Monday, July 31, 2006

Ojiisan


The man in this picture is my Grandfather, Carmello Caceres, who died on Saturday afternoon in a small town in Devon, aged 85 years old. I have fond memories of my Grandfather, with whom I lived for two years when I was about 8 years old, and since I cannot be in England to be at his funeral I thought I should try for a little eulogy here on this otherwise light-hearted forum. As he might well have liked, I have cracked open a beer and am sitting here in the sweltering Japanese heat remembering my time in his home and his rather remarkable story.

My Grandfather grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and at the age of 15 he lied about his age and ran away from home to join the Republican Army, which was under attack from a Fascist rebellion led by Franco. This was rather normal behaviour for a boy from Barcelona, which city can still beat seven shades of shit out of any German football team you care to mention, and of course Real Madrid to boot (with or without David Beckham); and by this action my Grandfather became one of the first men in Europe to rise up against the tide of Fascism which, with quite open consent from America and England, was sweeping rapidly across Western Europe. He was also one of the early victims of this tide, since in the Spanish Civil War he was shot in the head and had to recuperate briefly before returning to the front. My Grandfather was also a victim of the Western European attitude towards people who opposed Hitler at that time - having slapped a one-sided arms embargo on the conflict to prevent the Republicans from winning, they welcomed the soldiers fleeing to France at gunpoint and herded them into internment camps. These soldiers were forced to leave everything they owned behind, even being forced to dump handfuls of Spanish earth which they had hoped to carry with them into exile.

Of course, the political plans of the English-speaking world being what they are, the British eventually found their own interests threatened by their one-time Fascist friends, and had to turn from imprisoning my Grandfather to begging him for help. French Foreign Legion recruiters came to the internment camps and my Grandfather was quick to join up, moving from the Legion to the British Army after a year or two and distinguishing himself over several theatres. My Grandfather has had the pleasure of being shot at, bombed, shelled and generally used rudely by Fascists of every nationality and stripe from Madrid to Berlin, with a nice little detour through North Africa to complete the set. In total he spent 9 years at war, and was unable to return to his homeland at its completion. Instead he settled in England, working as a forester in the South West, where he learnt English and met my Grandmother. By the time it became safe for him to return to Spain - after the death of Franco -he probably already had Grandchildren.

My Grandfather was a singularly cheerful chap. When I was little he would get up early every morning to make breakfast for my Grandmother, and I would come down the stairs and sit in the kitchen babbling at him while he cooked. He had a huge European-style vegetable patch in our back garden, and kept an allotment around the corner where he grew christmas trees before transplanting them to the nearby Grovelly woods, where he worked and, while he worked, I played. Life in the country in Wiltshire in the early 80s was a free and easy time, just like stepping out of the scenes of the Railway Children or a Thomas Hardy novel (minus the sex and moral conundra - I was only 8!), and I think it is largely because of my Grandparents that I was able to experience as romantic and carefree a childhood as anyone can hope for.

Although my Grandparents were relatively strict and disciplinarian sorts, they were gentle folk and treated me very well. As an adult I have noticed that despite their singularly harsh and difficult early adulthoods, they have always allowed subsequent generations to do what they thought was best, and always believed our future was our own. I like to hope that the things I have done with this freedom, and the future I am trying to build for myself, met with some measure of approval from the sweet old man who I remember. Certainly his opinion of me has always been as important to me as my memories of him, and now that he has passed I would like to commend his memory to all of you.

This moment marks the passing of an ordinary man who, like many in his time, did great things simply because he felt they were right. Perhaps his generation is the only Western generation in living memory which will be genuinely able to claim that it went to war for freedom, rather than for bastardry and money, or power and black gold - and as the years pass the memories of that generation are, like my Grandfather's, fading away. Although he may have passed an ordinary man in a quiet place, he remains to me such a special childhood memory that I can still smell the tobacco in his pouch and the fire in the grate. I hope to carry these memories with me until, like all ordinary men, I also fade away. Vale, Carmello Caceres.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anna Caceres said...

How bizarre- the person you are describing is my grandpa!! Didn't know him very well- my dad was his youngest son Nicholas. Knew he had probably passed away but had no idea of when.

2:26 AM  

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