Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

The hours that followed were filled with confusion and chaos, fueled by rumors. The Spanish military, along with the citizenry, were fragmenting as people were aligning along ideological lines, choosing whether to support the uprising (the Nationalists) or supporting the elected Republic. It appeared most of San Roman was supporting the Republic. However, by nightfall there were reports of a few verbal and physical confrontations among friends and neighbors. Some of the more ardent Republicans began throwing rocks and attempting to set fire to the local church. The rebel generals, broadcasting from Spanish Morocco, framed the war as an attempt to save Spain from Communism. The Republican government accused the Nationalists of being Fascist puppets of Germany and Italy, both under Fascist dictatorships. 

By the next morning, Spain had sealed its borders. Only foreign nationals were allowed to leave, and entry into Spain was limited to Spanish citizens and foreign journalists. The Suárez and Prendes families met at Ignacio's parents' farm in Cuero, a few miles from San Roman. 

"Gaitero, esto es una locura. Tenemos que regresar inmediatamente a Los Estados Unidos. Hay rumores que los generales fascistas tienen listas de los emigrantes que marcharon para evitar el militar. A ellos que tienen más de cuarenta años los fusilan o los meten en la cárcel. A los más jóvenes los reclutan en su ejército. No sé si es verdad o no, pero tenemos que salir de España!"

Ignacio, visibly shaken, told Fernando that they needed to leave Spain as soon as possible. There were rumors that Fascist generals had lists of those emigrants who had left Spain in order to avoid the military. Those that are over 40 years of age are either shot or put in prison. The younger ones are recruited into their armies. He didn't know whether this was true, but they certainly needed to leave Spain.

Fernando agreed. In fact, the Suárez family had arrived in the village of Cuero with their bags packed, ready to travel. Some of Fernando's relatives had accompanied them. Fernando's and Ignacio's mothers, both crying, were consoling each other.

Ignacio's father had heard that there were several taxi drivers in the nearby town of Grado who were offering to transport foreign nationals to the port of Vigo, in the adjacent province of Galicia. It was approximately 250 miles away, and one of the few major Spanish ports that had not been sealed off. Fernando knew that there was a U.S. Consulate Office in Vigo, something that might be of use to them. The area surrounding Grado had a high number of emigrants who had returned for a summer visit, many from Cuba, and some from Tampa. These taxi drivers quickly came to realize that this was a business opportunity for them, since most were scrambling to find a quick way out of Spain.

After a hasty and very emotional farewell to their friends and relatives, the visitors got into their hired cars, headed for Grado. The Suarez and Prendes families were in separate cars. Because of the gravity of the situation, they thought it best for the children to travel with their parents. The latest news reports indicated that most of Asturias was aligning with the Republicans, but neighboring Galicia was a mixed bag, with pockets of strong support for the Nationalists. Fernando was anticipating that they would be able to transit Asturias with no problem, but Galicia might be a different matter.

Grado was unusually quiet for a Saturday morning. As the largest town in the area, it normally would have been much busier. Apparently, many residents decided that keeping a low profile was in their best interest. There were several taxis parked adjacent to the town's main square, the drivers sitting on a nearby bench. The cars with the Americans parked alongside them. Fernando and Ignacio approached the group of drivers.

"Buenas. Nos dijieron que algunos aquí pueden ayudarnos llegar a Vigo. Es verdad? Somos ocho personas."

Fernando, bidding them a good morning, said they'd been told that some drivers might be able to take them to Vigo. He asked if this was the case and told them that they were a party of eight people. 

The response was one of silence, and the drivers' body language indicated hesitation and nervousness. 

"De dónde son ustedes? De Cuba?"

One of the taxi drivers responded by asking where they were from, wondering whether they were from Cuba. Fernando explained the situation, indicating that all but Ignacio and he were U.S. citizens. Apparently, word was out that transporting Spanish citizens across provincial boundaries was risky. 

"Deberían hablar con Juan y con Manuel, pero ellos salieron esta mañana con unos Cubanos a Vigo. No sabemos cuando regresan."

The taxi driver explained that they needed to talk to Juan and Manuel. They had left early that morning for Vigo with a group of Cubans. He explained that they didn't know when they would return.

Fernando asked if they could negotiate for two of them to take their group to Vigo. They responded, somewhat apologetically, that they were family men and were not willing to incur the risks. Fernando and Ignacio understood, thanking them and returning to their hired cars.

One of their regular drivers, Serafín, was not by his car. Ignacio asked the other driver, Rufino, if he knew where he was. He explained that he had walked to the post office to make a telephone call. Suddenly, Ignacio feared that perhaps he had gone to inform certain authorities of his and Fernando's intentions. He wondered if perhaps Serafin was a Nationalist sympathizer, or perhaps the atmosphere of paranoia had simply affected his judgement. Serafin approached the group.

"Caballeros, tenemos que hablar. Vamos a sentar aquí en este banco, por favor. Ahora mismo llamé a la compañía en Oviedo. El despachador de los carros es un buen amigo mío. Él, como casi todos los empleados, son apoyadores de la Republica, y sé que puedo hablar con él en confianza. Él me dijo que pudiéramos llevaros a Vigo. Estos coches están alquilados por un tiempo fijo, y él no tiene que saber adónde vamos. Tenemos que hablar de los detalles, porque hay un riesgo, claro."

Serafín explained that he called the company he works for in Oviedo. Unlike the local taxis in Grado, which were owned by the individual drivers themselves, Rufino and he leased their taxis from the company. The company owned and maintained the cars for a percentage of their earnings. The car dispatcher was a good and trustworthy friend. Like most of the employees, he was also a supporter of the Republic. Since the cars had been rented for another two weeks, it would be possible for him and Rufino to drive them to Vigo. Because there was some element of risk involved, they would have to discuss details. 

There was an agreement that in addition to the price they had already paid, Rufino and Serafin would be given a bonus, plus expense money for the additional gas and food for their return trip to Oviedo. They would be taking small country roads, avoiding major cities and the more popular provincial border crossings. Serafin went to a local hardware store and purchased several of the most current road maps available, along with several large metal containers and some canvas material. Though not entirely accurate, the maps would provide a guide as they "hopped" from one small village to another. After examining the maps, the two drivers concluded that the trip would take at least three days. The Spanish highway system was still in its infancy, compared to that of the U.S.A. 

Being unsure of exactly what awaited them on the journey, they decided to stock up on food and gasoline. Extra gasoline was stored in the large containers covered with canvas and placed on the roofs of the cars, with the baggage. This was, of course, hazardous, but a necessary risk. Sofia and Giuseppina visited the local shops. They returned with numerous loaves of bread, cured meats, and some canned items, along with a can opener.

Within two hours they left Grado on the "Carretera General" ("General Highway") toward Salas. In Salas, they turned off the main highway and toward the southwest. Fernando felt more anxiety than he had experienced when he left Spain for Cuba at the age of 14.

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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