|La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti|
2 pm the captain and I together on the deck looked at the dock that we were
approaching slowly. We waited anxiously for the ship to anchor in the harbor.
Feeling lonely and desperately looking for familiar faces, I asked the captain
"Who are my parents?" Before he could answer, my sister Arantza,
nearly five years old, and my brother, Bingen, two and a half years, came
running down the dock shouting my name. Now I was not Merceditas; they called me
Mirentxu. For every situation in my short life I had a new name. From a very
early age I called different names depending on the situation I was in. The
first letter that I "wrote" to my parents on the eve of my third
birthday in Las Arenas, in 1941, I signed Merceditas. The first few months in
Montevideo in the park children called me "the Spanish girl" because
of my European accent.
When I arrived in Venezuela, my co-workers called me Maria Mercedes, and
my friends called me "ché" (the word used in Uruguay and Argentina
for “pal” or “friend”) because of my Uruguayan accent. When I became a
U.S. citizen in 1970 I changed it to Mirentxu. I used it until I realized that
it was difficult to pronounce and the sweet name was changed to
"Merencho", so I chose my first name Marie. My name in Basque
continues in the family, with our eldest daughter Anne Miren, and our first
grandchild Gizelle Mirentxu. The various names and different nationalities I've
had is one of the reasons why the motto on the crest of Paris is appropriate to
tell a bit of my history "nec Fluctuat mergitur" or "tossed by
the waves, she does not sink."
little nervous, from the deck I exchanged a few words with ama on the dock.
Aita’s hands were shaking and he smiled. The rest looked at us, but nobody
said much. I remember I asked about my brother Xabier, then eight months old,
since I didn’t see him, and ama replied that he was waiting for me at home.
The captain took me to his cabin to meet my parents in private and to officially
hand me over to them. The minutes passed slowly, seemed hours until aita
appeared in the doorway of the cabin and was followed by the rest of the family
and a few friends. Aita full of excitement kissed and hugged me calling me
"Maitea nere." Ama with tears in her eyes embraced me for a long time
saying "You’ve made us so happy."
My sister and brother hugged me. The emotion of the moment was intense
for my parents, and for me to meet them all. I had wanted to do this for so
long, but once it was done I was ready to go home with my aunt and uncle again.
Maybe it was because I realized that everything around me was very different
from what I had experienced so far.
saying an affectionate goodbye to the captain and Torino we left the ship and
soon we arrived at the house on Juan Paullier Street, No. 1615, third floor. The
apartment was located a half block from the Avenida 18 de Julio, famous and
popular with many shops. The apartment was very nice but a little tiny.
In a stroller was my little brother Xabier, beautiful, chubby, blond and
he won me right away with his smile. Also there was Lucinda Martinez, who was
called “La Tata” at home.
She was the lady who took care of my brothers and sister and helped with
household chores. She welcomed me warmly. Months later, La Tata, who was a very
good artist, would help me designing the pages of my school essays. On these
occasions she told me proudly that he was a native of the city of Melo, capital
of the department of Cerro Largo, birthplace of brilliant literary talents such
as the legendary Juana de America, and Justino Zabala Muñiz. Her father had
gone blind after an explosion in the lab where he worked and the family suffered
financially because of it. While my parents entertained a few local friends I
went to the room that I was to share with my sister, followed by my sibblings
who wanted to see the things I had brought. Arantza, my sister, was a cute
blonde hair who was very interested in everything I said and did and followed me
everywhere with her rag doll in her arms she called "la pipi." Bingen
my brother was a handsome boy with large melancholy eyes, very quiet, serious,
silent observer and, perhaps intimidated because until now he had only one older
sister to order him around, and suddenly he had two. I felt very good to be with
them around me, although my role had changed.
Here I was the eldest of four children, with siblings ages 4, 2, and 8
months. Because of their ages they all needed more careful attention than I did,
and it was difficult for a girl of 9 years to accept this after being an only
child for seven years. What a change!
day after my arrival, our parents took me to see the city. We took a bus to the
Parque Rodo, a huge amusement center near the beach. Bingen and Arantza came
with us. We went on the bumper carts and carousels, but the roller coaster our
father went on with my brother and sister, because I did not want to go to on it
and ama stayed with me. We two were walking through the park's unique flora
abounding with greenery and flowers, which she loved. It was the first time my
mother was alone with me since I was two years old. How many years passed with
the lost of experiences and the bond that is usually established during these
crucial years of formation of a child. My family was lost from my life and I was
lost to them and I thought it was difficult or almost impossible to recover. In
silence we looked around when I noticed a seller surrounded by children who had
a bunch of balloons of all colors combined with the colorful atmosphere. I had
never seen balloons before since the carnival figures I had known carried only
inflated animal bladders, which they used to scare children. Ama, on seeing my
great surprise, bought me two. Later we bought cotton candy. I only knew the
lump of sugar on a drink that accompanies hot chocolate. Everything was unknown.
I missed not having Begoña with me. Many years later I told her "all the
changes I went through would have been much easier with you beside me,” to
which she replied "I also didn’t like it that you left me."
the living room of our home, beneath the window, there were shelves of books.
Aita pointed out to me a collection of books that ama had bought especially for
me. One was "Heidi" the novel about the life of a girl living under
the care of her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. And there were several books in
the collection of the Countess de Segur, whose author is Russian and came when
she and her family were exiled to Paris at age 13 (1812). She was later married
to Count Eugene de Segur. Her novels are based on the life of her three
daughters. One daughter, Natalie de Segur, was maid of honor of the Empress
Eugenia de Montijo. Segur's first novel I read was called "The Model
Girls", about a happy family with three “model” daughters: Camila,
Magdalena and Margarita.
But their friend Sophie was very different. She was jealous of her
friends. Her mother had had no news of her husband who was lost at sea, and in
her house there was much unhappiness. The author focuses on the three girls
through their adventures with Sophie to learn the path of good and evil. And I
gladly absorbed the stories, reading these books several times.
the first floor of our home lived a woman named Moma, who was very good to us.
When she heard us come down the stairs left some candy or pastry on the
ledge of the door as if she had forgotten it, and we knew it was for us. It was
delicious, and this became routine. Soon Bingen would add for this game. Xabier
was too young to follow. As they could not reach the ledge, the power I got from
reaching the delectable food made me an instant hero. When I went to buy coffee
at a place called "El Chaná" Arantza almost always wanted to
accompany me. It was on Colonia Street, one block from home, and we could not
get lost because the aroma of coffee we could smell as soon as we left the front
door. My sister loved making these little excursions with me, it was something
new to her, although I'm sure our parents were shaking a little bit when she
followed me because I was still a novice in the city.
Tata took us to the park in the afternoons, three blocks from home. It was the
Park of the Allies, named in honor of the Allied nations that won in the First
World War. The park is huge and with all varieties of trees and plants as well
as much wildlife, and monuments such as the Obelisk, La Carreta and the Estadio
Centenario. This stadium hosted the first World Cup soccer championship. Uruguay
was the first world champion in 1930 and again in 1950 at the famous Maracana
Stadium (in Brazil). In the afternoons, La Tata gave us a snack, not the
chocolate bar and bread they gave us in San Sebastian, but bread with dulce de
leche, typical Creole jam which I loved. I soon became friends with a group of
children, but I was called "the Spanish girl", a term I disliked
because it emphasized my differences with them, but nothing I could say could
make them change their minds until they heard me speak with a Uruguayan accent.
these things that happened every day made me rebel from time to time against the
injustice that I saw and felt within myself and at my young age that I did not
know how to express. Only my conduct and my studies gave away my feelings.
Because I compared the difference in the life led by my brothers and sister with
what had been mine. They grew up next to our parents, and everything was easy,
but I had to suffer, fight, stop and change everything that was familiar to me
just because of wanting to be where I belonged by birth. How difficult it was
for me to understand and accept that. Today, in similar circumstances all family
members would be subject to family counseling. But ama was able to overcome
these obstacles with patience and love.
Freud tells us that many cultures have emphasized the sadness of mothers
separated from their small children, but historically little has been said about
the consequences of the loss of the mothers suffered by young children. The
basic need of a child is the love and tenderness of his mother, and in her
absence, his greatest anxiety is that such love is lost. It is also the father's
presence that gives security and confidence to the child. The dimensions of this
drama are impossible to understand for someone who has not lived them. Ama
understood better than anyone that I had adjustment problems, and although it
was difficult to talk now with the girl she left many years ago, she knew to
wait until I was ready for it. It was less difficult for her to deal with my
rebellion than it was for our father, perhaps because she better understand my
struggle that was also her struggle. I know that the two wanted to close the gap
that had opened after the separation of seven years. And there was always the
question about why our mother chose our father instead of my sister and me. Aita
tried also understanding and wanted to get close to me, but I made it more
difficult for him. And I knew ama felt this in her heart; she understood it and
that made her pain double. And to hear her express her pain made me love her
more. Finally their confidence in me, their concern and their love worked
miracles. When someone trusts us, it adds value to our lives.
home we were discipline because mealtimes and bedtime were always at the same
time. While the family ate lunch together, we children almost always ate dinner
before our parents, because they were not home on many days at that time. La
Tata served us every night at seven o'clock. Going to bed too was governed by an
almost inflexible schedule that would not let us be around during their evening
or night work. This routine was followed every night. After we retired to bed,
my father took advantage of the peace in the house, busily working on his
translations and literary works at his desk.
Next to him in a special chair, ama sewed clothes for us or knitted in
silence and thus the two were working in company with so much love for each
other until the wee hours of the night. Ama often asked me to help her wind the
skeins of wool, and taught me the art of weaving and knitting and I liked to
work on canvases at her side. And I continued to practice knitting most of my
life, even making rugs for the children’s bathroom, just as she did.
family’s financial decline a bit before my arrival made my adjustment more
difficult. With my arrival, the house was very small; in just one year were two
more children in the family. A few months after I arrived we moved to Francisco
Araucho # 1235, third floor, Apt 6. The building was newly constructed; we were
the first people to live there. It was bigger and spacious and very well
located, near the school and in front of the José Pedro Varela Park, where we
went almost every day. This triangular shaped square, which is bordered by
Artigas Boulevard, the Avenida Brasil and Calle Canelones, is one of the most
beautiful and spacious squares in Montevideo. The part that faces the Boulevard
has a beautiful bronze and marble monument dedicated to the great educator of
the people of Uruguay.
The statue is carved in bronze and he is holding a book in his left hand
and a pencil in his right hand and at his feet are several books.
thing that was still unknown in the lives of my brothers and sister was the loss
of baby teeth. When
I lost one, it was a new event in the home, with the legend of the Tooth Fairy.
It was a novelty for them to see that I placed the tooth under the pillow while
sleeping and a mouse (Ratoncito Perez, the Spanish version of the Tooth Fairy)
would exchange it for a gift or money. My sister dreamed of the moment when she
would be toothless. The story of Ratoncito Perez goes like this: "Between
the death of King and the accession to the throne of Queen Mari-Castaña there
is a long and dark period in the chronicles where there are few reports of rats.
It appears, however, that there flourished at that time a King Buby I, a great
friend of the poor children and determined protector of the mice ...” The
mouse was very small, with straw hat, golg glasses, canvas shoes and a red bag,
hanging on his back. They say that the mouse lived with his family in a big box
of cookies, in a famous candy store, just a hundred meters from the Palacio
Real. The little rodent ran away from home frequently, and through the pipes of
the city, came to the rooms of the little King Buby I and the rooms of other
poor children who had lost a tooth.
He would trick the cats, which were always lurking about. On the July
18th Avenue was a shop devoted to Ratoncito Perez.
Saturday mornings we often went to the Pocitos Beach on bus #121. On Sunday
afternoons we visited friends of the family, and sometimes we'd go to Carrasco.
This was an elegant and sophisticated resort about 20 kilometers from the city
with the most varied types of architecture.
The building that I remember most was the Hotel Casino, because the bus
stopped and let us off there.
It was a magnificent building surrounded by gardens and sculptures, and
from here we walked through beautiful countryside with fragrant eucalyptus trees
that provided a perfect backdrop for the mysterious and funny stories that my
father told my younger siblings. In Carrasco lived Maria Ana Bidegaray de
Janssen, who was called Marianita.
She was born in Hasparen, Lapurdi, in the French Basque Country.
She was Xabier’s godmother and a close friend of the family.
She was the person I most admired in Montevideo, and in her memory our
first child was baptized with the name of Anne Miren. It was not just her
culture, her refinement, her delicate figure, but her intelligence, her charm
and humanity in dealing with people. I loved hearing her stories of the Far East
and I remember noticing in the living room of her home two paintings showing
torture in medieval China that did not go with her personality.
She noticed my amaze and told us that the consequence of disobeying
Emperor was torture and death. She was the author of the first book published in
Uruguay on the subject of Basque culture, “The Basque Cradle,” (“Cuna
Vasca”) in 1948. Years later in the farewell to us in Euskal Erria (the Basque
club in Montevideo) she took me aside to speak fondly of many things. How did
she know so much about my life? Among them, she talked about my role and
responsibilities as the eldest daughter.
With tears in my eyes, I hugged and thanked her for her words, though I
do not remember having followed all her good advice.
months after my arrival and before school started, we went to a studio to get an
official family picture.
Ama had made all the clothes that we wore in this picture. This picture
has always been in the dining room. Aita was next, but for some reason not in
the picture. It was March (the beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere)
and this month we would have the first day of school. Ama, Arantza and I went to
buy uniforms with enthusiasm to the store El Cabezón, a huge warehouse near
home that had everything. And ready the first week of March we started the
school. But although I did not know any at the one school, the Liceo Santo
Domingo of the French Dominican Sisters, soon became my second home. The school
and the sisters became a treasured sanctuary as I grew uup, and I made friends
whom I continued to write after leaving Uruguay until the eve of my wedding.
who visited us almost monthly visits were aita’s first cousin, Ludovina
Amezaga, and her husband, Ambrosio Uriarte. While our parents talked to their
cousins Ambrosio’s twin sister who lived with them showed us the delicious
jams that she had made, and which she kept in the large pantry. On the death of
Ambrose, Ludovina, elderly and in somewhat fragile health, moved to a nursing
home where we went to visit often and where we went to say goodbye just before
leaving Uruguay. On this last visit I noticed the very kind and compassionate
soul she had and how fervent her faith was, and that last day I saw her as a
saint. When I told aita this later, he said being an Amezaga there was no doubt
May 7, 1948, dawned rainy and sad, and the thunderous sounds of drums improvised
from pot lids woke me up.
The whole family, including La Tata, woke me up with gifts. It was my
first birthday in America; I was 10 years old. Happily I ran to eat breakfast
and dressed in the uniform was ready to go to school when ama told me they had
prepared a surprise for me that afternoon. When I returned for lunch, I neither
saw nor heard anything more than a faint whisper of "Zurik Zorionak."
(Happy Birtthady in Basque) I went to school in the afternoon, this time taking
my five-year-old sister Arantza, who went to kindergarten.
Ama had given me a bit of change to buy one of my cravings of the moment,
bubble gum, which I shared with my sister, but still she did not prepare me for
the surprise that awaited me. When we returned to the home late, the whole house
was lit and decorated with streamers and thousands of multicolored balloons. In
the dining room table was a large cake with 10 candles and a big heart. Xabier
would in a few days celebrate his first year, and although he didn’t know, he
was included in the treat. Immediately the small apartment began to fill with a
dozen children of friends of our parents. At the back of the room a special
chair was reserved for John Uraga, a dear family friend, the former mayor of
Barakaldo, who had saved his life during the Spanish Civil War by escaping to
France across the Pyrenees during a change of the guard. For the dish there was
nothing better than the rice pudding that ama made me and I savored it with
pleasure every time. After blowing out my candles and the single one for my
brother and eating the great "colinetas" or cakes, we had a Chaplin
film that our dear family friend Pedro Arteche always provided. He was born in
Bilbao and came to Uruguay with his parents at a young age. He and his wife had
two daughters, Nora and Marta who were a bit older than me.
It was a very dear family to us all.
Luisa de Biraben at the party asked for permission from ama to take me several
days later to the cinema to see the musical fantasy film "The Wizard of
movie was about a young American girl swept away by a tornado and left in a
fantasy land inhabited by good and bad witches, a talking scarecrow, a cowardly
lion, a tin man and other extraordinary beings. It was the first time I went to
a movie in Montevideo, and it was very different from those I had gone to see in
Las Arenas, Bilbao.
was the promoter of celebrating family holidays, as well as for special
occasions like when we were visited by Basque friends from Buenos Aires. She
cooked very well and enjoyed doing it. I remember some of the visitors to Buenos
Aires as Pedro Basaldua, the spouses Lasarte, Jose Maria Aldasoro, and was an
occasion for ama to make her best dishes. She went to bed reading the cookbook.
Our anniversaries and birthdays, which were never overlooked, were part of a
legacy that ama and aita gave us by reciting the events of this special day
events, stories of them during the Spanish Civil War and War World II, when they
lived in Paris, and about grandparents and other family members. With all these
stories in a way they were building family unity, strengthening the culture, and
sharing issues of common interest.
They also wanted to transmit their values to us and it made us feel an
important part of the family and gave us a sense of belonging to the family and
as consequence to the society in which we lived. Her last recordings of fifteen
audio cassettes were part of that legacy
of what we tell our children can mark their lives forever. Our thoughts dictate
what we say; from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks, and it is
therefore better to speak positively than negatively. The tricky thing about all
this is to accept each of the members of the family, appreciate and love them as
they are, showing interest and concern for others instead of apprehension.
We had to realizing that we sometimes give more than we receive, and
accept it because there are times when we receive more than we give, and we
should know how to be grateful. Family harmony and love are a great treasure
that should we all nourish.
in family celebrations our mother took great pains not only with the food but
with the presentation. The table looked wonderful with a special tablecloth,
white linen embroidered in blue indigo, and the fine china used only for these
occasions. On all these occasions Begoña was spiritually present in an empty
chair where we put her picture to join in the festivities. Aita always gladdened
the festivities with some story that at times was humorous and he even sang a
song. We looked forward to the desserts because ama always had surprises.
Sometimes she put vintenes (Uruguayan currency) into the cake and we all
looked eagerly for it not for the value but to feel special, but I think that
she enjoyed it most
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