Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

As the "caravan" of two large cars passed through the small villages, people stared. Cars, particularly large ones filled with people and baggage, were relatively rare outside of the larger towns and cities. In many cases, as the cars approached the center of the villages, those outside would scurry back inside their homes, closing their doors and windows. The atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and uncertainty was palpable.

After approximately six hours, the Americans arrived in the town of Grandas de Salime, having traveled a distance of about sixty miles. Luciano, fascinated with navigation and geography, had been meticulously noting their progress on the car's odometer. The town was in Asturias, but near the Galician border. Fernando turned to his driver.

"Rufino, por favor. Encuentres un café o restaurante para que podemos descansar y comer. Todos estamos cansados y ya son las seis y cuarto de la tarde. Creo que sería lo mejor si pasamos la noche aquí."

Fernando asked Rufino to locate a cafe or restaurant where they could stop for dinner. He suggested that it would be best to spend the night here, as they were all tired. It was now 6:15 p.m. Thanks to the long Asturian summer days, several hours of daylight remained. Though the town was small, this made exploring much easier. 

Within minutes Rufino had located a restaurant and parked the car a short distance away. Serafín followed suit in the other car. The evening was pleasant, and many diners were sitting at outdoor tables. As the travelers exited the two cars, they became the focus of attention. The small town of Grandas de Salime was not accustomed to visitors.

They were enthusiastically greeted by the owner, who quickly put several tables together to accommodate the party of ten. The owner told them he would be serving them. As he left the table, Ignacio whispered to Fernando, questioning if maybe he was a Fascist spy. The two men chuckled softly. 

Dinner was predictably more than substantial. As they were being served their dessert and coffee, the cafe owner asked if they were headed to Vigo. Apparently, several other small groups had passed through the village the day before. Ignacio quickly replied.

"Pues somos de los estados unidos. Estamos aquí de visita y nuestro barco sale de Vigo en una semana. Queríamos ver un poco de esta parte de la tierrina, y visitar unos amigos cerca de Lugo en Galicia."

Practically before the proprietor had stopped speaking, Ignacio nervously began a hasty explanation of their presence. After immediately and emphatically saying they were from the United States, he explained that they were visiting Asturias and wanted to see friends near Lugo, Galicia enroute to catch their ship home from Vigo. The server's quiet smile indicated that he knew the truth; his diners were yet more Spanish nationals, now living in America, desperately trying to avoid being trapped in Spain.

As the travelers were preparing to leave the cafe, the owner approached them.

"Hay una posada dos manzanas de aquí donde se pueden dormir y desayunar bien. Los dueños son bien amigos míos. No tendréis ningunas problemas allí. Os deseo buena suerte, y un viaje muy seguro."

The cafe owner explained that good friends of his operated an inn about two blocks away. They could have a good night's sleep and a nice breakfast there. He assured them there would be no problem and wished them a safe trip.

As promised, their accommodations were excellent, the owners polite and accommodating. By 8 a.m. the two families were back on the road. The goal was to drive as far as possible while there was still daylight, approximately 14 hours. After an hour they crossed the provincial border into Galicia. The hotel clerk, sympathetic to their cause, had advised Fernando and Ignacio that there were pockets of strong Nationalist support within Galicia, and to proceed with caution. Luckily, the crossing was not guarded; their decision to avoid the more populated areas had paid off. The crossing was uneventful, marked only by an old metal sign. There was collective relief at having successfully crossed their first hurdle.

The roads were better than expected, and the goal was to drive beyond the large city of Lugo. Several hours later they were approaching Lugo. Rather than driving through the city, the decision was made to circumvent it, going through the smaller villages surrounding it. This was a mistake. A roadblock consisting of several military vehicles lay shortly ahead of them. They were already conspicuous; any attempt to turn around and avoid it would certainly draw even more attention. The lead car with the Suárez family stopped a few feet from the barrier, the car with the Prendes family behind it. A uniformed man, apparently an officer in the Spanish army, approached the driver's side of the car.

"Papeles de identificación, por favor! Están viajando juntos?"

"Identity papers, please! Are you traveling together?"

The officer, not smiling, gestured to the other car, asking if they were traveling together. 

Fernando answered that they were and explained that they, with the exception of the two drivers, were all from the United States. Giuseppina and the children handed him their passports, Fernando presented his U.S. alien registration card and Spanish passport. Rufino, the driver, presented his local identity card. 

The officer ordered everyone out of both cars. After collecting identification papers for all ten people, he proceeded to meticulously read through each document. Occasionally, he would glance up, matching specific faces with specific photographs on the documents.

"Señor Suárez y Señor Prendes, parece que ustedes son ciudadanos españoles. Cuando marcharon de este país? Estuvieron en el militar español antes de marchar?"

The officer commented that Fernando and Ignacio were still Spanish citizens. He wanted to know when they left the country, and whether or not they had served in the Spanish military prior to leaving. These types of questions had become a "litmus test", a way of determining whether Spanish emigrants where loyal to the monarchy and the Church, or part of a communist attempt to take over Spain. Such hyperbolic thinking was permeating the entire country. Clearly, this military officer was a Nationalist whose sympathies lay with the Fascist rebels. 

What followed were several minutes of propaganda as to why the current Republic was corrupt, and a disaster for Spain. This led to commentary concerning how easy the American life of luxury was, compared to Spain. The officer stepped away from the group to confer with other officers. 

"Mira, Gaitero. Creo que este hombre está dando pistas de que quizás podemos pagar para evitar problemas. Todos los comentarios sobre la vida de lujo en los Estados Unidos, etc. Creo que son mensajes en código. Que piensas? Deberíamos tomar el riesgo de hacer una oferta?"

Ignacio shared that he thought the officer was hinting they could perhaps bribe their way out of any potential problems. He felt that the rambling about "the good life in the USA" was a coded message to "the rich Americans" that he was open to accepting payment for his cooperation.

Fernando agreed, and offered to handle the situation. Ignacio nodded in agreement.

When the officer returned, he simply held their papers, staring silently at Fernando and Ignacio. Fernando, addressing him respectfully, told him that yes, they had achieved financial security in the U.S.A. He added that they were also known as generous to those less fortunate, anxious to assist others in need. Continuing, he commented that in the U.S.A. dedicated military officers were notoriously underpaid and overworked, and wondered if perhaps it was the same in Spain. 

The carefully worded message seemed to work. With a smile, the officer responded that he felt his salary was a certain number of "pesetas" (Spanish currency) below what it should be. Fernando offered to "loan" him ten times this amount. The officer tipped his cap, smiling broadly. Fernando and Ignacio pooled their money and handed it to the officer. In exchange, the officer handed each of them a document as a "promissory note". These documents bore the seal of the Spanish military and would ensure that they could proceed to Vigo without any difficulty. The Spanish officer returned their identification documents and wished them a safe return home. 

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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