Margarida, José, and the Queen

Margarida saw the Queen in that summer of 1901 when all the days were damp and filled with the smell of salt.  She couldn’t see the future through the fog, but she imagined machines, money, and motion, a city crammed with tenement houses and streetcars.  She was fourteen years old.  She and her mother, Maria Julia, had just arrived in Ponta Delgada, having said good-bye forever to aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, the living and the dead.  They had their freshly-issued passports, and their trunks were still in the cart that had carried them the short distance from Rosário, Lagoa.  Soon they would board the Dona Maria.  But what was that commotion?

They had forgotten all about it.  Yes, Queen Amelia and King Carlos were visiting Ponta Delgada, and there was the Queen right on the other side of a large group of cheering people.  Margarida, who was slim and quick, darted under elbows and between skirts to get a good look.  The Queen was tall and seemed kind.  She smiled and waved at the crowd.  I like to think that Margarida caught her eye, that she and the Queen were poised for a moment on a pivot in time, and that they would remember the moment always, even as they traveled in opposite directions, one to the New World and one back to the old maelstrom of political intrigues.  I know Margarida remembered.

Before she married Carlos, Amelia had been a French princess, the great-granddaughter of Louis Philippe, the “Citizen King.”  Louis Philippe had a long history of rolling with punches, starting with his years of exile when he earned a modest income teaching in a boys’ school and later traveled the world incognito.  Amelia must have inherited her great-grandfather’s talent for coping with sudden change, as she would demonstrate in 1908.  As the Royal Family crossed the Terreiro do Paço in an open carriage, a couple of assassins shot and killed the King and his older son, Crown Prince Luís Filipe.  But when a third shot hit the younger son, Prince Manuel, in the arm, Queen Amelia turned and whacked the gunman with a huge bouquet she had just been given, catching him off guard and saving Manuel’s life.  Those were big punches.  Amelia ordered some black dresses from her dressmakers.

Margarida went to the school for immigrants.  She learned to say “I see the cat I see the dog” but wondered where that was going to get her.  Not very far, she decided, and she didn’t go back.  She met José at a dance.  He was good-looking, and she was slim and quick.  Where else but in New Bedford could a girl from Rosário, Lagoa, meet a boy from Ribeirinha, Ribeira Grande.  They married on April 1, 1905, and in no time at all they became Margaret and Joseph, although at home they still used the old names.  Joseph was a fireman.  He worked in the cotton mills, not putting out fires but keeping them going.  He also kept a dream going, a dream of becoming a citizen of the United States.  He practiced writing his name, Joseph Vieira, over and over again on scraps of paper.  His handwriting was shaky.  “Joseph” and “Vieira” were the only words he knew how to write.

The courtroom was so full of hope that Joseph could hardly breathe.  Soon he would raise his hand and take the oath of citizenship.  At least, that’s what he thought, but he had some punches to roll with, too.  There in the courtroom Joseph had a stroke, his first, and wasn’t able to take the oath.  Afterwards he had to walk with a cane.  He never became a citizen.  Years later, on a summer morning in 1941, Joseph went into the bathroom to shave and get ready for the day.  His second stroke was as sudden as an assassin’s bullet.  He died on the Fourth of July.  If Margaret had had a bouquet of flowers, she would have wanted to whack someone with it.  But there  really wasn’t anyone to whack.  So she bought some black dresses and a black coat and a black hat.  What else could she do?

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