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My grandfather was Don Juan Diego something-Romero. Or it might have been Romero-something...I still don't know how Spanish surnames work.

He was a very handsome man when young; intelligent, charming, well-meaning and the son of a count or the son of a count's second son or something. Either way, there was money in the family and the money disappeared eventually but not before he had made himself a creature of legend, utterly larger than life, the man with the most girlfriends, the man who had adventures, the town hero, the guy who did the craziest things... everyone had a Juan Diego story. One went like this:

In the years before the civil war, he wrote some kind of column in a newspaper, and his were vaguely socialist leanings - I say 'vaguely', one gets the notion he never earned a penny in his life; got his commission as an officer in Spanish North Africa, but spent it all like a man with no concept of tomorrow. Anyhow, he wrote this columnn, and it was not very generous towards the fascisti. However, when a local communist party member was made mayor, Don Juan Diego was not sparing shall we say...he had a mischievous sense of humour and couldn't help pointing out that the new mayor could neither read nor write. This was not well received, but did not matter, until the civil war when all such debts were paid off with interest. They came for him, the communist mayor and his friends, and Grandfather was drunk, determined to go out to meet them. Grandma, pregnant with my mother, was clinging to him begging him not to do it, and his friends wanted him to be lowered out of the house in a laundry basket. He wouldn't have it. Family members maintain that the only reason Grandfather wasn't shot on the spot was because a friend of his told the communists that he was a doctor. It was almost not an entire lie. His was the wrong kind of doctorate, a PhD rather than a medical qualification, and in any case, he never finished it. So because doctors were scarce, they didn't kill him but threw him into prison. Meanwhile, the mayor got his men to put a little table out in front of the house, with two chairs, two glasses and a bottle of wine. And he sat there, and he made Grandmother sit opposite him, and they watched while his men torched the house.

Grandfather got out after a while. Then the National Socialists came. He was the son of a nobleman, or something, so they didn't want to kill him. But then they found that newspaper column with its anti-fascist sentiments - and chucked him in prison. He came out with no teeth and a home with ceremonial guards around the door. My mother remembered playing with their flapping capes when she was tiny.

By then, he was truly the Don, respected by all, dreading only the local mother superior whose flapping wimple headed towards the house always meant Grandfather giving far more than he could afford, be it sacks of corn or toys for orphans. My Grandmother wept as he held big parties when there was barely food in the house to see them past tomorrow, and he would laugh a little, and tell her not to worry.

He died long ago, never really knowing me past my very early childhood. But he was a good man, living through savage and terrible times. These times are so much more gentle, but one reads this crap everywhere, on the net, on the TV, in the papers, and there's so much hate about. It's like people have forgotten what this shit costs.

Grandfather, I wish I had a better picture of you. It would have been good to know you. I am so proud to be your grand-daughter.

photo (21)


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 14th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
What an amazing sounding man.
May. 15th, 2014 06:59 am (UTC)
Thank you, Dan, by all accounts, he was singular .

May. 16th, 2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
sounds it
May. 17th, 2014 08:46 am (UTC)
One day we all become children's stories :-)
May. 19th, 2014 04:49 am (UTC)
That's glorious. I feel like I should raise a glass to the gentleman, and I'd never heard of him until just now.
May. 19th, 2014 10:06 am (UTC)
You wait, Thom...one day, some total stranger will hear a story of you, and raise a glass in your name!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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