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My Childhood Summer on Monte

11 de Maio 2021


The day had just dawned, but I couldn't sleep anymore. School holidays had already started for almost 2 months, but the August heat reminded me that it was time to go to Monte dos Avós.

I had arrived last week on the train with Nuno, had left Vilar da Lapa behind and after 3 weeks, Grandfather João had taken us to the Barca da Amieira Station – the farnel in the basket that Grandma Jesus had prepared for the Journey...Dark Cake, Broinhas and the bottle of Lemonade nestled on the edge of the bag to drink on the journey. I heard the train whistle waving in the distance, it was time to go to Lisbon, Dad or Uncle Zé would be waiting for us in Santa Apolónia.

Behind were weeks of hiking in the mountains, building tents for Indians, playing cards in the afternoon to escape the siesta and the heat, reading books by Os Cinco, bathing in the tank in the village and pampering the Grandma Jesus and the cousins.

Vacations never ended at that time, and the bag was ready again. Father was going to take me to Casal Ribeiro that Sunday afternoon, he took the snack that Mother had prepared and I already knew that Sr. Reboxo, the usual driver, was waiting for me in the Bus that was going to Moura.

At the age of 9, I was no longer afraid, these trips were an adventure, I loved spending my holidays between Beira-Baixa and Baixo-Alentejo. And now, it was time to head south.

After 3 hours on the way, with a stop in Évora, I finally arrived at my destination. Aunt Leonor was already waiting for me with Uncle Jorge, and I immediately knew that I would be staying in town for a few more days, enjoying the company of my cousins and bathing in Piscina de Moura.

The Grandparents had already called, they wanted to pick me up in the van with the Mule, but the Aunt insisted: _” Oh, mother, she just got here, let her stay a few days!” And it was, each one "fought" to say what he felt.



I laughed about it all, I always ended up spending a few nights in Moura, the day spent by the pool or in the cool of the uncles' house and at night, there we would go for a little stroll to the Garden and the Square. Summer at night in Alentejo is right outside. Fresh water, ice cream and even late, it was too hot to sleep.

Tia Leonor always made the dishes that I liked, the lamb stew, the lamb with peas, the cottage cheese cake, they were just treats, which I loved!

By the end of the week, I already knew it was time to go to Mt. Grandfather Donkey arrived with Grandmother that morning to pick me up. Auntie always sent the bag with the “Eights” and the Cured Sheep Cheese that I loved so much. The Mule had stayed at the Estalagem to eat hay, not far from the Uncle's house, close to Casa Cavalheiro, the Grandparents took the opportunity to do a little shopping - flour for the chicks, barley for the Mare and for the breeding, some Sausages and Orange, which I only drank when I came to visit. It's curious how we remember the flavors and smells of our childhood. Even Grandparents, it's like an eternal cologne that stays ingrained in the Soul, always flooding the eyes from time to time, when it comes to the thought and heart...

And in the middle of the morning there we went, in the Grandparents' blue and red wooden van. It was an emotion, I was thrilled to make the way to Monte, even though it took almost 2h30 at a trot, at the leisurely but lilting pace of the Mule, who so faithfully took us back home. Grandmother always put a scarf on my head, because of the sun, like her, and Grandfather with his hat, with a scarf inside against the flies and the heat, his waistcoat and Cordão watch in his pocket. Even with his shirt sleeves rolled up, he whistled and sang all the way, without stopping. I asked if the Mule wasn't already tired, to which my Grandfather replied smiling: "_ No granddaughter, what she likes to go for a walk!" And I sang with him, I looked at the surrounding fields, at that time only strewn with ancient Olive groves, Meloal, Fig trees and Wheat.

Upon arrival, he would not stop talking and running from one place to the other, it was time to check out the chickens, if Grandfather had done something new on Monte, if Grandmother had changed the beds, not least because not always I slept in the same room in the iron bed next to theirs, sometimes I also slept on the couch in the sewing room, but I was always happy to be back on that little piece of floor.

The days started very early, it was necessary to take advantage of the mornings to feed the turkeys, the chickens, the weaklings, the lambs, the Mule, the chicks and the rabbits. “Grandma do Monte”, as I always called her, would sweep the streets of Monte of the animals' forricas and I would run to put water in the troughs, also because after 12h it was already very hot.

There was no running water and many times when we went to fetch it from the well, near the stream, Grandma would take clothes to wash. There was still no dam and, at that time, the river flowed even more freely and pure. I splashed and tried to catch frogs, while Grandma rubbed the clothes on the stones with the Blue and White Soap, everything was fragrant and fresh, even me 😉.


The sun was already high, the day before Grandma and I had plucked a chicken, which was now for lunch. She would fry it in pieces in oil and lard that she herself had prepared in the winter from the slaughter of the pig, seasoning it with garlic, salt, bay leaf and nothing else. She ate it with a salad and bread that she had made the previous Saturday.

In Monte at that time there was no vegetable garden, just a few small rows, which the Grandparents called crinchoso. Water was a very precious commodity yesterday and today, but in those days there was no intensive cultivation, the land was cultivated with respect, according to the season of the year and I remember that Grandfather respected the fallow land – he cultivated seasonal crops. : Melon, Peas, Broad Beans, Chickpeas, Olives, Figs and some Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers and Coriander.

Pigs were almost always killed at the beginning of February, meat and bacon were cured and we had sausages, blood sausages, lard, jowls for the whole year in the salt pan.

That's how it was, there was no abundance, you prepared what the land provided and in the summer, as there was no refrigerator or freezer, what you ate was prepared on the same day. Sometimes a river fish broth with pennyroyal and mint from the riverside and tomato soup with codfish and egg, which Grandmother bought at Mercearia in Pedrogão, or in Moura.

The afternoons were hot and long, as were the nights. After lunch we took a siesta, only the flies could be heard and not a leaf “stirred”, in those August months, I can say that the heat was much heavier than now, that I live here.

At the end of the afternoon, it was typical to see Grandma cooking on her pedal machine, while Grandpa sang his songs. Sometimes the pepper milling machine was set up and I used the handle to prepare the pepper paste that Grandma kept in large glass jars.

At dusk, the animals were fed and when the sun had already set and the crickets were heard singing, the oil lamps were lit.

At that time, there was no heat, just an immense heat, which made us stay up until very late looking at an infinite sky of stars that covered the Mount, and let ourselves be lulled by the singing of the crickets and the songs of Grandpa Donkey, there, in the doorstep, stretched out on top of the blankets, while we waited for dawn to break out again and open the window to a new day.

In the summers on the Mount of my childhood, there was always time... Time to look at the golden fields, time to feel the breeze that caressed the olive branches, time to taste the cool water from the clay pitcher, which Grandfather had just filled with water from the well, time to feel the dough of bread and poppies in my hands, in the clay bowl, where two of me could fit, time to talk in the endless hours of summer nights, time to watch Grandpa shave in the middle of Rua do Monte in long underwear, time to wash the dishes in the freshly filled bowl in front of Monte's door, time to open a sweet melon and smear your fingers while grandfather sang, time to hug my Grandparents... now they bless me from the top of Heaven and snuggle me between these new summers, here on the Mount, where we wait for those who visit us, always with soul and heart.


Well done,

Rita Valadas

#burricodorada#rtvaladas#alentejo#portugal#visitalentejo

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