Tomorrow, March 19th, is Father’s Day in Spain. A year ago exactly, a short letter from our newly-discovered Aunt Rita enclosing pictures of my up-to-then unknown grandfather arrived on our doorstep. And my, have we gone a long way since then…
But this year I want to talk about a different father altogether. His name was Ramón Pereiro, and he was born in the parish of Conjo (or Conxo as it is now known), in what was then the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago. The village isn’t particularly interesting as far as I know, except for the fact that it houses a psychiatric asylum, but my family had nothing to do with that (I hope!).
Anyway, Ramón was born in 1818, a difficult period for Spain. He had both older and younger brothers and sisters, and belonging to a poor family, he probably stood little chance of making a decent life for himself had he stayed put. Thus, he set off all by himself and by his late teens lived in the fishing town of Noya (Noia), on the north-western coast of Spain.
Soon thereafter he met and married a young local girl called Vicenta Liboreiro, whose paternal family hailed from the Galician town of Tuy (Tui), on the Spanish-Portuguese border. Their wedding took place in August 1841.
Ramón and Vicenta soon welcomed their first child, a boy whom they called José Antonio. However, tragedy struck the family when in January 1845 the child died. Exactly two months later, Vicenta delivered a second son who was christened José Salvador; sadly, he only reached 18 months.
This seemed a bad start to a marriage which apparently was based on the nearest thing to love one can imagine for two youths living at a time of constrained and puritan social behaviour. The couple would have undoubtedly struggled, as Ramón’s wages as a mere tailor and Vicenta’s pay as a simple baker would not have been great. This was, however, just the beginning.
At some point in the late 1840’s, Ramón left Noya temporarily, perhaps to visit his relatives back in Conjo. His wife was left behind to tend to their house, and during her husband’s absence, became pregnant. The identity of the baby’s father has not been recorded. Then, in July 1849 Vicenta gave birth to a boy whom she called José Antonio, in memory of her first-born baby.
One can only guess at how Ramón would have reacted to the news of his wife’s extramarital affair. Even by today’s standards one could well expect the marriage to crumble, particularly given the morals of the time, which would have seen Vicenta being cast out into the darkness and becoming a social pariah. However, nothing of the sort seems to have taken place. Where many may have seen rage, Ramón saw room for forgiveness. Perhaps it was the loss of their two boys, and the unexpected arrival of a new-born baby (even if it wasn’t his) that prompted Ramón to accept his wife and her baby, and to carry on as if nothing had happened. No wonder that their grandson, my great-grandfather, described Ramón in his memoirs as a buenazo (which roughly translates as “kindly”, “good-natured” and by extension “long-suffering”).
I don’t know whether Vicenta’s son survived childhood or not, but I do know for certain that she and Ramón decided to give their marriage another go. Before a year had gone by, a baby girl, Antonia, was born, followed by Joaquina two years later, and then Ramón, Carlos, José and Manuela, my great-great-grandmother. I shudder to think that, had Ramón’s character been different, and had he not chosen to pardon his wife’s infidelity, my great-grandmother would never have been born, and I would have been history.
Of course, the marriage did suffer a few more sorrows, but I have reason to believe that when Vicenta died of pneumonia in 1880, Ramón truly mourned her. His health probably declined in the years that followed, and he probably had to give up running the tavern he had opened (obviously being a tailor didn’t suit him very well).
In 1882 his son Carlos died of tuberculosis aged just 24, and two years later Joaquina died of the same ailment, leaving behind two young daughters to be brought up. Ramón finally gave in on a cold January day in 1887. His remains were buried beside those of his beloved wife two days later, but his memory was preserved several generations later, as four of his grandsons were given the name Ramón. I think that proves that, not only was he a loving husband, but also a much-loved father.