, or that what was on the screen was just a cartoon and not real.
He, Donald Duck, mi favorite Disney character (then and now) had lied to me. Such a
Betrayal was intolerable. You and dad had to drag me out of the theater ranting at the
Injustice at top volume. The tantrum (extremely rare for me then, less so now) was epic. But
All was well again when my beloved Tia Nieves gave me a cracker with jam “from Donald”.
So much water under the bridge. Your own memories, like smoke in a soft breeze, have
Dissipated into insubstantial molecules like stars in the night sky that paint no coherent
Picture. An entire life of vital conversations turned to the whispers of children in a
Hurricane. Insubstantial fragments—just a dream that interrupts an eternal nightmare.
That is your life today. Your memory was always prodigious. You knew the name of every
Person you ever met, and could recall long conversations verbatim. Three years of schooling
Proved more than sufficient for you to go out into the world, carving your own path through
The inhospitable wilderness--learning to read and write at the age of 16.
You would have been a far better lawyer than I--a fiery litigator who would have fought
Injustice wherever you found it and always fight for those who could not defend themselves,
Especially children who were always your most fervent passion. You sacrificed everything
For others, always putting yourself dead-last, and never asked for anything in return.
You were an excellent dancer and could sing like an angel. Song was your release in times
Of joy and pain. You did not drink or smoke or over-indulge in anything. For much of your
Life your only minor indulgence was a weekly trip to the beauty parlor—even in Spain
When your washing and ironing income paid for that. It was not vanity—just self-respect.
You loved people and unlike dad who was for the most part shy, you were quite happy in
The role as the life of the party—Singing, dressing up as Charlie Chaplin or a newborn for New
Year’s Eve parties with family and close friends. You were a natural story-teller, and
Entertained anyone who would listen with anecdotes, stories, jokes and lively conversation.
In short: you were an exceptional person with a large spirit, a mischievous streak, and a
Enormous heart. I know I am not objective about you, but any of your surviving friends and
Family members who knew you well will attest to this. You had an incredibly positive,
Indomitable attitude that sometimes led you to rush in where angels fear to tread.
Life handed you cartloads of lemons—enough to drown and pickle the most ardent optimist.
And you made not just lemonade but lemon merengue pie, lemon sorbet, lemon drops, then
Ground the rind to add to flan and a dozen other delicacies. And when all the lemons were gone,
You sowed the seeds to grow beautiful lemon trees with fruit sweeter than cherries or plums.
I’ve always said with great pride that you were a far better writer than I. How many
Excellent novels, plays, and poems would you have written with half of my education and
Three times my workload? There is no justice in this world. Your prodigious memory no
Longer allows you to recognize even me. I was the last person you forgot.
But even now when you can no longer speak in any language, sometimes your eyes sparkle,
And you call me “neniño” (my little boy in Galician) and I know for an instant you are no
Longer alone. But too soon the light fades and the darkness returns. I can only see you a
Few hours one a week. These visits are bittersweet but I’m ever so grateful for them.
Someday I won’t even have the opportunity to spend a few hours with you. You’ll have no
Monument to mark your passing save in my memory so long as reason remains. An entire
Life of incalculable sacrifice will leave behind only the poorest living legacy of love in your
This your son who lacks appropriate words to adequately honor your memory, and always will.
* * *
The day has come, too soon. October 11, 2018. The call came at 3:30 am.
An hour or two after I had fallen asleep. They tried CPR in vain. There will be no more
Opportunities to say, “I Love you,” to caress your hands and face, to softly sing in your ear,
To put cream on your hands, or to hope that this week you might remember me.
No more time to tell you the accomplishments of loved ones, who I saw, what they told me,
Who asked about you this week, or to pray over you, or ask if you would give me a kiss
By putting my cheek close to your lips, to feel joy when you graced me with many little
Kisses in response, or tell you “Maybe next time” when more often you did not respond.
In saying good bye I’d give you the kiss and hug Alice always sent you, followed by
Three more kisses on the forehead from dad (he always gave you three) and one
From me. I’d leave the TV on to a channel with people and no sound and, when possible,
Wait for you to close your eyes before leaving so you would not see me leave.
Time has run out. No further extensions are possible. My prayers change from asking
God to protect you and by His grace allow you to heal just a little bit each day, to praying that
God Protect your soul and dad’s and that He allow you both to rest in peace in His kingdom.
I miss You and Dad very much and will do so as long as God grants me the gift of reason.
Four years seeing your blinding light reduced to a weak flickering candle in total darkness.
Four years fearing that you might be aware of your situation.
Four years praying that you would not feel pain, sadness or loneliness.
Four years learning to say goodbye.
The rest of my life now waiting in the hope of seeing you again.
I love you mom, and dad, with all my heart, always and forever.
Originally written in Spanish and completed and translated with some minor additions October 2018 on my mom's passing.
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