Lucy, the twin

Lucy * and her brother were twins. The mother had three twin pregnancies and only in that both babies survived. They had months of life when the social workers at Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais welcomed them into the Preventório, with their parents’ agreement.

The family lived with enormous needs and the mother had been admitted to the Hospital years before and gave birth to one of the ten children she had. Since she was discharged from the hospital, she has been visited regularly by social workers, who monitored the health of her and the rest of the family, helping in whatever way they could.


The twins were raised at Preventório, where three more children of the couple lived.
One of the older sisters, who was already at the institution, helped to care them while they were babies.


From the time she was in “school”, as Lucy calls Preventório, she lists several memories: like the delicious bread and fresh milk in the morning, the arrival of a shoemaker, who took measurements and made the shoes adjusted to each girl, and the seamstresses who worked in the laundry and made everyone’s clothes.
She says that they lived in excellent conditions and facilities.

The schools inside were separate (for boys and girls) but at recess they all joined together. The gardens were beautiful and there were swings and fields where they ran and played with the ball. Altogether, there were about fifty, she thinks.

She also remembers the medical office, where he went to the dentist, as well as the Sunday Mass in the Preventório chapel.


At night, they slept in dormitories equally separated by sex, with six single beds in each.
Sometimes there was a reprimand, or they were called to the principal’s office. But she still thinks that everything was part of it, and that it was important for education. “There were really naughty boys.”


The occasions she liked most were parties – Carnival, Easter and Christmas, and summer holidays.

At Christmas, the tree was big and arrived in a van. It was placed in the center of the room and decorated with gifts for the boys. On the day of the Christmas Party, Mr. Professor Bissaya Barreto was there, some artists or groups, such as Estudantina de Coimbra, academic musical group. The boys previously rehearsed some songs and plays with Priest Afonso and Mrs. Maria Luísa.


In the summer, they went to the Beach Cologne in Figueira da Foz for a fortnight, and went to the beach every day. The director of the “school”, Mrs. Maria Luísa, went there to visit them and took cakes.

After finishing primary education and taking the entrance exam in Cantanhede, the new administrator, Dr. Pedrosa de Lima, made a van available to the school ensuring that they continued their studies in Cantanhede and then in Figueira da Foz.
Lucy attended up to the 5th year at Commercial School in Figueira da Foz.

When they were not at school or studying, they helped with kitchen tasks, ironing, or bathing the youngest. That was how they learned to do everything. In addition to this apprenticeship, she remembers a lady who taught them to embroider, crochet, sew in the salon.

She intended to continue studying but after April 25, 1974, changes began to appear and many children began to be handed over to families.

Almost turning 15 years old, one of the social workers took her to the market in Coimbra where she introduced her mother – “a woman with marks of the disease on her hands, who was completely unknown to me…” “I was told that from then on I should stay with her”. This moment was for Lucy one of the most painful of her life. How could she be taken care of by someone who had never visited her at school? From a stranger?”


From then on, his life had changed completely.
The family was very poor and the living conditions were very different from those they had lived in “school”. She knew how to do everything and so he immediately started working outside the home, but when she was not at work, she was tired of working for the family: washed huge amounts of clothes for the whole family, parents, brothers and nephews. And the remuneration she received had to be paid in full to her parents.

She felt completely out of place, the bonds that bound her mother to the children she had raised with her were distinctly different, and this was evident in the way she treated those who had been at the Preventório. The same difference was evident in the relationship between brothers.
A few years later, the older sister, who had left Preventório before her and who was still living in Morocco with her husband, invited her to vacation with her. She went, and extended her stay as long as she could.

However, sometime after returning she met her current husband and when she got married, her parents did not help her with the preparations nor were they at the wedding ceremony.

Currently, almost sixty years old, he maintains sporadic contact with family members. The closest relations continue to be with the brothers who were at the Preventório. The parents have passed away, but she still keep the hurt. She feels that has been abandoned, she does not understand why her parents never visited her while she was at Preventório. She believes that her destiny would have been different if she had been raised with her family, and that having been educated in high school gave her other opportunities, but she does not understand why parents did not try to create true bonds with her, even when she later went to live with them.

Inwardly, and associated with the “old Hospital Rovisco Pais”, feelings of longing for the times lived at Preventório always emerge. She underlines her gratitude for everything she learned at the institution, saying: “everything I am today owes me to what I learned at school”.

* Fictitious name.
(Based on oral testimony, in 2020. Interview and writing by Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge)