Zara is thrilled that her Aunt has wheels and we are off and away. I am finally the proud owner of my very first rental vehicle (see post Woman With Wheels) and it feels wonderfully liberating. Our days of waiting for the bus to arrive are officially over. The weather is searing and we are both clad in the standard Island clothing; micro-shorts. I have taken on Mama’s advice and am now wearing my mini shorts matching those of my niece thirty years younger, who has chosen to ignore the pleas of her Grandmother and is still wearing hers (see post Columbus And The Missing Gravestone and Gravestone Mystery Resolved). Zara tells me that Nanny may be an expert fashionista when it comes to shorts and middle-aged women like myself, but that she still has a lot to learn about the younger generation; Only the other day, she was asked to be more careful when out walking and try to avoid this seemingly continuous stumbling and falling over; Nanny was getting fed up with having to wash jeans covered with rips just about everywhere. Zara does not have the heart to tell her that they are purchased with the rips strategically already in place. Nanny will never understand.
We drive past Playa San Juan, towards Playa Alcala, and then up the serpentine cliff roads to Los Gigantes with its massive cliff face dropping down to the Atlantic Ocean. Without realising, we have both relaxed and The Journey of Death has lost its grip on us and we are as carefree as the other drivers that we pass on our journey. Now we are like locals. At the Los Gigantes viewing-point we pull over, park the car and immortalize our new-found moment of freedom Thelma and Louise style with a photograph. Who are Thelma and Louise, Zara asks. I had momentarily forgotten that some thirty years separate us and tell her that it was the ultimate philosophical chick movie of the nineties about two thirty-something girlfriends who discover themselves on a long car journey across America with devastating consequences. And just like us, they capture the pivotal moments of their adventure in pictures. Go watch the movie I tell her, better still let's watch it together one evening.
We return to our vehicle and continue with the drive downwards towards the base of the Los Gigantes cliffs, passing by countless ubiquitous curves, and taking us along the coastline to the next village called Puerto Santiago. The drive is captivatingly beautiful, and I feel at once insignificant and yet at peace to be surrounded by such immense monuments to nature, for The Giants cliffs rising out from the deep blue sea deservingly merit their name. I tell Zara that we will now drive back to our village of San Juan, and on the return journey stop by the nearby village of Alcalá where both her Mother and I spent the first few years of our life before we moved to England. I also want to show her the houses where each of us were born. Once in the village, I park on the nearby street and we begin our walk down Memory Lane.
The first house that we arrive at is the older of the two, and a white-washed coloured. This was Grandma Filomena’s home and where on a late Autumn day in 1963, after a long day of work in the nearby tomato fields, Mama went into labour. Acting as midwife to her own twenty-year-old daughter, Grandma Filomena helped bring her fifth grandchild into the world at 2am on September 26th. To be precise, I was delivered in the room to the right of the front door where I am now standing with Zara and which also happened to be Grandma’s own bedroom. Back in the 1960's there was no drive to the maternity hospital as is done today. This hospital was located in the capital city of Santa Cruz and to get here would have entailed an arduous journey of many hours along windy mountain roads, by which time the baby would have been born. Generations of Sanz babies were delivered at home and brought into the world by women who had learned the art of midwifing from the generation that went before them. In these rural villages, doctors were as inaccessible as the maternity hospitals in which they worked, and an expectant mother could consider herself indeed fortunate to have one medical consultation before her birth. Mama did not fall into this category, for as she gave birth to me during the early hours on that late September day she did so with no medical intervention along any part of her journey to motherhood, and the firm conviction that everything would turn out well as it had done years earlier for her own Mother and her Grandmother before her.
From Grandma Filomena’s home, I lead Zara across over to other side of the road and point out the place where Grandma’s animal shed with chicken and goats was located. Nowadays the site has on it a pretty Canarian home. Back in the 1960’s it was a piece of the countryside and I would walk there in the mornings with Grandma Filomena, clutching my little basket ready to collect the precious treasure trove of freshly-laid eggs with their creamy, golden coloured yolks, still warm from their benefactor. This was also where I would witness baby goats coming into the world still immersed in a sticky bubble, and then watch with fascination as the Mama goat proceeded to slowly lick away every last morsel of the placenta as if it were some delicious meal. After the bubble had been consumed, the baby goat would try to stand up on its wobbly legs before inevitably falling down and seeking the comfort and proximity of the Mama goat, just as I would do some mornings with my own Mama as I climbed into bed besides her. The birth of baby goats heralded a time of great excitement for us children, as we knew that for a short but intense period following the birth of the kids, we would be rewarded with the most delicious thick and creamy goats milk which would be greedily consumed knowing full well that it would not last for long.
These goats were our only source of milk, and as long as they continued to supply us with our needs, they were safe from the casserole pot. Once they had outlived this useful purpose their days were numbered. Every morning Grandma Filomena would sit on her worn stool, gather her skirts around her, and then proceed to milk the goats. I loved to watch her, and if she was in no hurry, I would be allowed another futile attempt at milking, which would result in frustration on my behalf and peals of laughter from Grandma Filomena. It must be hard for Zara to imagine all that I am describing, all that she sees in front of her is a pavement with neat rows of brightly-coloured Canarian houses tidily stacked next to one another. Back then it was a piece of the countryside and a place of utmost magic for an impressionable three-year-old.
Our journey continues, and we now follow the bend of the road. Left up to the hill and across to the other side of the road. Now we are standing in front of the house where Zara’s own Mama was born five years after my own arrival (see post Share The Moon) and formed the starting point of my memoirs saga. Nowadays it has been painted green and purple, but back in the late nineteen-sixties, it was clad in the customary white of the Canarian villages around us. It was in this house on the ground floor and the room to the right of the door, that Sis came into the world as I scoured the sky for storks. This was the house where the women gathered around the childbed in terror as the placenta would not stubbornly leave Mama's womb alongside the new-born baby that had just been expelled. Everyone in the room knew fully well, that if the placenta was not expelled soon and intact, Mama would die. But little did they know that there was a far worse scenario lurking invisibly in the background placing Mama in equal mortal danger.
To be continued...
Next post 22nd September : Autopista With Vista
Note: All written content is the intellectual property of this Author. Image material is drawn from a combination of Pixabay with additions from private family archives.