This is María at the age of 106

María Fernández, at the party organised by the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer.
María Fernández, at the party organised by the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer. / ÑITO SALAS
  • She worked hard in the countryside, looked after her family and now helps her daughter and son-in-law, who are suffering from early Alzheimer's

Her children say it is not uncommon for someone to turn up at the house she shares with her daughter and son-in-law in Cártama, asking if they can come in and "see what a 106-year-old lady is like".

In fact, María Fernández can also be seen with her walking frame in the park every day, "because you have to walk. Every day," she says, firmly. She is wearing her best clothes - "look, I've put my gold bracelet on," she says to her son, who is in his eighties. María is enjoying the party organised for her and another 14 pioneers by the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women.

Born in 1913, all her memories are of a difficult life on the land and hard work with the animals. "I've worked like a slave. I've herded cows, I've done everything," she says, "but sometimes I wonder what the point was, when I've nothing to show for it".

She was unable to learn to read or write, but her innate curiosity means she knows what is happening in the world. "I watch the news every day," says this country woman who voted for the first time in 1933 and was unable to get married in church "because everything was very turbulent then". She lived through the civil war with her young children and when her husband returned home, her daughter found it hard to get used to "having her father in the house again".

That is the daughter with whom she now lives. When she was 92, María was unable to live alone because she broke her hip, but she is essential to her family because her daughter (83) and son-in-law (86) both have early Alzheimer's.

When the carers aren't there, it's María who answers the phone and, especially, helps her daughter in the kitchen, as her daughter is forgetting how to cook.

"I keep all the recipes here," she says, pointing to her head. What is the secret to her long life? "Work hard and eat well. And I love my friends and family very much. My son-in-law loves me a lot, more than my daughter," she jokes. It is a large family: 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren "and two more on the way".

She also enjoys looking after her plants and sewing. "Without glasses," she says proudly. To celebrate her 100th birthday she fulfilled her dream of visiting Madrid. She went with her grand-daughter.

"We visited the Royal Palace and wanted to see the king, but he wasn't there," she says. Because María is very keen on the monarchy. "We had such a lovely time," she says, eyes sparkling like those of a 20-year-old. "How long am I going to be here? Well, until God and the Virgen del Remedio decide otherwise. Till then, I'm staying here, in the countryside".