For my Grandmother, Alejandrina.
On April 12, over a hundred years ago, a relative of Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra—the William Shakespeare in the Spanish language–was born in the sweetest town of Colombia, Moniquirá.
Pacific Saavedra, better known as The Duck Saavedra in town, was an entrepreneur and storyteller, who loved playing the treble guitar and singing.
The Duck was friends with the Acosta brothers, and with them, serenaded young señoritas and fixed marriages. Anibal, the young brother, played the guitar, was an adventurer and wanted to join the military.
Pedro Leon, the elder, played the mandolin and was charismatic. At only 28, Pedro had already served two terms as mayor of a nearby town called Santana. He had a mischievous smile that stole people’s hearts, especially his sister’s, Alejandrina.
Aleja, as everybody called her, was the oldest sister and practically the lady of the house caring for her five siblings. Her mother, Doña Oliva, was confined to bed due to acute asthma and the sadness of widowhood.
On a rainy afternoon, the Acosta brothers and The Duck visited the house.
– What’s for lunch sister? – Asked Pedro standing under the kitchen’s door frame. Without turning her head and while she stirred the soup, Alejandrina answered his brother with motherly sarcasm:
– Same as yesterday brother, but you would know if you came to sleep! – Alejandrina had a talent for cooking and always charmed her guests. Therefore, she considered it an insult if somebody refused to come for dinner.
– Dinner is ready. Come quickly before it gets cold! – called the young woman not knowing there was a visitor in the house. When she met him at the table, she fell in love at first sight.
Pacific’s eyes, as blue as the ocean in his name, locked with Alejandrina’s for a brief moment, but before the rest of the family noticed, they looked away.
A few months later, Pedro found out what was cooking. Knowing the charming power of his friend over women, he opposed the relationship with fervent brotherly jealousy. Nonetheless, Pacific knew him well and with patience tamed his pal’s pride.
– Believe me, Pedro, your sister is not just another song. I want her to be my wife – said Pacific to his friend with a frank voice.
Then, on Holy Saturday 1952, Alejandrina and Pacific surprised the family with their plans to wed the next day. Amidst the screams of Doña Oliva—which could be heard from the street—a messenger of the priest passed a handwritten note through the window to the future bride:
– Aleja, I can only celebrate the wedding at 5 a.m. before the crowd of Easter Mass. Don’t be late!
Father Alfonso was a friend of the lovebirds and had arranged the marriage in secret. According to him, men over 30 could not be single. Therefore, it was his mission to marry The Duck who was almost 35.
The next morning, dressed in white with a lace headscarf over her head, the 18-year-old woman walked the aisle with her brother Pedro, the only member of her family who attended the wedding.
After he gave his sister away to his best friend, he changed into the altar boy garment and assisted the priest. And so, as the sunrise rays lit up the church through the stained glass, God blessed the beginning of The Duck Family.
As husband and wife, Pacific and Alejandrina started their life together. She worked as an elementary teacher and him as a merchant in the marketplace. Although they were still enjoying the honey of the newlyweds, tragedy knocked on their door before their second month of marriage.
The Celestine of their love story, Pedro, was stabbed in the chest and back the morning of June 7. In his days as a politician, he had made enemies when he refused to put a price on his conscience, knowing well it would come back to haunt him.
A dirty politician who was involved in a bribe for the bid of a highway hired an assassin and put an end to the life of a bright star.
Alejandrina walked to her mother’s house and found her on the steps of the entrance with her brother in her arms. Doña Oliva’s broken heart suffered in silence four more years and finally, she reunited with her husband and son.
Fifteen years later, The Duck Family counted nine members: Alejandrina, Pacific and seven kids– Marina, María, Gabriel, Cecilia, Alejandro, Cristina, and Juan. They worked hard and saved every penny to open up a restaurant outside of town.
They called it “The Little Corner.” It was a local food deli that soon became the popular spot where doctors, judges, and other personalities met.
Respected and admired by the people, The Ducks grew their business and made enough money to purchase a small farm across the street in a hard-fought auction with their neighbor Alirio Rava. Unhappy with the result, Rava harrased them to make them sell.
Even though Pacific was a man of calm temper and avoided confrontation at all cost, he was also stubborn and didn’t allow others intimidate him.
– Relax Aleja. Nobody is going to force us out of our home – said The Duck to his wife when he saw her worry. Nonetheless, her instinct told her differently and she couldn’t sleep from the moment of the first threat. She was right.
A Tuesday in June, after breakfast, Pacific kissed his wife goodbye and left for the farm with his helper Carlos and his loyal dog Leoncico. He had to check the hooves of the mare he had rescued a couple of weeks before. Her name was Dove, she was white, noble, and one-eyed.
Alejandrina stayed at the restaurant with her helpers getting the food ready for the lunch rush-hour, not knowing why the air escaped her lungs and felt a weight in her gut.
Suddenly, the loud noise of a gunshot echoed the mountain. Alejandrina ran to the entrance of the building and found Carlos catching his breath.
– Don Pacific! He got shot!
With her soul in rags and blinded by the tears, the love of The Duck fell on her knees next to the agonizing body. In silence, she hugged him, kissed his forehead, and closed his eyes.
Pacific’s murder saddened the people of the town. Known as the candy capital of Colombia, Moniquira lived the bitterest weeks of its history, watching the 42-year-old widow and her seven children bury the husband, father, and exemplary human being.
Months passed and the murder remained unresolved. Fearing for the life of her kids, Alejandrina decided to sell everything and move to the big city. She hired a moving van and packed the memories of the life with her husband into five leather trunks. The Litte Corner closed its doors to the public the last week of December, 1976.
As the years went by, Alejandrina provided for her family with the proceeds of the dressmaking workshop she installed at her house. She never re-married and saw her children succeed in their professional careers and become parents.
She survived, among other things, a car accident that kept her for 19 days in an intensive care unit, breast cancer, and the death of her oldest son due to pancreatic cancer.
The heroine of this story was not made of steel, but flesh and blood. Her heart beat at the rhythm of life and never stopped to play the victim. The power of her faith in God strengthened her to face evil and injustice, and the love of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren nurtured her to continue the legacy that she began with her late husband at dawn in 1952.
The Ducks made their mark in a century of Colombia’s history. They inherited their descendants with the natural thread that the peace-weaving machines need to knit a free and just country. This fiber can be found abundantly in a little corner of every Colombian family.
Thank you for reading and sharing.
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