We Were Lilliputians Among Dwarfs
A FEW years after the Spanish Civil War, when I was still a young girl, my mother and I went to the circus in our hometown of Cuenca. Stepping into the big top, I suddenly heard a commanding voice shouting: “Senora, Senora, I would like to hire your daughter!” My mother, taken by surprise, immediately answered: “I have another one you can hire as well!” This strange encounter was to change our lives completely.
You see, my younger sister Carmen and I are not much taller than dolls, lilliputians indeed, even among dwarfs. Carmen and I are only about three feet [1 m] tall. That certainly explains our stage name, Las Hermanas Mínimas (The Tiny Sisters), when we later performed in circuses, bullrings, local festivals, and cabarets throughout Spain, France, and Italy. But let me tell you a bit more about how show business became part of our lives.
Running the Gauntlet
Father died during the Civil War, when Carmen and I were still very young. Being a dwarf was considered a curse by many at that time. So you can imagine what it was like for my mother to have not one but two dwarfs. Aunts, uncles, and cousins all felt so ashamed of us that some even suggested rather heartlessly that Mother push us over a cliff to get rid of us. The neighborhood kids used to throw stones at us, cruelly reminding us that we were outsiders. We would never have stepped outside the house if it hadn’t been necessary to go to school.
School wasn’t too bad, apart from the daily walk home, which often became somewhat like running the gauntlet because we were chased by the other children, who used to jeer, taunt, and pelt us with stones. Our teacher, however, was very understanding and compassionate. She devoted extra time to us, teaching us not only the normal curriculum but also all kinds of needlework. And what is more, she found clients who were more than willing to buy our handiwork. Now that we were growing up, agewise at least, it was important to think of some way of making a living.
Carmen and I hated being the center of curiosity, but wherever we went, people would rudely stare at us. This made us decide to work at home. However, as a result, our life became more and more solitary, a self-imposed confinement that continued until that decisive day when Mother and I went to the circus.
Life as Circus Dolls
It was the circus manager himself who had shouted to my mother and who wanted to hire me on the spot. I didn’t really like the idea. Yet, he had a very convincing argument. “How will you support yourself later on in life if you don’t work now?” he asked, arousing again all my innermost anxieties as to my future. He warned me: “You are going to end up in the Misericordia.” (Misericordia, or house of mercy, was the name given at that time to the local Invalids’ Home.) This was a prospect I disliked even more than performing in a circus. I had always cherished the idea of being a teacher.
But for now, teaching remained just a dream. After a few weeks of learning classical dancing, the two of us started to tour Spain, often performing for rather unappreciative audiences but at other times for enthusiastic little children. They were so delighted with our performances that they sometimes wanted their mothers to buy us as dolls.
At that time, life was exciting, traveling to places I had only dreamed of before. How our lives had changed! After years of being afraid to go out of the house, here we were out there in the limelight. Looking back, I am sure that getting away from our self-imposed isolation helped us to accept our physical condition without suffering permanent emotional damage.
Circus Life—No Children’s Playground
There was one drawback, however, in our newfound life. Our lilliputian world turned out to be anything but the innocent children’s playground that was portrayed onstage. Not a few of our fellow dwarf performers used to act in the most unpredictable way. Feelings of resentment and frustration easily build up since “grown-ups” so often don’t treat us like normal persons. Every once in a while these feelings would overflow in senseless outbursts of violence. But it also seemed to me that some of these dwarfs engaged in riotous behavior in order to build up their battered self-confidence.
My sister and I felt uncomfortable in this environment. For us, performing was nothing more than a means to make a decent living, the only one available to us in Spain at that time. We tried to stay clear of any trouble, and eventually we gained the respect of everyone. Sometimes, circus officials said to belligerent dwarfs: “Look at The Tiny Sisters. You should imitate them!”
During all these years, I never forgot the warning the circus manager had voiced. How would I support myself later on in life? So despite failing health, Carmen and I worked hard so that we could lay aside enough money for the rainy day that we thought was bound to come.
Nevertheless, I now see a positive side to all that hard work. Keeping busy among the hustle and bustle of circus life made it easier for us to accept our physical condition, and we certainly avoided shutting ourselves off from everybody. Above all, we were too occupied to lapse into self-pity.
Small Book—Big Impression
After many years, during one of our tours through Spain, a teenager approached us right there in the fairgrounds, explaining something about God’s Kingdom. She gave us two small books, which we happily accepted. That very afternoon, we started to thumb through one of them, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. What we read really touched our hearts, to such an extent that we started to talk to other performers about what we were reading. But how disappointed we felt when we discovered that not everyone was interested in what to us seemed so thrilling!
Two years passed, and then another Witness called at our home in Madrid. We were delighted to listen again to the Kingdom message, and the Witness even promised to come back with a Catholic Bible translation so that we could see for ourselves that the Witnesses’ Bible was not a different one. Soon, a study was started, and it didn’t take very long to convince us that we had found the truth. After only one year, Carmen was baptized, and some months later, I also dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized.
A Teacher at Last
Preaching from house to house was a real challenge for both of us. Oh, yes, we were accustomed to performing on stage, but standing in front of a door and trying to start a conversation with someone we had never seen before was quite another matter. We had never really overcome our deep-seated shyness and timidity. We asked ourselves: ‘How will people react when they see two dwarfs at their door?’ ‘Will they mistake us for beggars?’ I am happy to say that this has happened very rarely.
Thanks to the kindness and patience of our spiritual brothers, we overcame our fears little by little, and preaching began to occupy much of our time. Finally, my childhood dream came true—I was at last a teacher! I don’t teach the basics of mathematics, grammar, or suchlike, but the basics of gaining everlasting life.
Of course, people are often startled to find such tiny persons at the door. On the other hand, some are so astonished to find out that we can speak just like anyone else that they listen to our message quite attentively.
We always feel happy when we can go from house to house accompanied by our dear brothers of the congregation to which we belong. They support us wonderfully, even in such seemingly unimportant matters as ringing the bell—often we just can’t reach it! On other occasions, the brothers lovingly help us to climb the stairs.
We appreciate very much the loving care of the congregation. They show us genuine compassion, not just a superficial pity that would make us feel inferior. Carmen had an accident a few months ago, and she finds it very difficult to get up on a chair. So whenever she has to present a talk in the Theocratic Ministry School, someone has to lift her up and place her on the chair. The children in the congregation are intrigued by us, but it is not the rude curiosity that we encounter on the streets. Our brothers treat us as normal people, and that really has helped us to feel comfortable in the congregation.
The worries about our future, which accompanied me during so many years of my life, have disappeared. The fear of not having enough to live on, once we couldn’t work anymore, was replaced by a sure hope of a better future. Years ago we worked constantly, accepting every contract that was offered to us, always fretting about tomorrow. But as soon as we got to know the truth of God’s Word, we began to cut down on our show-business engagements. At the same time, we learned to live with less in a material way.
Even though we do not perform anymore, our daily housework keeps us busy. As we get older, our physical problems increase, and even climbing up the stairs has become a major challenge. Therefore, we had to look for a ground-floor apartment. In this way we don’t have to depend too much on others. We mix freely with the brothers and keep busy in the preaching activity, all of which helps us maintain an outgoing spirit.
Reflecting back over the last 50 years or so, I am still amazed at how much our lives have changed. Our early cloistered years gave way to the razzmatazz of the circus. Although our lives are more sedate now, they are more rewarding as we dedicate our time to public preaching. Both of us are so thankful to Jehovah that he has let us see the truth of his Word, which did so much to relieve our concern for the future. We are also grateful for the loving care and warmhearted support of our Christian brothers, which has helped us to bear the burden of being lilliputians even among dwarfs.—As told by Amparo Sánchez Escríbano.