When I think of my childhood the image of my aunt and her house are always the first thing that pop in my memory. I was named after her, Natalina, and I grew up both fearing and looking for becoming somebody just like her. She was the Queen of the Kings, a play on our family name which literally means kings in Portuguese (Reis).
My aunt was a formidable woman especially for her times. When I think about it, I get annoyed with myself for never having thought of asking more questions to those that knew her better. Most of those people are gone now and I am left with the little I know and a lot of guess work. She was fiercely private. Even those that lived under her roof didn’t know half of what was going on in her life and in her heart. She married late (I believe in her early thirties, which was unheard of back then), she looked like a movie star (and she dressed like one, too) and she broke more than one preconceived ideas about females back then.
Unlike most of the women back in the day, my aunt was the so-called bread winner. Working as a bookkeeper for a city papelaria (stationary/bookstore)—and even though my uncle worked for a newspaper—she was definitely the “boss” in that household. Unable (or unwilling, not quite sure which) of having children of her own, she brought up four nephews and one niece and took my young widowed grandma and her two sons under her wing. She was often featured in the local newspaper because of her social and community involvement. Sports were one of her major interests. Very active in her sports club, Sporting, at one point she was the champion of ping-pong. It may not be a sport we usually think of as very athletic, but for a female at the time this was huge. She was so much into her sports that she enrolled each of her grandnieces (me included) as club paid members from birth.
I’m not sure if she ever learned how to drive, but she did indeed have a car, a Mercedes Benz that her husband drove to and back from both their jobs in the city and every other weekend to the little town of Caldas da Rainha where they rented a single family vacation home. If she ever learned how to cook, she never used that skill. My grandmother had taken on the role of housekeeper who ran the busy home and watched over the young live-in maids—a job that could not have been easy considering it was a house with six young males.
I am often compared to her, something that fills me with equal pride and dread. Not only was I named after her, but people in my family always liked me to her personality; quiet, calm, cold and determined (or is it stubborn?). She passed onto me her great love for reading and writing. From her I learned to love the arts; opera, ballet, theater, and classical music. We spent almost every weekend at her house, sitting around a huge old-fashioned table, eating my grandma’s great cooking and enjoying each other’s company. I remember one time (or maybe it was more than once) when we all squeezed into her library, a small room lined with ceiling-high bookshelves, a couch and a piano. My uncle Eugénio was the only one that could play it, so he sat at the piano and we all sang along with him. Funny how you remember certain things and forget others. I loved that library and everything in it.
However she also had the reputation of being “cold”, unemotional, and rigid. That’s the part I’ve dreaded all my life. I’m not cold, not inside anyway, and I’m sure she wasn’t either, but people seem to perceive me that way just like they perceived her. Her relationship with my uncle is still a mystery. They got along famously in spite of the many rumors of his womanizing. I have my own theories about it, but whatever the truth was it died with them. My uncle suffered from gout. He often had to be admitted in the hospital overnight because of it. We got so used to it that when he went in that time, we didn’t think much about it. He never came home though; he died of renal failure that same night. My aunt, the cold woman, was never the same again. Within days of his death, she stopped talking and functioning altogether. A few weeks later, she died. I think she died of a broken heart. Because in spite of what everybody seems to think about quiet, non-demonstrative women like her or me, we are a turmoil of feelings inside; they are our lifeline, what keeps us going and we hold on to those we love for dear life. When my uncle died, I think my aunt just lost that lifeline and found no reason to keep living.
I’m proud to carry on her name in spite of the cons. She was an amazing woman who may not have made a mark in history, but certainly left a mark in the life of seven nephews, niece and their children. I will never forget her. Long live the Queen!