And the cat did not die… Atirei o pau ao gato was probably one of the first songs you ever sang, and you know the small rhyme by heart as you have sang it more often than the national anthem. And despite what others may think, you never went around searching for cats to beat up.
The shopkeepers brought Estrelitas, Chocapic, and Corn Flakes, but none of those cereals ever stood a chance. You ate Nestum com mel as a toddler and you happily exchanged any bedtime story for a plateful of Nestum as a child. When you go to the supermarket you still head to the baby food shelf, look around to make sure no one is looking, and you show Cerelac who is the boss.
From a cardboard box you made a computer screen, from an egg box you created a keyboard. When you pressed the green button you traveled to the speed of sound, but the real fun only started when you pressed the red button and took supersonic jumps into outer space. Monopoly notes always went missing after your 8-year-old sister decided to be a shopkeeper. Clothes pegs? They could be anything. Once you organised them by color, Carthaginian armies fought Romans in your bedroom, and European football teams endured months of football games in the attic while mum kept going to the shop to buy some more replacements.
It is a game you’ve played on your school break before or after you threw your caricas (bottle caps) and berlindes (marbles) to the floor and ran after your friends playing apanhada or hid from them in the escondidas (hide and seek). Sometimes one of your friends would hold a handkerchief and scream a number, then a member of your team would run to grab it as fast as possible and bring it back during the jogo do lenço. During those breaks the girls brought an long thick elastic to saltar ao elástico, and the boys dragged their school packs using them as goal posts until the teacher came down to take the ball away reminding you it was time to come back to class.
That’s how you knew it was time to go home. Mum would not call you on your phone to let you know it was time to have dinner. She would expect you to be back and remind you she would take the colher de pau (wooden spoon) out of the drawer if you dared to be late.
Dad got up on the roof and as he moved the antenna slowly, he screamed “Is it working yet?” While you replied “There, there! Oh no. Dad, there is rain in the TV again!” (Aí, aí! Oh não. Pai está com chuva outra vez!”)
Either you helped your dad or one of your uncles in a workshop, or maybe you’ve worked at the local supermarket, at the restaurant around the corner or headed to the fields during the vindima (grape harvest) or na apanha da fruta (fruit harvest) picking up apples, pears, etc. At the end of the month, you gave your wages to your parents who bought something to put your enxoval (trousseau) together. But if you were really lucky, you bought a bicycle, a mega drive or half a motorcycle.
And even though there is a 25th of April every year, everyone knows you are talking about the day Grândola Vila Morena played in Radio Renascença to confirm the revolution was on. Most likely you were not alive at the time. But you have asked your parents, extended family, and whoever crossed your path about their whereabouts. You know some were in Portugal barricading the roads to catch the PIDE — International and State Defence Police — members, others were in the ultramar (the colonies overseas) running for their lives. However, there are still surprising stories to be told about the day red carnations were placed in the rifles of the Capitães de Abril (April Captains) and their men.
You grew up assuming that everyone in the world did as well. In addition to Delfins and Sétima Legião, your mum sang La vie en Rose along with Edit Piaf in the radio and your brother knew the words to L’italiano by Toto Cotugno. You’ve rocked out to the sound of American bands from Bon Jovi to Metallica, danced Lambada with your friends, dad occasionally watched TVE — Televisíon Española — and mum watched Brazilian soaps in the evenings. At school it was compulsory to choose one or two foreign languages to study.
Grandmother was always so pleased to introduce you to the other nice old ladies with their hair carefully tied in a bun, and they were so eager to pinch your cheeks until they were numb. And you still feed a rush of blood in your face when you remember the moment their skirts were flying up in the air at the feet of Cristo Rei in Almada.
And no we are not talking about the Brazilian footballer. It was that little toddler with a cowboy hat that told you it was time to brush your teeth and go to bed. Now the little ducks still try… but they are no Vitinho.
And then in a house where three ate, four ate, and the same for five, six and seven, always adding another number as you counted up. There was always that extra plate on the table when one of your friends showed up unannounced, and you still work hard on keeping the family’s motto.
The smell of a beautiful sardinhada (eating barbecued sardines with others) between pine trees near a beach always draws a smile on your face. Even that time your family chose a spot by a little pond and you learned water snakes are colourful and real.
In the evenings stories were told, card games were played, chess boards, checkers, backgammon, dominoes were out of the cupboards, your uncle always cheated and you always dreamt of beating your dad.
You were taught you need to have breakfast, a half-morning snack, lunch, a snack in the afternoon, then a food break and dinner to grow strong and healthy. So it is not surprising you know where the best fish markers, butchers, fruit shops, and Sunday Markets are. Not to mention the best seafood restaurants and roasted chicken spots. But your favourite personal Michelin restaurant is still at your mum’s.
You don’t remember when it started. It might have been when your mother tried to change your nappy and you ran naked around the beach for the first time. It might have been because someone once told your ancestors sailed in caravelas around the world and you’ve climbed the kitchen table and rocked with Da Vinci to the sound of Conquistador, or because your national anthem starts with “Heróis do Mar, nobre povo…” (Heroes of the sea, noble people). There is just something about those rugged cliffs, fishermen, and sunsets over the Atlantic, either in summer or winter, you just cannot get over.
Right after a casual “Where are you from?” to which you reply “Portugal,” you hear a satisfied “Ah! Cristiano Ronaldo.” Then you say, “My name is…, I am one of the other 10 million Portuguese. Nice to meet you.”