After her story of the Spanish Civil War, my mother begins to tell how she met my father. She might never have come across him if my grandmother had been more traditionally minded and kept her in the village, or if the war had not happened, or if my mother had not taken it into her head to learn to play the violin.
I've known about these near-misses for years, but my cousin in Barcelona recently told me something that her mother, my mother's youngest sister, had revealed. It seems that in the middle of the war, while my mother was falling in love with communist soldiers on their way to the front and my father was starving in Barcelona, a lieutenant colonel in Franco's army saw her and decided to marry her. Secretly, he wrote a letter to the priest of my mother's parish asking for information about the family--their political views, religious practices, financial status, and so on.
According to my aunt, my mother was so enraged when she heard that he had written to ask about the family without first consulting her that she never spoke to him again. Whew! If it hadn't been for my mother's sense of what was her due, I could have been the daughter of a fascist officer.
After the war, my mother says, I went to Barcelona to study Greek and Latin so I could teach high school. I had become disillusioned with the law, which I had imagined to be about saving innocent people accused of terrible crimes, like in the movies, but which turned out to be extremely dull instead.
There was so little food in Barcelona! Luckily my mother sent baskets of food from the farm, and Evita Peron sent ships loaded with wheat from Argentina. (I remember as a toddler being fed pasta that had been sent by "that kind lady in Argentina." You can read about my grandmother's food baskets here) The bread that my mother sent used to go hard and stale, and little worms would grow in it. I was always careful to shake them out before I ate. What? my mother says, seeing our horrified faces, it wasn't as bad as it sounds....
As a teenager, I had bought a violin because it seemed exotic and exciting, but I had never learned to play. The people with whom I was boarding in Barcelona recommended a music academy, and I went to meet the teacher. I was expecting an old man, bald and bent over. Instead I found a young man with thick black hair and a mustache.
I started taking lessons from him, but for two years we barely spoke, other than about bowing and intonation (I wasn't a very good student). Then one day he invited my parents to attend a concert that he was going to give near their village. Next, his parents invited me and my sisters and brother, who were also studying in Barcelona, to have coffee at their apartment. And then he started walking me home after the violin lessons. I was the first woman he ever kissed.
We were married in 1943, in the village church. His entire family came from Barcelona in a rented bus. During the Mass, I was kneeling in front of the altar with my long veil spread out on the floor behind me when suddenly I felt a sharp pull: the altar boy had accidentally stepped on the veil with his boot and torn a huge hole in it. After the Mass we went back to my parents' farm, had a big meal and drank lots of champagne.
That night, we tied the mattress and the sewing machine that my parents had given us to the roof of the bus, and rode back to Barcelona with all the relatives.