Carlos, "baby Jesus"
Carlos Cruz’s childhood is closely linked to the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais (HCRP) in Tocha. The memories of that place – “an authentic garden”, as he calls it, accompanied him all his life and traveled with him when at the age of 19 he went to live in Marinha Grande. Throughout his life he heard about the Hospital, and sometimes he came across former patients, whom he recognized immediately because of the characteristic features of the disease. When he offered himself, “he came to talk to these people and sometimes said: look, I was born there!”
He was born in 1962 at the HCRP and until the age of four he was at the Creche, next to the Preventório. From that occasion, he keeps two photographs: one with D. Maria Emília, a social worker, and another on his father’s lap. He doesn’t remember anything from that time, he only has memories of when he lived in a house next to the HCRP hedge, when his parents worked there. He always knew that both were hospitalized, as patients, in the Hospital. But nostalgia for his sixties led him to try to learn more about their story, and his, which he proudly shares with us.
Ana, his mother, was born in 1939, lived in Vila Verde de Oura (Vidago) and was admitted to the HCRP when she was 12 years old. In her family there was no one else with the disease. At the age of 17 she was discharged and returned to her homeland. She kept up correspondence with Manuel (born in Vila da Feira), who remained hospitalized in the Hospital, and when he had 30 days’ leave, they took the opportunity to perform the wedding in the bride’s land. Ana was then 22 years old and continued to reside in her homeland, having been discharged from the hospital.
When the leave ended, Manuel did not return to the Hospital, so “the authority picked him up and took him to the Chaves post, where the HCRP ambulance would pick him up hours later.” Ana waited for the ambulance and when she saw the driver she said: “he is going and I have to go too, he is my husband, I have to go too!” The driver argued that he couldn’t take her, but Ana insisted, saying: “I’ll go but I’ll stay at the entrance”. Hence, “he brought it.” At the Hospital entrance, the guard called Dr. Pedro, who was the director. He told them to let her in, he stayed that night and in the morning of the next day he would talk to Ana. The mother went in and went to the women’s section. The father, as he had disrespected the leave rules, went to “jail” for twenty days. The next day, Ana was called to the director who recommended that she return to her land once she was discharged. But she told him that she didn’t want to go back and he warned her: “You don’t want to go, you won’t, but if they have children we will have to take them to the Preventório because they cannot be in contact with the sick.” And so it was, Ana stayed in the Hospital, of her own free will, to live with her husband, who was still hospitalized. The children were born and taken to the Creche – first Carlos (1962), and then Isabel (1964). They only saw them when they went to visit them in the locutório, next to the entrance.
In 1966, they were discharged and all left the HCRP. Carlos’ mother was 27 years old and pregnant with her younger brother. They went to live in a rented house in the place of Inácios, close to the HCRP. Manuel, who “had learned the art of bricklayer at HCRP, continued, but as an employee”. He passed away when Carlos was 15 years old. The mother, who continued to take pills for a long time, valued very much when she was welcomed by other people. Carlos tells us that she is “a fighter, and that she clung to the knitting machine. At the age of 33, she was also admitted as an employee of the HCRP, where she was in the laundry and pantry of the Asilo. Then, she moved to the Centro de Medicina de Reabilitação da Região Centro and retired with 36 years of service in 2009.”
Carlos tells us that he had the nickname “baby Jesus”, but he knows that when he left the day care “he was a little naughty! He would run away to the shops, walk around in a bib and tell everyone: the boy is hungry! My mother had to work, so she sometimes left us alone. On one occasion my brother, who was a baby, had been sleeping, but he woke up crying. I was little, and I thought he was hungry – I made him coffee and bread soups and spooned him in bed!”
He also added other pranks he did, such as when he gave the pig oil, or stole strawberries or watermelons. Carlos, confesses: “I behaved badly, and at that time it was different… I got beat up by my mother… Once he tied me to a post! Because the owner of the strawberries was a guard and went to the house to report me. At that time, it was a shame to have the guard car at the door. But I learned!”
When he was a child, living near the Hospital, he crossed the premises on several occasions with his mother. At Christmas, they would go to the rooster mass, at the hospital chapel, “the last time, I would have been 10 years old and insisted that I should go to the men’s wing.” She also remembers her father inviting patients to their house to eat and coming with her mother to visit sick friends who lived in the houses of the HCRP family groups: like Mrs. Emília Cortez or Mrs. Leónia, who was from Algarve.
After 1996, he remembers the discotheque and the holiday camp that operated in the buildings on the grounds of the former Hospital.
She ends by saying: “I am proud to have lived through this. I didn’t have anything that affected me. The sick were good people and there was everything here!”
Text based on oral testimony, in 2022. Validated by the interviewee. Interview and writing by Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge