Yearning for the old days
by Meritxell Riera Prims
I loved that place where I spent most of the happiest moments of my childhood and its surroundings.
There was a farm in front of it and I loved visiting the owners, and old couple. The man was rarely there. Sometimes he had gone to watch the crops or hunting with his dogs, while his wife showed me around the place: the pigsty, with those cute little piggies, the cocks, the hens and the chicks, as well as the rabbits. She would pick one of the rabbits from their cage and let me hold it on my lap and stroke it for a while. Once I caught some allergy because of that, but it was totally worth it.
There was also a neighbor, with whom hardly anybody in town had any relationship because of his grumpy temper. Many years ago he had threatened my grandfather and tried to hit him, but my grandpa never considered reporting the incident and just let it go. He had also cut a man’s ear with a scythe during a fight.
The poor man lived all by himself. His family didn’t want to have anything to do with him, even his sons and daughters. He was growing old and becoming blind, which made it harder for him to take care of himself…
There were lots of stories about his life. It was said that his father had killed a man and been exiled from his hometown…
My mother used to hate him and be scared of him, but in the end he just turned out to be a poor lonely man.
At the old house, I enjoyed spending some afternoons with my grandmother at my grandparents room upstairs –you had to, almost literally, climb those steep stairs to reach the first floor (my grandmother herself had fallen down several times when her legs began to weaken by the time she got older)-, while she was tidying it up, and I liked to check the beautiful jewels on her boudouir, the china figure of a couple of lovers at a small table at the back of the room, and I even remember the bronze statuette of a Chinese fisherman at my grandfather’s night table.
I also loved to look down at the street from one of the balconies when the sun was filling the room.
Meanwhile, my grandfather spent the evenings at the social club playing cards or chess with his peers. He was really good at playing chess and he had won some local championship. He had tried to teach me many times, but I didn’t have the patience. Either way, he was the one who taught me to solve crosswords as a child.
Sometimes, in the evening, my cousin, who’s a year older than me, would come and visit and we both played in the kitchen, sitting on small foam-upholstered chairs in front of a small table that suited our size, drawing or whatever. My grandmother used to make us something to eat. She took care of us while our parents had gone downtown to the movies.
There used to be lots of cats around the house, ever since my Mum was young and single. Since my grandparents were butchers, there was a slaughterhouse at the backyard of the old house, and many female cats gave birth to their kittens there, in a carton box my grandmother had previously set for them.
We used to go inside to check the kittens. The place was now completely neglected, full of junk and spiderwebs, just like in a horror movie. But the kittens where protected from the rain or whatsoever, in there. And they knew they wouldn’t be bothered, because female cats hate anybody messing around their cats so much as to end up abandoning them to death.
At the end of summer, there was the local festival with the street parade, or, at Christmas, the theatrical performance of a popular Catalan playwright regarding the birth of Jesus and the adventures of a couple of simpleton but kind-hearted shepherds who wanted to visit Him in Bethlehem, but on their way had to face all kinds of dangers, including Satan himself.
Then I began to grow up. I still used to visit them a lot, but you know how hard adolescence can be. I just distanced from them. I was not at my best, that’s true.
And later on, my grandfather had a series of heart attacks and died. I didn’t react at all. I don’t know, perhaps I’m somewhat insensitive, but I tried to rationalize every bit of what had happened.
When a couple of years ago my grandmother entered an old people’s home, everything was over for me. She wasn’t dead, but I had the feeling she already was to me. I guess I couldn’t conceive the idea of that house without my grandparents living in it. That place, with its history, its dwellers… That was what made sense to me. All the rest didn’t.
I’ve never set foot on that house again since that, although it strongly and repeatedly appears in my dreams.
The last one was just last night. My grandmother, already a widow, and already mentally alienated (as she had been the last two months of her life), was taken for a walk in town with my parents and her sister who had come to visit her.
I was the last one to leave the house and I was in charge of locking it after I left.
Suddenly I realized I had forgotten something inside and I had to go back. On my way through the backyard (where my father used to park his car when we went visiting), I ran into one of the neighbors, who shared that backyard with my grandparents. They were a couple of brothers who actually didn’t live there and only came every now and then, especially since their father –who was also one of my grandfather’s best friends- died. He was the younger one. We waved at each other and I went inside.
Suddenly, some stranger with an apparently aggressive orangutan on a leash was trying to break through the back door and I screamed my neighbor’s name. All of a sudden, the stranger vanished. My neighbor just laughed, and I ran away from the house looking for my family.
It’s strange the way things evolve, and consequently, your dreams evolve with them.
Anyway, I miss that house and I miss those days sometimes still now. It’s just as if a part of me had died with it all. And I still hope to regain it someday.