Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Fernando and Ignacio feasted on wonderfully familiar food. Because it was Friday, no meat was offered. While many of the immigrant Spaniards had abandoned the rigid doctrines of the Catholic church, they still embraced many of its cultural manifestations. A huge basket of freshly baked bread was on each table. An "empanada gallega", the Galician meat pie of tuna and sweet peppers was the appetizer. A green salad was followed by a hearty Basque codfish stew, "bacalao a la vizcaina". "Arroz con leche", an Asturian-style rice pudding, made for a delicious dessert. "Café con leche", Cuban coffee with boiled milk, ended the feast. Ignacio and Fernando agreed that Maruxa had been very ecumenical in her choice of offerings, either purposely or by accident. The menu was a perfect sampling of the most iconic foods of Spain's northwestern Atlantic coast, the "Green Spain" from which so many of her boarders had emigrated.

Chapter 13Zapato and Gaitero retreated to the sitting area which was now mostly empty. Most of the diners had returned to work. They relished this opportunity to get reacquainted after nearly four years of separation and minimal communication. They had last seen each other on the docks of Havana when Ignacio boarded the Olivette, Mascotte's "sister ship", for his voyage to Tampa. Ignacio noticed that Fernando's eyes were filllng with tears.

 "Zapato, parece mentira que marchamos de la tierrina solos, cuando éramos rapacines...nada más catorce años.....pensando que ya éramos hombres! Queríamos evitar a servir el rey. Y sabiendo que probablemente más nunca veríamos a nuestros padres. Si me cierro los ojos veo la fiesta de despedida que nos dieron la noche antes. Nuestras familias escondieron su tristeza. El día que nos fuimos, después de la foto, mi madre me abrazó y me besó. Después ella entró a la casa, negándose a salir de nuevo. Ella no quería verme alejar de la casa por la última vez."

Gaitero had very poignantly reminisced to Zapato about their departure from Spain...expressing amazement that they were only young boys of fourteen years of age. They, like so many others, wanted to avoid "serving the king"...a reference to the military draft. He closed his eyes, thinking about the "farewell party" the two families had given for the two boys, while hiding their sadness.

The regions of Asturias and Galicia are traditionally culturally and ethnically Celtic, as opposed to Mediterranean. One manifestation of this was the giving of a farewell party to "celebrate" the departure of emigrants, a tradition well known in Ireland. In reality these were, more often than not, sad occasions. In that island nation to the north of Spain they were called "American wakes". On the day of departure, families would pose for a photograph...an extravagance at the time. Traditionally, these were taken outside. Fernando commented how, after his family's photograph was taken, his mother pulled him toward her, embracing him strongly and kissing his face numerous times. She then quickly entered the house, refusing to come out again. She did not want to see her young son walk away for the last time.

Ignacio was both moved and surprised by the depth and intensity of Fernando's nostalgia. He would have expected this from someone much older than they. He shared his friend's sentimentalities, but somehow Gaitero's verbalization of them evoked a homesickness he had never before felt. He steered the conversation toward the present.

"Pues mira, Gaitero. Tengo muy buena noticia. El encargado de contratar en la fábrica de puros donde trabajo ha accedido hablar contigo el lunes. Quizás puedes trabajar allí. La fábrica se llama Sanchez y Haya, una de las más grande en Tampa. Ya hace tres años que estoy allí, y ahora soy fabricante de puros. Gano un buen salario."

Ignacio explained that for the last three years he was working at a cigar factory called Sánchez & Haya, the first and one of the larger ones in Tampa. He had worked his way up to being a cigar maker, and was earning a good salary. The manager in charge of hiring had agreed to meet with Fernando on Monday, and perhaps there was a job for him.

"Zapato, tanto lo agradezco! Por supuesto, hablaré con él el lunes."

Fernando smiled and expressed his deep gratitude to Ignacio for his effort. He would certainly speak with the manager.

Gaitero suddenly realized that he was extremely tired after the overnight boat ride. Even at his young age, the lack of proper sleep had taken its toll. It was now early evening, and he was ready for a good night's sleep. He asked Ignacio to please escort him to their room.

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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