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viernes, 26 de julio de 2019

Little Angel of Miracles

                                                                           Alberto Julián Pérez ©                                         
            Doña Argentina Nery Olguín was born in Villa Unión, in the province of La Rioja, on the 25th of May of 1933. She was the tenth daughter in her family. Her father worked as a laborer in the surrounding olive groves and vineyards. Argentina learned to read and write in the small school of the town. At the age of fifteen, in 1948, she married her boyfriend, Bernabé Gaitán. She was already pregnant at the time, and they both knew that they would spend the rest of their lives together and have a many children.
            Bernabé Gaitán was a carpenter’s apprentice. His father owned some land in the neighborhood of la Virgen de la Peña, and there Bernabé built an adobe house for his family, with the help of his father-in-law and his brothers. This was a time of optimism for the people of Villa Unión. General Perón was generous with the needy provinces of Noroeste, and many had taken loans from the government to plant the vineyards and olive trees. Tourism was being encouraged. The area was one of paradisiacal beauty. The town was surrounded by mountains that descended toward the valley, punctuated by ravines of crimson clay. In the high altitudes one could find the trails that brought together the earth with the sapphire sky. The air was pure, and the zorzales and the viuditas, songbirds native to the area, sang among the chañar trees and the jojoba shrubs.
            In 1950 they received news that made filled them with joy. The First Lady of the Republic, Evita Perón, would pass through the province in a caravan, accompanied by a motorcade, and make a stop in the town. Evita wished to behold the scenery of the area and converse with the lugareños, the local people. At that time, Argentina already had two children, a son and a daughter, and she wanted Evita to see them. The caravan arrived and stopped at the mayor’s home. The First Lady gave orders to her bodyguards that the townspeople were to be allowed to approach and speak with her. Argentina arrived carrying a child in each arm. The poor people of the town surrounded Evita. They were mostly all women. She hugged them and took the children in her arms. Argentina was attracted to her enchanting smile and her gaze. Her eyes endearingly looked upon all who approached her. She handed over her son so she could embrace him. Evita spoke to the young mother. She asked her name. “Argentina,” she said proudly. She wanted to know her birthday. She replied that it was the 25th of May.
“You are the homeland, Chinita” said Evita. “When you have a child born on the 9th of July, you shall call him Angel. He shall be your protector. And I, regardless of where ever I may be, shall watch over you.”[1] Argentina looked at her in disbelief, but because this was Evita, so young, so beautiful, anything was possible. Argentina was very much a believer, always went to mass, and from that day prayed that Evita’s wish would someday come true.
            Two years passed, Evita died and, a few years later, Perón fell. The dictatorial military governments punished the poor provinces of Noroeste, who had supported Perón, and condemned them to abandonment. Bernabé and Argentina had a child every year. The family continued to grow. Bernabé added more rooms and a workshop to his adobe house. There he set up his carpenter’s shop. He was young and was a very good woodworker. But the money did not go very far, and when the youngest children were old enough, Argentina looked for work as a house cleaner in the homes of the more well-to-do people: the doctor, the food store owner, the hardware dealer.
            There was no good medical clinic in Villa Unión. The peronistas had promised that they would open one, but when Perón fell the project was forgotten. The town’s only doctor, Rafael Villagra, took care of a few births and of curing those with ambulatory ailments. The midwives of the town assisted women in labor. Argentina had had her children in her own adobe ranch. At the beginning of 1965 she had already given birth to her eleventh son, but five of her children had died while very young from fever, diarrhea, and malnutrition. She said that she had six children who were alive and five who were little angels. She always took flowers to their tombs in the cemetery of Villa Unión.
1965 was a difficult year. There was so much poverty. Arturo Illia had reached the presidency with very little popular support. The population was not Radical.[2] It was Peronista. [3] The military leaders were already preparing another coup. They wanted to completely destroy Peronismo. Theirs was to be a cruel dictatorship, to finally eradicate the Movement. Argentina was pregnant once more. She expected the baby at the end of June or the beginning July of 1966. She begged that he or she be born on the 9th of July, the Day of Independence, so she could dedicate the child to Evita. She resolved to name him Angel, or Angelita if she was a girl. The military crisis worsened, and on the 28th of June of 1966 the military leaders brought about the downfall of Illia. The next day, the 29th of June, General Onganía assumed power. He said that this was the government of the “Argentine Revolution”. “Argentine it will not be,” she said to herself.
On the first of July, Argentina had a dream: she saw Evita in her kitchen, sitting on one of the chairs made of algarrobo. [4]  She was dressed in white, with her blond hair up. “Saint Evita!” exclaimed Argentina in her dream. Evita looked at her with her dark eyes full of sadness, and said nothing. She got up, opened the door of the ranch, and left. Argentina understood that she had been given a sign. On the 9th of July, at ten in the morning, in her adobe house, Angelito was born. His father had made him a crib in his woodshop. He entered the bedroom where the baby lay and presented it to his wife. “It is for Angel,” he told her.
He was a beautiful boy and full of life. Bernabé often left his shop to go check on him. Father Zanabria congratulated them. It was their twelfth child. Argentina told him he was to be named Angel. The priest suggested that they give him Michael as his first name, like the Archangel. Michael Angel would protect them from the demons. It seemed like a good idea. The father loved them very much and always tried to help them and to take food and clothes for the children. One Christmas he brought them a small goat to celebrate the holiday.
One month later, they had the fiesta of baptism. They prepared locro and empanadas, and served a humble wine for everyone. [5] A singer who was a friend of the priest’s came from Chilecito.  He delighted them all with his zambas and cuecas, familiar songs and dances of the country. They enjoyed themselves.
However, things were not going well for the family. Poverty followed them. Don Bernabé had two sons who assisted him at the shop, but they did not earn enough money. There were too many mouths to feed. Argentina, who worked restlessly in her own home caring for the children, spent her afternoons at the home of Dr. Villagra, to earn a few pesos. Whenever he went out, Bernabé would take Angelito to his shop and put him in his crib. It seemed that he enjoyed the persistent song of the garlopas, the wood planes. He loved the perfumes of fresh wood.
The 24th of December of that year, Argentina and Bernabé prepared for the Christmas holidays. The evening had barely arrived when they put their children to bed, except Angelito, who slept in his crib next to them. They kissed him and went to bed. The next day, everyone was to be up early. Bernabé had made toys in his woodshop for the children, and they happily awaited the fiesta. Argentina’s mother had prepared a turkey, and they were to go have dinner at her house. They lay down and made love. Soon after, Argentina fell asleep. In the early morning hours, she had a nightmare and woke up gasping. In her dream, Evita had appeared. Her small body and her blonde hair were the same as always, but her face was gaunt and her eyes were empty. She feared the worst. She got up and went to hug her small child. She thought it was a bad omen. Her husband tried to calm her by telling her to have faith in God. He would protect them.
Nothing bad happened to the family. For them, the end of the year was uneventful. The political situation in the province continued to be delicate. One heard rumors. The Gendarmerie, the local guardsmen, remained vigilant in the area. It was said that guerrillas might be hiding in the mountains, some column detached form Che´s troops, who was in Bolivia. It was believed that there could be a popular upraising in Tucumán that would extend through all of Noroeste.
That year, the winter promised to be a harsh one. The temperature went down in April. May was cold and windy. At the end of that month, Angelito began to feel bad. Argentina became alarmed. She was already 33 years old and did not want to lose any more children. It cost her so much to have them and to raise them. Each one was flesh of her flesh. She took him to Dr. Villagra, who examined him. It was nothing serious. She worked at the doctor’s house as his cleaning lady and he looked after her children without charging her.
In June, Angelito was not eating well. He laughs, as always, and had a big smile. His eyes were dark, black, like his mother’s. Argentina breastfed him, she had good mother’s milk, and she did not know what was happening. On the 23rd of June, he woke up with a fever. She gave him an aspirin and covered him up. That night he began to cry. When Argentina raised him from the crib, she noticed that his body was rigid. He could not move. Alarmed, she got dressed and ran to the home of Dr. Villagra. Her husband followed. The doctor got up to attend to the child. He examined the boy and told the mother that her son was in a very bad state. He had meningitis. Argentina begged him to save him. Her son was an innocent angel. The doctor replied that he was now in the hands of God. Her husband pleaded with him not to leave him like that. He asked him to take the child to a clinic and that he would pay him back. Dr. Villagra called an ambulance and they set out to take him to Chilecito. At one in the morning of the 24th, the ambulance arrived with a nurse. Argentina took the boy into her arms and climbed into the ambulance. Her husband sat next to her. It was a cold night, with a shining moon. The mountain scenery turned ghostly. They arrived at El Cachiyuyal and Angelito breathed with difficulty. As they traversed up the slope of Miranda, the mother felt something was wrong. They stopped the ambulance by the side of the road. When the nurse examined the boy, she confirmed that he was dead. Argentina broke out in a heart-breaking cry. Her husband took her in his arms.
They held the wake in their adobe house in the neighborhood of la Virgen de la Peña. The neighbors of the small town of Villa Unión arrived to view the little angel. His mother put a chair over the table in the kitchen and there she placed the dressed up body of her son. Against the chair, she placed a small ladder. This was what would take him to heaven. He had died an innocent. Eternity was a guaranteed thing for him. Over the table, she placed chrysanthemums. She asked her relatives and neighbors to come up and see the little angel. Everyone told her that he was beautiful, and that she had yet one more guardian angel to protect her. On the 25th, they buried him in a small coffin his father made for him, in the cemetery of Villa Unión, close to his other little brothers who had passed away before him. There they placed a cross with the following inscription: “Miguel Angel Gaitán, r.i.p. 7/9/1966 – 6/24/1967.”
Life continued in its course.  A short time afterward, Che was assassinated in Bolivia. The gendarmerie calmed down and stopped patrolling the area. In the cities, the popular resistance made itself known. In 1969, the workers at Rosario y Cordoba rebelled. Doña Argentina found out what was happening on television, which she would sometimes watch at the home of the doctor.
In 1970, Doña Argentina organized a mass in remembrance of her deceased children. By this time, she had given birth to two more. In 1971, one of her daughters died. Argentina was once again pregnant. In 1972, she had her fifteenth child. She begged God not to take any more of her children. She had nine living children, and she did not want any more to die. She prayed to her son, Angel. He had always been so special to her. He was the only one for whom Evita had appeared. She could not forget her words. Now he was by the side of the saint. Argentina heard that Evita’s body had been returned to Perón. It had suffered a long exile. Her embalmed body was intact. Doña Argentina commented to herself that it would be wonderful to see her son, Angel, again. She remembered Evita’s words: “Angel was going to protect her, and she, herself, would be looking after her from heaven.”
It was heard that Perón would return to the country. Argentina thought she would like to go to Buenos Aires and see the General if he ever returned. She would recount to him what Evita had told her that day in Villa Unión, and she would tell him that she appeared to her in her dreams at night. But they were so far from Buenos Aires . . . it would be so difficult to go, and it was even more probable that he could not receive her. Finally, it was announced that Perón would return on the 20th of June of 1973.
In the month of February, the town experienced several days of stormy weather. It was the season of the Zonda wind. It rained a lot, and the sky was filled with lightning.  Doña Argentina had a premonition. That night she could not sleep. She was afraid. Something special was about to happen. Finally, the next morning, the sun came up. It was hot. Around noon Don Silverio showed up at her house. He was the caretaker of the cemetery. He said that part of the cemetery had flooded and that the coffin of one of her children had been unearthed. Doña Argentina knew it had to be the coffin of Angelito. She ran with her husband to see him. Bernabé raised the lid of the coffin. It was Miguel Angel. The baby was intact. It seemed that time had not passed. Doña Argentina lifted him and took him in her arms. He was like a doll. She kissed him. She thought that perhaps Evita was a doll, too. She asked Don Silverio Vega to please build her son a tomb made of brick, so that her little angel may rest in peace. Don Silverio did so, and everything returned to normal.
In town, everyone was aware of Peron’s return. It was no longer prohibited to be a Peronista. No one was beaten or incarcerated for shouting, “Perón! Perón!” or for singing the Peronista March. People could even have a picture of Evita and Perón in their homes. The 20th of June approached. This was the day of the announced return.  Doña Argentina was very happy. On the night of the 19th, she had a dream. A friendly and familiar figure appeared. She saw Evita sitting by her son’s grave. She smiled when she opened the tomb. The bricks moved and Angel’s coffin appeared. Evita raised the lid and took the child in her arms.
At noon, Don Silverio showed up at her house again. Something strange had happened. During the night, the wall in Angel’s tomb had fallen. The coffin was open, and the lid lay by its side. The child’s body had not suffered any damage. He told her that he was going to notify the police that there were vandals about in the city. Doña Argentina asked him not to say anything, everything was all right. She ran to the cemetery to see her son. She took him in her arms, cradled him, and sang him a song she had learned from her own mother. The bricks of the tomb were spread around, as if someone had pulled them one-by-one with her own hands.
That night they heard that serious riots had taken place at the airport in Ezeiza shortly before Peron’s arrival. They went to the priest’s house so they could see the news broadcast. There had been a shootout between the Montoneros and the Guardia de Hierro. On the screen, Perón appeared as he waved, and everyone smiled peacefully.  The General had returned at last.
Don Silverio reconstructed the tomb two more times when the previous scene was repeated. In the morning, the small coffin would turn up outside of the grave, without its lid, and with the small body exposed to the light and air. Doña Argentina supposed that it was the will of her son, who wanted to see the light of day. She agreed with her family to construct a room at the cemetery, much like the living room in a house, where they could place Angel’s unearthed coffin. The body was perfect, as if he had died only yesterday. “He is not dead,” the mother said, “He lives.”
They raised the little house for Angelito.  This marked the arrival of 1974. At the end of June, their youngest son became ill. He had a fever. The next day, they woke up to find his little body rigid. Doña Argentina remembered in horror what had happened to Angelito. She ran to the office of Dr. Villagra. He examined the child and told her that there was little to be done, to prepare for the worst. He had meningitis, much as Angelito had suffered. Doña Argentina grabbed the child and took him to the cemetery. She placed the child directly in front of Angelito’s intact body. She said to him, “My son, I ask you for the life of your little brother. Save him. Don’t let him die. I ask for this on my behalf and for Santa Evita.” Angel’s face was filled with light, as if he was alive. “I beg for a miracle,” his mother repeated.
With the sick child in her arms, she went to the door of the rustic adobe crypt. She left the cemetery and returned to her home. She laid down her son, who didn’t move, in the crib that had once belonged to Angel. She fell asleep in her bed by his side.
Sometime afterward, she woke up. She approached, with some trepidation, her son’s crib, fearing that he was dead. As she lifted the little body, a faint cry surprised her. The child was crying. She kissed him and hugged him. He was hungry. She understood that he had been cured. She breastfed him. Angelito had granted her a miracle. She communicated the good news to her husband, who could not help but be astounded.
That night, in her dream, Evita appeared once more. This time she was smiling. She looked like The Madonna. She had a child on her lap. When she looked at him, she realized it was her son Angel. “I told you, Argentina, that I was going to give you a Guardian Angel who would look after you. And here is the Angel,” she said. “Spread the news to the town. Until the end of your days, I want you to look after his grave and to take care of him. Many will come to see him, and he will grant miracles.”
The net day, she went out with her youngest son in her arms. She showed him to her neighbors. She told them that Angelito had granted the miracle. He had saved him. He was an angel of miracles. The news spread throughout the town. That afternoon, when she went to visit Angel, she noticed many toys on his grave. Someone from Villa Unión had been there and had left them for him.
After a while, a woman arrived with her three-year-old son, Pedrito. “I’ve come to ask the little angel on behalf of my son,” she told Doña Argentina.
“Ask him,” she said, and she left. The woman was on her knees in front of the little angel as she held her son’s hand.
A few days later, a neighbor came to look for Doña Argentina. Her nine-year-old daughter was sick.  She had suffered a strange malady and was unable to walk. She had a fever. The doctor had asked if she had been vaccinated. She could not feel her legs. It could be poliomyelitis. They both went to the neighbor’s house and raised the child. They took her to the cemetery, to the adobe crypt of Angelito. Doña Argentina lifted her son into her arms and approached the little girl, who touched him with her little hands.
“Angelito. Miraculous Angelito,” the mother said, “I ask for my daughter Evangelina. Let her walk, help her, save her.”
Doña Argentina told her, “Ask on behalf of Santa Evita.”
“Angelito,” the woman repeated, “I ask on behalf of Santa Evita.”
She asked the girl to kiss the little angel. The mother returned to her home with her daughter in her arms. The following morning, she returned to visit Doña Argentina. She had her daughter at her side. She was walking. She hugged Doña Argentina. “Señora! Señora! The miracle was granted!” she said. The three went to the cemetery. Angelito was there, with his eyes almost open. It seemed as if he was looking at them. Doña Argentina asked the girl to take the body of the boy and to hold him in her arms.
The next day, the first of June of 1974, Perón died. Doña Argentina and her husband went to the Church of Villa Unión to pray. “Lord,” she said, “now they are together. I pray for their souls, that they never again be separated. The General and Evita have been so tortured in life, please grant them peace in death.”
On the second, she returned to visit the little angel. She took baby’s clothes. She had promised Evita that she was going to care for him. As she arrived, she saw that various people from the small town waited for her in front of the crypt. They brought their children. They said they had come to visit the little angel and to ask on behalf of their children. A little girl placed a doll in front of the open casket. A little boy placed a toy car there. Doña Argentina asked them to help her change him. A woman held him while she removed his clothes. His skin was intact. His body was fresh. “It is a miracle,” she said. 
Doña Argentina dressed him in new, clean clothes. Her son looked precious. The visitors got on their knees before the little angel of miracles. The mother left without saying a word as they prayed.

                                                                        Translated by Rolando J. Díaz

[1] Chinita is an affectionate nickname given to rural women. May 25, 1810 was the day that began the independence movement, and on July 9, 1816, independence was proclaimed. These are dates of national celebration in Argentina.
[2] It refers to the Radical political party, a center-right party, an ally of the military.
[3]  Peronism is a left-wing Labor political movement, with broad popular support.
[4]  Algarrobo: carob wood.
[5]  Locro is a hearty thick stew, made with corn, beans and potato soup, associated with native Andean civilizations. It´s one of the national dishes of Argentina.