Rodrigo's happy memories

Rodrigo*, his mother and brothers arrived at the Tocha in March 1964, at the end of the day. The trip was long and on the way, from his home to the Hospital, the Brigade had picked up another patient.

He was five years old and from the moment he arrived at the Preventório he has small memories. It keeps the noise of children laughing as the first memory of that new world where they ended up living until adolescence. He also remembers bathing in a bathtub, something he had never seen, and staying with the brothers for a while in a room, isolated from the rest of the children (quarantine).

When the memory of the Preventório is invoked, it describes the internal spaces as much as the surrounding ones, on the outside. In this narrative guided tour he informs that the building with two floors had a wing for girls and another for boys, that on the ground floor was the refectory, on the first floor, the school, the reading room, the chapel, the nursery. On both floors there were dormitories and a room for the guard. In each of the cabins there was a sleeping area with six beds and the bathroom area, completely lined with tiles and mosaics, in which there were two bathtubs, three showers and four toilets, these in separate compartments. On the balconies there were heaters and tiles with beautiful animals.

Outside, he remembers, there were swings, a garden with many flower beds, fields covered with flowers. It was very beautiful especially at Easter. “If we weren’t in paradise, we were close.” There were gardeners and also a greenhouse. In a nearby area, at the rear of the Preventório, he remembers visiting a green park with walkways, fountains, small water ditches and a wheel, where he saw several animals (cow, sheep, fox) and that he thinks was a kind of small educational farm.

On a daily basis there were routines, schedules and rules. They were accompanied by vigilantes who wore a white coat and a white apron. He fondly remembers Maria Albertina, who accompanied him for a longer time, Maria Arminda, Olivia, Eugenia, who was a cleaning lady and Fanny who only went on vacation and started their days with songs on the veranda.

There was no uniform. The boys wore blue shorts and wore sandals that the hospital’s shoemaker repaired. He only started wearing pants in 1970 or 1971. He also remembers, when he was older, that one day the director, Mrs. Maria Luísa, goes with them to Coimbra and bought a bombazine suit with pants and jacket, from the Miura brand for each one. His was red, and he remembers how he felt like a “dude”.

During the day they were at school and in the playground they jumped on the rope, played on the axis. When he was older, he also participated in some household chores. Each one made his bed and in his ward it was the boys who cleaned and waxed the floor and sometimes the nursery.

On Sunday mornings they listened to the radio – one of those big old devices. Around 1968 or 1969, there was a television in the lounge and they could watch it during the week, after dinner, and on Sundays.

At night, they went to bed at 21:30. There was a round in which the vigilantes or the director made sure, through the window pane that opened onto the corridor, that we were all fine and sleeping.

He mentions: “I was never cold, nor hungry, I had permanent medical and nursing assistance”. When I got sick, which happened with some regularity due to otitis, there was always a watchman who took care of us: measuring her fever, put drops. In fact, he says: “I’ve never been alone.”


The food was good, made by cook Emília, who was also an excellent pastry chef. For breakfast, they drank milk with coffee and fresh bread and butter. The main meals were always made up of soup and a meat or fish dish.

There were menus that were not so popular, such as meat and bread porridge, fried fish with carrot rice, and fish cooked with vegetables. But “they had to eat everything, and when it was pleasing, they could repeat it”. There were special menus, on some days and in the festive seasons. Remember the roasted chicken with french fries or portuguese stew on Sundays, or the beef steak with egg and french fries on Easter day.

During the Christmas season, children went to the moss and made the crib in the sacristy. The Christmas tree was a pine tree carried by several men. On Christmas Eve, the older went to the mass of the cock, then drank hot cocoa and ate sweet french toast, while the tree was lit with lights of all colors. The gifts were opened at the party that took place on January 5 and each received their gift. He remembers some of the toys he had received: a bugle and a boat, a red friction car and a leather ball.

In the summer they went for fifteen days to the Beach Cologne in Figueira da Foz and it is recalled that in the last year they still went to the Summer Camp “Ar e Sol” in Vila Pouca da Beira.

Sometimes, tours and visits were organized, among them he remembers very well those who made to the zoo, to the castle of Leiria, to the beaches of Tocha and Buarcos, and later to a museum that had the christening clothes of Prof. Bissaya Barreto, in Coimbra.

About Prof. Bissaya Barreto says: “I had the pleasure of seeing him once or twice, he was a man of about 1.62m”. He proudly recalls that “there was once a party with medical students from the University of Coimbra and I was chosen to recite poems to them”.

During the time that he was at the Preventório, Rodrigo and the brothers met with the mother at the Hospital entrance, whenever she made the visit request, and at a later stage they also saw the father. It is recalled that initially he saw them through glass, but later the visit was no longer made that way and there was no such separation. They were special occasions, so in those days they wore more beautiful clothes, Mrs. Maria Luísa used cologne, remembering that “we were all going like popcorn”.

One of the aspects that Rodrigo values most in these memories is the education he had and the opportunity to go further, namely, that was given the conditions to continue his studies in Cantanhede and then in Figueira da Foz. Therefore, this chapter of his memories is quite full of memories.

In pre-primary there was an educator named Maria Casilhas with whom she remembers making drawings and perforations.

In primary school there were two teachers, one of them called Maria Luísa. The School was located on the 1st floor of the Preventório, in the boys’ wing, and was mixed. When entering, each row corresponded to one year, from the 1st to the 4th class. There were two school boards, one in slate and the other was a kind of green easel, as well as a globe and a crucifix and two portraits, one by Salazar and another by president Américo Tomás. In the wallets, there was a white porcelain inkwell, always with ink and in a table compartment they could store books. It is recalled that he used a slate and pen until the 3rd class and only in the 4th class he started to use a pen.

Today, he still values the comfort of not having to go out, walk in the cold, to go to school and have books offered.


Before taking the 4th grade exam, the teacher arranged for them to attend two classes at Escola Conde de Ferreira, in Cantanhede. On that occasion, the teacher there commented with her teacher that the boys at Preventório were a little more advanced in the matter. He took the exam in 1970, and in the 5th year they started taking classes in the Cantanhede School. There, at lunch they had different passwords and in the canteen they passed in front of everyone. Remember that, in this new phase, he felt some discrimination on the part of other colleagues, for being from the Preventório. It also describes some difficulties in corresponding in the illustrations of the works that were asked of them, for not having the same means that the other boys had. I tried to overcome these issues by applying and obtaining better ratings. At Preventório, they did their homework in the reading room and were assisted by explainers.

Later, he attended the Figueira da Foz high school. Every day they went in a van that the administrator Mr. Pedrosa de Lima had arranged for this purpose. On that occasion they only had classes in the morning. On Wednesdays they had gymnastics, and remember that the suit was all white.


The path followed in this field turned out to be a little different from what happened to the children in that institution previously. At Preventório the girls stayed up to 18 years old and the boys left at 12 years old to the Vocational School of Semide, where they learned agriculture and other trades as a printer, but they didn’t have a very good impression of this place, so Rodrigo felt that he ended up having luck here too. When he left Preventório there were only eighteen boys, from the initial forty and only on the ground floor were there still children.


In 1973, when he was 14 years old, he left Preventório and was installed with five other boys in the neighborhood of Hospital employees, where they had a maid who lived with them, providing guidance and cleaning tasks for the house. He and his colleagues were still able to study and, Rodrigo still attended the 1st year of high school. “Until then, I didn’t worry about anything. They were united and did not know how to swear. ”

The last Christmas he was at Tocha, the administrator Mr. Pedrosa de Lima invited the boys who lived in the neighborhood to Hospital Chapel and had the opportunity to see what the sick people were like. Rodrigo remembers how deeply it touched him. When recalling the disfigured patients, he says that “everyone should be confronted with the vision of these diseases to know what it really was”. Around this reflection he also said: “I believe that if measures were not taken, leprosy would never end”.


After April 25, 1974, the mother was given permission to leave the hospital and Rodrigo returned home with his parents and siblings. He mentions that it was “a bucket of cold water” because they had no piped water and basic sanitation, electricity or bathroom. “He went from one side where he had everything to another where he was unable. Neither bed nor mattress had to lie down in the initial phase.” From Preventório, he took many memories and a suitcase with underwear, pijamas and towels with the initials of the hospital, which each son received at the farewell.
He underlines that “the world today was not the one at that time”, that “parents could not give me some things that I had there” and that “I cannot forget who made me a good person”.


Today, almost five decades since he left Preventório, taking stock of what those times were, he also mentions that although there were punishments, he keeps more beautiful memories of that place – “He was a happy child. This is my truth, which corresponds to what I felt and still feel. ”



* Fictitious name. 

(Text based on oral testimony, in 2020, validated by the interviewee. Interview and writing by Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge)