What times those that won’t return memories of elsITA

My grandmother Elsa -Elsita- was born in Argentina on November 4, 1929, minutes before (or maybe after, we’ll never know) her twin sister Olga, and a few years later than her brothers Jorge and Horacio. This is her story.

Six-month-old twin sisters Olga and Elsa, May 4, 1930.
“10.30pm. Watching TV. Snowflakes. Watching TV with Lucia Paula and Julian. I watched the news with Stella. We had tea. We went out shopping.”

“In my home on Lavalle 165 Street in Ramos Mejía, we had a backyard and a horse, a pony. Next door lived a German family from the aristocracy, the lady's name was Margarita, she loved me madly and always invited me to have supper with them. I learned many good manners with her. I used to go help her out with house chores and she would teach me how to cook, how to set the table...”

“In the photo on the left I’m with my brother Jorge, my mom María, my brother Horacio and my twin sister Olga. The dress that I was wearing that day was made of natural silk. I made it myself. What a beautiful memory. And here on the right we were with my husband Alberto and our only daughter, Stella Maris. I think that is Mar del Plata. We always liked going to Mar del Plata. Such a beautiful memory. So many years have gone by”

“My mother, María, was a housewife and my father, Juan, worked at the “Chizzoti” factory. My dad was not very affectionate, he used to come for my mom and dragged her to the bedroom. One day she followed him and discovered that he had another woman, another family. They fought and he left. He never remembered us again, can you believe someone like that?”

“When my parents split I couldn’t continue studying. I did elementary school and nothing else. Everyone had to start working. If I had had another home, oh God, what I would have grown to be. In fifth and sixth grade I got a scholarship. I went to night school to learn how to cook and sew. I always loved cooking. I didn’t like math. How old was I in that picture? It should say in the back. What a wonderful memory.”

“My Sixth grade certificate.”

“After that, my mom never had another partner. She sold perfumery items going from home to home. Sometimes she juggled to get food because we didn't have much money. We made clothes ourselves with molds, we had a sewing machine. We had two pants, very few of everything. As a girl I rode the bicycle and roller skates, there weren’t many toys back then.”

“When I was 16 we danced slow music with Mrs. Margarita's sons in a little hall of the house, but nothing ever happened between me and any of them. We were just friends. One time there was no one at home and we entered anyway. It was a scandal. They didn't let us dance anymore.”

“That is in El Tigre with ‘Chinchín’, a neighbor friend of Ramos Mejía. Nothing ever happened with him, we were just friends. I was pretty back then, right? I was really beautiful. I have wonderful memories.”

“My sister Olga worked in a bijouterie store and every time I went to visit her she gave me something: a necklace, a ring, a pair of earrings. We got along so well. We did everything together, we were very close. Life strikes hard. The only one left of my siblings is me. That's life, some leave before, others later. But you have to go through those moments. It wasn’t easy, if it wasn’t for my family I wouldn’t be alive.”

“With my siblings Jorge, Olga and Horacio. Jorge looked very alike me. Look at my hat, I always liked dressing nice”

“In front of the Ramos Mejía train station there was a ladies store called La Lucha, there was my first job. I was 15 years old. One day, one of the managers of the coffee and chocolate chain store Bonafide passed by and told me that they wanted to have me as an employee and so I started working in Bonafide, first in the Ciudadela branch and then in Once neighborhood. I was the supervisor, I was in charge of the cash registers and the bills. In one branch we had a basement. One time, the manager tried to grope me and I got so upset I asked for the branch pass, so they sent me to the Center of Buenos Aires City, to Carabelas Street. I traveled every day by train from Ramos Mejía to work.”

“I also worked in a cookie store in front of the Barrancas de Belgrano station and I sold TSU cosmetics, I used to go to clients’ houses with a bag full of products. Later on, I also sold clothes in the store of my daughter’s mother in law. I always worked. In the sixties I was already driving, we had a red Renault Dauphine. I drove everyone around.”

“My driver’s license from 1962.”

“I met Alberto at the Estudiantil Porteño Club. It was an outdoor dance in a summer night and they were playing tango and folklore. I was with my mother and Olga, I was 18 years old and I was wearing platform shoes. He went with friends and he laid his eyes on me, he told them: “I'm not leaving until I dance with that girl". Finally, his friends ended up leaving and he was left alone. He came over and told me he wanted to dance with me but I didn't accept right away, I was dancing with my sister and it wasn’t the right moment. Then he came back again and told me that his friends had left and that he had stayed to dance with me. He asked me where I lived. We danced and that was it. He knew that I always went to the club so he started to come. He got closer little by little, we used to go for a coffee. Then he started coming to my house and we started going out, we went downtown, to the club, to the balls.”

“Where did you get this photo? What a wonderful memory. How old was I here? Look at Alberto, what a beautiful memory”.

“The first kiss didn’t happen right away but two or three months later. I was very punctilious. In the hallway of my house was our first kiss. We were all over each other. But I never slept with him before getting married. It was different back then, it wasn’t common to sleep with someone before marriage and for me it was forbidden. We didn't tell each other I love you immediately either, because I liked everything step by step. We used to make out in the hallway and stuff.”

“Alberto was hot, he was very handsome. He was always crazy about me. So in love. Until the last moment he told me that he had never found a woman like me. Even though he liked women... he was a rascal. But he was very companion, very loving. 53 years of marriage, do you know what that is?”

“Little darling!! All yours...”
“Little darling!! At 71 better than ever and the huge happiness of being together always and forever. Your little darling”. 4/11/2000.

“I liked his personality, how he spoke. He was a radio announcer at Radio El Mundo. He was naughty! He always liked horse racing. Before he came to see me at my house he would hide the racing fixture on a fence. We got married on February 5, 1955. I had a beautiful marriage thank God. I miss him so much. It’s a very big absence when you lose your husband.”

“The years passed by and I wasn’t getting pregnant. A summer on vacation with Alberto in Mar del Plata, in the Argentinian Coast, I went to the Stella Maris Church and prayed to the Virgin. I promised her that if I had a girl I would call her Stella Maris. Soon after that I got pregnant. In 1963 Stellita was born, our only child. She is a jewel. We waited eight years for her.”

The Stella Maris Church in Mar del Plata. Stella Maris means "Star of the Sea."

“When I was young I was a ‘bomb’. People would stop in the street to look at me. I combed my hair, I ‘ruled’. I have always been very coquettish. After I got married, some of my husband's friends flirted with me, they would tell me to go out. I always said no and I got rid of them quickly but I didn’t tell Alberto, to not kick up a row.”

“So many years have passed by... But my skin is still pretty nice, right? The only thing is that I had varicose veins in the legs and I had surgery. That's why I didn't use a lot of skirts, it's the only thing I envied in my life: beautiful legs.”

“I have lived a good life but to tell the truth: it sucks to get old.”

“I never had so much but I always enjoyed what I had. I've been strong, I always liked going forward, so that gave me life, as well as thinking about the beautiful memories I have.”

“You have to be happy with what you have, value all things, enjoy life, the good moments, treat yourself in everything, write down the important things because then you start to forget. And the main thing, love each other. If you love someone you have to tell them. Don’t leave love aside, there always has to be time for love.”
Left: Elsita and I, her only grandchild, in Mar del Plata, 2000. Right: Elsita in Necochea, 1958.

Project description:

“What times those that won’t return: Memories of Elsita,” is a long-term project that explores the triggering connection between memory and photography through the resilient life story of my 91-year-old grandmother Elsita, as we dearly call her, using her archive images, old letters, quotes, and photos.

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, granddaughter of Italian immigrants, the only survivor of four siblings and a widow of my grandfather Alberto, with whom she was married for 53 years, Elsita suffers from dementia. As her Alzheimer's advances, she can’t hold any new information or experiences, and her long-term memory is conditioned by the luck of the day. But there’s one thing that she always yearns with nostalgia, tenderness and joy when looking at her old prints: “Qué tiempos aquellos que no volverán” (What times those that won’t return), in allusion to the 1926 tango: “Tiempos Viejos” (Old Times.)

As a mind exercise, I have been showing her old photo albums for four years now: except some dim days of no reminiscence, the images flawlessly work as memory triggers. However, when I started doing this photo series, she could tell me details of the night she met my grandfather at a ball and anecdotes of her early years at her childhood home. Now those memories have become treasured stories that only live in this project.

By obsessively revising her archive, photographing her routines, and documenting her reactions when looking at her old photos, I continue to work in recreating the timeline of her life, connecting places, celebrations, people, and journeys, to keep her memory, personality, and time as vivid as possible.

Update: In 2020, Elsita survived COVID-19 in her nursing home, where she recently started living after 10 years together at home. Since her recovery, she has been hospitalized three times, probably triggered by the aftermath of COVID. Against all dark prognosis, she survived. Those were the only times I could take her hand since the pandemic started. Like many other elderlies in care homes, she has now been confined for a year and a half, and I’m only able to see her through the street window, video phone calls and, most recently, a few indoor meetings separated by meters of distance, surgical clothes, and a glass barrier. No touching, no hugging.

Her strength, endless love, kindness, and optimistic energy despite everything continues to amaze me every day.

Artist’s Note: the watercolors were made digitally by the photographer to illustrate the memories of her grandmother Elsita.

Created By
Lucía Vázquez www.luciavazquezph.com / @luciavazquezph