Monday, May 1, 2017

Missing an Old Friend

I have always admired intelligent women who speak their minds, who care less about the opinions of others than speaking the truth. We could use more of them today. Vera was one of those women. Her job title was school secretary, but she served more as an unpaid therapist as teachers, students, custodians, administrators, and visitors stopped by her office and stayed to chat, laugh, and hear her wisdom.

Vera was closer to my mother’s age than mine, but despite that, we became friends, and in 1978 she joined my friend Beverly and me on a Mediterranean cruise. Vera had turned 33 in 1945, the year Beverly and I were born. Certainly Beverly and I knew about the war, but for Vera it was something she had lived through and still felt strongly about. Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were more than names for her. They aroused painful memories.

But we weren’t thinking about the war when we arrived in Mallorca. We planned to enjoy the beaches, the art, the shopping, and the history—but through a lens of years.

Spain, as you may know, observes the custom of siesta—a two-hour break from business in the middle of the day. This was something we never seemed to figure out. We would arrive at the shops just as they were closing down, so we would find a sidewalk cafĂ©, sip a few gin and tonics, and enjoy some gazpacho. 

One afternoon some American sailors stopped to chat and were immediately charmed by Vera. They too were impressed with her wit and her openness in expressing her opinions.

We had witnessed that earlier when we were on our tour bus waiting for the guide to get tickets. Some vendors came on the bus selling souvenir coins. All we could see from our seat was that they were about the size of a quarter and gold colored. By the time the men had walked down the aisle toward us, it became clear that the face on the coin was that of Mussolini.

At this point Vera rose from her seat and started yelling at the man, “How dare you bring those in here? You might as well sell coins of Hitler.” She raised such a fuss that they quickly fled back to the streets of Palma.

Our conversation with the sailors was not so heated. They told us about their ship and where they had been. Always a sucker for the poetic, I was moved by one young man’s talk of the sea as his mistress.

After we said goodbye to the sailors, we began walking through the alleys and streets of Palma back to our hotel, Vera soon decided she had to find a bathroom. (all those g&t’s, you know) We were not familiar with the city, didn’t see any public facilities, and, it was still siesta so no one was around, and the hotel was still a long way off.

Finally walking across a plaza, she said, “Here, I have to go here,” and she lifted up her skirt and watered the pavement profusely.

It was not until she finished that we saw the brass plaque in the pavement, now visible in the yellow puddle. It was a memorial to Franco.

“There,” she said, “I’ve always wanted to do that to you.”

Oh, Vera, if only you were here today!