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.
Chapter X: About coffee and after-dinner digestives
Beyond any shadow of doubt, among his many grandchildren, I was Grandfather´s favourite. Since I was a little girl, we would spend so much time together. In his own way, he was trying to prepare me for life. Whenever he noticed I was feeling unwell, or when I was feeling perfectly fine, he was always ready to share his time with me.
One summer morning, I was lying in bed with fever; consequently, I was stuck in my bed, at least, during one more day. I guess that might have helped to make me feel sad. Additionally, my body ached from head to toe, and I felt so discouraged that I was past the point of being bothered with it all. My mother was deeply concerned. As the days had gone by, I barely showed any signs of improving my health; besides, she had done all she could, but the fever just wouldn´t die down.
“Back then my dear, it hadn’t only rained ashes, it actually down-poured ashes as well. The ashes began to stack up on the streets and wear down the car’s tires as you drove. It was tremendously difficult to get around by car. Walking was close to impossible, and of course, bicycles were out of the question. Many of the roofs collapsed; it was too much weight. Ashes on the ground, on top of things, underneath things, all over the place; the ashes were even suspended in the air. That may have been the worst part of it all, for people got sick in their lungs and throats! The ashes appeared in your soup and food! Even sleeping was problematic. Imagine sleeping on top of a sheet of sanding paper and covering yourself with another one! Then this black color stained everything in its path, tainting it to black. Everybody was totally and completely fed up….
“Where you least expected those miserable ashes, they would appear. It got to the point where people couldn’t bear it any longer. Then one of the priests had this great idea: he proposed to throw a party every year, honoring the Virgin. Of course, the only condition was that the volcano stopped throwing its ashes at the city. Bright idea, don’t you think? Strangely enough, the volcano quieted down and that was how the famous celebration called ‘The Shouting’ or the Fiestas de la Gritería was born. It’s still commemorated every year to acknowledge the Virgin for having rid León of the ash flow. In a certain way it allows us to remember what it means to simply sit down comfortably at the table and enjoy a delicious dish of Gallo Pinto (rice and red beans). Most importantly, to enjoy it without ashes and without breaking a tooth as you eat it!”
Chapter XII: The Atlantic Coast and its Caribbean pirates
Of the many adventures that ultimately describe our lives, looking back it seems that some have led to remarkable achievements, others facilitated the discovery of promising new lands and places; but perhaps the most cherished and treasured of all, are those shared, with an extraordinary person; present for a fleeting moment of our life, if only in the passing.
It began on a Wednesday afternoon, when suddenly Grandfather arrived. I was busy finishing my homework for school. Besides, I was in a hurry, for I needed to deliver it at the latest, by Monday.
“Hey kiddo… kiddo… kiddy…” I heard Grandfather shouting from the main living room.
“I have a big, fat surprise for you,” he said, a little out of breath, as he walked with a mischievous smile on his face. I knew that smile, and I knew it well. Actually, I knew it: only too well! It was the prelude to some prank of his.
In a way, Grandfather still fumigated with his trusty Cessna. In his own words:
“I don’t believe that things are so different, here and now; before, I would spend my time, flying over the cotton plantations and fighting the cotton plagues. Now I still fly, not only over the cotton fields, I fly all over the country! I’m still fighting the blights, while I’m in the air. The pests I fight, nowadays, are called by a different name: now, we call them Contras; and the government, or, if you prefer, our taxes, pay their wages.”
“So tell me Jairito, did you use dynamite sticks to fumigate before?” Grandmother asked ironically.
“Well, Manuelita, in a way, you’re right. Some things may have changed, you know,” he replied with a faint stutter.
“Yes, some things change. I agree totally with you. Your brain has changed for some poor bird’s brain. Since when has the cotton fired back with anti-aircraft guns, or maybe, I didn’t know about it, before you enlisted?”
“Not to worry Manuelita, you should know, better than anyone else, that I’m fully protected by the forty saints you pray to every night. If I were flying a commercial airplane, any self-respecting commercial airline would surely charge me for the excess luggage!”
“Then you’re family!” he expressed as he gave a big hug. “Let me tell you, honey, that for us, Jairo’s family, through and through! Even more so, Jairo’s like if he had been born in Corinto, if you get my meaning. In the neighbourhood, everybody knows him and knows him well. Your grandpa is always in a great mood, and he’s ready to talk about anything. Back home, he’s more popular than any of the Sandinista Comandantes.
When I was a kid, and I was starting to help my ole man with the fishing (could have been around seven or so), sometimes we’d go out fishing and he’d come along. When we got back, we cooked ourselves a few of the best and biggest fishes, and we stayed chilling and shooting the breeze, till the late hours of the night.
Says my daddy, that when your grand pappy was a boy, he’d come on down to the port every Sunday morning on his bicycle, ain’t that the truth! Then, he would buy fresh fish and seafood for his mom’s fancy restaurant. Smart customers she had, all dressed like movie stars, they was, oh yea! And he got good deals from the gang, too! People loved that sweet-talking rascal. Nice to everybody, saying hello to all, and he got along fine with us, that’s a fact! He used to come to the house, and he’d barge in like if it were his own.” I just had to laugh when I heard him, for he was right; that was Grandfather right on the mark. He was if anything, a sociable person.