Half A Century Of Correspondence Between A Mother And Her Son

For María Fernández-Grandizo, the two years she spent in prison were the happiest of her life after the war. He confessed it not once, but a thousand times to his family. “There she was surrounded by people who were also anti-Franco and with whom she could chat at ease,” says her son Manuel Laguna.

Outside, the repression of the dictatorship left her more and more alone: ​​in August 1936 her father was shot, in November her husband and when she was released from prison, in the mid-1950s, Manuel clandestinely crossed the border with France and He ended up in exile in Mexico .

“I am aware that my mother’s life was a real tragedy,” says Manuel Laguna in an interview in Mexico City. In 1954, Manuel got into the trunk of a car in San Sebastián and did not get out of it until he left Irún behind. From then on, mother and son did not stop writing.

María sent him at least the 1,547 letters that this 87-year-old exile still keeps in his home in San Luis Potosí (400 kilometers north of Mexico City). Every week he would receive one and he would send another one back. So for more than 30 years, until Maria was practically blind.

The letters were then transformed into a spoken correspondence. They changed the ink for the voice and began to record cassettes that they later sent by mail. They began at the end of the eighties and did not stop until 2003, when this Extremaduran pharmacist died at the age of 101 in a nursing home in Madrid, despite enormous resistance to ending up in a nursing home.

The life of Mary (1901-2003) was marked by 1936 and by her profession. His days were spent behind the counter of the pharmacy he ran on Calle del Príncipe in Madrid and, earlier, in Llerena (Badajoz), of which there are still posters offering “free tests for poor patients”.

Even in jail, he dressed in his white coat and worked in the infirmary, which may also explain why the years behind bars were not so hard for him.

The cruelty of war, the obsession to avoid going to the residence and the stories of those pharmacies appear repeatedly in the hundreds of films that crossed the Atlantic. Many were reused, but Manuel keeps 61 hours of recording intact, which have just been digitized and in which María inevitably looked back.

“Of the things that I have lived in the last year I don’t find anything worth remembering. There is no other solution than to resort to past stories ”, she says in one of them, recorded in 1995.

She goes back to the last memories she had of her father and her husband and clearly recounts how her character changed on July 13, 1936, with the murder of José Calvo Sotelo, deputy and minister of Miguel Primo de Rivera.

As María points out in this 1997 film, they heard the news in Rota (Cádiz), where they were spending the summer, and at that moment they knew that reconciliation in Spain was impossible: five days later the war began.

From then on, the life of María Fernández-Grandizo had little to do with what she had had up to that moment. His father, lawyer and republican mayor of Llerena, was shot in this town on August 16, a day after the military gave him the paseo in the square, taking advantage of the fact that the entire municipality had gathered to celebrate the feast of his patron, the Virgin of the Granada.

Months later, on November 7, the cold-blooded shot by a soldier was directed at her husband, Zacarías Laguna, also a lawyer and civil governor of Badajoz, who died in Ronda (Málaga). They killed him despite the fact that shortly before he had joined the Francoist ranks to redeem his republican militancy. “I do this for our children,” he said in a letter to Maria.

“With a single shot to the temples he fell to the ground” Forty-three years later, the priest who witnessed the execution of Zacarías Laguna recalled the moment in which he was “shot in the temples and fell to the ground.”

He told Manuel about it in a letter in 1980 that responded to the request that he had made from Mexico. That November 7, recently ordained a priest, he went to jail to assist the detainees and found Zacarías “very dejected and self-absorbed.”

He got on the truck that took the prisoners to the door of the Ronda cemetery (Malaga), lent Zacarías a chair and a crucifix and they made spiritual communion. Shortly afterwards someone pulled his arm away and they fired.

Years before that letter, the priest informed María Fernández-Grandizo of the death of her husband and the belongings he had left them: a suitcase with the letters that for months he could not send to his wife, a fountain pen and a text “ for the little ones when they can read ”.

After hearing the news, María went to see him in Seville determined to learn the details of her husband’s death and the hours prior to his murder in front of that wall.

María Fernández-Grandizo was tormented that she had not found a way for her husband to escape. She wondered over and over again if they had not been able to move to Madrid in the first days of the war or if her husband should not have moved from Cádiz where his friendship with the civil governor could have served as protection.

She also kept intact in her memory that “don’t be careless” that a stranger spat at her and her husband when they were walking down the street shortly after the start of the fight.

In the recordings, she does not stop thinking about that phrase and the decisions they made when the war began, but at the same time she justifies the path that her husband took. In his story, he insists on preserving the memory of Zacarías before Manuel and his other son, Emilio, with whom María lived almost all her life in Madrid.

“He lived with confidence and not out of unconsciousness and comfort but because he probably strictly adhered to what life was offering him,” he tells his son in a recording from January 1997.

After the death of her father and her husband, Maria had to continue saying goodbye to her family. Shortly after the beginning of the war, he sent Manuel and his twin brother Emilio to the Ramiro de Maeztu boarding school in Madrid, in the face of the atmosphere of repression and rancor that Llerena suffocated.

Life gave them a break starting in 1945, although not for long. That year the three managed to meet again in Madrid, but seven years later the police knocked on his door one day.

María, Manuel and Emilio were arrested on December 7, 1952 and transferred to the General Directorate of Security (DGS) for providing shelter and attending some of the meetings of their cousin Manuel Fernández-Grandizo, Munis, for his fellow Trotskyists.

At the DGS headquarters, in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, they were held incommunicado for weeks. “I did not hear from my brother or my mother again until January 1,” says Manuel.

Emilio Laguna was released shortly after, María was sentenced to two years in prison and Manuel fled Spain and was declared missing. He took advantage of a permit to escape and from then on, in addition to death, Maria was surrounded by exile.

“To keep the border police from noticing that there was a lot of weight in the trunk [trunk], we inflated the tires [wheels] on the back a little more than normal. We decided to spend a Sunday because we thought that the guards were going to be worried about the result of Real Sociedad – Atlético de Madrid. We only heard the shouting of those who were following the game on the radio ”, recalls Manuel Laguna.

Thus, at the age of 20 and without having been able to finish the Literature career, he crossed the border in the trunk of a car. He spent a season in France, another in Mexico City and ended up in a rum factory in Ciudad Valles, a town in the state of San Luis Potosí that he hardly knew anything about before arriving.

Now, at 87 years old, with four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, he rewinds in his memory and repeats several times during the interview: “I really don’t know if my story has something particular to it and it will be useful to you.”

67 years have passed since he took a propeller plane to set foot on the American continent and there is almost no trace of Madrid or Extremadura in his accent. Although Spain was far behind in time,

1936 was the third and last birthday that Manuel celebrated without looking back to the past. The day after that celebration began the war in Spain and the persecution of his family. He spent a long time without even celebrating it and did not blow a few candles again until many years had passed since his arrival as an exile in Mexico.

He raffled off the 9,000 kilometers that separated him from his mother thanks to these cassettes that would have been stored on a shelf had it not been for the digitization of the tapes with which Manuel’s daughter, Alicia Laguna, together with the company Teatro Línea de Sombra,

They are setting up an exhibition in Llerena. From Mexico City they prepare an exhibition and a stage piece to recover memory and talk about “the word in transit and exile,” he says.

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