La Cruz del Lolo


In 2007, my uncle contacted the reporter, Eva Ruiz, and explained the whole history over several cups of coffee and one bittersweet trip to the San Fernando cemetery. Manolo tries to tell Eva the story just as his father told it to him. His attempts are broken and splintered, filled with stops and starts as he fashions the words into a story that has had no voice for so long. No voice and no ear until now. “There is an eight-foot iron cross in the far section of the San Fernando cemetery,” he begins.

Eva Ruiz puts her cup of coffee down and takes out her notepad, “do you mean the ‘cross without a name.’”

“Yes. That is it.” My uncle raises his cup of coffee to his lips but returns it to the table without taking a sip. The day is still cool, but the sun is gaining strength. My uncle is grateful for the shade under the awning. “The cross marks one of the mass graves where there are buried thousands of men, women, and even children who were shot during the coup against the elected government.”

“I know the one you are talking about. It has wrought iron ivy and flowers? It’s draped with the tri-colored flag?” The reporter is scribbling notes and nodding as my uncle tells the story.

“Yes, the Republican flag.” Manolo nods and smiles just a little. “My father was a blacksmith by trade. That is what he did his whole life. His hands were blackened by the fires. He was a craftsman, an artist, forced to do the unthinkable.” Manolo stops, stares at his hands, at the cup of coffee wishing it were something stronger. “Franco made him forge munitions. But that is not a story for today. My father was an artist, but he saw too much blood, too much hunger and death during all those years of war ... and after, too. It tormented him that so many had been killed and left in those shallow graves with no marker. No names.” Manolo chokes on his words and his eyes fill.

Eva Ruiz has seen so many grown men cry these past months as she collects stories and names. As each one reveals the secret in his heart -- the lost loved ones, the betrayals, the fears, the hopes and sorrows of that time -- a tremendous burden is lifted and with it comes such relief it is nearly palpable to her. But this story is different. This isn’t about someone shot or taken in the night. This isn’t about one of the countless atrocities committed by Franco and his generals. This is a smaller story than that. And it is bigger.

“My father, he did what he could, what he knew how to do. He would say it wasn’t much, not nearly enough. But I will tell you that for those who survived, it was a heavy burden, and the cross eased it some. At least I hope it did.” Manolo pauses to point up at the Giralda, “you see, he was an artist, and it was too much to bear that his friends and coworkers were shot and killed like dogs.”

The reporter asks if his father lost many friends in the war, and Manolo looks right into her eyes without blinking. “It might have been him, you see. There is no difference. It almost was him. But it wasn’t. He survived.”

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