Santa Marina de Valdeón is a small town in northern Spain. The 60 present day residents still wash their clothes by hand. Unpaved roads lead to homes that still rely on firewood to stay winter warm. Trees and vegetation engulf the small town, one in eight in the valley of Valdeón. My father was born in this small rural town and comes from a family of four children, he being the youngest. My dad’s stories tell of not having a phone, television, Christmas gifts or even enough food on some days. His childhood memories recall long, tiring days herding cows. On some of his shepard days, he would spend nights a few miles from home, sleeping in a small hut with very little food or warm clothing. His fearful thoughts centered on horror stories heard from the older town boys about wolves and bears that might be lurking outside. His childhood stories and pranks could come straight from the pages of Samuel Clemens’ books. For fun, the local kids would steal fruit from a grumpy neighbor’s tree or take turns poking sleeping bats with sticks (whoever was left holding the stick when the bat woke up lost). My dad and his childhood friend once, out of pure boredom, got a neighbor’s dog drunk and sent the entire town into an angry uproar.
When I walk up to my grandparents’ stone Spanish house, built by my great-grandfather, I am taken back to his time and identify regarding how people lived a mere 50 years ago. Gravel roads still lead you from home-to-home. Because medical assistance was once scarce, many of the townspeople still rely on their own illness cures.
My favorite story is my grandmother’s account of being 14 years old during the Spanish Civil War and traveling from Santa Marina to Potes, a much larger and somewhat urbanized town, and being entrusted to sell ham for much needed money. During her foot travel, soldiers confiscated the ham leg. My grandmother cried the entire way home and received a big scolding from her mother. To this day, whenever we drive past Potes, she always recalls the story.
As a child, I remember my grandmother going out to her barn and killing chickens, pigs, lambs and goats for dinner; something that was completely normal for her. I, on the other hand, quickly learned it was best not to befriend the animals. It was a lot easier that way. My grandmother is now 88 years old and unable to do many of these things anymore. Even so, she refuses to be anywhere else than in this community. It is her safe haven – her refuge. Everything she has ever known and loved has come from this little town. I’ve been to Spain 18 times in the past 20 years. The Spanish food, customs, language and way of living are very much a part of my Diamond Bar home life. What I’ll always cherish most of my childhood are the summers I spent surrounded by my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Santa Marina de Valdeón no longer is a place where families struggle to survive. The children started immigrating to the larger cities in search of opportunity and growth, leaving only the elderly. For so many, it is now a summer reunion site. As a child, my dad would tell these stories to remind my brother Michael and me how lucky we were to have an education and to have the chance to be children and focus on our studies. Today, I still ask him to tell me these stories because they are a part of who I am, and from where I come.
Angie Marcos, Editor-in-Chief