My mother, Rosa Faria da Silva Torres, was born on July 7, 1923, in Moreira de Geraz do Lima, Viana do Castelo, Northern Portugal, in a community so small they called it “the place of the street”. Her family were landowners with properties that required many workers. She was an only child, but her mother was the oldest of thirteen children, so Rosa grew up surrounded by many relatives.
Rosa was a happy child with short, black, curly hair, running through her father’s fields, while the ladies worked on what would soon become their delicious “green wine”. She loved to dance during the harvest celebrations and sing during the long winter nights, when the family sat around the kitchen fire, embroidering the linen and chatting.
Going to school was not easy, as the children had to walk long distances, and once home, they had to help in the fields. Rosa was ambitious, smart and a born leader, who dreamed of being a teacher. Sadly, her father would not allow her further studies. “Women do not need much studying.” Rosa decided, like her Mom, to continue learning by reading books on history and geography, and by helping with transactions at her grandmother’s small business. She was raised to become a successful landowner/farmer and a dedicated mother and housewife.
Rosa adored her father. When she was only fourteen, one day at sunset, her father returned home for the last time, his lifeless body carried in by his friends. Her father had just left his mother’s house, when two of his friends started fighting. He tried to break it up but was hit by a rock. Rosa was devastated! Now she and her mother were alone. Maria was calm, soft spoken and quiet. Rosa resembled her father and his family, who are famous in the region for being tough, hard workers and of a challenging disposition.
From Rosa’s house, going down along a narrow cobbled path beside very high stone walls, one would come to another little village, “the place of the passage”. Here boats took farmers and goods to the other side of the LimaRiver. And there, in the big house, with its own chapel, windmill, waterwheel and many fields, lived my father’s family. They were part of the “high-class” of that region. They had a car, horses, hunting dogs and the traditional coat of arms.
Mom’s best friends, today in their 90s, tell me she was the prettiest, funniest and wealthiest landowner around, so it’s no wonder she caught my father’s eye. My father was an irresistible character, good looking, with sparkling green eyes, always joking around. He never took anything seriously, except the idea of marrying my Mom. He would say with big laugh, “Soon I will take this Rosa to ‘my garden’.” Her family said, “Different classes should not mix” and “This one is nothing but a spoiled brat!” They wanted her to consider more promising husbands, but if a young man approached Mom, my father, who followed her everywhere on his high horse, would shoot in the air with his hunting gun to scare them away. So Rosa, strong-willed and rebellious, had no choice but to slowly fall under my father’s magic spell!
Against all advice, when Mom was twenty and my father nineteen, they married. This was in 1943, almost 70 years ago. It seems the advice was not unwarranted, as my mother did suffer the consequences of class differences and was not easily accepted into my father’s clan. Women were expected to follow their husbands and please them in every way. My mother did her best.
My Father did not waste any time, and soon the first of four babies increased the population of the small community. As was the custom in Portugal, with my parents busy managing the land and labourers of both families, their children moved between the households of my father’s family. Their first boy stayed with my grandmother; the second with my father’s sister, who had no babies of her own. Then my sister came, and then me. When I was born in 1952, my six-year-old sister looked after me at my parents’ home.
My father continued to be “the playboy”, partying with friends and women throughout the countryside and slowly selling my mother’s properties to pay for his family’s expenses, and also his escapades.
Three years after I was born, my father decided to fulfill a dream of going to Brazil to hopefully make some good money. However, my mother did not trust him alone for long. After a year of separation, leaving her three oldest children with my father’s family, my mother and I, the little one, took a long voyage to join my father in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The wealth of their land in Portugal did not generate enough income to pay the bills in Portugal or Brazil. My parents had to work hard to support all of us. At one time we even lived in a garage until it caught fire. We moved many times. Finally, we found a cozy place in the mountains of Rio. My mother got a job as a housekeeper in a Portuguese hospital and my father worked as an independent sales representative for the glass industry, where he was very successful.
Unexpectedly, when I was eleven and my mother 40, she got pregnant again! Mom was emotionally exhausted with my father’s affairs, looking after me and with her job in the hospital. When her beautiful baby boy was born, with big blue eyes and olive skin, she decided it was time to quit and stay home with us.
A year later the colonial wars for independence in Mozambique and Angola were raging, so my brothers and sister decided to escape military service and join us in Brazil. Now we were a family of seven, living in two and a half bedrooms with one bathroom. My mother got bunk beds for the boys, my sister and I shared a room, and my parents shared the big bedroom with the baby. Soon my brothers and sister got jobs at the Portuguese Airline and started helping the family. I helped with the baby.
Every morning the boys found impeccably white ironed shirts to wear to work. On weekends Mom liked to stay home preparing lunch, while we went to the beach. In the afternoon, after the siesta, we all went to the movies. Mom always created a banquet for us on Sundays: rice, barbecued chicken or steaks, fresh salads, homemade juices and desserts. Those were the best times, especially when the whole family went on picnics to the beach under the trees with our Mom’s delicious homemade food.
My mother has always been a very strict, traditional and hard-working mother. She would get mad at us when something did not go right, but her real frustrations and disappointments were with our Dad. Not much patience left for us! However, she always looked after our needs. I was the most beautifully dressed girl at school. She embroidered and knit all the baby clothes herself.
Eventually my brother got married and moved in with his wife’s family, and my sister got married in Portugal. Then my little brother went to private school in Portugal. My oldest brother and I stayed with our parents.
When my grandmother died in Portugal, my mother refused to allow my father to sell his mother’s property, as she had promised her mother-in-law they would keep it. There was a big conflict at home, and they almost divorced. My father had already sold most of my mother’s properties and jewelry. Enough was enough!
In 1979, I got married and left for Canada. Without me, the only “mediator”, Mom could not hold on to her marriage anymore. She went to live with her ailing mother in Portugal, and my father moved in with his new partner and their child.
At 65, my Mother started a new chapter in her life. She immigrated to Canada. Her mother had had a long struggle with cancer, which left Mom exhausted and sad. Upon her arrival in Vancouver, Mom asked first to learn English, and then she got a job as a nanny with a family in British Properties; she wanted to make money. A year later, longing for her land and home, Mom moved back to Portugal.
In 1995, my father announced he wanted to go back to my Mom in Portugal. “Rosa was the only love of my life,” he said, asking for her forgiveness. Mom was so happy he was coming home. Sadly, my father became ill and died in Brazil before he could make the journey. He left behind a sister, seven children and six grandchildren. And Rosa. My father’s body was brought to rest in his birth place in Portugal. Many villagers, friends and family came to say goodbye to the famous “Don Juan”. It was an impressive ceremony. My Mom got sick and could not attend.
Now 88 years old, Mom says, “He was the only man I loved.” Mom is often bitter about life, but she still makes jokes, sings in poems and loves to tell traditional stories. She remembers “the days when people enjoyed the small moments of life, with not so much comfort or money as today, but they had each other and the sense of community was strong.” Most of her friends and family are gone, and she feels melancholic, sometimes lonely, left with her memories.
Mom absolutely dislikes laziness, indiscipline, bad manners, disrespect to elders, and dishonesty. She is definitely not a “hug and kiss” person or expressive with her feelings, but she’s very kind and generous. A born leader, she struggled to follow my father and be a subservient wife, but that was not really who she was. Her ancestors were the northern women warriors who fought the Celts, Barbarians, Romans and Spaniards to keep Portugal independent.
Mom now finds joy in warm afternoons, walking through her fields, praying the rosary, watching birds perch on the top of the tall trees, picking fresh fruit or sitting on the wooden bench with her adopted cats, listening to the creek that runs across her farm. She used to have the most well-tended gardens and fields in the neighborhood. Her ancestors worked the earth in that region for a very long time. She says, “I would like to die here, in my land, found with my face down, kissing mother earth.”
Rosa is a very proud person and does not like to ask for help. She loves to lead, advise, teach and, most of all, have a good chat, but finds it hard to follow. She is very resilient. She loves chocolate and always has a piece for the little ones and visitors. Her door is unlocked and if you come by, she will invite you in with “Would you like some port wine, coffee, a pastry?” If you eat a lot, you make her day. She loves to read about the world and watch the news and weather forecasts on TV. She enjoys a good conversation, even if you do not speak her language. And she is the cleanest and most honest person I ever met.
From her five buds, our Rosa has sprouted six grand buds and two great-grand buds. Some have been transplanted to La Coruna, Spain; North Vancouver, Canada; and now London, England. We all hope to enjoy her delicious chocolates or pastries over coffee for a long time to come. She will soon be 90, and we are looking forward to celebrating this event with her in Portugal.
Mom has already legally divided her properties between her children. She has chosen her favorite photo and the music to be played, as well as the shoes, purse and gloves to match the beautiful green silk dress she wore for my wedding, which she plans to wear when she departs to meet my Dad on his high horse galloping through eternity.