Un entierro digno

Among the many amazing informants we met during our recent trip to the province of Ávila was Benito Montero Caamaño, grandson of Indalecio Caamaño Ruda. Indalecio was the oldest of 5 siblings, and the only one of the five to stay in the village when the rest emigrated to Hawaii (and later, California) in 1913.

Here Benito reminisces about Grandpa Indalecio, about the packages his family would receive in La Adrada from their cousins in California, about the visit from California of Aunt Elisa and her son Luis, around 1960, and about the execution of Indalecio’s youngest son, Mariano, during the Spanish Civil War.  Mariano still lies in an unmarked mass grave at the entry to the town. But most of all, Benito talks about dignity.

A very rough translation:

I am Benito, grandson of Indalecio Caamaño. These people have come here to make some kind of report, and I would like to know something about my relatives in the States, because even though I was in contact with two of them a long time ago, but I never heard from them again, and we practically don’t have any memories of them, so we’d like to get back in touch and learn a little about them.

Explain to us who Indalecio was…

Indalecio Caamaño was my grandfather. He raised me, because my father died when I was a young boy. So my grandfather took me in —with my sister and brother— and we lived our whole lives with him and our grandmother, until they died. When my grandmother died, they only had that one house, and there were four or five heirs, so they sold it. And my mother came to live with me, because I have two apartments where I live, and my mother lived the rest of her life in the downstairs apartment

What was your grandmother’s name?

My grandmother’s name was Petra. I have a photo of her if you’d like to see it. In this picture, you’ll see Petra and my mother.

This is the photo. Here is grandma Petra, Indalecio’s wife, and my mother, who was a widow. This was a small photo, but my son enlarged it on his computer…

What do you know about Indalecio’s father and siblings? [In 1913, the father Mariano, a widow, emigrated to Hawaii with his four other children –Elisa, Félix, Joaquín and Bernarda. Indalecio was the only one to stay behind.

I only know about Elisa. When they left for America, she had a piece of land here. It was called Cabildo. When they left for America, my grandfather farmed that piece of land; he farmed it every year until his death. I would go with him, with a mule that we had, to work on the farm: there were grapes, chestnuts, cherries, everything. A couple of months after my grandfather died, his sister Elisa came to La Adrada from California, with her son Luis. And they sold that piece of land to a guy who had much more land than us —four or five times more land— they sold it to him. I still remember the price. 35,000 pesetas. I was there at the farm with an uncle —my mother’s younger brother, Teodoro—when they made the deal and sold the farm.

And what did she do with the money?

She took it with her! She got the money, and took it with her. She had been sleeping and eating in my house for a couple of months, but she didn’t give us a thing. Of course I didn’t ask her for anything either.

Tell us: what do you have inside here?

Inside I have all kinds of junk. A sister-in-law redid her apartment, and all the furniture she replaced? Here it is. An nephew need to store some stuff? Sure. Just take it to Benito’s storage space! Benito will have room for it!

I have a couch in there,and some times I come here just to sit on the sofa. And it’s never cold. On a chilly day like today, you can be there in your shirtsleeves. And on hot days, you might need a sweater, because it gets cool. So lots of times, I just sit there and fall asleep. I have a lot of stuff if you want to come inside to see…

[Inside the storage space]
They would send, I don’t know, maybe once a year, some sacks about yay big, like those mail sacks you’ve probably seen, and they would send it [from California] full of clothes. And my grandfather would dump everything into a big pile in the big kitchen. And he’d choose a couple of things from himself, maybe a shirt —there didn’t used to be shirts like this one around here— two or three things. And the rest, for his four or five children. He would make piles and number them. And he would take his cap —he always wore the same clothes, black corduroy pants, vest, jacket and cap— and he’d put pieces of paper with the five numbers in his cap. And he’d say to one of the grandchildren, one of the smallest: “Take a number out of the cap.” “Let’s see: Number 4?” You get pile #4. Next!” Then maybe one of my siblings, my sister, who was the youngest: “Take a number? Number 2. Elvira [that was my mother]: you’ve got pile #2. And that’s how it went. Equally divided among the children. And what they sent to my mom, with the letters that they would send —I probably still have some, I’ll have to ask my wife, she knows better— they would sometimes enclose a dollar bill.

They told me that during the Spanish Civil War, we were on the Left, we practically still are. I don’t know if my uncle Mariano did something or said something —he was only 16 years old— he was the youngest of the brothers. And they said they were looking for him to kill him, so my grandfather hid him. So some time went by, and they tricked my grandfather. Some priests intervened, and they promised my grandfather that they were going to harm Mariano, that they just wanted to speak with him, and my grandfather told them where he was hiding. And they went after him.

And right there at the entrance to the town coming from Madrid, they shot him and two or three others, and left him there. Right after they picked them up. And they didn’t tell the families or anything so they could bury them. He disappeared. That’s how they killed here.

Of course, my uncles and aunts and my grandparents felt great resentment. And my grandmother said that for as long as she lived, she would never ever step foot again in church. Some time past, and since I, since I was a young man, had become the head of the household —my grandfather died, my father was gone, and I was the oldest of the boys— I played the role of the father. And my grandmother always used to say to me, even when she was old and pretty sick, sometimes the priest would sometimes go to visit her to my house. And he would say: “Petra, one has to forgive and forget those things.” And she would say: “I won’t neither forget nor forgive. I never did anything, but what you all did to me, I will never forgive. I’ve never stolen or killed; but you all have stolen and killed” —she would say that to the priest. “So when you come to talk with me”, she would say, “you’re just wasting your time. Because I’m not going to listen to you or pay any attention to you. And I’ve already made it clear to my family: the day that I die, don’t even think about taking me to church.” And then, one day, my grandmother dies. In my home.

And the priest comes over and says: “Well, mass will be at 4:00.” That was the custom. They’d take the deceased person to mass in church, and from there to the cemetery. And I said: “No, from my house, my cousins and I will put the coffin on our shoulders and take her directly to the cemetery. Under no circumstances will she go to church. You know this very well, because I’ve heard her tell you forty times what had happened, and how she would not go to church even after dying. And I’m going to respect that.”

“Well,” the priest said, “if she doesn’t go, I won’t say mass for her, and I won’t give the response or anything.” And I said: “For all I care, you can stay at home or in church doing whatever; my grandmother will not go to the church.”

“Well, then do whatever you want with her.”

“That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

The next day, the day of the burial, at 3:00 or 3:30, he was already in the house. We had grandmother’s casket in the entrance, and the neighbors were there, some praying, some crying. He came, murmured some prayers, and took off. “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” And my cousins and I took her to the cemetery. She’s in the grave where my father is; he was buried first. My mother bought that grave, in perpetuity. Then my grandfather died, we buried him there. My grandmother too. Then my mother. All four are buried in that same grave.

I made the grave myself. I did the whole thing. I used stone, and at the head I made a cross out of ivy. With strings, I’m tying and shaping the ivy so it takes the shape of the cross. But my grandmother did not go to mass or church or anything..

Can the tomb be visited?

Whenever you like. You’ll see the tomb, made out of small stones, moss…

[in the cemetery]
Well, as you can see, we are in the cemetery where Indalecio Caamaño, Petra, his wife, my father, Alejandro Montero and my mother, Elvira Caamaño are buried.
[he describes the cemetery]
I built this tomb myself. The whole thing. Digging down approximately two and half of three meters. With a cousin, and some relatives. I made this grave and many others.

I don’t want it to be marble or anything like that. And my brother said: “When you’re going to do it, let me know and I’ll help.” And he came one Saturday, and we did it. I had the stones all ready; I found them in the fields and brought them here in my car. And I had a pile of stones here. My brother would hand me it. First we lay the bricks, then we seal it with cement, and in the middle I left this square to put the initials of the four people buried here. First we buried my father, Alejandro Montero; Indalecio Caamaño; Petra González, y Elvira Caamaño. These stones I went looking for them at a place we call “La Garganta” where there are a lot of nice small stones. I was careful to choose stones that were more or less similar in size. I poured cement, and then set the stones right in the cement.

Please explain the letters to me again:
Here is my father, Alejandro Montero. Then, Indalecio Caamaño. I was 9 when my dad died; 17 when my grandfather died. And I became the head of the house. […] This is Petra González, the wife of Indalecio. And the last one to die was my mother, Elvira Caamaño. She was never sick; died at the age of 94…

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2 Responses to Un entierro digno

  1. Elisa Castellon says:

    Thank you for this story. It brought tears to my eyes. My grandparents and their children had left Spain in 1920 for New York, and in the late 1930’s, en masse, left the church for the same reasons as are stated in this moving story.

  2. Montse Feu says:

    Gracias!

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