When I was a little boy, around the age of six or seven, I would spend quiet Sunday afternoons lying in bed with my grandfather, reading.
I can still see the Louis XV style bedroom set in our house in Ponta Delgada, the dark ornate wood against the stark white walls, and me under crisp ironed white sheets, resting on cozy pillows, all embroidered with lace made by my grandmother.
My grandfather sat up in bed, under the sheets, too. We did not talk nor acknowledge one another. Instead, we read quietly to ourselves. I browsed through my comics and story books. My grandfather read the newspaper and the Imitation of Christ.
My maternal grandfather was a blacksmith by profession and his fingers were permanently blackened. I remember once, my mother asking me to show him my caderno, my school assignment book, and I panicked at the thought that he would leave a stain on the pages. Memory tells me that I guarded the book zealously against his touch, despite my mother’s anger. To this day, I have the habit of wanting my book pages to remain pristine and new.
I have a few of my grandfather’s prayer books. They are worn and brittle with age and were used by him until his death. The pages are smudged on the bottom right hand side with deep black thumb prints, a testament to his assiduous reading and prayer.
One day, in the 1940s, during the visit of Our Lady of Fatima to the island, he experienced a miracle as the statue was carried by our house and he prayed for healing. My grandfather had been suffering from a deep wound in his chest that refused to heal, despite constant treatment.
The next day, he went for his daily cleansing of the wound at the doctor’s office. But the doctor was surprised when he saw clear fluid where just the day before pus had filled the wound. “Mestre Duarte,” he said, “How is this possible?” and upon my grandfather telling him how he prayed while the statue of the Virgin passed by his house, his good Jewish doctor replied, “Go and thank your Lady of Fatima. She has cured you.”
My grandfather’s case was documented as an authentic miracle, made the more credible because it was pronounced by a doctor of another faith.
I did not know this story about my grandfather during those quiet Sunday afternoons when we sat in bed, side by side with our books. I only found out years later, as an adult, well after his death, one afternoon in Toronto, so far away from that house and that bedroom of childhood.
Those Sunday afternoons are the memories that sustained me at a time when my father had already left for Canada and I needed the presence of someone strong and silent who made me feel safe.
Today, I treasure the black stains that mark his prayer books, a lasting reminder of the man who used them. If I could go back in time to those Sunday afternoons, I would let him touch my school book and hope that his finger imprint of black would stay on the pages.