|La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti|
Kathleen had her First Communion on my birthday, and ama came to celebrate with
were now living in Washington.
With ama’s arrival we reinforced the family traditions from times past.
She had a lot of fun with the girls, and she taught thenm to memorize
Txalopin Txalo (a Basque child’s song and game) and the game “Palomita
Blanca,” before giving them candy, which she always had with her.
trip ama and I did a lot of things together because I had more freedom since the
girls were in school all day.
Among other things, she upholstered another chair that she liked because
she said it was very comfortable and her favorite; we still have it as a memento
of her. One
day she decided to go shopping by herself to downtown Washington on the bus.
On these adventures she never got lost and she never arrived late.
On all the trips that she took alone, Bob left her at the bus stop at the
university and he waited for her at the stop at the time they had agreed.
Another time we went to a shopping center near home and she bought some
sound equipment (record player, speakers) that Xabier had asked her to get.
She and Bob spent the entire afternoon packing it to take it to Caracas.
She did not care about the inconvenience of having it with her on the
airplane; she was only thinking about making our brother happy.
added confidence from her earlier trips, she now began to take different routes
and different bus lines, and one of her adventures led her to the boutiques in
the famous Watergate Building, which is like a small city with five buildings.
It’s enormous, covering 25 hectares, and is located next to the Potomac
River and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
It is considered the most desirable place to live in Washington.
It is popular among members of congress and cabinet secretaries.
It is like a city inside of other one with a hotel, apartments,
restaurants, food stores, health clubs, a medical and dental clinic, post office,
pharmacy, liquor store, and shops.
In 1972 the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee was located
on the sixth floor, and was the scene of the Watergate scandal which led to the
resignation of President Richard Nixon.
And to this place our mother went shopping.
She bought me a plaid skirt with a shawl.
And she returned happy from her trip and told us many things that night.
She enjoyed shopping and seeing so many things that she hardly noticed
being tired. When
she said goodby on this trip, which would be the last she would make to
Washington, she was worried about my health and a little sad to leave us.
She said to me, “How proud aita would be of you.”
Christmas 1978 we decided to return to Euskadi.
We arrived on an important day, the day of the promulgation by King Juan
Carlos I de Borbon of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
It was ratified on December 6, and did away with the last remnants of the
old Francoist regime, substituting a democratic system with a parliamentary
ikurriñas (Basque flags) and patriotic Basque symbols everywhere and everyone
was in good spirits to celebrate Christmas.
Arantza invited us to stay with her en Alzuza, and ama made us a first-rate
Christmas meal: squid in black sauce, ham croquettes, flan, and fruit compote
are what I most recall.
This was the last Christmas I would spend with her.
this time ama invited her two oldest grandchildren – Xabier and Anne Miren –
to watch a game of handball (traditional Basque sport).
We went to the Labrit frontón (handball court) in Pamplona.
Anne Miren and her cousin Xabier competed during the entire game, and ama
enjoyed it a lot to see the rivalry between the two cousins.
Xabier bet on one color and Anne Miren for the other; I don’t remember
who supported which color.
Although Anne Miren had never seen a handball game, she liked the
challenge of betting against her cousin.
To her happiness, Anne Miren’s team won.
Although her cousin didn’t like it much, he bore up under the loss like
a gentleman, and ama took them both to have chocolate con churros.
except ama and me decided to go to the town of Leitza, the birthplace of great
figures in Basque country sports, to see the arrival of the Olentzero (mythical
Basque figure who appears on the winter solstice with gifts, similar to Santa
two of us talked the whole time about the memoirs that ama was writing and about
the books of our father that she wanted to publish soon.
We talked about the photos in the family album that she treasured so much.
I asked her if I could have the photos of me when I was a little girl to
show my children, but she told me that she enjoyed looking at them so much she
didn’t want to part with them yet.
Sadly I will never be able to see them because they disappeared after her
this trip she gave me a book titled La Perfecta Casada (The Perfect
Bride) by Fray de León, the lyric Spanish poet.
It is an interpretation of the proverbs of Solomon.
Years Eve we all went to San Sebastian to celebrate with my sister Begoña and
her family. This
was the last time the four of us – ama, Arantza, Begoña and I – were
this trip, Anne Miren and ama sustained a frequent correspondence.
Our 13-year-old daughter wrote her about her plans for the future.
Anne Miren always loved to write and she wrote long letters, which she
showed me, but I don’t remember any of them.
The only letter that I recall was one of the last, in which she told ama
that she “was going to buy a house as large as a castle and ama would be the
guest of honor.”
Ama liked this plan of her granddaughter very much and she answered Anne
Miren right away with a very affectionate letter.
Ama never left any letter unanswered, or any chore undone, or any special
Ama was extremely faithful.
It helped her spirit a lot to hear affectionately from her grandchildren,
although nothing could ever fill the emptiness in her heart for the absence of
our father. With
us she had different experiences, from the plains of Texas, to the mountainous
city in Tennessee, to the exciting capital of the United States.
And she enjoyed in a different way in each one.
9, 1980, Carlos Garaikoetxea was elected President of the Basque Government,
almost five years after Franco died.
He was the first president elected by popular vote.
This raised our spirits and we were enthusiastic to do something for the
Basque cause and culture.
Ama, who was living in Alzuza at the time, happily saw of her dream come
that time, she wrote me that she had a flight reserved to Caracas on June 14,
and in September she would come and spend Christmas with us.
Then she had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes and she
wanted to go. Her
13-year-old grandson Xabier would accompany her.
sister Arantza relates this trip.)
was a beautiful and sunny morning, Thursday, June 5, 1980, when ama and her 13-year-old
grandson Xabier left for Lourdes, stopping in Zaragoza where they ate lunch, and
proceeding to Andorra where they arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon.
After registering in the hotel, they went out shopping.
Andorra is the shopping country par excellence, and ama was in her
can buy duty free, making the prices the lowest in Europe.
The next day, June 6, also they spent shopping.
At night, after playing mus (a Basque card game) with her grandson they
went to bed. But
at one o’clock in the morning ama awoke with nausea and shortness of breath.
Xabier, at ama’s request, called the hotel doctor and they took her to
the hospital in an ambulance.
Her grandson remained with her several hours in the hospital and left her
sitting up in bed talking to the Chilean doctor.”
last hours of life, it was as if she wanted to be heard, and she talked about
the drama she suffered and continued suffering.
The theme was of the two girls left in Biarritz, a subject about which
Aunt Lola also talked about in the hospital before she died, the year before.
In the wee hours of the morning, and seeing that she talked in an
animated fashion, Xabier went to the hospital to sleep.
From the hospital the tour guide called Alzuza to notify them of ama’s
condition, and he said the diagnosis was “exhaustion” and the doctors
recommended that she not continue on the trip.
At six o’clock in the morning on June 7 Arantza and Pello left for
Andorra, six hours from Pamplona, but when they arrived ama had died of a heart
than 3000 meters altitude, Andorra it seems was fatal for her heart ailment.
She was almost 75 years old but still in good health, or at least that’s
what we thought.
The distances that separated us once again were like a giant shadow over
us and will always be with me.
It hurt me that I was not with her in her final hours.
A week after her death I received her last letter, sent from Andorra.
I still keep it as a treasure.
In it she told me of her future plans with us.
We knew the great devotion she had to St. Joseph, the patron saint of the
good death, and she died as she had asked God: quickly and without suffering.
huge emptiness I felt without her.
I missed her weekly letters, always so punctual, with news, questions,
good wishes and advice.
So many projects we had to do.
In my last letter I asked for her advice and help because I had decided
to enter the university, which required so much time and work, and the children
were still little.
She was happy to hear of my idea, and also to see that she was needed.
A little note written by her about this said: “It is worth more to be
called upon as essential and necessary and to be turned away, of course, as something
that is worthless.
the five of us returned to Euskadi and we traveled across the Basque Country
from east to west and north to south.
I felt ama’s absence deeply and we made several visits to the cemetery
where her remains are buried, and we also returned when we visited Euskadi three
years later. We planted a small bush near the Iribarren crypt where she is
memory I felt a pressing need to meet with Basques more than ever.
I imagined that there were Basques in the Washington area, but we did not
know any. I
wrote to U.S. Senator Frank Church from Idaho, a friend of the Basques and
chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to ask for help in
identifying Basques in the area.
A week later I received his answer with the requested information.
And so with one name I got in contact and we quickly knew a dozen Basques.
The next year on Aberri Eguna, the Basque national day, always celebrated
on Easter Sunday, we invited about 20 people to our home to meet them and to eat
lunch together. In
our backyard the ikurrina waved proudly.
We had other meetings with them, on Christmas and on St. Valentine’s
so there began to emerge something more serious.
At the request of several of them the next year we tried to form a small
Basque Center; and we met in an assembly to elect an executive committee of five
prepare before the assembly I studied and translated to Spanish parts of Robert
Rules of Order, a manual to organize meetings efficiently and effectively,
based on the procedures used in the British Parliament.
They are principles applicable to any organization that has to make
decisions, from the Congress to community club committees.
The art of working together, that is, to associate with others to achieve
a goal, is an American talent.
One of the best political thinkers of his time, the Frenchman Alexis de
Tocqueville, said “The Americans have a special aptitude for the art of
So at least we thought we were ready to form officially a Basque Center.
In the assembly we were 35 members.
We voted, and Bob and I were a little surprised at the result.
We had formed a Basque Center called “Euskalerria,” and I felt inside
that ama had been the true founder.
president I had before me a huge number of plans to carry out, and happily we
decided to begin the job that would last barely seven years, but in which time
we did a lot. We
celebrated a Mass for the first time in Euskera, Aberria Eguna, San Ignacio (patro
saint of the Basque Country), and Euskera Day.
We printed monthly bulletins, we held classes in the Basque language,
choir and dances, and how excited we were to be doing these things.
We showed movies about Basque culture, and we invited professors from the
University of Nevada, Reno, to speak on Basque immigration as sheepherders more
than a century ago.
In 1988 we crowned our labos with a visit by the Lehendakari (Basque
President), Jose Antonio Ardanza to our center, and we hosted a great banquet
for him and his entourage.
But how much work, time and energy it took to do these things.
And the center closed its doors sooner than we had expected.
Bob and I said goodby with disappointment.
The seed would be revived almost twenty years later with a different
group of Basques, but always with the vision of Euskadi.
August 11, 1988, 19 years after aita’s death and eight years after the death
of our mother, the City Council of Getxo unveiled a bust of our father, the work
of the sculptor Jose Luis Butron, in the plaza that carries aita’s name in
recognition of his intense work for his people and for Basque culture.
The plaza is in Arriluce, a short distance from the Avanzada, the site
where aita and ama officially began their courtship 60 years before and almost
across from the Municipal Cemetary of Getxo where ama’s remains rest in
eternal peace. On
this trip we went with our son Robert and we rented an apartment for a month in
the town of Algorta, where aita was born and grew up.
In the inauguration of the plaza, in the name of the family and at the
request of my sister Arantza, I improvised a few emotional words.
I concluded with the famous phrase from the Irish playwright George
Bernard Shaw and repeated by Robert Kennedy during his presidential campaign and
used by Ted Kennedy during Robert’s funeral: “Some people see things as they
are and ask, why?
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
This was a phrase that seemed to me to sum up the life of our father.
years that followed, I graduted with honors from George Mason University, and I
have worked as an interpreter for the courts and the local schools.
I published my book Nere Aita (My Father), devoted
primarily to aita.
And nowadays when I prepare the altar of my church for the celebrant and
I take care of the flowers and plants of the church and our home, I think that I
am doing it with the same love that ama did these things in Las Arenas and St.
Our three children were married and our daughter Kathleen made us
grandparents four times, giving us three beautiful granddaughters and a handsome
Christmas, 2008, the five siblings met fifty years after fifty years which it
was the last time we had all been together in the same place.
Family reunions, it is said, are the key to constructing a family legacy.
The only time (before now) that the five of us had been together was on
board the ship Provence, April 22,
wars changed not only the destinies of our parents but ours as well, and those
of our grandchildren.
Now each of us is involved with our own families, in different cultures,
different parts of the world, and in my case speaking a different language.
the happiness that this reunion brought us during this week, we have realized
how much happiness we lost because of our respective exiles, and the emigration
of our parents, and transmitted to successive generations because of two unjust
I have lived in five different countries, always with the image of something
precious left behind, and a new sentiment awaiting me in the new land.
And seeing our children and grandchildren grow up, I can always see
something in them that reminds me of what I left behind.
This last trip has been for me especially full of nostalgia with the
memory of the messages, the image and the example of our mother in my mind and
as the saying goes, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, and the
present is a gift.”
dedicate my memoirs to the memory of our mother, although the best way to honor
her on September 10 is that she can see from Heaven that peace reigns among her
five beloved children and that the ties of love that she tried to connect among
us always be present in our hearts.
especially grateful to my husband Bob who has helped me patiently in this
I) Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama - Tributo a nuestra Ama, por Mirentxu Ametzaga
II) La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
III) Mis manos quieren hablar - mi poema a mi Ama - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
IV) Publicaciones en Internet relacionadas
|Vicente Ametzaga Aresti - His Biography and his works Published on Wikipedia
Mercedes Iribarren Gorostegui - La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga - published on Wikipedia
Xabier Iñaki Ametzaga Iribarren - Information published on Wikipedia