Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

As Fernando and Ignacio entered the large living room, they noticed that Mrs. Licata and her two daughters joined a group of ladies seated in a far corner of the room. In the center of the room was a massive oak table upon which sat an incredibly large amount of food of all kinds. The atmosphere was ethereal, as the gas lamps were turned down low, creating dancing shadows along the walls and ceiling. Several large oak logs burning in a huge stone fireplace provided the perfect amount of additional light. This also served to warm the room, both literally and figuratively. A tall, beautifully decorated Christmas tree was in a corner of the room to the left of the fireplace. Fernando was enthralled, never before having seen a Christmas tree. This was a custom that had not taken root in Spain, and was just becoming popular in Cuba. His trance was broken by the sound of Turiddu's voice.

"Amigos, ven conmigo. Quiero explicar algo de nuestras costumbres sobre Santa Lucía."

Turiddu, in a particularly festive mood, had put his arms around Fernando and Ignacio. He asked them to follow him, as he wanted to explain some of their customs having to do with St. Lucy's day. He guided them toward a table that was between the fireplace and the group of Sicilian women sitting together. Many guests were lining up to gain access to the table. Turiiddu took the Spaniards around the line, approaching the table from the side. As they passed near the group of sitting women, Fernando glanced at Giuseppina. As their eyes met, she broke into a large smile, then quickly averted her eyes. 

Upon the table sat a small altar featuring a statue of St. Lucy, adorned with flowers. Surrounding and below this were dozens of small votive candles which had been lit. In the center was a huge bowl filled with a type of porridge. Guests were serving themselves, garnishing the porridge with a variety of nuts and dried fruits sitting in smaller bowls. At the end of the table was a large wooden box with a slit on the top. Periodically a guest would slip a sealed envelope into the slot.

Turiddu explained that St. Lucy is considered the patron saint of light and vision, hence the numerous candles. Due to a complex, and often erroneous, interpretation of history and astronomy, her birthday, December 13th, is also celebrated as the longest night of the year. The traditional porridge is called "cuccia" in Sicilian and consists of wheat berries cooked with ricotta cheese and sugar. Legend has it that a shipload of wheat saved thousands from starvation during a famine in Sicily in the 16th century, having arrived on her birthday. Turiddu prepared a sampling of cuccia for his friends. They found it tasty and vaguely reminiscent of the iconic Asturian rice pudding. Turiddu explained that the envelopes that were being left at her altar are monetary donations intended to help the hungry and the blind. Traditionally, in Sicily, the celebration is not as elaborate as this. Most families celebrate with a simple family dinner of cuccia and quiet meditation. Turiddu explained that as his father had prospered, he had turned the Licata celebration into a large affair signaling the beginning of the Christmas season. 

The Spaniards were captivated by these beautiful traditions and honored that they had been invited. Fernando couldn't help but think that somehow Turiddu had been instrumental in his having been invited. It seemed that, as opposed to his older brother Rosario, Turiddu was somewhat of a "loner". As they made their way around the room, very few guests would approach the young Sicilian, whereas Rosario always seem to have an entourage about him. Perhaps Turiddu had earned a reputation as unapproachable. In any case, Fernando felt that a strong and special bond was developing between Turiddu and him. This allowed him to comfortably confide in Turiddu. 

"Turiddu, quiero hablar con tu hermana, Giuseppina. Cómo puedo hacerlo sin ofender la familia? Quiero que me ayudes."

He told Turiddu that he wanted to speak to his sister without offending the family and requested that Turiddu assist him. 

Turiddu discretely pointed toward the group of women seated together. He explained that this was a time-honored Sicilian way of protecting their innocent young ladies against the improper overtures of anxious young men. The concept of innocence and virginity until marriage was deeply ingrained within that island culture. Mothers, grandmothers, and single aunts formed a formidable wall which needed to be approached cautiously. Turiddu suggested that they approach as a group, addressing the older women first, keeping the conversation impersonal and pleasant. The young Sicilian gestured to Fernando and Ignacio to follow him.

As they approached the women, Turiddu addressed his mother in Sicilian. Ignacio, having developed a cursory familiarity with the language, relayed, in a low voice, a rough translation. He explained how he had shared the history of Santa Lucía and that the Spaniards enjoyed the cuccia. This seemed to please her and she went on to introduce the other older women to Fernando and Ignacio. With Turiddu and Ignacio translating as needed, they were soon emerged in polite and spontaneous conversation...with the exception of Rosa and Giuseppina. 

Mrs. Licata turned toward Giuseppina. After a brief exchange in that "other" language that sounded absolutely nothing like Sicilian or Spanish, Turiddu tuned toward Fernando and whispered.

"Mi madre comentó a mi hermana que ella sabe que ustedes trabajan juntos y quizás han hablado en la fábrica. Giuseppina contestó que sí, trabajan juntos, pero nunca han hablado porque están en diferentes departamentos. Mi madre después dijo que entonces esta noche sería una buena oportunidad para hablar un poco. Para mi, esto significa que ahora puedes hablar directamente con ella. Es una forma de permiso."

Turiddu explained that his mother had told Giuseppina that she knows she and Fernando work together and perhaps they have spoken at the factory. Giuseppina replied that they did work together but they had never spoken since they are in different departments. Mrs. Licata then commented to her daughter that tonight would be a good opportunity to talk. Turiddu said that this was sending a signal, and that it was appropriate for him to speak directly with Giuseppina. 

Fernando seized this opportunity. In Spanish, he asked her now she liked working at Sanchez y Haya. In surprisingly good Spanish, she responded that she enjoyed it very much. Complimenting her on her excellent Spanish, Giuseppina told him it was an unexpected benefit of working primarily with Spanish women. As they continued in warm but impersonal conversation, Turiddu and Ignacio excused themselves to mingle with the other guests.

It appeared that Fernando had garnered the approval of the Licata family. For the young Spaniard, January 6th, "Día de Los Reyes" or the "Feast of the Three Kings", had arrived early. This holiday is the day when Spaniards receive their Christmas gifts. 

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This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020