Today is Henry’s birthday. I was thinking about my favorite picture of him as a little boy. Before I could craft the words, I received a call from Henry. He had some sad news. The abuela died today. I wanted to confirm that he meant today and not yesterday. Since Spain is six hours ahead, yes it was this morning around 4 am Benetae time.
The abuela was 104 and turning 105 this July. I feel extremely fortunate that I met her when we visited Henry’s family in Spain in the fall of 2006. When I first saw her, it was all I could do to not start bawling. I had to go to the bathroom to regroup. (Thanks, Mom! I got that sentimentality from you. Anything that involves music, ceremony, etc, and I am certain to cry.)
They would move this little chair around for her to rest her feet on.
Although we couldn’t really communicate with one another, I sat and held her hand and rubbed her back. She was full of life and a tad bit melancholy. She kept wiping her eyes and saying “Que triste.” She kept asking over and over why we didn’t bring the rest of the family. The next time they visit she would be dead. Actually she is right. We haven’t been able to make it back. Although Henry said that she said that over 20 years ago while she was in her 80s.
Bonifacia is actually Antonio’s aunt. His mother died when he was an infant, so he went to live with her in the neighboring village. She had three children, Tia Maria, Serafina and Antonio. After spending time with each of Henry’s aunts and uncle, I believe that Antonio, my father-in-law, seems the most like the abuela over the other children – both in looks and in personality.
Antonio, my father-in-law, is the youngest one on the far right.
During the 24 hours of our visit, it was obvious that the abuela was the center of the small Spanish village. Benetae is set on the side of a mountain with olive groves over looking the compact homes and stores.
We visited during the feria, which meant a long week of music and celebration.
The abuela and the tias would sit outside of their front door and everyone would stop by to say hello. Anyone who had moved from the town came back for the fiesta. They brought their children and wanted the abuela to kiss them.
The article on the left is about the abuela turning 100.
A few weeks after visiting the abuela, we watched Volver at an Oxford movie theater. One of the opening scenes includes a buzz of activity around a funeral scene in Spain. The white plaster walls were reminiscent of the walls we had just seen in Spain. I imagine that Benetae has been rocked with the shock of the abuela’s passing. The neighbors are probably filing in to bring food and do what they can to honor the woman who served as their bedrock for so many years.
Tonight we went to happy hour at La Taberna Albardero for tapas. We shared a few of our recent memories of la abuela while we were eating. Our favorite is that she kept a small pocket knife in the folds of her dress somewhere beneath her breasts and her waist. With the slightest movement, she would pull out the knife and use it to cut whatever she was eating – fruit, cheese or chorizo. She continued to lead a very full life, with a full appetite until the very end.
Walking home from dinner tonight, we discussed the fact that it was very sad that Bonifacia died on Henry’s birthday. But at the same time, it was a little sweet. We both believed that we would make it back before she passed away. But we didn’t. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t return to Spain very soon to pay our respect.