Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño


It was now Thursday morning, the Tampanians' third day in Vigo. There was still no word from from the U.S. Consulate. Rufino and Serafín were still available to accompany the Suárez and Prendes families. 

After breakfast at the hotel, the group decided to see the sites in and around Vigo. Primarily an industrial port city, Vigo had a fascinating historic quarter. It seemed that more people were speaking Gallego than Spanish. Fernando and Ignacio were able to communicate well in Gallego. This was a result of their long friendship with Maruxa, their former landlady at La Gallega boarding house. They noticed that in some situations, people were hesitant to speak their native language. The Nationalist rebels were proposing the banning of all languages other than Spanish, an attempt to unify the "Spanish motherland", much like what Hitler and Mussolini were doing in Germany and Italy. 

It was just before two o'clock in the afternoon when the group returned to their hotel. As they were walking past the front desk, a voice called out.

"Por favor. Señor Suárez. Tenemos un mensaje para ti."

The concierge was calling for Fernando, advising him that they had received a message for him.

Fernando hurried to the desk. He was handed an envelope. A note inside requested that he call the U.S. Consulate as soon as possible. 

"Tenemos que llamar al consulado inmediatamente."

Fernando advised the others that they needed to call the consulate immediately. He suggested that they gather in his room to make the call. Within minutes Fernando was speaking with Mr. Abernathy. The news was good. The consulate had received a telegram authorizing the issuance of "safe conduct and U.S.A. entry" papers for Fernando and Ignacio. Apparently, the Licatas had contacted Representative Payne immediately. He then contacted the U.S. Department of State, explaining the situation. They were able to forward the authorization directly to Mr. Abernathy. Apparently, the Licatas' "friendship" with the local congressman had very deep roots. Fernando turned to the other Tampanians.

"Bueno, como dicen. Él que tiene padrino, le bautizan."

Fernando had quoted an old Spanish saying: "He who has a godfather, is baptized." This was the Spanish way of saying that knowing the right people will open doors that might otherwise be closed. 

Mr. Abernathy asked that Fernando and Ignacio present themselves at the consulate. He needed to attach the authorization to their alien registration cards. Additionally, the Spanish Republican government in Madrid had forwarded an authorization that would be added to their Spanish passports.

Within two hours, Fernando and Ignacio had returned from the consulate with all necessary documents for travel and entry into the United States. All that remained was to book passage. It was now after five o'clock in the afternoon and the port office was closed. They would return to the port first thing in the morning. Rufino and Serafín agreed to stay until the Tampanians had actually set sail.

There was a short line when they arrived at the port offices, one hour prior to opening. The eight travelers from Tampa appeared to be the largest single group. Within 40 minutes after the office opened, it was their turn to speak with the agent. She informed them there was a freighter scheduled to leave for New York on Sunday morning, which was two days away. She also advised them that the accommodations were spartan, but acceptable for eight passengers. The ship was due to arrive in Vigo later that afternoon. She offered to talk with the captain and then call them at the hotel. Fernando and Ignacio agreed, handing her everyone's documents. She quickly recorded pertinent data and handed the documents back to them. She assured them she would contact them as soon as she had additional information. As they walked back to their cars, Igancio commented to Fernando.

"Creo que deberíamos quedarnos en el hotel. No quiero fallar esta oportunidad. Tenemos que hablar con la señora el momento que ella llama. Por supuesto hay otros que quieren tomar el mismo barco."

Ignacio suggested that they remain in the hotel. They couldn't afford to miss the call from the lady in the port office. He felt there were certainly other people who were trying to take the same ship.

After an early lunch in the hotel, they remained in the lobby. They had advised the concierge that they were expecting an important phone call. Rafael and Luciano were excited at the prospect of crossing the Atlantic on a freighter, their sisters and parents less so. They joked about an adventure similar to the serial adventure stories so popular at American movie theaters.

At shortly after four o'clock in the afternoon, the concierge approached them. A woman had called, asking for either Señor Suárez or Señor Prendes. Fernando and Ignacio rushed to the telephone booth; the concierge would transfer the call there.

Their contact at the port informed them the captain wanted to meet them at the hotel to discuss specific arrangements. This, of course, meant the price. Fernando and Ignacio agreed. The captain would be at the hotel at six o'clock in the evening.

At six o'clock sharp, a rather large, burly man walked into the hotel lobby. He appeared to be about the same age as Fernando and Ignacio, in his early fifties. There was no doubt that he was a ship's captain. He looked like the Hollywood central casting version of a seafarer, complete with a navy blue wool cap. As Fernando and Ignacio approached him, he extended his right hand in greeting.

"My name is Aaron Winchester. I'm the captain of the freighter "Phoenix". Good to meet you gentlemen. I hear you need to get to New York. Let's talk."

Fernando, in his broken English, introduced Ignacio and himself to Aaron. He then suggested that Luciano serve as a translator, in order to avoid any miscommunication. The captain agreed. After more introductions, they took their seats and began negotiations. 

The captain listened intently to the Tampanians' tale of woe. He also asked about their backgrounds, curious about how they had ended up in Tampa. Surprisingly, he agreed to transport them for a fee that was quite reasonable. It seemed that his bark was worse than his bite. Beneath his gruff exterior there was empathy for their situation. He asked to view their documents. After a few minutes he handed them back and welcomed them "on board" the "Phoenix". Fernando invited Captain Winchester to have dinner with them. He accepted their offer. 

The dinner conversation was intriguing. Aaron explained that he had been born and raised in Amarillo, Texas. This was about as far from an ocean one can be in the U.S.A. An explorer by heart, he left home at the age of 16, riding the rails to California. His love affair with the sea began the moment he got his first view of the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. After years as a stevedore on the docks of that city, he became a crew member, eventually working his way up to captain. It was apparent that he identified closely with Fernando and Ignacio. He told them that he understood the need to uproot one's self in pursuit of a better life. He championed the cause of the common man. 

After several hours of dinner and coffee, and engaging conversation, Captain Winchester excused himself. He thanked the Tampanians for their hospitality, and reminded them to be at the port office on Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m.

"Zapato, no solo hemos encontrado pasaje a los estado unidos, creo que también hemos encontrado un buen amigo. Quizás no hay un mal que por bien no venga?"

Fernando commented to Ignacio that not only had they found passage to the United States, but he thought they had also found a good friend. He added that perhaps some good can always be found in something bad.


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