“La Tierruca”

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
30 August, 2016
Editorial: 26
Fecha de publicación original: 4 julio, 1996

Date of publication: 4/7/1996. Editorial 026.

What you get in your mother’s milk, on your death bed is spilled

An hour before leaving Montreal, where I had been attending the Internet Society’s Sixth International Internet Conference, I got the news that my mother had died in Madrid. I dedicate this article, which I am starting to write in ballpoint in a ring pull notebook as I cross the Atlantic, to her. I will almost certainly not finish it until the busy days that await me in Madrid are over. For this reason, and for the first time, en.red.ando is being published a few days late. The occasion demands it although the event might be small and insignificant.

My mother, who was 86, died without knowing what Internet was, or even having the least suspicion that it existed. She had lost her memory some time ago. But I’m sure that if she had had the opportunity to understand what the net is, Mercedes would have immediately relived one of the happiest times in her life, one which stayed with her right up to the threshold of darkness: the years when she ran a stationery shop with my father in Alar del Rey (Palencia) after the Civil War. “La Tierruca” supplied the village children with pencils, pencil cases, lead for pencils, pens and pen-holders, the occasional fountain pen, ink sold in bulk or in bottles, blotters, rubbers, pencil sharpeners, pencil cases, blackboards, chalk, lined and squared notebooks, notebooks for calligraphy and drawing (many of them with the multiplication table on the back cover), rulers, drawing pens, draughtsman’s T-squares, pencil and ink compasses, triangles, physical and political maps of Spain, Europe and the other continents, world maps, overalls, school bags and a long list of etceteras.

All these instruments which were essential for school education had an unmistakable smell. Their aroma immediately brought to mind classrooms full of children chanting multiplication tables or the names of rivers in faraway places learnt off by heart. The writing in the calligraphy books gave off the indelible perfume of ink. The world was a much more imaginary than real one then, closer to literature than to personal experience. The physical and spiritual geography of each person was within reach of the fingertips. Letters, the postal service, were the core of the communication networks, bringing with them echoes of places and people which challenged the imagination however close they were.

I was born in 1946 when my parents had already left Alar del Rey (and “La Tierruca”) and moved to Malaga. That year, the ENIAC, the first digital computer in history, made its début. Nevertheless, forty years passed before the walls of science fiction and tales of distant technological conquests began to fall and a personal computer, a Macintosh 512K, appeared on my desk at home. Nowadays I use a “palm-top”, small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, with the same memory as that Mac (which still works) and a credit card type disc of 1Mb. When I told my mother the things that I was doing with the computer, how I sent my articles to El Periódico through the telephone line, she looked at me from an unfathomable distance, and who knows why, we always ended up talking about “La Tierruca” and those children who came to buy exercise books, maps and multiplication tables. Children who took years to break down the school walls and come face to face with the world around them, the world which began only a little more than a stone’s throw away.

But within that circle, whose limits were at arms length, many things took place, emotions blossomed and experiences yielded the individuals, institutions and society in which we have grown up and matured. Now, the hand is definitively breaking through its own frontier aided, above all, by Internet. And, now that you have gone forever, dear Mercedes, I remember again what you said once: “Maybe not all the old days were the best days, but there were things that made us very happy”. Nearly all of them, almost invariably, had to do with immediate experiences, events and the people associated with them. Preserving this immediacy is the challenge we have to face at the dawn of a world which we are building on the basis of one of the most drastic ruptures that we have ever made with respect to our immediately previous history .

Mercedes, I’ll never forget the things that you told me about “La Tierruca”, that treasure chest of memories and knowledge that connected so many human networks.

And I’ll never forget you.

Translation: Bridget King.