Thursday, January 26, 2006


November 20, 1975. Franco died. The children did not know much about this little old bald guy, whose picture hung from every classroom wall. I don’t even think I noticed the word dictatorship until I was, at least, in my teens.

We children only knew that we did not have to go to school that day. And I remember playing, sitting down on the living room cold tiles. I remember their pattern so clearly, and their color. Why it was such a big deal that the man—who’d been kept alive artificially for about a month—had died we wouldn’t even wonder. Later –probably many months later - we would learn about democracy in school and we would make murals pasting pictures and stories from newspapers. Writing “La democracia” (“government by the people,” was the meaning of the new word) on the top, in big nice letters.

The dictatorship was 36 years old, so I had known nothing different. I did not affect me—yet. Next day, my dad went to the ‘little store’ in front of our own drugstore. The little store sold mainly candy, of which you could get quite a satisfying amount for just one peseta, you know? What my dad bought that day was a cassette tape—and a very bad quality one I seemed to gather by the looks of the cover, and I think experience proved my intuition right eventually.

He got this tape especially so he could tape the coronation of the new king, two days after Franco’s death. A few good years would have to go by for the first VCR to appear in Spain, decades before my mom ever saw one—she still refuses to own one; ‘I don’t have the time,’ is her excuse. So dad only placed the tape recorder in front of the TV set so we could have such an event saved for posterity.

About this event I only knew it was a good thing, from my family’s perspective. The old man had left everything set up for this young prince to become a king and so that Spain would be a monarchy instead of a republic. It was the closest he could get to exercise his power from the grave. You see, the republicans in Spain’s history were traditionally the liberal party and Franco’s enemies; monárquicos were conservative. So Franco died knowing he did his best to keep Spain in the right track—both metaphorically and politically. But for the people, king or no king, democracy was the good thing, and no king or monarchy could take the joy and freedom away. Eventually this king would turn out to be a good one, since he stood up against the military forces, led by an infamous lieutenant colonel, that tried a coup d’etat in 1981 and failed. Of that event I had a better awareness; I was in seventh grade, and I remember not going to school that day either, this time with fear. Nobody was allowed to go out that night.

November 22, 1975. We went to my grandmother’s house, I would say because it was Saturday, but it could also have been a second day of forced national holiday. I also remember granma’s living room, and the couch that had a pattern, now that I think of it, very much in line with the floor tiles at home. The house was rented, as was ours, and it was on top of a cliff overlooking the port, and we could see all the little and big boats anchored there. My dad had also a small boat, which he owned jointly with another man in the family. We had family downstairs and good neighbors next door, first and second floor. So there we were, ready to watch this coronation on TV. Next thing I remember I was going up the stairway –old Mediterranean tile, nice colored pattern. It was kind of dark; probably the winter sunset; some adult was with me. I can’t remember if it was a neighbor or one of my relatives, but she told my mom it was my birthday. “¡Ah, sí, Miguel, es el cumpleaños de Pepita!”
“How could you forget such a thing?,” my neighbor or relative said.

Actually, birthdays, you must have guessed by now, were never a big deal in my family. Let’s say celebrations are not our thing. I could never get mad at my parents for forgetting my birthday. But oh! I can get mad and argue violently with my father about politics or sexual harassment at the dinner table. Manners are not our thing either. Still, I could not love my parents more.

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