I was born in 1928, and here are my memories of the 1930s.
At home we all ate from the same bowl, soups, chickpea stew almost every day, but without chorizo; with black pudding, a piece of fat bacon and, if possible, some potatoes. We always had fat bacon. And well, milk, when we had goats. I didn’t like milk very much. I remember that, speaking of goats, Ramoncillo the nightwatchman taught me how to milk them. We ate the way people did in those days, better than those who were servants. And then many people were unemployed.
Chickpeas were important in the 1930s Lagarteran diet. This is ‘Uncle Antonio’ (Antonio Bermejo) cleaning his chickpeas in the lane by his house.
When my uncle got married, he took my grandfather to work with him. I can remember that the cows, the big cattle herds, used to pass through there where he worked. My grandmother cooked for the stockmen. There was plenty of food for the cattle to be able to rest and eat. They’d spend maybe a week there. Well, once my grandfather took me to see the calves in the cow pens. The cows were calving. And the head stockman came with us and he told me that my grandmother cooked for the workers and looked after them. And she had to wash clothes and sew as well. She worked hard. There was a very big pond there. It used to rain a lot. And my grandfather took me with a lantern to see the calves, and then he said “What do you want to eat?” Those people didn’t go hungry. They ate well, their bosses were wealthy.
Our shoes, which were home-made and called ‘albarcas’ were sewn with wire and sometimes when the wire wore out my family said to me, “what are we going to do with you?” ”Maybe he should go barefoot.” It made more sense to go barefoot than to try to fix the shoes. I used to get blisters with pus, then my foot would heal and develop hard skin.
Many children didn’t wear shoes. These children are from the Calatrava family in the French grape harvest in about 1926. Photo: Legados de la Tierra.
I didn’t go to school much. I was the eldest of eight children, and it was my job to help out. I went to school for about three months. I left school because I had to help my father. And my grandfather. Well, really, they helped me, because they taught me a lot.
How we made a living
My grandfather got on well with the Vegas, who were big landowners. Their foreman left. They had land in Madrigal and elsewhere in the mountains near here. I was told that the Vegas asked if anyone knew of a skilled worker to replace their foreman, and someone said yes. The Vegas said ‘we need a skilled worker, but a good one’. This person sent them to my grandfather, because my grandfather used to plough like nobody’s business. When my grandfather went to work with the Vegas, he said ”…well let’s see, Don Fulano, how are we going to do this?” And the boss said ”no, no, no, that’s for you to decide. I’ve asked you to work here, so let’s see how you think we should do it.”
He had a couple of horses for threshing, and a couple of donkeys for ploughing. The mules, which were very hard working, were used by my father to bring coal from the station. My father earned a lot of money transporting coal. Here, if people went hungry, it had to be us humans who went without. They (the mules) couldn’t stop eating and working, they had to feed us. They had to eat what they wanted. Even if we went hungry. But we had to remember that the mules were where our money came from.
My father also used to plough a lot, and he sold each of the pieces he ploughed for 25 pesetas. Back then they used primitive ploughs. My father worked hard and earned a lot from ploughing And he explained it to us: ”I’m doing five lots of ploughing every week, and those five lots, if you know how to sell them, if you know who you can sell them to and so on, you’re OK.” That’s what he told us, that a day spent well can be worth more than three years. He said ”Let’s go and do some hauling, there’s a lot of coal to ferry from the train station.” In one day, I don’t know how many loads he would take, he would take maybe two or three loads. That’s how he used to make his money every day.
Mules were very important for the family economy. This is Gregorio, Paco’s brother’s mule, and here he is ploughing.
After the truck
My father was hit by a truck, which meant he could no longer do as much physical work. He set up a little tavern in our house when that happened to him. People went there to see him, and he earned a little money. My mother fried sardines for nibbles, as some people liked fish. ”Hey, if you don’t mind frying some of those sardines” They were preserved, salted sardines that came in a tub, and she fried them.
When the pueblo nightwatchmen were out, not many taverns closed at the proper time. Because there was always something going on, and they’d be treated to a drink. Maybe there was a game going on, or whatever. We’d wonder how long the customers were going to stay. They’d be playing for money and, of course, they’d tell the tavern owner to let them finish the game. ”Well, OK, it’s not like we have to close right now.” The tavern owner would give them a bit of leeway and they’d finish, maybe, at six in the morning, or God knows when! Sometimes they’d even stay long enough to have breakfast there.
I used to go with my father to the station at five in the morning to get two tubs of sardines for my mother to sell at home. I remember going with a donkey we had and I said, I’ll be damned, getting up so early, but there were so many of us with our donkeys and other cargo animals. The donkey was very frightened of the train. And we used to put her in a corner, as you enter the main door of the station, there’s a corner which was full of horse-drawn vehicles. And the other horses, mules and donkeys, the poor things, were dead tired, because people from all the villages round here came to the station, to the train, which was the only one that existed, the goods train. Because there were no passenger trains back then. My father and others would take loads of coal, straight from the train to the wagons. And they sold Holm oak charcoal and all those things like bread is sold in Madrid. So the hauliers didn’t stop working, they devoted their lives to haulage. They were going to and from the train all the time.
And I repeat that they were no passenger carriages. I went to Madrid when my father was hit by the truck and all that. We went to Madrid to see doctors and there were just horse-drawn carriages, but there were a lot of them, eh. There were no cars, what you’d call a car. Goods trains, yes, goods and that, yes. They went from the mountains straight to Madrid. They didn’t make any stops.
Train at Oropesa Station. Photo from Rutas Arañuelas, see link below.
Uncle Julián Alía and my grandfather were close friends And I don’t know why, but my father also started working with him after he was hit by the truck. And my father bought some goats from him, which he sold cheaper because they were quite old. The first goat my father bought was a goat that was already pregnant, almost ready to give birth. Uncle Tacones, who was in the tavern, said to him: ”Hey, why don’t you buy that goat off me?” He was a shoemaker, ”I want to sell that goat’.’
“Well, if she was pregnant…
”Yes, yes, she’s pregnant, she’s about to give birth very soon.”
When my father died, I was working with Uncle Julián Alía.
Because my father was on the political left, my uncle signed me up for the Falange. My uncle was the one who was in charge. There was no other Falangist who had studied anything much. My father wasn’t a politician and he wasn’t really involved in politics either, but the extremists on the right were out to get him, because you know what happened then, people from all parties died; some died one way, some died another way.
They used to make life really difficult for my father, because my grandfather had a couple of mules and my father used them for haulage. To get firewood for the guards, because at that time the guards were like that, you know, walking through the mountains at night when the Maquis (Republican resistance) were out and about. They were left-wing people. Some of them were into politics, and others just wanted to work, to make a living.
My uncle signed me up to the Falange precisely because of that. My uncle was helping my father, who wasn’t even a politician, he was just a haulier. My uncle signed me up in order to tell the extremists, “Shhhh, hold it right there”. And I remember that they put me on a chair for the first few days and asked me where my father kept his shotgun. And you know, my father wasn’t a hunter, he wasn’t anything, he was just on the left, he was a socialist.
My father and Uncle Julián Alía were very close friends. One was on the left, and the other on the right, but they knew how to respect one other. Uncle Julián had a herd of goats. They were in the mountains, and he and his men had their livestock there. At that time the Maquis were around at night. And in those days, the guards would disguise shepherds and goatherds, as if they were Maquis. And Uncle Julián Alía was pushed out of the mountain pastures by the guards. They wouldn’t let people look after their livestock in peace, they’d beat them, and make their lives impossible.
And I remember going with my father to the factory to get fodder for the pigs, because the old road goes that way, and I saw dead bodies in front of Bienve’s place that’s now a restaurant. Of course, being a small a boy, I looked at the bodies, and my father told the donkey to get a move on, ”giddyap, giddyap’. He said to me ”Don’t look over there.” He didn’t want us to see that dreadful sight
The value of work, and of parties
We worked hard. In all those little plots of land that my grandfather had, we kids built the walls ourselves, we collected the stones ourselves, my brothers and I working together as a team. In those times, people thought a lot of that, because work was an important value in those days. People valued what we did because we were young, and few people of our age could do what we did.
And I’ve heard people who knew my father say, “your father was incomparable”, it’s not just that he was good at skilled work, it’s also that he had the brains to think of how to do the work. He was intelligent and made a lot of money, because he worked hard. I don’t know how he managed it, because apparently he hadn’t gone to school much. You know what I mean. So he set me an example that I followed.
My grandfather was good at a lot of things. He helped my mother a lot. And when there were public holidays, he liked to dance. They had old-time dances then. He was inseparable from my mother-in-law and my mother. And my grandfather would say, “Come on, let’s go to the dance, I’ll organise this party”. He’d take three or four friends there, with a few bottles of wine, someone with the rhythm instrument, the zambomba (also spelled ximbomba), others playing the guitar, and they’d party there, just the way they liked to enjoy themselves.
Unidentified man playing the Zambomba, photo by Alan Lomax, taken in Lagartera, December 1952.
Paco Suela, Lagartera, Toledo, November 2023