My maternal grandfather, Rafael, fought in the Spanish war. He was in his thirties and already had four children, but decided to enlist because the situation in Spain was terrible and he needed a job to feed his children.
When the war finished, my grandfather didn’t come back, so everybody thought he was dead. Only my grandma stayed hopeful. One day, she went to visit a clairvoyant and the woman told her she could see a fair-haired man in the cards. My grandma immediately assumed it was him, even though his hair was light brown.
A few months later, while my mum and my aunt were playing in the street, they saw a soldier walking towards them. It was him… Even though I wasn’t there, I can picture the whole scene in my mind. I guess it’s because I’ve heard this story so many times and I find it so incredibly romantic. For me it’s the stuff of novels.
If you are wondering where he spent those months, I’ll tell you he was in a concentration camp in France. Apparently the conditions weren’t too harsh and he even learnt to speak French and to make rings out of chicken bones. When I was little, he gave me a ring he had made with a peseta coin. It’s one of my most treasured possessions.
As a child, I admired and loved Grandpa and was always looking forward to his visits. He always bought me sweets or pencils and told me the most wonderful stories. He was my favorite person in the world.
When he picked me up from school, I always asked him what we were having for lunch and he usually surprised me with a preposterous answer like ant omelette or cockroach soup. Even if he told me the same thing a million times, it always made me laugh.
Grandpa taught me to love books. He covered his in polka dot paper so that they didn’t get spoiled. He read non-stop even if his memory was terrible and couldn’t recall what he had read the next day.
He was a cabinet-maker and could fix almost anything with his hands. He was also very fit. I used to watch him from behind my window when he was in his eighties, running to catch the bus.
Then, when he was eighty-two, cancer struck. He didn’t survive long. At the hospital, he was still optimistic. I remember him feeding the sparrows that landed on his windowsill.
Towards the end, he deteriorated rapidly and they took him home. Seeing him in bed all day was heartbreaking. He had always been such an active man.
My grandma didn’t survive him long. She was lost without him. When I visited her to take her to the market, she told me she talked to him all the time. A year later, she was gone too. I know she died of a broken heart.
Grandpa passed away when I was eighteen. Many years have gone by, but I’ll never ever forget him.