In writing “Madrid Nights” a few weeks ago, I never thought the past would catch up with me. It did so, recently, as a pleasant surprise. You might recall the story described an American abroad (me) running with a pack of Spaniards (including the Tejeiro brothers, José Manuel and Ramón) back in the days when Spain had “Serenos”–a centuries old tradition where the “night watchers” were entrusted with the building keys. Show up to your building after hours reeking of Sangria, and you’d find the doors locked. Clap once, then twice and the nocturnal Sereno would emerge from the shadows with the keys to save the day….er…night.
Last week I received an email from a Wisconsin woman who, while searching the Internet for her old friend, José Manuel, stumbled across his brother’s name on a link to my article. Linda was intrigued and pressed on only to discover we had something in common–both of us spent our Junior Year abroad in Madrid during the same year, 1975-1976. Linda then introduced me to her childhood friend, another Wisconsin woman, Barbara, who had also been in Spain that same year and had written a prize winning article about those heady days including the death of Spain’s dictator, Francisco Franco. Barbara was thrilled to make my acquaintance and sent me the article; within minutes I was transported forty-five years into the past.
Barbara also alerted me to a third Wisconsin girl in Spain that year–Anne. Barbara described her friend as tall, blonde and extremely intelligent–a polyglot–she could speak several languages, rare for an American in those days.
“Barbara, say no more, I distinctly remember Anne–she was in our college program abroad.” Hard to miss someone smart, beautiful and more than six feet tall!
It all began making sense. Linda had gone out with José Manuel while Anne was squired about Madrid by Ramón.
“I must say ladies from Wisconsin–good choices.”
I have known the Tejeiro family for more than forty-five years beginning with the father, Ramón Sr., whose modest machinery company grew over the years. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, his description of the Battle for Madrid was not for the weak or the feint of heart. His wife, Carolina, was like a mother to me and once, when I fell ill during a visit to Spain, she stayed up with me praying the rosary until I fell asleep. Of course, there was Ramón and José Manuel, but there was also a tall, gangly younger brother named Juan and a vivacious and scholarly sister named Carolina Jr. and her boyfriend and later husband, Daniel. They were all part of my Madrid world that year.
After returning to the United States, there were noteworthy visits from the brothers. Ramón arrived in Long Island one year during the dead of winter and was promptly put aboard an ice yacht on the frozen Great South Bay. His ride that day was exhilarating and when he returned, I’ll never forget the huge grin and thick coat of frost on his mustache.
Not to be denied a quintessentially American experience, José Manuel also washed up on our shores and, after a brief visit with our family, was on his way to the American Midwest. My father, a police officer and precinct commander, volunteered to drive him to New York City where José could catch a bus to Ohio. A severe snowstorm intervened and public transportation came to a abrupt standstill. With no place to sleep, my father put the Spaniard in an empty jail cell with a blanket and pillow. The next morning José Manuel was up early to resume his trip. But he always joked about his time behind bars calling it a “Kojak” experience. It’s a funny story and even more so when José tells it in Spanish.
Visits to Spain always included a stopover at the Tejeiro residence outside Madrid. Although translations between my parents and his wore me down, they were worth the effort.
I will leave you with three fond memories of this friendship. When our daughter, Alexa, spent the summer of 2006 studying in Granada, Spain, thirty years after my Junior year abroad, she made a point to visit with the Tejeiro family and immediately fell in love with Carolina. There’s either something about Carolina or something in our family DNA which causes such a reaction.
Ten years later, together with Alexa, my wife and I were back in Madrid during the Christmas holidays to partake of a meal and the traditional Roscón de Reyes, Spain’s most famous Christmas sweet, with the Tejeiro family. Sadly, It would be our last time with Carolina as she passed away later in the year.
Finally, last year when my book It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s 500-Mile Pilgrimage Across Spain was published on Amazon, Ramón offered to translate the book into Spanish. That my book would be translated into the language of Cervantes was a dream come true. Ramón worked hard to make that dream a reality. He called it a “labor of love”– a gift for the many years of friendship.