Monday, July 26, 2010

Rota, Spain - 1959

Have you ever wondered, what therapists are for. Why people seem to think, they need therapy? Why, is there a never ending need for these people?

1959. I was living in Spain. Rota, Spain to be precise. Mere miles from Cadiz, seventy miles from Seville, not quite a hundred miles from Gibraltar.

On the Atlantic coast side.

Rota was a sleepy little village back then, which has now turned into a real town. I've never known what we were doing there. Until writing this article.

My Mother's Father, Frank, had traveled the world extensively for the military, as a civilian diesel engineer. He would go to the middle of literally nowhere, build a building, or take one over, build a diesel injection and cleaning station, by the tools by hand, train the local indigenous men, then move on to another location. I have old 8mm film he took in Vietnam, India, Thailand, back in the 40s and 50s. Pretty cool.

Grandpa got my dad a job there. So he flew out. Later, my mom brought my older sister and I. Problem was, my dad was a construction electrician. Whatever Grandpa got him hired for, my dad wasn't one of those. Grandpa would go get a job, even if he didn't know what it was, but he always came out on top.

One time, the military asked him if he could train some guys for something he was clueless about. He said, sure. So he got the job. He also got some books. He read them the night before, then while he was teaching the students, he was himself, learning all about whatever it was. I think he was some kind of genius. He fixed cars for the Mob, in New York. Worked on some of the first race cars. I have photos. He came to America when he was eight, with his family. A true self made man.

My Grandmother was like that, taught herself to increase her vocabulary by reading the dictionary. Hung out with educated types. Always told me to hang with Doctors, lawyers, educated people. She was good friends with our family Doctor. Maybe Grandpa thought she wasn't too smart and she reacted to that. Because, I think he left her, then he remarried, but she never did. Never told me the story of what happened either.

Anyway, we lived in a villa on the coast of Spain; there was one for us, and one for my Grandfather, up the street. It was just up the street from the beach. At night, Franco's Spain had Le Guardia Civil riding through with long guns. Out after dark on the beach, you got shot. Or so I was told. But my mom told me repeatedly, as she feared I would go out there and get shot. I remember her telling me, yes, they would even shoot a child as young as you.

According to Wikipedia, NAVSTA Rota has been in use since 1953 when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco strengthened relations with the Americans to improve local economies. The installation now covers more than 6,000 acres (24 km squared) on the northern shore of Cadiz, an area recognized for its strategic, maritime importance over the centuries.

Naval Station Rota (NavSta Rota) is a Spanish naval base commanded by a Spanish Vice Admiral. Located in Rota, Spain, NavSta Rota is the largest American military community in Spain now and houses US Navy Sailors, Marines, and their families. There are also small US Army and US Air Force contingents on the base.

Described by the US Navy as the "Gateway to the Mediterranean", Naval Station Rota is home to an airfield and a seaport; the airfield has often caused the base to be misidentified as "Naval Air Station Rota". The base is the headquarters for Commander, U.S. Naval Activities Spain (COMNAVACTSPAIN), as well as a primary gateway for Air Mobility Command flights into Europe.

So, that's what we were doing there. There was a Naval base nearby. I remember seeing strange military like things. We still have old 8mm film showing strange structures in the shallow waters, just off the beaches; strange, giant, white concrete forms that looked like immense jacks 15-20 height, as in "playing jacks".

Apparently, after we arrived in Spain, to join my mom's dad, and my dad, things didn't go so well. And yes, I have pictures. Pictures of the villa. I have videos too, of me, the fam, traveling around, in the car, on the beach, in the cantina, where I was shining shoes for a short time. But the pictures.

Shots of my grandfather's villa, the front low gate, ripped from the concrete fence as my dad went after my mom. Something about killing her. He must have been pissed off about something. Her matador lessons? From a matador who obviously liked her? But no, that was after grandpa expelled him from Spain.

Or, maybe it was my mom's artistic pursuits.

I saw her showing something to my older brother one day, but she closed the door. So when no one was around later, I searched her dresser for the yellow manila sized envelope. I pulled out whatever was that was in it: a black and white photo of a naked woman. It was on a beach, day time, the woman was stretching up and back, arms akimbo and above and behind her head doing something to lots of hair, a guitar placed appropriately upright with the head at the center of her body. Artistically black and white. I remember it because I was going through her dresser, and found it. I thought, with my 6th grade mind, hum-ma hum-ma, this is hot! I stared at it and wondered, "I wonder, who could that be?"

Then, it hit me. The nearly black hair was the right color. The build was about right for mom when she was younger, about the age she would have been when we lived in Spain. You know, its amazing the speed you can replace an item in a flexible envelope when you want to. Its also amazing how hard it is, to wipe a visual from your mind's eye, no matter how hard you try. In fact, the harder you try, the more it becomes emblazoned into your memory.

Its thing like that, that keep Therapists employed.


  1. Hi! I too was in Rota, in 1959. I was a Navy brat, and your account, from a civilian POV was interesting. One little note, you write "Le Guardia Sevilla. It is actually La Guardia Civil,not Sevilla. Civil, as in "civil" in English! An easy mistake to make. I never heard about getting shot, but I used to snitch my parents cigarettes to give them to allow me to go on parts of the beach off limits to Rota Base residents! I loved their "tricornios", the three cornered hats. I have fond memories of La Guardia Civil! and

  2. Thanks so much for that correction. I updated it. I actually knew that at one time, but simply forgot. :) Glad you found it interesting. Thanks! My daughter is now living in Granada, Spain having a blast.