I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Avô Manuel was my favorite Grandfather. Which might sound redundant since he was the only Grandfather I ever knew. And I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was his favorite Grandchild (sorry brothers and cousins but this is true).
Funny enough I was not blood of his blood and I didn’t bare his name. But that was just a detail that never was of significance to either of us. I was the first born of 13 grandchildren, three of them he never got to meet. And although he was a football fanatic and I practiced Ballet that didn’t stop our special bond to strengthen as I grew and he grew older.
My first memory of him is a bit hazy, for sure taking place at his house. My strongest memory of him: his hand holding mine at church as we prayed Holly Father. Till this day I get tears in my eyes every time I think about that strong grip.
We had special moments, things we did together that none of his other Grandchildren was ever allowed to do. He had an office in his house, locked with a key that in general was kept in the pocket of his jacket. No one could go in without him there…except me. He had a leather chair that turned but I remember being allowed to sit on it and spin it round and round until I was dizzy. We listened to Pavarotti, the great tenors and all of his favorite music.
Every school break I was allowed to pay him a visit at his office in downtown Porto, more precisely at Grémio dos Retalhistas de Mercearia do Norte. I am not sure how little I was when this ritual of ours started but for sure I wasn’t more than 9 or 10 years old. I would catch the 78 bus, alone, so I would be there around noon. Then he would take me to a bookstore close by where I could choose a book. Afterwards we would go to Mercado do Bolhão, always to the same restaurant under the stairs. He would proudly say he had his Granddaughter with him which always made me feel extra special. Afterwards we would go back and I was allowed to stay at the office for a while. Then was offered a croissant and sent back home, feeling the luckiest of girls because I had a new book. Only many years later did I understand that my luck was to have him.
But our bond was made stronger and stronger when he appointed me his helper for Christmas. You see, we have always had strong traditions and rules about this holiday! All the presents were kept in his office, hidden away from curious eyes. Everyone would bring the presents to his house from early December on. Then we would make piles or place them in bags for the children. At this point everyone, no matter what age, was forbidden to get into the office. Everyone except me…I would help him every day when he got home from work, until Christmas Eve arrived. Then, after dinner, everyone was sent to the basement to wait for Father Christmas and we would set up the living room, moving the ordered piles from one place to the other. Me and him.
I have many memories of our time together. He was a poor driver, always wearing his leather gloves that he felt gave him a special grip on the steering wheel. I remember when he stood with his black tuxedo at my parents door house for my 18th Birthday party. A surprise he said. I remember the Christmas Eve when we were walking home from church and he had a heart attack. I remember visiting him at the hospital, tubes all over his small figure. He survived for a few years more, fighting his illness until he couldn’t resist anymore.
I remember the day he died. I remember my Mother’s face of pain, the sad eyes, the tears, the intruders that came to the house, that made themselves invited in our time to grieve, the decisions that had to be made for the ceremony. Since 1993 he is missed by all of us. He wasn’t there for my wedding, he never got to know any of my children. Still, he his the one I ask for help in my prayers, it is still his guidance I seek in times of need or struggle.
Today he would be 100 years old. If he was alive I know exactly what he would love to do: have his family around him, his Maria by his side. I imagine his frank smile under the white moustache I have always known him with. He would bicker with his sister-in-law, he would say grace, he would be happy. So the best way to honor him, today, is to be happy. If, after I am gone, my grandchildren, remember me with the strength, love and immense saudade I remember him by, then I know I will have done a good job. Meu querido Avô Manuel, PARABÉNS!
Because Life is a Story worth sharing, thank you for being part of mine.
(now press play because some moments can really last forever)