At the end of A Year of Writing Dangerously, Barbara Abercrombie has 52 weekly writing prompts in which she recommends to take five minutes and just write.
I happened to take a gander at the list, and the one that caught my eye was to write about my earliest memories. The first one that popped into my head was the summer of 1969.
Quite a bit happened that year.
My father had won a lawsuit against the city of Yonkers and with the money awarded, my mother convinced him that it was time to buy property in Mallorca where I was born and where at one point my parents had a house. This was her dream: to return to her homeland with her child and husband and never set foot in a country that assaulted her European sensibilities (as she aged, my mother began to see some positives in America).
Summers in Spain usually lasted anywhere from four to five months. As soon as school ended in America, my mother and I were on a plane headed to Madrid to stay with my aunt and grandmother for a week, and then we were off to Palma and remained there for rest of the summer.
That year, we rented a flat in El Terreno, which is equivalent to what Greenwich Village was before it became gentrified with Wall Street types. Most of my parents’ friend lived there, and many were involved in the arts.
In Mallorca, my mother was more relaxed than she was when we were in the States. She was among her friends who understood her, she was able to express herself freely, and she was happier. There was this sense of lightness, joy, and fun; she became less over-protective and just let me be a kid. I confess that when my mother and I were in Spain, sans Père Schiller, this was when we were the closest and understood each other. I became less daddy’s girl and more hers. This made her very happy because she had me all to herself and didn’t have to share with my father who had a way of stealing her thunder by making grand gestures and spoiling me.
That summer an old friend of my mother’s asked her if I wanted a puppy and she said yes. This was huge because she never really liked any of our dogs back in America. I guess she felt that with the new house a dog would be part of the deal (I suspect this was also her ploy to get my father to quit his job and come back to Spain because he was also a dog lover).
Unfortunately, neither the house nor the dog materialized. We arrived at a time when the housing market began to boom and most of the properties that we looked at were not in our price range. By August we knew that by the end of the month we would be packing up and heading back to the States—just the two of us and no puppy.
Then we heard the terrible news from California, and this is the memory that stands out from that summer: my mother calling my father long-distance, asking him if it was safe to return to the United States.
Never mind that New York is three thousand miles away from Los Angeles, but in my mother’s mind the slaughter that occurred during those two nights in August was reason enough to stay in Spain—house or no house. So off we went to Bilbao to visit my uncle and his family, and we stayed until my mother was satisfied that we wouldn’t be murdered in our beds.
Years later, when I was in college, I asked her if we really stayed on because she was too frightened to return. She avoided answering, but turned the question back to me what would have I done if I had been in her position? I thought about it for a moment and said, “I would have used that as an excuse to stay as long as possible and not have to go back to New York.”
She didn’t say anything, but just smiled. That afternoon was when I realized I was my mother’s daughter after all.