Issue 6.3, August 1991

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Essay Excerpt:

I had been a regular visitor to Santa Maria del Monte, a norther Spanish village whose permanent inhabitants are mainly elderly farmers, since the summer of 1978, when I went, at age 21, as an anthropology graduate student to get my first taste of field work, and of rurla life. Accompanied by my young husband-to-be, I formed part of a unit with David. We were tagged la pareja ("the couple"). Walking hand-in-hand through the village dirt roads, we projected an image not so much of romance as of innocence; many people, in the first days, asked if we were brother and sister. I had been raised in New York City and had only the vaguest ideas about farming. I had gone on to learn what I could of Spanise peasant history and culture, producing a dissertation about a topic that life had not prepared me for, and embarking, a little hesitantly, on an academic career. In the summer of 1987, after a three-year absence, I was returning again with the book in hand that I had written, in English, about the history of the village, hoping, almost childishly, for the approval of village people. I was returning, as well, with my eleven-month-old son, answering at last people's incessant queries during years of visits as to when we would have children. I felt a great need to return, to show people my book and my child. I had been away for a while, and I wanted to explore new subjects with my longtime interlocutors-- in particular, their ideas about Catholicism and priests, and, more uncertainly, their attitudes toward their own impending deaths. Letters from Santa Maria announcing one death and then another made it clear that these interlocutors, the elderly farmers of the village, were not going to last many years longer. I had to get back to see them.

"Death and Memory: From Santa Maria del Monte to Miami Beach," Ruth Behar