The Ribeiro dos Santos family into which Lucilia was born, with their eminently traditional makeup, were monarchists to the core, in the same way that they were Catholics. The affective and psychological dispositions that made them feel at home in the monarchist ambit were similar to those they felt when at church. Respecting due proportions, there was something analogous between their way of preparing to receive the Holy Eucharist, for example, and the anticipation that filled their home when they were about to meet a member of the Imperial family. The presence of Dona Gabriela, the matriarch, heightened these sentiments.
The visit of the Emperor
In 1878, while touring the Province of São Paulo, Dom Pedro II visited the Ribeiro dos Santos family in Pirassununga. Travelling in a luxury train of the Paulista Company on the inaugural journey of the new railway branch, the Emperor detrained at the makeshift wooden station, where the local dignitaries awaited him.
The Empress, Teresa Cristina, did not accompany her husband, but stayed in the car, where she received Dona Gabriela, who brought little Lucilia with her. As an expression of affability to the mother, Dona Teresa said to the girl:
“My dear, I knew your grandfather; it was he who taught me to dance.”
Indeed, at one of the court balls, Dr. Gabriel José Rodrigues dos Santos had gallantly and boldly invited her to dance, something she would normally forgo. Just moments before, with tact and class, he had successfully coached the Empress, who was lame in one foot, how to finesse the dance steps in such a way as to compensate for her disability. Empress Teresa Cristina managed so well that the feat was the talk of the court.
At the reception in Dr. Antônio’s house, Emperor Dom Pedro II – a figure of patriarchal proportions – drew little Lucilia close to him and, as he spoke, absent-mindedly ran his hand through her hair, unwinding her ringlets, one by one. Perceiving the slow ruin of her painstakingly arranged coiffure, Lucilia was about to protest, but her eyes met the stern and unwavering gaze of her father, stipulating that she make no reaction.
The Emperor’s visit was certainly an exception to the routine life of the Ribeiro dos Santos household, but there were other such breaks, such as the trips to São Paulo.
Daily life enlivened by trips to the capital
Although Pirassununga was experiencing rapid growth and its numerous stores were stocked with everything necessary to meet daily needs, the Ribeiro dos Santos would occasionally make visits to the capital not only to see their relatives but also to purchase fine and imported items.
Dona Lucilia, with a luminous memory even in her advanced old age, enchanted listeners with her detailed account of the family trips to São Paulo. She would say:
“Mama planned each trip to the provincial capital meticulously. Everything was very well done. The food that had been especially prepared for the trip was stowed in covered wicker baskets.”
The journey to the station, the farewells, the tidy railway cars, the scenic ride, and finally, the arrival at the capital, took on a storybook and legendary quality on Dona Lucilia’s lips. She narrated everything in such a winsome and captivating way, that her listeners felt they were travelling alongside her. It was impossible to keep the imagination from picturing the scenes so marvellously described.
In São Paulo, Dona Gabriela would faithfully pay visits to the Luz Convent bringing her little daughter with her. The nuns would part the curtain of the parlour to see the child and hand her sweets and other trifles. Lucilia was overjoyed and, like her mother, always retained affectionate ties to the convent for the rest of her life.
Other highlights of the trips to São Paulo were the stays at a relative’s home in the Anhangabaú Valley. Those who visit the region today – with its expanses of concrete and asphalt, its tunnels and overpasses, its crowded buildings, its pollution, commotion, crowds and crime – may have difficulty envisioning that over a hundred years ago, the place still had pastoral charm. A fish-filled brook meandered through a lush and green valley, welcoming groups of washerwomen to its banks.
Lucilia’s favourite pastime was fishing for minnows in the stream, but she also took part in other outdoor amusements.
The family excursions in elegant and comfortable landau-style convertible carriages, with the top drawn back in mild weather, brought them to the stops of the still-small São Paulo frequented by members of society eager to witness the growth of the capital. Lucilia never forgot, for example, the trips to the construction site of the Ipiranga Museum, where she played, as a little girl, by the foundations of this famous and monumental building.
In order to give her listeners an idea of the quaint serenity of life in the São Paulo of those days, Dona Lucilia recalled the time in which society ladies, following the caprices of extravagant fashion, would send their maidservants to the Várzea do Carmo in the evenings to catch fireflies along the riverbank to adorn their elaborate coiffures.
But of all the occurrences during these trips to São Paulo, the following is the most singular.
A young girl feared by the devil
Lucilia’s zealously guarded innocence encompassed not only peerless goodness, but also a total incompatibility with evil, as one of the most interesting episodes in her childhood, narrated by a relative, attests.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, spiritualist practices were much in vogue in certain high-society circles. Those addicted to the custom would gather around a table to consult beings from beyond. Lucilia was once taken on a visit to the home of relatives in the capital who were holding a séance. She was playing quietly in a corner of the parlour that had been chosen for the sinister encounter. The participants of this censurable act, assembled around the table, witnessed the futile efforts of a famous medium to call down the spirit. After much insistence, the prince of darkness grumbled through the voice of the exhausted sorcerer:
“Get that little fool Lucilia out of here!”
The episode was repeated in other circumstances, and was so remarkable that it became part of family lore. There would be other signs of the infernal spirits’ displeasure throughout the course of Dona Lucilia’s life. ◊
Taken, with minor adaptations, from:
Dona Lucilia. Città del Vaticano-Nobleton: LEV;
Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, p.62-65