Bacalhau com batatas (cod with potatoes) was the dish that brought the family together almost every other Sunday at my Portuguese grandparent’s house. My father built a second floor on top of my grandparent’s place and that was my home where I grew up until I was nine years old. Palmira de Oliveira (Avó) and Augusto Boturão (Avô) were originally from Ovar, Portugal.
My grandmother worked at the Salinas de Aveiro and had a huge family. They moved to Lisbon for a while where my grandfather operated a tugboat bringing the big ships into the Rio Tejo in Lisbon. When my dad was nineteen and his brother five, they decided to leave everything behind and start a new life in Buenos Aires, Argentina where they had a relative that owned a horse farm. They opened a grocery store at the entrance of their house which they operated daily with a lot of hard work.
My other set of grandparents were Italian. My Nona, Teresa Martinelli was married to Sabatino Cavicchia and they had two children, my mom and her younger brother. They came from Bari, Italy and went to Argentina after the war, so they were there first. My Nona was a seamstress and my Nono worked in construction and retired for the FIAT company located just around the corner of our house. Romance started early between my parents, so they got married young and I was born. My sister came next. I was so lucky to have them all on the same street, I could walk to Nona and Nono’s house for playtime, enjoy a nice Italian home-made meal of ravioli with tomato sauce, have a nap and walk back to my house on top of Avó and Avô to watch the FIAT cars being tested in the runway from the terrace. In Christmas, which was during the Summer, we always had a large barbeque “asado” with all sorts of meats, salad, red wine, watermelon and “helado” (Icecream). The preparation of this meal was a whole day event! They set up a huge table outside and the whole family came.
It was funny to listen to both sets of grandparents, they had both adapted to speaking in Spanish, but with their own dialects in between. I grew up with Portuguese and Italian words all around me. My Avó used to say “Menina, vem cá, queres una galletita?” (girl, come here (Portuguese), would you like a cookie? (Spanish). My Nona used to say “Que linda la nena, vamos a lavar tu faccia sporca” (what a beautiful girl, lets wash your (Spanish), dirty face (Italian).
My world was complete surrounded by loving people and entertaining events. When I was nine, my father moved us to Lisbon, Portugal in search of a better life, and we did accomplish a lot as a family, but we were alone. I will never forget the tears of loneliness that my sister and I shared for many years missing our family that we left behind. Ten years after, my father immigrated our family to Canada and only then we were able to afford plane tickets to visit our family in Argentina. The choices our parents make for us are always in the best intentions, but leaving the loved ones is very painful. I only spent nine years of my life with my grandparents and I truly regret that. Even though we were so far apart, I always felt that they were watching over me, and still are, as I see them in every tree. Exactly today was my Nona Teresa’s Birthday, September 11. Happy Birthday Nona! I dedicate the cover illustration to my grandparents and all the loving grandparents around the world.