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Monday, October 08, 2018

Day One: Madrid to San Sebastian

If I could sum up this first day in one image, it would be this glorious basket of bread.

Let me explain.

So, we set out at 8:30 AM from Madrid, all of us loaded up on a van bound for San Sebastian.

It was a very beautiful, leisurely ride. We stopped in Burgos for lunch at Don Nuno which was amazing. I had the soup and fish stew. The picture of the bread above is from that restaurant.

But first, we toured a bit of the city, especially the Cathedral.

Among it's many features, the tomb of El Cid is in the sanctuary there.

The bell tower is an imposing structure with gargoyles carved into the side. The folks in town call them "The Fly Catchers" because it is said that when the bell is rung, the tower shakes and the mouths of the gargoyles open and close.

Imaginations tend to run high during long siestas, especially on hot days.

I'm going to scatter some pictures of the day here and there, randomly, in no particular order. But what I really want to do is to tell you why that bread is the image of my first day, readying for the actual start of The Camino.

I'm about to tell you something that some of you will think I'm absolutely crazy. And, you know what? I don't care. It's my truth and this is my journal/blog, so here goes.

My father's spirit is here. I feel him more than I have at any other time in my life.

I'll feel a tap n my shoulder and I distinctly hear his voice saying, "Look! Look! Look at this!"

And there will be some amazing sight like a quaint villa, or a bucolic scene like sheep in a pasture, or suddenly, a small square church with a crucifix on the very top of its roof will appear, sitting in solitary vigilance on the top of a hill with absolutely nothing around it for miles and miles and miles.

And, I hear my father's voice say, "See? Didn't I tell you? Aren't you glad you didn't miss it?"

But, nowhere is my father more present than in baskets of bread.

Let me explain.

My father was a very simple man. He had no more than a 6th grade education. It was The Depression and his father pulled him out of school to help on the farm. His mother had died the year before, leaving his father with five kids, three boys - Antonio (Sonny), John and Daniel and two girls, Gilda and Angelina.

That first year was very hard on everyone.

By the end of that year, my grandfather married an "old spinster" who, my father said, was "meaner than a wet hen". I think he was trying to be kind.

She beat the children. Often. They went hungry. Often. She hated them. They hated her. The minute my father could leave the house, he did. He was 17, lied about his age, and signed up for the army to fight in WWII.

I remember his two younger sisters, Gilda and Angelina, were grown women with husbands and children of their own and, whenever they visited with their brother, at some point in the conversation one of them would say that they never forgave him for leaving them alone and unprotected with "that woman, Papa's wife."

It must have been really bad.

Between his childhood and what we now understand to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his experiences in WWII, my father self-medicated with alcohol.

He was a mean drunk. Violent. I still carry some scars.

I forgave my father years ago and am at peace with my relationship with him.

He did the best he could. It fell far short of what I needed or wanted, but it was the best he could do, given all that he, himself, had been through.

I have a few wonderful stories which have served as instructive parables in my life.

But, today, I got in touch with what is perhaps his most precious gift. It is most precious because he didn't even realize he was giving it to me.

When I was a little girl, I used to love to sit on my father's lap and have him read to me. It didn't matter what the story was - and, there weren't many children's books then - but I loved that time with him.

I would press my ear against his chest and listen to his deep voice as it resonated against his lungs and ribs and chest wall.

In my youthful innocence, I imagined that this was what God's voice must sound like: Ethereal and yet human. Other-worldly and yet very present.  Strange, and yet very familiar. Capable of doing great harm in harsh judgment and terrible, thundering, angry words, but also capaable of being soft and tender and loving.

I also remember my father's voice at the dinner table. He would always say, "Eat bread. Come on, have a piece of bread. It will fill your tummy and you'll sleep better."

It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that this was probably the one loving thing his father might have said to them at their dinner table - when they had little else but bread and maybe some broth as a meal.

I was also much older when I realized why my father stopped reading books to me. I was very hurt when he did. I would bring home my books from school and he would insist I read them. He would read "the baby books" to the younger children and tell me that I was too old, now. Reading books was for babies and I was no longer a baby.

Well, one day, it finally occurred to me. He didn't read those books because he couldn't read those books. When I realized that my father was functionally illiterate, I broke down in inconsolable sobs that squeezed my chest until I couldn't breathe.

So, I found ways to read the newspaper to him. "Hey, Daddy," I'd say at the breakfast table. "Did you hear about this?"

"No, what?" he'd ask, even though he had long ago figured out my little game.

And, I'd read him the story from the Fall River Herald News, which, I leaned, was written at the time at a 6th grade level so that the people in that mill town, made up of so many men like my father, could read and understand.

That's the voice I heard in the van. I heard it again in the Cathedral. And, again in the restaurant, urging me to eat some bread.

His voice has been with me all day.

Today, in this amazing country which looks and feels so much like the Portugal of my grandfather's youth, I find myself deeply connected to my father.

My father's spirit is here in this place. It is as nourishing to my soul as a basket of fresh bread.

It is said that no peregrino is ever ready for The Camino but The Camino is always ready for the peregrino

I think I'm ready.

Thanks, Daddy.

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