The cool morning in Morocco made work in the field hospital less comfortable, and it seemed to get even gloomier with constant rain for the rest of the day. It seemed to give an equally gloomy omen for Miguel. The colder weather reminded him of his days in Spain as a child. His mother, Juanita, helped in the war effort as a nurse and moved him from his native city of Madrid to his grandmother’s, which was safer from Franco’s troops. Shortly before the war began, Miguel’s grandmother, Maria, had lived in Deleitosa, a colder city in eastern West Spain. Wanting to be safe from the war, Maria moved to the much warmer city of Barcelona and was able to get a decent deal with a house owner who was about to join in the Republican army. She never had the chance to give the house back, as the soldier died in 1938. By then, she was already an accepted resident and was allowed to continue to live in the house indefinitely. Barcelona was probably one of the safest cities, and would continue to be until 3 short months before the war itself ended in April of 1939. That’s why Juanita thought it a good place to keep her son until the fighting stopped.
Miguel would not learn of the harsh imprisonment his mother received until after he returned to Spain from a long time in self-imposed exile. His aunt and cousin also lived with Maria, not necessarily for protection, but to continue participating in the Partido Comunista, the main communist party for the Republic. The war inevitably came to him anyway, which was made even worse by his aunt’s activity in the communist party. Franco and his supporters hated anything that attacked the Catholic Church and any people who pushed for more democratic ways.
It was on a cold morning just like this one, that Francoist troops burst into the Barcelona house after they had discovered that Miguel’s aunt was active in the Partido Comunista. Every one of them was arrested, even though his grandmother was deeply Catholic and only a moderate Republican. She had agreed to house her daughter and grandchildren and wanted to keep them safe from incoming Francoist supporters. Miguel and his cousin, Isabella, were let off easily compared to the aunt and grandmother. His grandmother was “let off easy” by being sentenced to just 2 and a half years in a concentration camp for not bringing criminals to justice after Francoists came into town. Her aunt fared much worse, as she was a part of the Partido Comunista. Both he and Isabella were kept in a sectioned off room in the prison that was made to detain and reevaluate young children for the new regime. Even though he was still very young, the screams that came from his aunt in a faraway room as she was being tortured would haunt him forever.
During the 2 and a half years Maria was in prison, Miguel and Isabella would be reeducated by a new Francoist school that started soon after the war ended. They would instruct them in the Catholic faith and how to be subordinate to authorities aligned with Franco. Anyone who taught different political doctrine would be labeled as enemies of Spain. Both of them saw behind many lies, especially the propaganda that told of the perfect Spain that cleansed their enemies away. They soon realized though, through friends or harsh punishments for “disobedience” to accept the teachings and think independently in private. It was still hard for Miguel to not talk bad about the government outside of school, which got him into light trouble with local authorities. Still he usually said only small things and complaints, which meant lighter punishment than many others who might have “stepped out of line”. The school was connected to the prison camp, and because Maria was Catholic, she was allowed to see her grandchildren twice a week if she was on “good behavior”.
After those 2 and a half years, she was able to leave free and take her “proper” grandchildren with her to ensure loyalty. Little would his aunt, grandmother, or himself know that these camps had one thing that was in very short abundance after the war, food. It wouldn’t be until much later when Isabella described the things that she had to eat as a lone young adult, when Miguel realized how bad the free members of his family were with food supply. Not one to eat more than he needed throughout his whole life, Miguel was a skinny man and usually only ate because he had to. Any lack of food or decline in quality of it was not noticed by him because he was fine with the small amounts of food that his grandmother gave him.
After Maria left prison, she and the grandkids moved back to Deleitosa, where they could more easily grow food in the aftermath of the war. Compared to Madrid and Barcelona, Deleitosa was a backwater town. It was very small, secluded, and had very little industrial development, even compared to most of the country. Until he went to the new medical college when he was 18, he had to help his grandmother and Isabella out by doing farming chores and tending to the often poor crops. This was the heaviest the war hit him so far, as he usually worked so hard for so little overall food for the three of them.
Miguel shuttered as he tried to move past the vivid memories and concentrated on the refugees and wounded soldiers from the Korean War that came into the makeshift hospital to receive treatment for injuries or sicknesses. A lot of refugees were of French descent, but there were some Koreans and Americans as well. Since Morocco was most likely going to soon gain independence from France and Spain, it became a popular place for refugees from both sides of the conflict to come and get aid.
Then of course there was a significant number of Spaniards who had fled to Morocco. They were few in the area of Morocco that Miguel was in, but enough to help out. They had been forced out or left Spain by choice due to the oppressive nature of the Franco Regime. Many of these Spaniards had their full families with them here to get temporary aid until they found a new life. Many helped maintain the hospital, others became assistants to the doctors there, and others concentrated on getting more and more supplies for everyone. For Miguel, he longed for his old home. While he may not have all good memories from Spain, he still enjoyed his time there, even if he had to deal with the education programs of the Francoist Regime. Family and friends helped keep him from saying bad things about anything offensive about the Franco Regime in front of authorities or school teachers. They in a way helped keep him sane in an insane, conforming, and oppressive Francoist Spain.
Work in the camp was slow and not much was going on. It seemed that the flux of refugees had been in decline for quite some time, but even today was an oddity for how busy Miguel and his co-workers usually were. It was late that day, around 5 in the evening, when Miguel would have the conversation of his life with a friend. Usually, Miguel’s shift ended around 6:45, but the chief doctor had told him that he could end early, due to the low number of patients needing attention. He was gathering his things to leave for home, when another doctor, one of his best friends since he left for Morocco, cached him and told him he might have great news.
“Hey, your surname is Hernando, right?”
“Why yes, but-”
“I think I have great news for you Miguel! This might be nothing to get excited about, but when I was over in West Morocco, I meet someone who might be related to you. A friend of mine was sick with gout and asked me to take him to a trusted friend and well-respected doctor. His surname was Hernando, and he looked almost exactly like you, except he was about 15 years your senior. It very well might be your father!”
Miguel had not seen his father since he was maybe 3 years old, soon before he had to leave for his grandmother’s. During the civil war, his grandmother and aunt had kept tabs on Miguel’s father. Miguel was told that he was fighting in the war for the Republicans, but he never got any details on where he was. He was last reported in Barcelona, shortly before the Francoists had attacked the place. He didn't know how to feel about this information. He didn’t really know his father and really had no desire to meet him, not necessarily because he didn’t want to see him, but because he feared what he would learn about his fate. He had no idea of how he fared after the war. He could have died in the fighting, gotten captured, or have been exiled. Similar to how he did not want to return to Spain out of fear of learning potentially bad things that happened to his family.
He had told his friend that he would need to think about if he wanted to meet him and check when he would be available should he agree to meet with him. His friend was flabbergasted at this, but after enough convincing, he left Miguel to his thoughts. Before that, however, he did give Miguel his father’s phone number so that a meeting could be set up much quicker without him being the middleman. Weeks passed, and that turned into a month, a month and a half, until he finally decided to at least try meeting with him, as he was his father. He was nervous about the phone call, as he did not know what to expect from what was essentially a stranger to him. He tried to make as strong and as indifferent of a tone of voice as possible.
“Hello, who is this?”
“Yes, this is Miguel Hernando. I’m a doctor in Northern Morocco and one of my friends told me that he met you back in December when he took one of his friends to be treated for strep. I believe you may be my long-lost father who I never saw since the war that ended in ‘39.”
The silence was predictable, yet still made Miguel very tense. It seemed to drag on for a lifetime. Would he even care if he was his son? Given all the years that have passed, Miguel had no idea if his father had moved on from his old family or wanted anything to do with them. Finally, the man answered.
“I only had one son long ago, and I fear he is probably long dead, imprisoned, or fully indoctrinated to Franco’s Spain by now. You said your name was Miguel? That was my son’s name. How do I know that this isn’t some Francoist trick to get me back into one of their camps?”
“Well for one, most of the camps have slowed down in admitting people. As a kid I was used to them because my mother, Juanita Hernando, was moving in and out of them constantly enough for me to have to live with my grandmother most of my life before I went to Morocco. My grandmother, Maria Hernando, always told me of your or my father’s loyalty to the Republic and that you had fought in the civil war from the start to close to the end.”
“I am interested to meet with you, although I very well could not be your father, as many parents got separated from their children after the war. That’s where most of the refugees are from; they had to flee from their families before the Francoist regime used them against their families. How does a week from now on the 17th sound for you?”
It was good for Miguel, as that day was a Sunday, the easiest and laxest of his days at the makeshift hospital. The meeting was very awkward and neither of them were sure that the other was their father or son. However, Miguel got his birth certificate and was able to prove to his father that he was his son. It was not as joyous as Miguel had hoped it would be, but both had renewed hope and light in their eyes. They could tell they were happy to see each other at last. However, Miguel still felt like something was missing. He had not known his father all his life and he did not know how they would make up for lost time. Over the next few months, he did grow to like him, but that empty feeling was still there in him. He came to know him as the great Spanish doctor of Morocco, but it would still take him a long time he thought, maybe years, for him to bond with him like he was his father. This was to him the worst thing that the war did to him, separate his family and give him this sense of loss.
Over the period of five years, Miguel bonded with his father along with his newfound family that he made. Apparently, his father had been imprisoned after he was captured in the final days of the war. He, like most other soldiers who fought for the Republic, was treated harshly by Francoist authorities. Torture was common, even if it meant nothing more than the entertainment of the prison’s guards. He was set for the death penalty. However, in the long line of waiting, he never was called in to be executed. Eventually, he was released after the regime began to relax many of their oppressive policies. However, he knew that he was still a big red flag for the government and soon decided to move to Morocco, as he had no clue where his family was, if they were even alive. Since he knew the world of medicine best, he decided to help those who needed it in the Korean War.
The bonding process was slow and at times difficult. Since Miguel was born during the war, he never knew either faction fighting for power during it. He did support many Republican policies; however, he was alienated by the stories of infighting and brutality that happened within the republic. In contrast, his father, Jose, was a strong supporter of the Republic, even after all this time. While he never wanted to go back to Spain, due to all the brutalities he endured, he never gave up on the ideal of the republic, especially after World War Two. Miguel’s different stance did make Jose a little frustrated, not at him, but at the fact that Miguel’s generation never appreciated the republic as much as his did. Jose supported the ideals of the Republic, especially the potential economic opportunities it tried to open up. Not to mention, he saw more qualities in him that belonged to his mother, as he was more for speaking for justice with the Spanish Communists. He cared little for actual politics though, which is all Miguel seemed to want to talk about at first. However, the two were able to slowly bond. He told his son war stories and tried to teach him how to be a good father by learning from his mistakes as an absent father.
After a couple decades of the two families living together in Morocco, Miguel decided to go back to Spain. What prompted this was the death of Franco himself. Without him, there was even more uncertainty than ever about the oppressive regime’s stability and harshness. For Miguel, Spain was where he grew up. He might not be as attached to the idea of the Republic, but his childhood and medical studies were filled with many decent memories. He had enjoyed spending time with his cousin and grandmother while making some good friends he kept in contact with, even he left for Morocco. He didn’t really enjoy much of the agricultural labor but he knew he had it lucky compared to others he met, who had to take on multiple jobs to support their even more exhausted families. His life had almost felt normal, even considering three missing or dead family members. Now he found one, which encouraged him to find the other two, his mother and aunt.
Perhaps he would like Spain better without Franco, especially since there was no grab for power by any of his would-be successors. However, since he was only a witness to the many atrocities that the Franco regime committed, he was a little more willing to return than his father. It took weeks of convincing him to at least return home once to see it for one last time, so that his fighting and many others would not be in complete vain. Jose never wanted to return, as he had only bitter memories from Spain. He finally relented and decided he would return just this one time, to see Spain again and to find his first long lost wife. However, both of the men were in for a tragic surprise.
They had learned that Miguel’s mother, Juanita, died due to lack of food. She moved to Deleitosa support her mother in law, Maria. It would also help her partially escape from the authorities. Even though famine was far less widespread in the 50’s, Juanita was unable to find a job that would give her enough of an income to sustain herself in Madrid. Since her only son was long gone in Morocco, she just had herself and mother in law to take care of. Even though she did not have any children in Spain, she was pushed by Francoist authorities to remarry and continue her duty to bring more children in the most Catholic and “right” way as possible. She resisted, wanting nothing to do with Catholicism, which ended usually with her temporary imprisonment. She resisted, in the eyes of the Francoist Regime, by trying to get a job as a factory worker in Granada. She got so hungry that Juanita turned to the black market before she reunited with Maria.
It was not enough though. She died in the streets and in poverty. Food was so scarce that not many were able to do anything for her, even Maria and her friends. By then both Miguel’s grandmother and aunt that he had lived with for most of his time in Spain had also passed away. The aunt died in a concentration camp and the grandmother died peacefully of old age. It took almost an entire year for them to discover the fate of their long-lost family. They both wanted to check Madrid first, as that was where they last knew Juanita to be. However, asking around for a former communist was still cause for suspicion, and they did not want to get in trouble with the authorities. They discovered Miguel’s aunts death by a public government list detailing those executed for treason against Franco and Catholic Spain. The transitionary government was at least willing to give away that information so proper mourning could start. That gave the two hope that Juanita could still be alive, since she wasn’t on the list and decided to check in with Jose’s mother, Maria. being out in a backwater town with less government presence and authority made it a lot easier to ask around about their loved ones. That was when they discovered the awful truth of both the women’s fates.
Still, Miguel wanted to remain in Spain, to ensure his children knew of the land he was born in. Talk of a transition to a more democratic government encouraged Miguel and his family to stay, hopeful of the Spain the previous Spanish generation fought so hard to preserve. He had been taken back to Spain and what was left of his devastated family. He reunited with his cousin, who was a leading voice in the movement for a return of democracy. His father however, left after a few years. His second wife was a native of Vietnam and the long war there made her want to see relatives that she had not seen in a while. That prompted Jose and the rest of his family to go as well. However, despite all his bitter feelings from Francoist Spain and his previous certainty that the Civil War was all in vain for the Republicans, he left his home country with some hope for it. He would openly defend his Spain from afar and paid attention to any and all news in it. Miguel and Jose, who had developed their father-son relationship to the point of being fond of one another, still communicated with each other until Jose’s passing of old age at 97. Miguel still felt a reduced sense of emptiness with his father, as they had lost so much time together. They only really knew of each other as fellow adults, which was an uncomfortable time to develop a father-son relationship. However, while not as close as other fathers and sons, they still called the most important and eventful part of their lives as that day they meet first each other. Miguel no longer had to plead to himself in his head for his return to Spain and his family. He was back with them both in some way and intended to never let go of it.