One of the unexpected delights of our move to this house has been getting to know our neighbors – they live over the field to the right of the house – they are the parents of our landlord and the lady of the house supplies our bread – and our pizza dough, and tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, apples, lettuce, onions, garlic, mushrooms and anything else we have use for.
To say they are farmers is to underrate their innate ability to work with the land and belittles the considerable skills and talents they possess throughout the whole family.
Over the last couple of months I have been allowed glimpses of how this fascinating organism works. It lies between family and community and there is nothing nuclear about it at all.
By rights, our landlord should be living in the house we rent – it is the Herdade/manor farm/chief farm of the family. It was built fifteen years ago for the alpha male of the family Jose – or Ze as he is known – as is the custom when the previous alpha male, his father, retires from the main business and passes it to his first-born son.
Due to some family unpleasantness from an uncle – who said he had been robbed – he did not live here for long and chose to live in another village about five kilometers away and rented out this house. His saints name plaque is still mounted on the front wall by the door.
Helena not only bakes our bread at the weekend, she bakes it along with approximately 200 other loaves which are either sold or used to feed her considerable family. She regularly feeds 20 people every day – family, extended family and honorary family and workers if some have been hired to help at busy times. She also supervises what is grown in the gardens both here and at the house by the waterfall.
Her father is still alive – he is the man who built and maintains the access we used to get to the waterfall – when he is not doing that he is making bamboo baskets like the one we have been given below.
This one is specifically for logs, is made from bamboo grown by them and in his own words “keeps him out of trouble.” He is not young and fit anymore and can no longer shift stones and concrete without help – so he taught himself to make baskets – the workmanship is remarkable for an elderly man with failing everything – including eyesight.
Their son, our landlord, runs the farming side of the business, around five hundred cattle, not counting the calves still being weaned. Here he is in action – lifting a five bar iron gate as if it was a plank of wood to block the cattle escaping after TB testing.
His wife is in charge of paperwork – including our rental and all the records for the ministry of agriculture here.
Various nephews and nieces all work in some way in the family businesses – be it helping with the cattle roundup for testing, tending the gardens, and helping in the kitchen.
Older family members also chip in where they can by preparing vegetables, special feeds for the animals, making dough for the bread and gardening when they can.
The children also help where they can. Not one person is idle and not one person is neglected or left out on their own. Everyone is cared for.
Knowledge and skills are shared up and down the chain, ancient skills and knowledge are passed down, new modern-day skills are passed up.
They give to the wider community on a similar scale. The provision of safe access to the waterfall – stepping in when irrigation pumps break down or the canal runs dry, the loan of farming equipment, endless supplies of fruit and vegetables to their neighbors and to restaurants who regularly provide free meals and to the fire and ambulance workers.
Helena has offered us any of the plants we would like from her garden by the waterfall – we can take plants or cuttings when we need. Ze’s father has offered us the patch of land behind the house so we can have our own garden and orchard and will dig it over and prepare it for us one the main farming season is over. We have free water for the house and for irrigation from their well – also for the pool.
Most of the older generation cannot read or write more than “making their mark” but are wise in a way it is difficult to comprehend – Ze’s generation has basic literacy and numeracy skills, the up and coming younger generation is catching them up and overtaking them in both and of course are far more technologically adept.
They are hard-working industrious no-nonsense people who see and speak as they find – they are the salt of the earth and they are the most kind and generous people you would wish to find.
There is a justifiable quiet unspoken pride in all members of the family that comes from hard work, providing for one’s self and for others. Their whole philosophy appears to be based on “enough.” Enough to meet their needs, and those of others around them, enough to stop them claiming or needing to claim from the state, enough to ensure the generation coming next learns the virtues of hard work and applies that to the modern world.
It is no surprise given the above that whole villages and towns come to a standstill when one of the older generation passes on – everybody knows them and has some reason to thank them and pay their respects to them when they die. Funeral corteges in this part of Portugal are often over two miles long.
There are thousands of such families in rural Portugal – they are the backbone of the country – they keep the country going.
I am humbled and honored to have been accepted into this one. I hope I can live up to their example.