Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

The birthday cake with four brightly burning candles attracted the attention of the young boy. As he reached out to grab the candles, Fernando quickly pulled back his son's hand, causing it to hit the edge of the cake.

"Luciano, cuidado, no te quemes!"

Fernando cautioned his son to be careful and not burn himself. Though only four years old, the child had already earned a reputation of being bright, curious and assertive. The guests, gathered around the table, broke out in laughter as Luciano, with a big smile, began eating the frosting. As the crowd began singing a Spanish version of "Happy Birthday", Fernando lifted his son in his arms and kissed his cheeks. Giuseppina, standing beside them, cleaned her son's hand. Fernando put Luciano down, and he ran off to play with his sisters and other children. 

After the cake was served, Fernando followed his wife into the kitchen. As she washed the dishes, he put his arms around her from behind. 

"Gracias por darme cuatro hijos preciosos. Todos estan con nosotros hoy."

Fernando had thanked Giuseppina for giving them four precious children. She turned and faced him. With tears in her eyes, she hugged her husband. 

Fernando and Giuseppina rarely spoke of their third child. Born after their daughters, Carmela and Pilar, their first son was named Gaetano, in honor of Giuseppina's father. In Sicilian culture, the first son is normally named after his paternal grandfather, and the second son after the maternal grandfather. This custom is not the norm in Spain. Despite his ambivalent feelings about his father-in-law, Fernando suggested they honor him by naming their first son after Giuseppina's father. The elder Gaetano was extremely dedicated to his family. He had come to love Fernando as his own son. Tragically, baby Gaetano died in 1920, a victim of the influenza pandemic which ravaged the world from February, 1918 until April,1920. He was just shy of his first birthday. Fernando and Giuseppina had considered naming their second son after his deceased brother, but Giuseppina felt it would cause the child to feel as though he were a "replacement", not his own person. Always grateful to St. Lucy, they chose the name Luciano, with Gaetano as his middle name. 

Giuseppina, wiping tears from her eyes, suggested that they join their guests. Fernando was grateful that she had found solace in her Catholic faith, though he knew that a piece of the familiy's heart was forever broken. Following Dr. Trelles' advice, Giuseppina, with Fernando's support, had a tubal ligation following Luciano's birth. Luciano Gaetano would be their last child. 

The next day was a bright, sunny, and crisp day. It was Sunday morning, the day before Luciano's actual birthday. Fernando was dressed and waiting on the front porch for Giuseppina and the children. The Suarez house was on the southeast corner of 21st Ave. and Ybor St. It was a large, but not ostentatious house, the most admired in the neighborhood. This area, between 21st Ave. southward to 19th Ave., and between 15th St. and Ybor St. was known as El Barrio Candamo, "The Candamo Neighborhood". This was because virtually every house had been built and occupied by Spaniards who had emigrated to Tampa from the county of Candamo in the province of Asturias. Most families had their roots in one of the many small villages of Candamo, such as San Roman, Ventosa, Cuero, or Grullos. Eastward from the Suárez home was a largely Sicilian neighborhood. Culturally, this combination was ideal for the Suárez family.

Fernando reminisced about the night Luciano was born. The hurricane had caused almost catastrophic damage to Tampa and the surrounding area. Hyde Park and downtown Tampa had a tidal surge with water rising to the third floor level; many homes were completely washed away. West Tampa and Ybor City, while sustaining significant damage, were spared the flooding. Luckily, these neighborhoods were on some of the highest ground in Tampa. The cigar factories were purposely placed in these areas for this reason. To maintain pliability and freshness, the tobacco leaves were stored in the lowest sub-basement areas of the factories, the most humid areas. Because high quality tobacco from Cuba was very expensive, it was important that the leaves be stored in areas that were not prone to flooding. Fernando thought it ironic that some of the poorer areas of Tampa were spared, while the wealthier areas sustained the most damage.

Fernando's thoughts were interrupted by Giuseppina's voice. 

"Bueno, Fernando. Estamos listos."

Giuseppina told Fernando that they were ready. Fernando felt grateful as he saw his family smiling, dressed in their Sunday best. Today was a special Sunday. Normally Fernando would drive Giuseppina and the children to and from Mass at Sacred Heart Church. While they were at church, he would join friends at the Centro Asturiano clubhouse, a short drive from the church. Afterward, they would eat lunch at one of Ybor City's many Spanish cafes or restaurants. Today, Fernando would join them for Mass, in honor of Luciano's fourth birthday. Later in the afternoon, they would attend the dedication of the new Centro Asturiano Hospital.

This would be followed by a dinner and entertainment at the beautiful Centro Asturiano clubhouse and theater.

Fernando and his family joined Giuseppina's parents and other relatives in pews toward the front of the church. In 1905, the old wooden structure was replaced by a massive, beautiful stone building. To the left of the Licatas was a beautiful stained glass window bearing the Licata name; this was in recognition of their significant donation toward the building of the new church. Fernando would not allow himself to imagine the source of much of this money.

The impressive new Centro Asturiano Hospital was located on 21st Ave., between 12th St. and 13th St., only a few blocks from the Suárez home. After the dedication ceremony, attendees were offered a tour of the hospital. Located just off of the waiting room was a beautiful chapel. Inside the chapel was a statue of Our Lady of Covadonga, the patron saint of Asturias. The former, smaller clinic for the Centro Asturiano, replaced by this new, modern hospital, had borne her name. For a complex variety of reasons, Covadonga had become a symbol of hope and pride among all Asturians, religious and atheistic alike. In recognition of the clinic having saved Giuseppina's life, Fernando and the Licata family had donated the funds for the chapel, as well as for hospital equipment. This new hospital would also serve members of the Italian Club, as the Spanish societies were the only ones to have hospitals. 

Fernando asked the Licatas to watch Carmela, Pilar, and Luciano. The children continued down a hallway, escorted by their grandparents. Fernando took Giuseppina's hand and gently led her into the chapel. They sat in one of the five pews. They were the only people there. Still holding her hand, her turned to face her.

"Pina, nada puede reemplazar nuestro precioso bebé, Gaetano. El dolor de esa pérdida siempre será más allá de palabras, lo sé. Pero, en total, tenemos tanto en nuestras vidas por lo que debemos estar agradecidos. Nos conocimos, nos casamos, y tenemos tres hijos que son el centro de nuestras vidas. He tenido éxito en mi trabajo. Tenemos amigos buenísimos. Tus padres me han aceptados como otro de sus propios hijos. Aunque no soy muy religioso, puedo decir que somos bendecidos. El futuro parece muy seguro, sin límites. Te quiero con todo mi corazón."

Fernando, feeling introspective, had shared with Giuseppina his assessment of their lives. He acknowledged that the pain of losing their precious baby, Gaetano, was beyond words, and would always be with them. In spite of that, he felt grateful for so much in their lives. They met, they married, and have three children that are the central part of their lives. Fernando has done well in his work and they have many good friends. Giuseppina's parents have accepted Fernando as another of their own children. In his opinion, their future looks secure and without limits. Though he was not religious, he felt that they were blessed.

Giuseppina gently squeezed Fernando's hand. He recognized this as an affirmation of his words.

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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