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  • The audio is of my grandma telling this story, with a lot more detail, in Spanish. It's a crude recording -- done on a cassette tape by my cousin Lucia over ten years ago at a family gathering. It's long and not the best quality, but I like the idea of including it. But for those of you who'd rather read a shorter version in English, feel free to press pause and read below. :)

    ****

    My Abuela Chiquita was 16 when she met her first love. It was the summer of 1944.

    She went to spend a few days at her friend's house out in a farm town of Uruguay called Ortíz. One day, the girls decided to go check out the scene at the train station.

    "It was the place to be! Everyone was there, it was basically a big party," Chiquita remembers. Her friend was hell-bent on introducing Chiquita to the most eligible bachelor in town. But, as they both looked around for him, something else caught Chiquita's eye.

    A pack of dogs were excitedly following a man who was walking away from her, kicking up dust at his feet. He was a tall man, obviously a gaucho by his clothes. She noticed his broad shoulders, the confidence and ease with which he carried himself.

    But it was something about the back of this gaucho's neck, that tanned span of five inches of skin, that just took the breath right out of her throat.

    She forgot completely about her friend standing next to her, as well as the eligible bachelor. She forgot about the station full of people and the noise of the street. She says that in that very moment, she fell desperately in love.

    That neck belonged to my Abuelo Homero, then 21 years old.

    The rest is history, as they say...They saw each other at a few dances, and would make eyes at each other outside Chiquita's house in the nearby town of Minas. Homero would make a point to pass by as he delivered feed from the farm. Then they started writing letters to each other every day, delivered by train. They decided to get married in 1947, and Homero took Chiquita to live with him at his family's farmhouse in Ortíz. That's where this picture was taken, over 50 years later.

    This image of them is so precious to me. Throughout my life, on my yearly visits to Uruguay, this was often the first thing I'd see each day -- I’d wander into the kitchen, barefoot, still half-dreaming and rubbing my eyes awake as I kissed each of them hello. And they'd spend hours there, drinking their yerba mate, with the radio on. I bet that on this particular day, classical music was softly winding its way around the room.

    This photo was taken in January of 2004. A little over a year later, my Abuelo Homero passed away. He died in his bedroom, the same one where his parents had slept. Mis abuelos had been married for 58 years.

    My grandmother tried to stay at the farmhouse after my grandfather passed. But she was all alone -- three of her four kids were in the U.S. and her daughter lived two hours away in Montevideo. My cousin even trained her to use a gun to protect herself against burglars. But after a few close calls during unexpected visits from her nephews, it became obvious that it was time for her to leave.

    She moved back to Minas and now rents a modest house across the street from one of her sisters. She almost never visits the farmhouse; only for family gatherings during the holidays. She says she’s not sure why she doesn’t want to go.

    I suspect it’s because she wants to remember it as it was back then, when it was full of her children and grandchildren...full of cows and dogs and horses and sheep...Full of laughter and long stories by the fireplace...and of course, with those breakfasts over mate and Chopin. All fruits of that first love, born simply from the nape of one gaucho’s neck.
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