Lina – a biography

Avelina Barbon

1945 – 2013

Chestnuts

I was born in 1945 the year that world war two had ended when the two nuclear bombs exploded in Japan. It was Franco’s Spain. I was born in Asturias, in a village high up in the mountains somewhere between Leon and Oviedo about 800m above sea level. Asturias is a province in the north of Spain where the climate is very clearly marked by the four seasons and resembles Wales as it is always green and hilly with farms, and it rains a lot.

It was about 9am in the morning when my mother started labour. I was nearly born in the chestnut grove, my mother needed to hurry to get back home. On the way she saw a village boy and told him “go get Maria and tell her that my time has come”. By the time the boy got to Maria, and Maria got to the house, I was already screaming by my mothers side all covered in gluey stuff.
I wasn’t the first born. My brother was born the year before.

My first memories – a sad funeral

My first memories go back to my sister being dead. She died at one month old of pneumonia in a new house my dad had built. According to my mum, we had moved in there before it had been finished as there was no glass in the bedroom windows.
According to my mother and grandfather who remember her very well, she was blonde unlike us with our brown eyes and brown hair. I remember my dad picking me up to kiss my sister goodbye as she lay in the coffin. I was 3 years old. I remember the funeral,  following behind the procession crying. There was an old lady who took a few nuts out of her pocket and gave them to me. I smiled at her and when I turned back around it was all over.
About 2 years later my other brother was born.

Happy in La Bargana

My first four years were very happy because we lived near my grandmother in La Bargana. It was a small village and there were lots of kids. My uncle had two children, one was my own age and my aunt had two girls and a boy. We played Parcheesi, cards and made up stories. All this in our aunties house which was always full of kids. It was an especially happy time. It snowed a lot up there sometimes for 2 or 3 months in winter. In the summer we would spend time outside playing hide and seek and other games.

All that finished when we moved house.

Lonely in El Solar

My father built a house called El Soliru, about half a mile from the village. Economic prospects were better as they opened a shop and a bar. My father stopped being a miner and started two businesses –  A wood mill and his own coal mine. People used to open their own coal mines with a licence from the state. He had lots of people working for him. Everyone wanted to work for him as he was doing well and had associates. After that mine he opened another one. Although he could barely read and write he was very good at organising everything. He had an engineering mind although not a certificate. His associates invested in his enterprises so everything seemed to be ok but not for me as I felt a bit lonely there.

During weekends when all the children from the other villages came we were happy and played lots of games like hide and seek and skipping ropes. We played with little pop guns that would explode. My brothers would always get little guns or whistles as presents.

Julio and the fly

I had to look after my brother Julio since he was very young. My mother had to go with my brother Avelino to milk the cows so they locked me in one room with my brother who had a wooden crib and he was always asleep. I used to fall asleep crying and had bad dreams. In my dreams I had cubes weighing down on top of me. It frightened me.

Sometimes when I woke up, all I could see was my brother sleeping and a fat fly flying around the room. I had a piece of bread and with the soft inside, I used to make a sort of chewing gum and using the edge of a window I tried to make a little house and then I tried to trap the fly to keep me company in case it would try to escape. I don’t know the reason I did that, I was less than six years old. I always checked the door in case my mum had left it open. In the occasion that she did leave it open I would try to reach for the biscuit tin in the shop. I don’t remember ever getting to it or stuffing my face with them.
One day I let my younger brother Julio fall off a horse by accident and that was terrible. Nothing happened to him but I never felt good after that.

Christmas on the naughty list

One Christmas night, the snow was over a metre high and the sky was pregnant with millions of stars. It was beautiful and the three kings were due to come. We were worried that they wouldn’t arrive due to the snow. My eldest brother was worried that we wouldn’t get presents and anyway he didn’t believe in the three kings as he’d heard from children at school that they weren’t real. To prove his point, when my mother and father was not there we went through all the house looking for presents. He thought we would only get clothes that they had bought a long time ago. There was no access to the next town to buy anything. People had to take the winter into account even for children’s toys and in the nearby towns you could only buy clothes.
My brother was right. We found a few packages of new clothing and they were supposed to be our presents. So when my mother went to get them she found that we had already been there and seen them.  My father and mother had the brilliant idea of tricking us into believing that the three kings didn’t come that year as we’d been very naughty. They wrote us a letter saying as much except that they gave some coins to my younger brother because he was too young to be naughty.

In the morning we discovered that the snow was even higher and that there was no way the three kings could have come. We found the slippers we had left in the corridor and there we found no toys, no clothes even. We found the letter that also said that if we were good until Easter, the three kings might bring us some toys. When my father found out that we had shared the coins they’d given to Julio, they couldn’t keep up the presence of the three kings. We knew there was no three kings because my father told us the money was only for my brother. If the three kings existed, how would he know about who they had given the money to? I was 7 years old.

Three years later I went to take my fathers lunch to the forest where he was cutting some wood and I asked him innocently if the three kings really existed because a man in the bar had told me that he had seen the three kings in Madrid a few days ago. My father said “of course they are – you must believe that”.  I had my doubts.

The sparrow and the wardrobe.

One winter my brother who always thought he had brilliant ideas, tried to catch sparrows to cook them, not that we needed for or anything as we had the shop above us and could get anything we needed but we did it for fun.
A sparrow once got behind the top wardrobe, which was made of two pieces, the bottom and the top and not well joined together or to the wall. The bottom had half a foot sticking out. I wanted to catch the bird.

I got on a chair and then onto the bit sticking out. The whole thing collapsed on top of me and I collapsed on top of the chair. My aunts took me on a horse called Rubio to the doctors in the next town who gave me some tablets. I never felt good after that and have always had a pain in my back. I had many back problems since then and had to take early retirement as I suffered from lumbago. One of my vertebra was never right. The sparrow flew away.

The chestnut hustle

Once on a Sunday my father had already given us our pocket money. He usually gave us a lot especially when his friends were around as he wanted them to see how generous he was. Usually the money lasted all week to buy sweets and cookies. This Sunday we told him we had spent all the money. It was a lie. We didn’t want to spend all day collecting chestnuts which he would ask us to do on a nice windy Sunday afternoon. Instead we hoped that we could trick him into giving us more money. The trick worked.

He liked to make deals with us. He said “look, if you can collect a small bag each I’ll give you some money”. we agreed. When he wasn’t around, we went to the storage room and the filled the sacks from the store of chestnuts, around 2kg each. We took then into the forest and buried them in a special secret place to take them out later, then we went happily away to play with the other kids all afternoon. When we came back with the bags he gave us the money so we had a wonderful afternoon buying sweets and drinks. my brother was full of schemes but that was one of the funniest.

The milk standoff

Not all the stories were funny. my brother could sometimes be cruel.
One day before my father and mother separated I was 7 and he was 8, my mother sent us to milk the cows which were kept about 3 miles away from the house which was close compared to where she sometimes kept them in a high pasture miles away from home. My father wanted to keep the calfs away from the cow so that they would get fat but not take all the milk. We had to bring the calfs into the shed to keep them away from the wolves.

On the way my brother promised to let me milk the cows and I was very happy to know that I was going to learn how. When we got there he got underneath the cow and showed me how to do it but instead of pointing into the bucket he pointed it into my face and got me all wet then laughed and laughed at me.

The cruelest thing was that when the bucket was half full and he left it there in top of the hill and told me I had to carry it home. I was so frustrated and annoyed because on top of not showing me how to milk the cow and laughing at me, he ran away. I refused so we had a stand off. He told me that he would run down and tell my mother that when she asked “where is the milk?” he would say that I had it. So that I should bring it (3 miles back). He then ran away and I ran after him and left the milk there. When I ran down the hill I realised that he meant it so I had to go back to get it and carry it back down. That was very mean.

Eggs for biscuits

Another time he was up to his tricks.
My auntie had lots of chickens but had a very bad back and always told us that she would give us biscuits if we could find the eggs that the chickens lay in nests in the hedges around the farm.

We found a nest of around twenty eggs between some planks of wood that my father was drying to sell.
My father said to give her half of them. She had promised to give us a biscuit per egg. She was very happy. We got about 3 biscuits each. The other half of the eggs my brother decided to sell to my auntie and she was equally happy. We told her that they were our chickens, but really they were her own. Our chickens were very lazy. So we ended up with about 2 dozen biscuits.
We went home and lit the wood-burning stove and put the cookies into water to make baby food because we felt we wanted to be babied a bit too. We did that but the pan was too small for the ring and fell into the fire. It was my batch of biscuits that got burnt so we tried again with my brothers and took a bit more care over it using a bigger saucepan. The nice thing about my brother was that he shared it with all of us which wasn’t very usual. I was touched by that gesture.

He did share other things with me sometimes like the drinks we used to steal from my aunties storeroom. She would keep all the soft drinks for the bar. We used to climb through the little window which was only big enough for us to fit through. We would help each other get up to it and go through. We wouldn’t take much as we didn’t want her to notice. My brother was a real thief.

The ironmonger and the oranges

Another time a man with a van came loaded with lots of oranges. He would give us oranges in exchange for tin and other metal. That’s how my father’s tools disappeared. I found out later as a grown up that my dad had wondered how all his tools vanished. We had been short changed by that ironmonger!

My brother knew how to get enough oranges to make it worth all the troubles we had to find all the metals and tins around the farm. It took us hours and hours. People burnt everything back then so if there were tins people used to throw them anywhere, like sardine or peach tins. They just threw them behind bushes around the farm.
So to get more oranges my brother got into the van while it was driving away very slowly. He got into pick-up part taking care not to be seen. He would climb in before the man got there. Once inside he started dropping oranges from the van and I would pick then up. When the van slowed down again on a curb he would jump out. We collected dozens that way. We would share them with my aunties children. My brother had his revenge that way. He was a real Tom Sawyer.

The cardigan and the horse

One day we were supposed to take the horses to the mountain. Every Friday the woodcutter would let them roam free over the weekend as they wouldn’t be working. So we led them out of the village showing them or riding them without saddle. Once we were there we would release them. on Sunday evening we would go and being them back. Sometimes they were miles and miles away from the farm high up in the mountains. It happens that in those days my parents had bought me my first cardigan with a zip which was the fashion in those days.

It happened that I loved the cardigan so much and I was so naive that I thought nothing could spoil or break it. The thing is that my brother started teasing me, saying that I didn’t know anything, and that I couldn’t ride without a saddle, that I couldn’t collect them from the mountains as they wouldn’t obey me. He had a special touch with them and made them do what he wanted but not me.

So I bet him that I could. I got near my favourite horse Rubio and started talking to him. He let me come near him and when I was near I didn’t know what to do. So I took off my cardigan and tied it around his neck. When the horse noticed, he started moving his head and front leg. I got frightened and moved away. He started to lower his head and kick the cardigan and he did get rid of it but it was completely broken and muddy. I told my brother “ok you win- but don’t tell aunty because if you do, I’ll tell her about other naughty things you did” so that put him on my side because my aunty would get very angry and give us a knuckle rap on the head.

Cleaning in the corners

My aunty got very angry one time with me. She told me as a grown up.
“I came to see you to see you and check how much cleaning you had done!” she used to tell me that the corners were very important and should be brushed well. So when she didn’t find it to her standard she hit me in the head with her knuckles which really hurt. A few days later when she came out of the house to greet her, I was very smily and enthusiastic. I said “aunty aunty you don’t need to worry about the house today, I cleaned all the corners”. She got very emotional as she remembered this.

She was really nice actually. She taught me how to look after the house by helping her do things like the laundry although she was a bit loose with her hands and knuckles.
One day she was doing the laundry together with another two ladies out in the washing tank in the street. It had scrubbing blocks. Towels, sheets and men’s trousers would be washed there. There was no running water in the houses then or electricity. I don’t know how it really happened but I think I did something that she didn’t like and she hit me. I defended myself and used my arm to cover my head but by doing that she thought I was hitting her. She made such a scandal and everyone thought I had done it. I would never have done that as I loved her and it would not have been respectful. We had a lot of respect for grown ups in those days. I was really upset and humiliated.

The fountain

I used to play with my cousin who was 2 years younger than me. One day because it was very hot, we got stripped down to our underwear and had a lovely bath in that same fountain without asking anybody. When we finished we thought nothing more of it but the following day I was surprised when my uncle – the girls father slapped me in the face. When I asked what for, he said because the fountain was for washing clothes and for the horses to drink. We had got into the horses pool and muddied it so the horses wouldn’t drink it. All the neighbours would have been upset because everybody had horses. He said “I smacked my daughter as well” but I never forgot that and as a grown up I reminded him once or twice that he smacked me. None of my other uncles had ever hit me. I had another two uncles.

My parents separated

My mother didn’t have it easy. After an encounter with my father she realised that he wasn’t going to give in easily because he wanted to carry on as if he were single. He told my mother that he wasn’t going to change for anybody.
From one day to the next my parents separated. Thats when she took me to my aunty-her sister. She was distraught and upset and miserable and probably had a nervous breakdown. We had a small dog. My mother loved him a lot and the dog loved her. He would cry and jump when he sensed that she was packing to leave. She told me that later on. We didn’t cry much then and I don’t remember crying but the dog did. My mother was supposed to go to Oviedo but ended up in Leon. She had an accident and was unconscious for three days. She had gotten into the train station and apparently got onto the wrong train. When she tried to get out quickly, she fell down backwards and hurt her head. She lost a lot of blood during those three days.

By the time she was picked up she was better. She had to have an operation on her head. By the time a letter got to my father asking for money to pay for the operation. Meanwhile went to la Hueria for the weekend before I was picked up by my mothers brother who was working for my father in the coal mines. I was really happy where I was staying and I wasn’t happy when my dad sent for us. I was brought back from La Hueria and the four of us were reunited except my mother wasn’t there of course. My father told me that my brothers needed me. He had threatened my mother that if she tried to get us back that she would never see us again.

The dog disappeared

The dog would come with me for walks but one day he disappeared. Someone said that it had run after the woodcutters horses and was probably in another town La Meruchal so my brother and I planned to go there and recover him. We spent all afternoon getting there and asking for the dog, describing him to people. No one had seen it. An old lady felt sorry for us as we had come so far and it was getting dark. As my mother and father were very well known in that area, she made a sandwich for us with salami and we were so hungry as we hadn’t eaten all day. We were very grateful to her for that. We didn’t find the dog. Someone told us later that he was run over by a horse and was dead. Perhaps it was out of compassion for us as we weren’t going to give up looking.

My father forgot about Christmas

When Christmas came my father didn’t remember to buy us anything. Whether we believed it or not he didn’t care. He spent most spent most of his time in other towns on business. One of my aunties with the bar and the shop did remember though and came to the house.

She said “I thought I heard the three kings climbing the steps to the attic. why don’t you go up and see?” she knew that my father had forgotten so we went up and found three toy trumpets.  We brought down one for the youngest and we happily stayed playing with them. I was very emotional at the time. I can never forget that somebody had thought of us and cared for us, even though it was a simple thing – she sold them in the same shop. There were other small toys like little guns and balls that my father could have even bought for us, but he was too busy running his own life and hating my mother and threatening her with taking us away if she came along.

The next two years

At that time my mother went to live in the city of Oviedo to try to find a job and a flat to take us with her but between my mother and father, they had us half abandoned. My father did teach me how to cook though and his other sister used to wash and iron our cloths. All I had to do was cooking and a bit of cleaning and go to school. I has to make sure my brothers got dressed and off to school too.

We stayed like that for two years. The top flat of the house at road level was the bar and shop. Our flat was underneath the shop and underneath that lived our two or three horses that were used by the wood delivery man from the forest to the road. He would take the wood by lorry to the sawmill. It was a nice new flat with new furniture all built by my father. He was very clever with his hands and could build anything.

The only car in the village

During those two years, the first year my father had arranged for us to go to Leon with relatives. They taught us maths, grammar and helped us a bit more during the summer holidays. that was a nice experience because we learned about ice cream and red peppers, tomatoes and comics. For me as an eight year old, I was deeply impressed by comics. One of the younger boys taught me how to read them. My brothers weren’t interested but I loved them. We learnt a new way of life there and the kindness of people. Everyone in the village was very nice with us.

My father used to come almost every weekend and gave us pocket money. We would buy sweets and things for the other kids. They used to love us. When he came we would all run up to meet the car which was very small and slow but he had the only car in the village. We were about 10 kids and he would stop the car and let us all in. We would have a ride back to the village in the car and we were all very happy. One of the things we tasted there was a very dry ham called cecina, which we had sliced very thin with bread, green or red peppers with olive oil and vinegar. Oh it was lovely! People used to borrow us to look after the cows in the morning and they would give us a massive sandwich with ham. We would love to go there because of that.
My brother kept being a bit naughty as well though. He joined the naughtiest ones in the village. He jumped into the priests garden and broke into the beehives. He got quite a lot of pieces and shared them all with the village kids.
We returned from Leon and settled into school.

Reunited on the staircase

That Christmas I went on horseback to the next village where they had a few bars and a few shops to do some shopping and come back with my uncle. The owners of the shop were friends with my parents because everyone in the village new my mother who had lived there when she was younger. They told me to go upstairs to the next floor because they had a surprise for me. Without thinking what it could be, I met my mother on the middle of the staircase. She had a big bandage on he head and i knew immediately that it was part of the operation. So we cried in each others arms for a while. She gave me some money to spend on ourselves. I remember I bought myself a satchel and something for my brothers but felt very guilty for not buying them a satchel too. I was very very sad. Then I went home and gave them some money and felt even sadder because they probably wanted a satchel like mine and didn’t have one.

That night my father was roasting a chicken. He cooked the Christmas dinner and we sang songs and he told us stories. He was very good at telling stories. He pretended that the protagonists of the stories were people we people we knew and of places we knew. Thats how our first Christmas was without my mother.  We had many years of Christmas without my mother.
Thats how we lived in that house called El Soliru. The farm and house and bar that my father built.

Oviedo – from village to City

In 1956 I was 11.  One Sunday at Easter, we went to church for mass and on the way back, we found out that my father was planning to take us to live in Oviedo. We were very happy because we could maybe see our mother although he didn’t say so. That evening we packed to leave and I was very sad and I cried a lot as I loved my grandmother very much and was sad to not see her again.

When we arrived in Oviedo we stayed at a boarding house that my father knew. It was run by a couple and two girls and was called La Pension Antonia on Calle Cabeda. There we were greeted very affectionately and rented a room with two beds and another room with a bed where I slept.

The youngest daughter was our age. Her name was Marisa and the older sister was Antonia.
I remember once one of the guests asked me to read to him whilst he was typing. I thought I could read to him faster than he could type, but he was faster. He was very nice, a handsome basque.

Toxic shock

My brother couldn’t resist being naughty. So after they did the ironing, he bet us that the iron was cold. His brilliant idea was to put the iron on Marissa’s head. It burnt her and she screamed like mad. That was the most naughty thing he did. It wasn’t so hot that it left a scar. The worst thing that happened whilst we were there was that my younger brother got into the bath before me and smelt some toxic liquid, something for cleaning the bath. It was so toxic that he couldn’t talk. I tried to smell it as well to see what it was and I was thrown back, literally. Antonia gave him something and called the doctor immediately. My brother was put to bed with some medicine but he had difficulty breathing and I understood that because I also had difficulty breathing but I didn’t tell them. He may have drunk some. Antonia’s husband asked me if I wanted to go out with him to run an errand and the fresh air. looking at shops helped to clear my throat a bit and I was ok after a few hours. I wouldn’t dare to complain in case they blamed me.

Las Caldas – a fairytale that went bad

They had another boarding house in Las Caldas which they opened during the weekends and summer. There were hot baths in that town and it was very touristic. They invited us for a big meal with lots of people. It was really nice. We went by wooden steam train and passed a fairy tale castle which I’ll never forget as I was reading lots of comics with fairytales in them. It was a lovely day out.

That was the opening day of the new boarding house. Antonia went to work there to supervise it and her husband brought his sister from Leon to stay in Oviedo and things were not the same ever. The sister was very very strict with us and didn’t want to cook for us and was always criticising me for the way I did things. I wasn’t very happy and told my father the things that didn’t make me happy so he thought of letting a house near in Casa Valdes parallel to the main street Oviedo Calle Uria. That was the most popular and fashionable street in Oviedo.

Peasants in a town house

Se moved to that flat that was already furnished. Underneath was a hairdressers and on top was a wine merchant who had a shop in another part of the town and had a chauffeur and a maid. They were quite well off, there we were the peasants from the village living among them. I bet they were terrified. Once they found out that we were motherless they tried to help us get in touch with her. My brother managed to find out through another boy from our village that my mother was working as a barmaid so one day we decided to go and see her.

Reunited with my mother – our secret

She had a real surprise when she saw us. The couple who ran the bar had four kids, two boys and two girls my age and I remember seeing the whole family in the kitchen. There were lots of hugs kisses laughter and tears. I was very happy to be reunited with my mother and so was she.

We made plans to see each other soon and my brother asked us not to tell my father as he would be told off for finding our mother and that frightened us a little bit. From then on a lot of things changed around us, my mother was our secret. She gave us sweets and money and bought us clothes, my father didn’t ask any questions. He was a bit mean when it came to clothes or didn’t care. He only found out that we needed new shoes is we asked for them. He was a bit detached from our needs except for food, he always provided food, he would give me money every day for buying our daily food.
We had electricity but no fridge, only and old fashion stove and nothing else. Once a month we all went to do a bit shopping. Kilos of rice, beans, lentils, olive oil. A big bulk of staple food. Otherwise we bought milk, bread, fish and meat every day and not much of that as we used to eat stews the way we would eat in the village. Lentils, beans, rice, potatoes. Meat and fish we had only two or three time a week. We never went hungry. When we went to see our mother who was living in a tiny one bedroom flat, we used to tell her that we were hungry so that she would give us nice food like sandwiches and yoghurts.

My brother gets drunk at the funfair

Opposite her was another flat with a boy the same age as my older brother. There was a funfair opposite my mums house and my brothers naughtiest thing was to shoot at the kiosk to get prizes. He was always betting on things. “I bet I can shoot those three Indians and get the bottle of Anis!”. He was very good at most things. He would choose alcohol and got drunk, they went to a bar to get more drink, he was only 12. Someone told my mother that they were getting drunk, and she came to get them. Because he was drunk he had to stay overnight at my mothers house. Thats how my father found out. The next morning when my brother slept out his hangover my father must have told him off. He told us not to see her again. We ignored him and tried to keep it hidden a bit better.

My mother was very happy there. She also worked in the afternoon as a helper in a hairdresser, as an apprentice. She must have been in her thirties. She would have had to work her way up. She was very good. She used to do a few hair and beauty jobs in her home. Getting girls ready for weddings – that kind of thing.
I used to spend all my money going on a swing at the funfair. It was about 50 cents for a minute.

Crabs and fire

Many things went wrong there in that flat that wouldn’t happen in a normal family with your parents there to look after you. We had to look after ourselves. We had to change fuses and would get electric shocks, cooking crabs in cold water and after five minutes seeing then happily running around the house because I didn’t realise I should have used hot water.
The neighbours had to call the fire brigade once because we used to have a coal stove and in the morning when you have to have to start the cooker afresh, you had to put the old ashes into a box that was made of wood. I had been dong this for three years. This time however the ashes were not completely cold and it caught fire. The neighbours noticed the fire from the second floor and none of us were at home. The neighbour called my mother at her her neighbours flat to warn her. I happened to be there with my mother when the call came and I ran and ran all through town like a mad person and I got in just a few minutes before the fire brigade. They were about to knock the door down. So I let them in. They put out fire, but there was water and soot everywhere. It took me so long to clean everything. My neighbour’s maid helped me out.

Braces

Another time, my brother had a pair of braces that were not very straight and i hated them and wanted to make them straight. I went to the window which had a grill on. I thought of using the bars to straighten them by rubbing them backwards and forwards, I wasn’t  pressing very hard but my forehead went and hit the glass and I cut myself. I had a one inch cut between my nose and my forehead so I ran like mad upstairs to the second floor where someone did some first aid on my head and called my mother. They thought I needed stitches and she took me to the red cross emergency and I got about four stitches. The man said “you are gong to have a little beautiful scar there” and i thought, well what’s done is done.

Secrets, suits and skates

I had a crush on my neighbours young chauffeur who was very handsome, that was my little secret. Every day he would come to pick up his boss, he didn’t know I was watching him from my window. I had many little secrets while I was there. Apart from cleaning the house and cooking some food, my job was to take the laundry to a lady at a boarding house who would wash and iron them. My father’s ordinary suits not the best ones which went to the dry cleaners. My father always wore suits and I don’t remember him wearing anything else. I found out how much he paid to have his suits pressed by her. I thought that I could do it myself which I considered to be a job, I could keep the money.

So I did that for a few weeks until my father noticed that there was a line on the sleeve. I didn’t realise I had been doing it wrong – like a child putting his shoes on the wrong feet. I told him that I didn’t know why, that perhaps she had made a mistake. The thing is that I desperately needed that money because I had seen some skates in the second hand shop. I was saving up for them. I had even sold the floor polishing machine my mother had given me as I didn’t like the extra work that meant. Besides I didn’t like a shiny floor as it was slippery and dangerous. So I bought the skates.

The first day I went to the skate rink at the park who I had envied so much ( I was never good at saving. As soon as I had money, I would got to the cinema) where I used to spend my time envying other kids. My dad had already told me that I needed to save up for the skates. So I starting saving for a bicycle, but cakes, sweets and cinema were more tempting.
So I finally went with my skates and I was so happy. I kept falling and hurting my bum and it hurt a lot. I decided that if I put my hands before falling I thought I could save my bum. I didn’t realise that I was hurting my hands instead –  particularly my left hand. I had no-one to hold onto or give me support. My younger brother was too young and my older brother already was with his group of friends his own age.

It wasn’t easy to make friends as I had to look after my younger brother who was with me everywhere I went. Looking after him was my main job. Sometimes he would run away and appear in the evening all dirty having probably spent the day happily playing with other kids. I would be desperately worried about him and fearful that my father would arrive home before him.

Fighting spirit

We were very unprotected not having our mother around. My dad might have had good intentions in wanting to have us with him, but he left us exposed and vulnerable – ignoring our needs. I avoided being raped at least five times during these years thanks to my brother and my own fighting spirit. I remember once when we lived in Oviedo. It was a Sunday and my mother was working as it was the busiest day in the bar. Otherwise she would have taken us on a day trip somewhere, and my father was doing his own thing enjoying himself with other women and my eldest brother was out with his friends.

There I was there with my seven year old brother feeling vey sad for myself at 12 years old thinking about the fact that I was alone without a mum and dad, so I decided to take a bus ride out of town. We went to a river you could paddle in and have a picnic. So we had a picnic there by this beautiful river. When we finished, I fancied doing the same as other kids and paddle and swim in the river but I didn’t have a swimming costume and neither did my brother. After a few hours I decided to hide somewhere far away from anywhere and remove my clothes, just stay in my underwear and my brother too. I didn’t realise that there was a boy following us who was about 14 or 15. He was a bit older anyway. He had the intention of taking advantage on me in the river and I fought him. My brother threw stones at him from the bank. I was touched by that. Thanks to the fighting skills I learned from my big brother with whom I’d grown up wrestling, and my younger brother throwing stones, I managed to escape and went home on the bus as if nothing had happened but I was shaking.
I knew what he wanted as it wasn’t the first time that had happened.

My father

I loved my father more at that time than my mother because he was so much fun to be with. He always had lots of amazing ideas, games to play and jokes or stories to tell. My mother was more down to earth. He was the adventurer and had fantasy. When my mother left, I don’t think I was that impressed. I loved her but I was also happy to go and live with her sister as long as I was learning new things and having new adventures.

He was my hero and he made sure that I believed it. He would make sure my mother was the bad guy of the stories. I think he forgot conveniently that it was him that had threatened her. He was very violent but he never hit her. He was violent with other people and she thought it was thin line between his rage and him hitting her. Once in an argument he flew into a rage and she climbed out of the window in her nightdress and ran to her mother.
He did hit us though. He hit my older brother and he hit me very badly twice. Because he hit my older brother, my mother had in her mind that he was very dangerous. He had also hit my uncle over the head with a wooden shoe so hard that my mother had to stop the blood. She became very scared. He had told her when they separated “if you dare take the children away from me ill kill you”

The second hit

When he hit me the second time he was already going out with Manolita.  He must have been frustrated and took it out on me. I answered him back and he started beating me up as if there was no tomorrow. He wasn’t drunk. He didn’t drink as he was a hard worker, but one time he got drunk enough to vomit into a shoe. He did love women though and most of his business was conducted in bars. He had an office at home and an accountant who used to come but we didn’t even have a phone. Everything went on at the bar.

So why did he hit me? We were having dinner. It was a Sunday and my younger brother was a little trouble maker and would tell tales on me and my older brother to get us in trouble. I would deny it all. My father told me I was very naughty and that he would put me in a convent. I told him that they wouldn’t take me in because I didn’t have a vocation.
He knew I had an answer for everything. I was very smart and read a lot in those days, about nuns and priests and everything. Whatever I could get hold of. It was too much for him and he exploded. That was the day that changed my life forever. So my father got up and hit me and hit me and hit me so much that I started shouting. The kitchen window was open so the neighbours heard him hitting me and the maid said “aren’t you ashamed being a grown man and hitting a child?” I was bleeding on my head because I had a hair clip.

I ran to my room at that point and locked the door. He shouted after me “come out of there and do the dishes” as if I was a slave. I though of throwing myself out of the window. I also thought that I was too young to die. So I decided to open the door and go and do the dishes, and that was the end of the story that day.

Trousers and a plan for adventure

But that wasn’t the end of what went on in my mind. I was already thinking about running away. I didn’t want to be hit. Whilst I did the dishes I thought about my escape. I was left alone in the kitchen feeling very sad and humiliated.
I was planning to go in the morning. I would put on my trousers and go. Girls didn’t wear trousers in those days, my mother had a pair made in the dressmakers especially for me. I didn’t like the unfairness that girls had. I didn’t like my legs being uncovered. The cold legs, the vulnerability of rape. At least with trousers you could be warm and by the time a rapist took off your trousers you might be able to run away. I had a big imagination.

So my mother consented and I got my trousers. I would only wear them around the house to do housework. I thought they were more practical instead of having a skirt hanging on the floor. In tho days there were not many off-the-peg clothes to buy so we had things made by the dressmaker to measure. My trousers were simple, like pirates trousers down to below my knee.
I had my rucksack and my imagination. I thought I would be like the girls in my stories, that would take to the mountains or hitchhike. I was going to have an adventure. No more hitting or being humiliated, and no more slavery. I felt like Cinderella in the story, and on top of that they would hit me, no way, it was against my nature.

Running away

I planned everything that I was going to do the following day. So I waited until my father went to work and my brothers went to school. They would go together as they were at the same one in different buildings. My father had already left the daily money for necessities so I took some of it with me and made a few sandwiches and took a drink with me in my rucksack and left.
I walked up to the mountains to El Naranco. Instead of taking small paths I took instead the road which wound itself all around the mountain until I got to the top. So there I was at the top, thinking that I was in Gijon! But when I looked down I recognised the cathedral in Oviedo so I realised that I wasn’t in Gijon but still in Oviedo in the same city, and I thought myself silly. I thought I’d never seen a more silly girl in the world.
So I kept walking, finding a path going in the opposite direction and I met a lady with a donkey. She was coming from the market. She had sympathy for me and gave me a sandwich and told me to go back, but I told her that wouldn’t because he hit me. So she felt sorry for me and told me which train to take and which road to take to get to Gijon. So I walked through a few villages to get to the the train station the woman had said. Everyone looked at me as if I was a strange apparition, and at the station when I arrived there was a young man who was very nice to me who started to talk to me.
I wasn’t worried because there were lots of people around. I also wasn’t scared to start conversations. He told me that I could go back home on the train to Oviedo which by now was far away. I refused again to go home and we got on different trains.

Lost in Gijon

I finally arrived in Gijon. It was maybe a fifteen minutes from there to Gijon by train. When I arrived to the city I got lost. There was a very high wall with steps. I climbed up the steps and saw the sea for the first time in my life. It wasn’t the beach but the port as there were ships and boats there.
After a while I realised I needed to do something with my life. I was so naive that I thought that all I had to do was knock on a door and that someone would give me a job. So that’s exactly what I did. I went to a house and asked if they needed a maid and they said no. I only tried one door as I wasn’t prepared for the answer.

Fighting for my life

I came out of that house when I realised that a boy of about eighteen with no hair was following me. My only thought was to go into one of the flats and pretend that I lived there.
But he followed me so closely that as I got up to the steps he attacked me. I fought him like a mad dog and he ran away seeing that I wasn’t that easy and making some noise. I bit and scratched and had no mercy. I was like a dog. Picking myself up I started to walk again and it was getting dark and then I saw a priest coming and I thought I was safe with a priest. I asked him if he knew a safe place that I could spend the night. He told me of a convent of nuns called Maria Immaculada. He took me there and said goodbye.

A night with the nuns

So they opened the door and there was mother superior there and I told her in few words my story. They listened and took me to a sitting room where another nun came to listen to my story. They gave me something to eat and told me I could stay the night. I never felt so bad in my life. Like I didn’t have anyone in the world.
They fed me and they asked me to change into a skirt. They didn’t want girls with trousers. After that they introduced me to this girl who was similar age to me and who I was going to sleep in the same bed with as they didn’t have any spare beds. I slept badly as the bed was very small but I was tired after 12 hours of walking and fighting. I was exhausted so slept.

No Sugar, no way!

The next morning they offered me coffee and I asked for the sugar but they said there was none.

Oh my god, I was so surprised, no sugar? I thought, this is not the place for me. I cant live without sugar in my coffee, impossible. After that I was taken to the sitting room. At one point the door opened. I didn’t know what would happen and maybe they would keep me here without sugar. No way. I was a bit of a sugar addict as you can see.
They asked me so many questions and I hadn’t told him the night before because they might have called my father. I was planning to be independent from my family. I didn’t see the point of running away if I was going to go back. So these nuns were clever, with their indirect questions they managed to find out that I came from Oviedo but I thought I was safe because they didn’t know where I lived. They managed somehow to find out as I was there for a couple of hours. When the door opened I thought of running away but I realised that this wouldn’t solve my problems.
That felt like quite a grown up decision.

The limping lady

After two or three hours of waiting and getting fed up, a limping lady with a stick appeared in front of me and the nun introduced her to me as a lady from the juvenile court in Oviedo. I regretted my decision to stay and not run when I had the chance. She said that she as going to take me back to Oviedo and talk with me and my father to try to come up with something. On the other hand I wanted things to be OK and I missed my brothers and especially I missed the sugar. Maybe if they could mend things for me I could have sugar. That lady went out for dinner for the nuns so they brought me the same food as the other girls. I felt cheated and sad that I hadn’t been taken along too.

Two policemen

After I finished my dinner in the canteen, we met up again in the sitting room with the nun. The front door opened and who do you think was there? Two policemen. One of the most humiliating things that has ever happened to me. Policia National. I felt as though I was a criminal. They said they came because they wanted to make sure I got on the bus safely. I walked side by side with them and the lady who held my hand as though they were going to lose me, limping all the time which I found so annoying and I found her so ugly that I had no sympathy for her.

They made sure i got onto the bus and the lady holding my hand got on the bus with me. She put me by the window so i wouldn’t escape. I didn’t talk much with her and didn’t like her. When we arrived in Oviedo another two policemen were waiting for me, and the limping lady stayed holding my hand. I asked her why she held me so tight? She said that she wanted to make sure that I got there safely.

Juvenile court

I didn’t know where they were taking me but she then told me that they were taking me to the juvenile court. It was a first floor flat with many offices, i saw many women typing and doing things. So we said goodbye and I sat in one of the sitting rooms on my own and then after about twenty minutes or so my father appeared on his own with one of the lawyers who happened to know my father as they had done some business together in the past. I remember being very nervous and talking a lot to the secretaries, saying silly things probably because I was nervous. They must have thought I was silly or not normal. I thought these things about myself.

I thought that I should have probably been crying.
They moved me to another office where two men, the lawyer and another older mad and my father were, apparently that other man was a judge. They asked me what I wanted to happen. That was nice. I said that I wanted to go home, that I missed my brothers and even my father. I was thinking about the sugar and that made me laugh but I didn’t tell them, they must have thought I was crazy and that it was all a joke.

They asked me if I was sure, and I said yes but on the condition that my father promised that he would never hit me again. He never did. They also offered me support which I would later need. They told me that if I ever felt so desperate that I wanted to run away, that I could go back to them and that they would help me.

No saint!

I went back with my father and the next day I looked in the newspapers to see if my story had appeared. I had a lot of fantasy and it seemed to me a big story but there was nothing. Life carries on as usual. Making breakfast, taking the laundry to get washed although I didn’t look after the clothes at all and let them all go rotten at the bottom of the pile. My mother found out and paid a woman to come and take the laundry once a week so that I didn’t need to worry about it. She also payed the milkman to bring us another bottle of milk. That was another one of our little secrets.

I wasn’t a saint. I played my parents against each other. I had to do things to get my share of sugar and cakes especially if I didn’t get the kind of affection or protection I felt I deserved. When parents separate, the things I thought were important weren’t the same as other kids I think. I felt sorry for myself but I never felt that I didn’t deserve it. I would look with envy at children walking down the road with their parents and I was at home with my little brother. I didn’t have friends and if felt that I deserved to have my parents together all the time. I also wasn’t in the right environment. The neighbours daughter went to a private school and had her own friends, but they didn’t play with me as I was from the village and spoke with a dialect. Even at school I didn’t play with the girls because I had to rush home or pick up my brother from school. I was a bit behind with school too.

The piggy bank

Sometimes money was very tight as people would owe my father money from one of their enterprises and hadn’t paid up. One day he got into the bath with our piggy banks and tried to get money out of them with a knife and he went through them all. We never told him that we heard him or knew what he was doing but we all felt so sorry for him as we realised that he really didn’t have any money. We tried not to ask him for much money after that and would go to my mother instead. She was always ready to buy us some yoghurts or sandwiches or buy us some clothes if we needed them.

Manolita

After four of five months a very young lady of twenty five or twenty six appeared on our doorstep with my father who told us that she was his secretary and would be living with us. They were planning to put a folding bed into his office which would double up as her bedroom. She was very jolly, nice and helpful. She was called Manolita. By now I was 13 and had left school with my secondary certificate so when my father went to work we stayed together. It was like having a friend. We did the housework together and it was lovely. My father wanted to impress her.
On Sundays we would all go out together to restaurants and tried different seafood dishes. My father was so happy on Sundays. At the time we thought we were a happy family again but my mother was also there in the background and I felt very sorry for her but also felt different and not completely happy but happier than before.
Also during this time we went to Leon where my father and Manolita confessed that they had a child of their own. The family lived in a farm and we spent a lovely day there playing in the countryside. The car took a long time to get up the hill and we thought it was going to go backwards down the hill. The baby was already eight or nine months old and was being raised by her parents. This is when we found out how it really was between them. Manolita worked as a waitress in a restaurant at la Calle Uria. This is probably where she had met my father.

Baby Melchor

The baby came back from Leon with us. He was a lovely beautiful baby called Melchor, the same as the wise king of Christmas. We were all very happy to have a little baby brother.
Things would have continued to feel better if it hadn’t been for her sisters who came along. First one sister came and Manolita’s attention went to her. She talked more with her than with me and I felt jealous and left out. So they started being a bit bitchy, especially the sister as we had the pocket-money my mother gave us and Mari the sister only had a little money that my father gave her. Manolita would take her side in arguments.
One day I found out that there was money missing from my pockets and I assumed it was them. They started saying bad things about my mother and Manolita just kept quiet. I thought that was a bit bitchy. She was the one who pushed me back to the convent finally.

Back to school

Manolita suggested that I learn a trade and go to an academy. She herself was learning to be a dressmaker and I guess she had brought her sister over to look after the baby. So I stared going with her to learn dressmaking but I found the pattern cutting too hard for me to grasp and I found myself feeling stupid although I liked the sewing. I stopped going. So instead she suggested that I went back to school – to a private school to continue my education. She was always looking out for me and I never thought she wasn’t. I liked her very much.
So I began going to a special academy at the top of Campo San Francisco. It was a large flat with a few rooms with 20 or so children all brushing up their maths or other subjects and learning typing and shorthand. I brushed up on my Spanish and maths to prepare me to become a secretary which I thought would be easier than becoming a dressmaker.

Sweet tooth

About having a sweet tooth… I had a scheme. I was very crafty. I convinced my mother that my father and Manolita sent me to school without any breakfast which she believed. My mother went to a cake shop cafeteria that was underneath the academy and talked to the manager to arrange for me to have breakfast from Monday to Friday, leaving money with them. She would go every Saturday for the next week. Taking advantage of my mother, I convinced the owner that I needed sweets to keep my energy up throughout the day and had that instead of breakfast.
I did try really hard to be a good student but I was a bit behind in realising many things including that learning didn’t come by itself but by putting effort in and doing homework. I preferred to spend time reading comics or listening to the radio instead of doing my homework. Mari would come along and wanted to listen to pop music but I wanted to listen to fairy stories so we would always be fighting over the radio. Every month when I went home with the grades from school, if i got 3’s, I would turn them into 8’s. I wanted them to believe I was doing well at the academy as I liked the side benefits.

Manolita’s sisters

Things at home were not much better. By then we were living in another flat much better and more modern in the 5th floor but no lift. It was also much cheaper than the one in the middle of town where we lived before, it was almost brand new. Manolita had four or five sisters that I knew of and one or another was always living with us helping Manolita to run the house and the bar which we opened called El puente Sobre el Rio Quai (Bridge over the river Quai). Between my brother, Manolita, her sister and my father they ran the bar and it ran for a few years. When I finished the academy as my father ran out of money I left owing two or three months fees.
Things at home were bad and the sisters were bitchy especially Mari who resented me. They talked about my mother and I would go crazy.

The stamp album

One day I came home from the academy and I found my treasured stamp album in the hands of the baby. He had taken all the stamps out and made a mess of them all in front of her and she didn’t do anything to stop him. I felt terrible about it. I told my father but what could he do. He didn’t do anything as she was a good help looking after the baby. Manolita was pregnant with another baby.
I told my mother and she took me back to the juvenile court to tell them that I was unhappy in that household and they said that they would try to help. They called my father and we talked about sending me to live with La Sagrada Familia which was a kind of boarding school institute to teach girls a trade. So everyone agreed that we would try. Before going home that day, my father and I spent the afternoon at the cinema.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia was run by Señorita Carmen. She was not a nun but a devout catholic coming from the nobility. She had a boyfriend during the civil war who had been killed, so she decided to dedicate her life to helping the needy. She sold her title and with the money bought a house which she converted into a boarding house for girls where she catered for about thirty or forty girls and other women like her that wanted to help young girls get ahead with their lives.
I was there for four years and I would say that they were my happiest four years apart from when I was little. At first it wasn’t easy. I had a disadvantage towards the other girls. For example they would criticise the teachers for this and that and I always came to their defence. They thought I was a silly girl. The kind of girls there were all sorts from all over Asturias and some of them from far away in the rest of Spain.

Dolores and Margarita

The two oldest girls were called Dolores and Margarita. Dolores went out in the evening as she was learning to be a nurse and she took care of the chapel. Señorita made us go to mass every Sunday and pray the rosary every day. I went to mass every day as I was reading a lot about saints and I wanted to become one.
I had graduated in my imagination from pirate to saint. I wanted to be very good.

Dolores had a single mother who was in a mental institute. I knew Margarita and Dolores well as after some months I came to share rooms with them on the top floor. Margarita also had a single mother who was a teacher in a village somewhere in Asturias and Margarita was already a nurse. Margarita had a boyfriend who left her and she was a bit bitter about it. I was 15 and she was about ten years older than me. they were both very nice to me and we got on well. I got on well with everybody as I tried to imitate the saints but girls thought I was weird. I didn’t sound like them. They would criticise everybody and I always defended the victim. I hated people criticising others without them being present. I thought that was very unfair.

A job for everyone

Life in that place was very organised. Each of us had a job to do except the girls who’s parents paid a lot of money to keep them there. There were about five of them including a deaf girl and dumb girl and a blind girl. They would go every day to special schools to learn. I used to go out sometimes with them. We had to help the cook who came from outside. Her name was Vicenta de La Barca. She was very friendly with everybody. Once a week each one of us had to work with her for that whole week.

There was a girl who the priest called Generosa. The priest lived there too in his own room. She was generous with the eggs of the cook. She would take the eggs from the fridge and share them with her friends. The priest had a sense of humour. He was always joking around. He was also an archaeologist and would go to Jerusalem for 6 months of year. He was very generous too. If we asked him to bring us something he would. He once brought me a little golden cross on a chain because he had also given them to other girls and I wanted one. He would take the money out of his archaeology grant. For other girls he would buy clothes if their parents were not doing it. He would take others to the cinema. He was very understanding of us.

Girlish things

The relationship with my father had gone sour as once while at the Sagrada Familia I confided in one of the girls some of my story and told her that the girl who came with the baby wasn’t my mother but my fathers mistress so she couldn’t wait to tell señorita Carmen who then told my father not to bring his mistress into this holy place, so neither of them came again. Only my mother came from then on. I didn’t know about girlish things or what was the right thing to say and about trusting people. Although I found it easy to make friends, I found it hard to keep them as after that I didn’t trust anyone.

Maria Immaculada

I did make one friend though who’s parents were also separated and she had been taken to a convent called Maria Immaculada. This  was my second contact with this particular convent. She took me there with her on the weekend because when her parents got separated she had stayed there and had stayed friends with one of the younger nuns ever since. This convent was in Oviedo. There was one in every town in Spain.

They would run different activities like theatre, celebrations and cinema. That’s how I met the num that was working with the girls. I even went to an evening class for a few months to learn touch typing as I had always loved it and wanted to improve my skill. I learned a lot of skills there and had a few giggles in the chapel when we were supposed to be silent. I felt accepted there by the nuns and my friend knew how I felt. Later on she met a boy at a funfair and got married to him. I think she lived in Gijon then.

Sometimes I bump into one of the girls. I met one of the girls about ten years ago not long after moving back to Spain. She was working as a social worker doing the job that the limping lady had done. She told me that the priest don Emilio from Sagrada Familia had multiple sclerosis and had retired to a priests home. I wanted to go and see him but she said that he was at the last stages and it wasn’t a good idea.

Priests and puzzles

Once I went to his room for a chat. Instead of asking what was on my mind, he sat down in front of me at a table and we did a crossword puzzle together. He must have figured that a girl like me couldn’t have many sins or troubles and probably just needed someone to talk to or a bit of attention. He had a good sense of humour and would always play with us. Some girls had bad intentions and once when it snowed they threw a snowball with cat poo at him and it caused a scandal. He was however very tolerant and didn’t try to find out who did it so everybody loved him. He was a basque in his thirties and not so handsome with a hooked nose. All together though he was a nice normal guy. once a year he would bring his sister to stay for a few months. She was also very nice.

Paying my way

The juvenile court payed for my boarding there. The señorita Carmen told me once.  When I was working and earning a living I started to pay my own. They hadn’t asked but I wanted to. So everybody paid in different ways, by helping the cook in the kitchen, by helping in the canteen serving the dinners and sometime some girls were chosen to serve the teachers who ate in another dinning room. They had special meals and ate meat once a day whilst we had it only once a week. We had eggs however as there was a farm that delivered eggs free. The priest found out about the meat and the doctors found out that some girls had symptoms of tuberculosis so they had to be given a special diet including meat and eggs so the priest wanted all girls to have more meat to avoid the problem.

Financial crisis

The boarding house was in a crisis. It turns out that Señorita Carmen was running behind with fee payments by the wealthy parents although most of the things were given free like the dentist who used to check our teeth. Most services were free as people sympathised with her cause. She received much help, goods and services. It was however a vocational institute taught by a half dozen volunteers. They had hand and electric knitting machines which they used to teach as well as making jumpers and cardigans which they sold outside to a small family businesses and supplied trained girls to work in workshops producing the end products. I ended up myself working in one of doing sewing and weaving. It was called taller Delmi in El Campillin. They had a lot of machines.

Jumper disaster

One of the mechanics at the institute, a very handsome young married man with a family of his own was in charge of the machines in case they went wrong. He convinced Señorita Carmen to make 300 jumpers and cardigans to sell in shops all over Spain. All the girls were very eager and enthusiastic to help and out a lot of hours to finish the order and when we finished she even paid us some money which we felt was very generous of her. It happened that the mechanic was a crook and wanted to run away with the jumpers. The police caught up with him and put him in prison. They had found out the plan before he managed to make the escape and there were no orders for them. So we were left with 300 jumpers to sell and no ready clients. Señorita Carmen was ruined as she had invested all her money in the enterprise.

It happened that around those days the festival of San Martin was soon approaching so she opened a stand selling tickets where you could win a jumper. Many priests knowing what had happened to her bought tickets by the dozens. The thing was that we didn’t put a lot of winners in there, for every forty tickets there was one jumper. It wasn’t a great success as people realised they had a low chance of winning. We only realised that later on but it was too late. we also went out begging with the jumpers and a collection box to get some money to help the Sagrada Familia. We made some money from that but in all she lost a lot of money. I didn’t know how she managed to get rid of the jumpers in the end. Maybe by selling them cheap.

Independence

I went to evening class to improve my maths and grammar. I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to be at that time but I moved towards the idea that I wanted to be a nun and a vocational teacher. I learned a bit of dressmaking although I didn’t like it that much. I learned knitting and weaving on the machine.
My mother would come every week to see me or I would go to see her and once I had a fight with her. I had asked her to buy me some clothes, a skirt or something. She told me that I was becoming very expensive. I got very angry and decided that I was going to get a job and buy my own things. It was silly really as she had never complained before about money. Perhaps she thought that I wasn’t aware of it. It wasn’t like her to complain.
I asked Señorita Carmen if she could help me find a job even in childcare as I had experience looking after my brothers. I was so naive and innocent because I didn’t really know a thing about children but I thought I did. She passed the word to the workshop for weaving and they put me on a six month trial to do some sewing of jumpers which I did and got wages for. Then I started paying my way. I was very happy there and didn’t want to leave. The money I got there was enough to pay boarding and some extra to  buy some clothes. I still bought the odd cake here and there but since I was still keen to be a saint, I restricted myself. I as also finding out about other people suffering especially children in Africa. It didn’t feel right then to consume so much sugar and have so many luxuries.

The weaving workshop

I worked in the workshop with another dozen girls. It was family business with mother, father and a daughter plus an accountant from outside. Some of the employees were relatives, nieces or cousins. The daughter used to work in the office and also doing some ironing. The workshop was called Delmi after the wife. Delmi and her husband would keep an eye on me and he used to tell me that he had a tortoise that was faster than me. I didn’t get the joke until a few days later. They used to cheat us sometimes and didn’t pay our social security payments. When the inspectors came they would run some of us up to an apartment and hide us away so they wouldn’t have to pay. At least for few months until they made the paperwork. They also sometimes didn’t pay us hidden money or other rights.
Thats where I stepped in. I was a bit of a rebel.

The Activist

In my spare time I used to go together with some of the other girls to an organisation called JOC. Which stood for Juventud Obrera Catolica. (Catholic Working Youth) It was set up by a priest to defend the rights of young workers around the world. It was an international organisation. They taught us to defend our rights, meaning that if they owed us money then we should claim it and not ask us to pay for it. Also that if they wanted us to do overtime that we had the right to say no or at least give us notice. Somethings they would expect to drop everything and work all through the night. I became famous for being a bit of an activist in those days and I didn’t mind if they sacked me as I was already getting fed up of the way they treated us and wanted to leave. At that point I wasn’t sewing but knitting.
They set  me to work on a brand new machine and I learned everything I needed to from that machine. Then I went on holiday and when I got back there was someone else using my machine and I was given an old rusty machine that kept breaking and the engineer was always coming to mend it. After a while they asked me if I would like to teach some young boys and girls to do knitting. There were four or five of them. These were lessons at night as they couldn’t spare the machines during the day. So I agreed, and that was my last job. I stayed working like this for some time but then felt the urge to move on.

Wider horizons

I started looking for jobs oversees, to immigrate. Although I wanted to become a nun, a teacher and a saint of course I also wanted to become a mother. Before I left for England, I went to live with my mother for year because at that time she was renting a house not very far from where I worked so I thought that if I was going to live with her I would pay her boarding instead and that this would help her. I shouldn’t have a I was very happy but I felt sorry for my mum. My spirit of being good to everyone persisted so thats what I did.
Things would have been different if I hadn’t have left.


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