Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Thursday, December 13 was an unusually cold day in Tampa, and the cloudy skies and wind made the air feel even colder. Fernando and Ignacio were scurrying down La Séptima. The carriage that would transport them to the Licata residence would be at La Gallega boarding house at 6:30 p.m. and it was now just after 5:00 p.m. As they hurriedly passed the various store fronts, they noticed the lavishness with which American businesses promoted the Christmas season. It seemed to them that this most special holiday was very much becoming a commercial venture here in the USA. Nonetheless, they were enjoying the spirit of the season, and anticipating tonight's celebration of the Feast of St. Lucy. Fernando was taking no offense at Ignacio's teasing by referring to it as "the Feast of St. Giuseppina"!

The two men quickly bathed and changed into their new suits. As promised by Mr. Katz, the suits had been perfectly altered, pressed, and ready two days prior. Fernando remembered to gather the three beautifully wrapped boxes of handkerchiefs, eternally grateful for Mr. Katz' thoughtfulness and generosity.

As Fernando and Ignacio descended the stairs and entered the sitting area, they were greeted by whistles and applause. They looked quite dapper and their fellow boarders were quite impressed. Maruxa rushed over to them and gave each man a big hug and the customary Spanish kiss on both cheeks. Two of the older men had loaned them overcoats, appropriate on this particularly winter-like night. Turiddu had politely requested that they be punctual, as the carriage would be making several stops to pick up other guests as well. Proud of their usual punctuality, they donned their overcoats and waited on the front porch. 

A few minutes later the unmistakable sound of many horses stepping in unison caught their attention. A very large carriage drawn by six large horses stopped in front of La Gallega. Fernando and Ignacio walked toward the street. Two men were conducting the carriage. One descended and tipped his hat at the two Spaniards. He was one of the men Fernando had "met" that awkward night at L'Unione Italiana. This time he smiled and gestured toward the carriage. Mercifully, the carriage was partially enclosed and offered protection against the unusual weather. As Fernando and Ignacio entered, they politely tipped their hats at the other guests. The carriage pulled away and was soon headed eastward on La Séptima. 

There were approximately 12 other guests on board the carriage. All were speaking Sicilian or that other language that Fernando had noticed on several occasions, still curious what it could be. After two more stops, they arrived at the Licata home. As they entered the complex, they saw many other smaller carriages. Apparently, this was a large affair with many invited guests. Their carriage came to a halt near the warehouse building.

Fernando and Ignacio politely allowed the other guests, many of whom had children or were older, to descend ahead of them. The two men who had driven them escorted them away from the warehouse area and toward the Licata family home. By now it was pitch dark. The path leading up to the house was lined with large candles which had been placed into small wooden boxes filled with sand. As they got closer to the house, they could see that the massive front porch, as well as every window, was adorned with candles. As the night was particularly dark, the flickering of the candles produced an effect that was almost other-worldly. Fernando and Ignacio, instinctively speaking in hushed tones, agreed that they had never seen anything quite like this.

Shortly ahead of them was the end of a line of guests who had queued up to greet the hosts standing just inside the massive front door. This receiving line was moving rather quickly and as they got closer, they saw Gaetano and, presumably, Mrs. Licata next to him. Beyond them stood four younger people, one of whom was Turiddu. It was clear that the guests ahead of them in line were close friends and relatives of the Licatas, since the greetings that were being exchanged were of a familiar nature...warm hugs and kisses and animated conversation. Suddenly Fernando felt a bit apprehensive, wondering if Mr. Licata would remember him from that now infamous initial meeting. Surely, Turiddu was honest when he said that his father had suggested inviting them to the celebration, or had Turiddu once again sought to challenge Gaetano's authority by having uninvited guests?

To his relief, just as he was approaching Mr. Licata, Turiddu rushed over, placed his arm around Fernando and turned to his father. Gaetano Licata looked at the two Spaniards and smiled warmly, extending his right hand.

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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