Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Captain Winchester hadn't changed much over the past five years. However, the captain wasn't able to say the same about Luciano. The first ten minutes of the reunion was spent convincing the captain that the imposing young man embracing him was, in fact, the same person as that then 14-year-old kid who would never leave the bridge of "The Phoenix". After several more minutes of hugging and reminiscing, the three men left the hotel.

When they entered the Suárez home, Captain Winchester was greeted as a returning hero. Assuming it would be a quiet lunch for four people, the captain was overwhelmed by the number of people he encountered. The entire Suárez and Prendes families, as well as Gaetano, Sebastiana, and Rosa were present. It was a quick and enjoyable introduction to a typical Ybor City family Sunday lunch.

"Por favor, deja que el capitán respire! Please, let the captain breathe!"

Luciano, seeking to rescue Aaron from the onslaught of hugs and kisses, reigned in the reception. Fernando led Captain Winchester through the kitchen and onto the large concrete patio in the back yard. Several long tables had been set up beneath a trellis adorned with vines. Luckily, the weather was perfect for an outdoor meal. Captain Winchester, Fernando, Ignacio, Luciano, and Rafael sat near each other at one end of a table. Within minutes the almost endless platters of food began arriving from the kitchen. 

The captain was enthralled by the warmth he felt. He confessed that while he loves his job, there are times he misses the stability of a family life. He was now almost 60 years old and was thinking of settling down somewhat. While in Tampa, he was made aware by his company of the possibility of a new work assignment. The company was bidding on a five-year contract to haul phosphate from the Port of Tampa to Valparaiso, Chile. The return voyage would import guano for processing into fertilizer in Tampa. The round trip would take almost one month, and he would have an entire month ashore between runs. Aaron accepted the assignment, as it fit in perfectly with his desire to "semi-retire". He had grown fond of Tampa during his brief stay and was considering making it his home.

Giuseppina and her sister Rosa were seated across from Captain Winchester, with Luciano sitting beside them. Though the two sisters had a limited understanding of English, Luciano did his best to translate the conversation into Sicilian for them. At one point, the captain, noticing Luciano's efforts, apologized to the women for unintentionally excluding them from the conversation. Through Luciano, they assured him that no offense was taken. He returned their smile, with a lingering gaze focused on Rosa. 

"Pina and Rosa, this was one of the very best meals I've ever eaten, and I've enjoyed food in some very good restaurants in Italy! Thank you so very much for your hospitality." 

After the meal, everyone settled in for a quiet afternoon of conversation and relaxation. The young children played on the swings Fernando had bought for them, with their mothers close by. Fernando's and Ignacio's grandchildren had bonded as close cousins, assuring that the bonds between the two families would continue. Rosa, Giuseppina and some of the other women were in the kitchen, cleaning up after the meal. The men remained at the lunch table, awaiting their coffee and dessert. 

Captain Winchester, enjoying a Cuesta-Rey cigar offered to him by Fernando, glanced around him, smiling.

"This is a good life, gentlemen. I've enjoyed seeing so much of the world, but this is not bad either. I'm looking forward to having a place to call home. Fernando, is your sister-in-law a single woman? I hope my question isn't out of place."

Luciano, sensing that his father didn't quite understand the question, clarified it for him in Spanish. Fernando, looking somewhat surprised, replied that Rosa had never married, and was devoted to caring for Gaetano and Sebastiana, her parents. The captain admitted that he felt drawn to Rosa and wondered if it would be appropriate to ask her out to dinner at some point. Fernando explained that Rosa had led a somewhat sheltered life, having had few, if any, contacts with men outside her family and close family friends. Captain Winchester asked how he might best approach the situation, especially with the language barrier. Fernando said he would speak with Giuseppina and ask her opinion. Fernando then briefly commented on the delicate nature of Sicilian men and their daughters. Captain Winchester, with a smile, thanked Fernando. Several hours later, Fernando and Luciano drove Captain Winchester back to his hotel. They agreed that they would see each other again very soon. 

That evening, as Giuseppina was brushing her hair and preparing for bed, Fernando sat on the bed near her. Somewhat uncomfortably, he fumbled through several efforts to broach the subject of Captain Winchester's interest in Rosa. Pina, putting down her hairbrush, laughed and turned toward Fernando. Mercifully, she asked him if Aaron was interested in spending some time with her sister. Looking both relieved and surprised, Fernando confirmed her suspicions. Pina then confessed that he had spared her the awkwardness of bringing it up, saying that the attraction between them was obvious. She confessed that Rosa, while they were in the kitchen, had asked her whether Aaron was married. After sharing a laugh, they agreed they would play the role of Cupid, and probably that of chaperones. Pina reminded her husband that the rigid rules of a proper Sicilian courtship still applied, regardless of the woman's age. If there was to be a courtship, it would have to be a proper one. Gaetano and Sebastiana would insist upon it.

 

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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