Pinocchio's Donkey EarsMonday, December 18, 2006
When I converse with my granddaughter Rebecca I wonder how many grandparents remember both sides of the coin as I do. I have vivid memories of the only grandparent I ever knew, Dolores, (a.k.a., Lolita)Reyes de Irureta Goyena. I knew her before I could ever remember her. She was always in my life until she died in Mexico in 1977. By then she did not know who she was, and like Lady Macbeth had a mania for taking baths and washing all day as she got ready for bed, earlier every day. I have a strange bond with my wife Rosemary. Not only did she meet my Abuelita but she loved my mother who breathed her last in bed at our home (my mother lived with us the last two years of her life). It feels strange to share so much of my past with Rosemary. But by the time we went to see Abuelita at her nun's nursing home she did not recognize either of us.
Because my Abuelita was widowed in her 20s with three children (my mother, uncle and aunt) she quickly learned to fend for herself and to become financially independent. She was domineering, had a sweet tooth and a penchant for things artistic. She often told me we were the same.
As a young boy in Buenos Aires I remember when my mother and I took the number 35 tranvía from our Coghlan home which snaked its way to her downtown apartment on Saenz Peña. On the way we passed the Villa Devoto Penintentiary where my father would spend unscheduled holidays courtesy of Juan Perón who did not like what my father wrote about him in the Buenos Aires Herald. A couple of years ago I even remembered Abuelita's apartment number. My mother wrote about the 35 in one of her poems:
I thought I'd never miss: -
The interminable wait for tram 35
The long & never ending route it took,
But I do
And I remember. -
At Abuelita's apartment my mother would play the piano and my Aunt Dolly accompanied on violin. Uncle Tony would sing (songs from 40s Hollywood musicals) in his fine tenor and Abuelita would dazzle us with her coloratura soprano. It was then that I was first exposed to Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor .
I sometimes sit at this computer while Rebecca plays the piano with the supervision of Rosemary. Yesterday, Sunday, Rosemary was singing as Rebecca accompanied on the piano. She played a piece called Pirate of the North Sea.
To this day I remember all the sayings my grandmother used to educate me. I saw more of her than I did of my father or my mother in my early youth. She never told me to, "Do that, or do this or don't do this." Her method involved refranes (sayings)lifted from Don Quixote. If I refused to eat she would say, "El que por su gusto se muere, cantando lo entierran," or "Those who by their own choice die, singing we shall bury them."
What I said to her was also important. In January 1949 (I was 7) my mother, my grandmother and I went on a vacation to the seaside resort of Mar del Plata. By the time we got there I had a full-blown whooping cough. At dinner time, when we sat at our hotel table, my grandmother would look at me seriously and would tell me, "No tosas." But I would cough anyway and the waiters would all stare. One such evening my grandmother asked me what I thought of her beautiful dangling earings. I told her, "Parecen orejas de burro." Perhaps since she had recently taken me to see Pinocchio, donkey's ears came to mind!
She grabbed me by the hand without showing any anger and led me to the nearby beach. She removed her earings very carefully and gave them to me. She indicated what I was to do. I threw them into the sea.
My Rebecca is 9 and I understand why everything she says to me is so important and why she has an incredible capacity to make me happy or sad. She is unaware but the cycle will repeat.