Wed, 29 Jun 2005

Finally gone

A few hours ago my mother told me my grandfather wouldn't last much more, and it seems a few minutes later, his heart finally ceased beating. The news hasn't had a big impact on me as he had been in coma for 14 days already, and even resisted more than we expected.

During the many visits to hospital since he had this fatal stroke, I've had time to think what are the strongest memories from him that I retain. There are two main memories from childhood.

One is when he would place us on his lap, with our backs facing him, and would sing "Digudín, digudán", while he pressed his sharp fingers all over our back, and finally would ask "¿Cuantos dedos hay encima?". That game is probably one of the things that has made me and my cousins laugh more in our lives. Besides, we rarely managed to answer correctly, so he would start again until we did.

The second wasn't so funny. Once, Marta, Borja and I were travelling with our grandparents from our small town Vall de Almonacid to Castelló. Bored and innocent as we were (I don't think we'd be more than 7 or 8 years old at the time), we started to sing "Franco, Franco, que tiene el culo blanco, la pilila azul, qué tío más gandul!", and we only needed two repetitions to get our grandfather yelling at us to shut up. We were totally frozen, and didn't understand what was going on. I have a very clear memory of what my grandmother told us to explain his anger, to the point I even remember her tone as she said this. "No canteis eso porque el abuelo quería mucho a Franco". We tried to argue that we learned the song from him, and for some reason the three of us firmly believed this, but it was totally impossible. The rest of the trip went on in total silence. How could we know the abuelo loved Franco, after all. Actually, who the heck was Franco?

So this was my biggest barrier when interacting with him: our big political differences. He was very conservative and had very strong catholic beliefs. When he had the first stroke, more than a year ago, I went to take care of him and decided it was my opportunity to get some first hand stories of how the Spanish Civil War went in Vall.

He was in the wrong side of the war, as many others who happened to fight for the contender that totally was against their beliefs. Most of the East coast was controlled by the Republic, and Vall was near one of the battle fronts. He never fought in front, by pure luck: he was too young, 14, when the war started, but the Aragonese front was still active in 1939, so he kept getting closer and closer to get enlisted. Just when he was next on the list, the Republic gave up and Franco declared his victory, even if that front never got defeated.

During the war, he was in charge of giving the military their ration of food and tobacco, while he helped digging under houses and streets to build refuges for the population. Every now and then, the sirens would go off, and people would get into the nearest shelter. If they were too far to get there in time, they would go under the stairs of their house or a similar place.

One day, my grandfather was carrying some sand from a refuge to the road, when the sirens went off, and very soon after, the frightening sound of the National airplanes could be heard approaching the town. He hid with others under the bridge that crossed over "El Caño", and waited for the bombers to go away. The sound of one of them got very close, and suddenly he felt how the bridge shaked above him. They went out and saw what happened: there was a huge bomb in a big crater in the middle of the road, just above the bridge. It didn't explode, and thanks to that I'm writing this today.

This was the last day, and maybe the only one, I had a good time speaking to him. He told me about lots of other stories about the war, and when I asked him about what happened to the church, etc., he mostly said the Republicans did what they had to do. But of course, things weren't so dramatic in my village, and even if his family kept in secret many of the valuable items of the church hiding in their house, when it was discovered, there was no repression against them, and actually most of the goods were kept until after the war.

Before his stroke I hadn't visited him for over 5 weeks, and had planned going to Castelló the following Sunday. I can't avoid feeling a bit guilty that I let so much time without visiting, more when I planned sitting again with him after lunch to see if I could learn a bit more about the War. I also wanted to tell him that every now and then, my grandmother comes to mind, which was something that he sometimes asked us about. I was four days late, unfortunately.

I searched for "Benicassim Festival" and ended up reading your blog entry, I 've lost my Gran-dad recently and unfortunately because of family issues I didn't speak to him for 5 years, I wish I had had time to see him too, but have some child memories like yours to think of, not much of my adult life and him, but I supposed it was meant to be.

Posted by Francois at Fri Apr 6 22:50:23 2007