surinenglish

Roots in England, flowers in Spain

Cecilia McWeeny (4th left) with the mayor of Almuñécar, Trinidad Herrera, and family members.
Cecilia McWeeny (4th left) with the mayor of Almuñécar, Trinidad Herrera, and family members. / SUR
  • Cecilia McWeeny was officially made an "adopted daughter" of Almuñécar last Friday

Cecilia McWeeny, a Brit resident in Almuñécar for past 53 years, received the title of "hija adoptiva" (adopted daughter) of the town last Friday. The honour was the local council's way of recognising her work as a volunteer for many local charities.

Cecilia McWeeny Chacón was born in Bradford in 1940. After leaving school she trained as a nurse and worked at Bradford hospital.

As a young woman, she, alongside some of her nursing colleagues, travelled to Norway for a skiing trip. Cecilia explains that on the boat back to England, they got talking to someone who had connections in Almuñécar and invited them to visit the town.

"We first went in 1963 and went back in 1965," Cecilia tells SUR in English, adding, "In those days we didn't know anything about the dangers of the sun and skin cancer and we used to literally fry ourselves by mixing olive oil and coca cola to try to get a tan."

Meant to be

While there on her second visit, Cecilia met her future husband Paco at a party. "During the holiday I knew it was meant to be," she reminisces.

She handed in her notice at Bradford hospital and moved to Spain, where she and Paco, who had just finished military service and was setting up his own business as a butcher in Almuñécar, married in 1967.

"My parents were very happy. They trusted me and, as they had met while on holiday in Lourdes, they weren't surprised about me meeting someone in a similar way," she adds.

Cecilia also explains how her parents managed to bring a traditional three-tiered wedding cake from England for the wedding. One of Cecilia's uncles, Bernard, had been ordained as a priest in Spain and Cecilia explains that he "offered a lot of help" about Spanish families and way of life.

"I remember Uncle Bernard telling me that when you marry in Spain you don't just marry one person but the whole family and that's certainly true," laughs Cecilia.

She adds that her husband's family were very welcoming and that she has always got on well with them.

She says of the time in which she moved to Spain: "Of course it was during the Franco era but I didn't really think about that. I was so in love and I just don't think it really affected me."

She and Paco had a very happy marriage, she says, but she often got comments from other Spanish people about "what her husband would let her do", adding: "Of course in those days husbands had to give their wives permission to do a lot of things."

Family

Cecilia and Paco had six children; three boys and three girls. Sadly one of the boys died when he was just 29, 20 years ago, and about eighteen months after Paco died of cancer.

Cecilia is now a grandmother to eight grandchildren: "All eight are girls." Cecilia says that she always speaks in English with her children and granddaughters and describes English and Spanish connections poetically: "My roots are in England but my flowers are in Spain."

As well as her own family, Cecilia has dedicated her life in Spain to helping others, something that, as last week's recognition shows, has not gone unnoticed.

She has volunteered with a huge number of organisations including the cancer association AECC and Cáritas, and helped people with interpretation and hospital visits. She also gave parenting classes and worked with drug addicts and people with Aids. "We had people staying with us when they needed help sometimes," Cecilia adds.

Her warmth and popularity were clear to see at Friday's event when family, residents, people she has helped along the years and local politicians of all parties, as well as town hall staff, packed the Casa de la Cultura.

Even one of her two sisters travelled from Bradford to be there, which was a surprise for Cecilia. "It was a lovely event and lovely to see so many people," she says. She adds that she has always done what has come naturally to her and always wanted to help people.

"There is a Spanish saying which is 'el amor se paga con amor' [love is paid for with love] and I believe in that."