Grandfather Jairo was the comet that suddenly appeared or disappeared from the skies of my childhood. Constantly traveling, Grandfather was born into this world, bearing the gift of being present in different places at the same time, tucked neatly under his arm. Even when he was far away, I always felt him next to me, as I pictured his smile in my mind: a smile as eternal as it was untiring.
Grandfather Jairo was the comet that suddenly appeared or disappeared from the skies of my childhood. Constantly travelling, Grandfather was born into this world, bearing the gift of being present in different places at the same time, tucked neatly under his arm. Even when he was far away, I always felt him next to me, as I pictured his smile in my mind: a smile as eternal as it was untiring.
He was the third of five brothers, and she was the third of five sisters. At the time, the main church of Chinandega, the beautiful parish of Our Lady of Santa Ana was going through repairs. Sadly, the church had sustained heavy damage during the main earthquake of 1925. For that reason, they married at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, in El Viejo, a small town near Chinandega. They were my grandfather Jairo’s parents. That was my great-grandparent’s wedding (though some of the cynics called it an alliance).
Grandfather was baptised in a small town called El Viejo, which literally means The Old Town. The old church had a well-known baptismal font, and it was quite famous as a matter of fact, as it dated back to the year 1560. The beautiful font’s antique base had been completely coated with hand-crafted silver, elaborately crafted. It was precisely in it, that Grandfather was baptised. The baptismal ceremony was held during the week that followed a popular annual festivity, known traditionally as ‘The Cleansing of the Silver’.
This festivity was widely celebrated each year on the sixth of December. Part of the most important religious celebrations in Central America, its significance had transcended far beyond Nicaragua’s borders to most of the Central American countries. For a space of twenty days, this small town becomes the religious center of the country; when thousands of people visited El Viejo to participate in its ceremonies. Visitors gathered from every nook and corner of the country, and there was no lack of pilgrims that even made the difficult journey, from faraway lands in other countries, to finally converge together, as part of the massive annual religious peregrinations to Nicaragua.
“When I was a child, I learned an important lesson, and I believe it’s helpful still. I discovered that we all need our own personal space, to be alone with our thoughts, our feelings, and with ourselves. The bicycle ride, to the port, in the mornings was my personal space. It was a moment for reflection, I could go through the things in my mind, look back at all that was happening and sort them out. When I arrived to the wharfs, I had found my balance and my inner peace. By then the fishermen were returning from the sea and the day’s catch. The waves gently tossing the boats to and fro, those crazy seagulls flying around, excited and filling the air with their calls and shouting, and we would catch sight of each other. They would be out in their boats, tired and hungry; and I sitting on my bike and standing on the pier. Our lives were so different, yet there we were, all together, present and accounted for, ready to talk, to laugh, to joke, and to smile a big, warm smile, at the beginning of a brand new day
Grandfather was about to become twelve years old, and in those days, he was considered young but of age. As it happened, don Ernesto, his grandfather on the maternal side, was not growing any younger, and, more to the point, his health was slowly failing. For that reason, and against his wishes, his father decided to leave their lovely colonial house in Chinandega, the home where Grandfather was born and raised, and to move out to León, one of the oldest and largest cities in the country.
It could, or not, be said, that in the life of every great man, there is a great woman to be found at his side. In a few words, Grandmother Manuela was certainly an extraordinary woman, and Grandfather Jairo was also a great man. Her sweet disposition and the cool serenity of her mind, combined to distinguish her with a special kind of inner loveliness, forever present every moment of her life. Moreover, her physical beauty and charm (legendary since she was a child in Honduras), together with her internal presence, manifested themselves in a most definite magnetic personality. Without ever intending to do so, she painted herself into such a beautiful living picture, so absolutely and stunningly captivating, that she invariably attracted the world towards her, and there, as it was held involuntarily trapped, it would gravitate revolving around her.
Chapter VII: About the trenches and the multiplication tables
A few years after their marriage, Grandfather Jairo bought the stately and colonial mansion from his mother. She had inherited the house from her parents after her own marriage. The house was in the historic center of the old colonial city of León, and it was only two blocks away from the Central Park.Although the house was more than a hundred and fifty years old, and many people lived in it, the splendid house, with its three spacious living rooms and the four pleasant and copiously tree-covered gardens, was in perfect mint condition. It would seem the house had been tailor-made to order for my grandmother Manuela.
Talking about large families, my father was the apple that fell close to the tree; or if you prefer: like father, like son, as you will. My name is Francisca Díaz, and I am the eldest of five brothers and four sisters. Ten siblings may sound numerous, but my father was the eldest of eighteen, neatly divided into nine brothers and the same amount of sisters. So, I guess that as Grandfather used to say, Father was, without a doubt, just the proverbial chip, off the old block.
Father had his own unusual view on family size, “If I could only be sure of having twins, I’d immediately go for a dozen, once and for all; it´s just such a nicely rounded off number. We could have a half a dozen boys and another half a dozen girls, just like buying bread (I’ll have half a dozen buns and half a dozen of those sweet rolls, if you please), at the Colombian’s bakery, in Sutiapa.”
At the time I lived in León, and I happened to be at home with Grandmother. We were both outside on the beautiful southern patio of the house. Though the day had been unbearably hot, it was cool in the shade, amongst its many trees.
Some trees hold memories that go back for as long as they have lived. The tall mango tree, standing in the center of the courtyard, may have been the oldest in the house, yet it still remembered the little girl who once climbed to its top, daring the heights, as it came about, so many years before I was born.
Towards the front of the patio was a huge, bright green, metallic gate. It opened precisely across the street from doña Martina’s store, where we bought the corn tortillas; though perhaps not as fresh as the street vendor’s, still they definitely were quite tasty. The store also sold the white bread that Grandfather greatly enjoyed, with a thick slab of butter on the top, early mornings, with his breakfast.