Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Adela assisted Fernando in filling out the necessary employment forms. Literacy was not the norm amongst most of the workers, and Adela complimented him on his writing and reading skills. Gaitero's thoughts drifted back in time about ten years to Wednesday afternoons at the small chapel outside of his village in Asturias. There was one priest who valued education even more than religious doctrine. This cleric would offer the children a basic education, in addition to preaching Catholic dogma. Because of this, Fernando was able to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic functions. He would remain forever grateful to this visionary.

After a few minutes, Adela stood up and thanked Fernando for his time. She reminded him that he would start working tomorrow morning at seven thirty. He thanked her and asked if she could recommend a place nearby that sold work clothes. 

"Pues sí. Hay una tienda cerquita donde venden cosas así. Se llama 'El Sombrero Blanco'. Todo el mundo va allí para comprar ropa de varias calidades. El dueño es judío, pero habla español perfectamente. Queda en la esquina de La Séptima con la Calle Veinte"

Adela told Fernando that there was a clothing store nearby, on the corner of 7th Ave and 20th St. It was a popular place that offered clothing of various quality. Though the owner was Jewish, he spoke Spanish perfectly. The store was called "The White Hat".

This was a relief to Fernando, since the work clothes he brought from Havana were few and not appropriate for his new job. Here he would be working only partially outdoor and the weather was much cooler. He looked forward to some new clothes and a new start.

When Fernando arrived at the store, there were several men sitting on a bench just beside the entrance. They were middle-aged or older, dressed in black, and had full, bushy beards. As he walked by them, he could hear them speaking a language that was unfamiliar to him. It sounded remotely like German, which he had frequently heard on the docks of Havana. Many of the ships that served Havana, both passenger and freight, were German. He was fairly sure that they were not speaking German, but perhaps a language quite similar to it.

When he walked into the store, he noticed that there very few customers. He assumed this was because today was a Monday. The store was quite large, and was stocked with not only clothing, but also housewares and tools, but seemed to be primarily a clothing store. He noticed a display of work clothing toward the back wall. As he began walking toward it, a loud voice interrupted the silence. He noticed an older man walking rapidly toward him.

"Buenos días, señor. Que necesitas hoy, por favor? Aquí tenemos de todo."

A gentleman had greeted him and asked what he needed today, advising him that they had anything he might want. He spoke Spanish extremely well, albeit with a distinct foreign accent. Fernando explained his needs. Within 10 minutes he had what he needed....proper pants, shirts and shoes. 

He followed the gentleman to the cash register. As Fernando prepared to pay, the older gentleman looked up through wire-rimmed spectacles. He extended his hand toward the young Spaniard.

"No te reconozco. Hace poco que llegaste a Tampa? Me llamo Isidor Katz, y soy el dueño de esta tienda. Gracias por comprar aquí."

The older gentleman had introduced himself as Isidor Katz, the proprietor of the store. He told Fernando that he didn't recognize him and asked if he had recently arrived in Tampa. He thanked him for patronizing his store. As they shook hands Fernando explained that he was a recent arrival and had just secured a job at Sánchez and Haya. To his surprise, Mr. Katz responded with a broad smile, and proceeded to discount the amount of his purchase by ten percent. Before he could respond, Isidor told him that this policy had served him well. He had many loyal customers and wanted to share his success with others. He always offered potential steady customers an initial discount. 

"Muchísimas gracias, Señor Katz. Cuantos años lleva en Tampa, y de donde eres?" 

Fernando had thanked Mr. Katz. Always curious, he also asked him how long he had been in Tampa and wanted to know where he was from. He answered that he was originally from Romania. He had first come to the United States in 1875. After a brief stay in New York he went to Key West, drawn by the warm weather and the opportunities offered by the cigar industry there. He had arrived in Tampa in 1891, following the cigar industry. Fernando gave him a brief summary of how he ended up in Tampa as well.

"Hombre, el futuro de la industria de puros está aquí mismo en Tampa. Tomaste una buena decisión!"

Mr.Katz reassured Fernando that his decision to come to Tampa was a good one, because the future of the cigar industry was here. 

Gaitero could see no reason to disagree. He thanked Mr. Katz for his good service, gathered his purchases, and headed back toward La Gallega.

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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