This is not how I’m going to remember her. When I first met her, on holiday in Menorca (an island on which she worked seven days a week for entire seasons without a break, and came to love enormously), I was just some guiri, some football-shirt-wearing Englishman with barely a word of her language who somehow seemed to be going out with her eldest daughter. From the first moment, though, she showed me nothing but kindness and acceptance, the genuineness of her warmth and laughter quickly becoming part of the fabric of my own life as I begun to learn about and appreciate Spanish life and culture.
Her laugh was loud, throaty and infectious. Many years ago it was heard by pretty much the entire staff and clientele of a major department store in Valladolid when, waiting for my partner to emerge from the changing rooms and struggling with the early stages of picking up the language, I inadvertently told her I have two ‘turnips’ - I don’t need to tell you what that’s a euphemism for here. My missus heard her laughing from inside the changing rooms and certainly heard her when she came out and Julia delightedly yelled what I’d said across the whole floor, announcing how lucky her daughter was.
Years later, in my own kitchen in London, while my Spanish had improved, it still wasn’t at the point where there were never gaps or misunderstandings. We were talking about food, shellfish in particular, and needed a mutual understanding of ‘crayfish’. Frustrated at my ignorance of the word, she started imitating one. Arms bent, fingers opening and closing for claws, she did a left-right-left sideways dance that looked like something out of SpongeBob and did little for my comprehension of cangrejo de rio but was hugely entertaining.
She did, of course, help me hugely over the time I knew her, our comversations bringing my Spanish on and always punctuated by that laugh. That laugh - like a witch who’s just been told an absolutely filthy joke - has consistently been one of the first things people have mentioned when they’ve called her daughters to console them. It remained in place despite all her health battles - I can’t recall hearing her complain about the long list of troubles her own body was giving her, but I can remember that laugh, readily.
Her absence in our house is going to be huge, the silence where she should be profound. We’ve got so used to the low hissssss-thump of her oxygen machine, so used to her yelling abuse at the ‘bobos’ contesting the Spanish version of Wheel of Fortune. She was always quick to get the answer, whether it was correct or not being another matter. (Though she usually was). Her strength of conviction in her right-ness, if there’s such a word, could also lead to hearing that laugh again. ‘No, no, no, no and no, I tell you,” she once said when discussing a place name with one of her daughters. “Or probably yes.” Cue laughter...
Even two days before she died, the TV above her hospital bed was getting a good talking to when Pasapalabra came on, an indication we’d alwys taken to mean she was feeling fairly well on any given day.
It was not to be, though. They’ll have to muddle through the shows without her ‘advice’ now. Doted on by her daughters, who were with her the entire time during her last spell in hospital, and survived by two distraught brothers, she wouldn’t like the tears we’re all shedding for her at the moment, but they’re an indication of the huge love everybody had, and will have, for her.
Those tears will of course, in time, give way to sweet recollections. Outside her hospital window, ten floors up, storks circled gracefully over a foggy Valladolid as we passed her last hours with her, just as they do in the skies above her beloved Viana. That’s how I’ll come to remember her in time, I think - soaring, confident, admirable. Descansa en paz, Julita, reina. Adios y gracias.
|Julia Hernández García 1951–2017|