Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

"Gaitero, parece mentira que solo hace tres años que llegastes a Tampa. Tanto ha pasado....cosas buenas."

Ignacio told Fernando that it was hard to believe that only three years had passed since his arrival in Tampa. So much had occurred, most of it good.

Fernando couldn't respond because Ignacio was anxiously adjusting Fernando's tie, making it almost impossible to speak. The two Spaniards were not familiar with formal attire, but the helpful Mr. Katz had generously included free lessons with their tuxedo purchases. 

Sunday, December 13, 1903 was, appropriately, a cold and cloudy day. It was St. Lucy's Day, and reminiscent of the day, exactly three years ago, that Fernando and Giuseppina had begun their courtship. Gaetano and Sebastiana Licata approved of Fernando and annointed the romance between him and their younger daughter. 

As Ignacio continued to nervously adjust Fernando's tie, Fernando pushed his hand away.

"Por favor, Zapato! Estás más nervioso que yo! Soy yo que se casa hoy, tu no!"

Jokingly, and with a broad smile, Fernando reminded his best friend that it was he who was getting married today, not Ignacio! Both men broke into laughter and hugged each other warmly.

As the relationship between Giuseppina and Fernando developed, Fernando sought and received permission from her parents to propose marriage. Giuseppina readily accepted his proposal. Mr. Licata then offered to bring Fernando into the family business, but Fernando respectfully declined. He preferred to demonstrate that he could attain financial stability on his own. Still employed at Sanchez y Haya, Fernando had worked his way up to assistant manager of personnel. This further impressed Giuseppina's father. His literacy, work ethic, and ability to get along well with the other employees had served Fernando well. 

"Bueno, Gaitero. Tenemos que irnos, porque nos esperan en la iglesia"

Ignacio reminded Fernando that they needed to go because others were waiting at the church.

Maruxa and Aniceto were already dressed and waiting on the front porch. Maruxa, in tears, rushed over to Fernando and warmly hugged and kissed him. He had honored the couple by asking that they serve as his "parents by proxy" during the ceremony and dinner afterward. Considering them far more than his landlords, Fernando was grateful for their love and friendship since his arrival in Tampa.

As the carriage made its way from Ybor City to downtown Tampa, Fernando was deep in thought. Earlier in the year he had decided that he was financially prepared to enter into marriage. With the Licatas' approval they considered which Sunday would be best. Fernando attributed it to good luck, but Giuseppina felt it was divine providence that St. Lucy's Day, December 13, would fall on a Sunday. The decision was made. 

Sacred Heart Catholic Church occupied a modest wooden building in downtown Tampa, the corner of Florida Ave. and Twiggs St. As the carriage stopped in front of the church, hundreds of guests were filing into the building. Fernando and Ignacio hugged Maruxa and Aniceto and handed them off to one of Giuseppina's cousins from New Orleans who was serving as an usher. The two Spaniards entered the church through a side entrance. Father Conde greeted them. He and Father Amorelli would be conducting the wedding mass. They joined the waiting  groomsmen. Ignacio was, of course, Fernando's best man. The others consisted of Turiddu and Rosario, Giuseppina's brothers, and Josė and Manolo, Fernando's friends. The men took their positions to the right of the altar. The church was completely full. Fernando smiled at Maruxa and Aniceto, who were seated in the front row to his left. Maruxa began crying, and Aniceto rolled his eyes. 

A brief silence followed the final strains of the Ave Maria. The pipe organ was at maximum volume as Wagner's wedding march filled the church. At the end of the procession of bridesmaids Fernando could see Giuseppina, escorted by her smiling father. As they approached the altar, Gaetano lifted her veil, kissed her on each cheek and passed her hand to Fernando's hand. Mr. Licata then leaned forward and whispered to Fernando.

"Ahora tengo tres hijos."

The elder Licata told Fernando that he now has three sons. Fernando smiled and thanked him.

Gaetano had rented the entire building of L'Unione Italiana for Giuseppina and Fernando's wedding reception. The upstairs ballroom had been reserved for a formal dinner and dancing. The casino downstairs was set up for the traditional St. Lucy observance later in the evening. 

As Fernando and Giuseppina took their seats at the head table, Fernando couldn't help thinking about the irony at hand. It was in this very room, three years prior, that he had first "met" the Licata family. His trip down memory lane was interrupted by the tinkling sound of a spoon hitting a water glass. Gaetano Licata began speaking in Sicilian, welcoming the guests. As prearranged, Ignacio followed by welcoming the Spanish- speaking guests as well. Midway through dinner, Ignacio delivered, in Spanish, a most eloquent testimonial to his best friend and his bride. Turiddu translated into Sicilian. 

As coffee and wedding cake were being served, the bride and groom circulated among the guests, greeting friends and relatives. To Giuseppina's wedding gown was sewn a large silk pouch. At every table someone would place an envelope containing money into the pouch. The entire wedding had been unfamiliar to Fernando, as it was a combination of Sicilian tradition and modern American customs. 

After several hours of dancing to traditional Sicilian and Spanish music, many of the remaining guests went downstairs to the casino. Father Amorelli offered a special blessing honoring St. Lucy. Afterward, a second dessert of cuccia signaled an end to the evening of celebration. Giuseppina, accompanied by her sister Rosa and other women, had gone to change from her bridal gown into her travel clothes. Fernando, Gaetano and Turiddu were sitting at a table in the now nearly empty room. With Turiddu's help in translating, they reminisced about the previous three years. Gaetano reaffirmed how fond he had become of his new son-in-law.

Gaetano went on to explain that he was impressed with Fernando's determination to meet Giuseppina. He was even more impressed that Fernando always respected her and the Licata family. He also valued Fernando's wisdom and discretion in not asking for details about the family business. However, Fernando was now part of the family and he wanted no secrets between them. Mr. Licata asked Fernando to assure him that what he was about to share with him would be kept in strictest confidence. Fernando nodded in the affirmative. 

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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