Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

The next day, Fernando called Captain Winchester and told him that he was invited to join Giuseppina and him for dinner at the Licata home on Wednesday, two days later. He also assured him that all was well, and that Rosa was very receptive to his overtures. Pina had talked with her sister that morning. She told Giuseppina that their parents had found Aaron to be very charming, and they all looked forward to seeing him again. 

Captain Winchester was waiting at the entrance to the Hillsboro Hotel just before 12:00 PM. Fernando parked his car nearby and walked over to the captain. 

"Captain Winchester, it is so very good to see you again. We will go to lunch and then to the Licata farm. I will show you around the farm this afternoon. How does that sound?"

Fernando thought it would be a good idea for the captain and him to have an opportunity to talk privately before their dinner at the Licata home.

"Fernando, that would be terrific. My uncle had a small farm just outside Amarillo, and I always enjoyed spending time there. By the way, please call me Aaron from now on!"

Aaron enjoyed the drive from downtown Tampa, around the port and south through Palmetto Beach. Palmetto Beach was essentially a small "suburb" of Ybor City. South of First Ave., it was a neighborhood with several cigar factories and many businesses tied into the adjacent Port of Tampa. Ethnically similar to Ybor City, many of its residents were Anglo, but some spoke and understood Spanish to varying degrees. Aaron turned to Fernando.

"Fernando, I can smell that mixture of salt air and diesel fuel. I feel at home here. Tampa continues to attract me in many ways." 

After crossing the 22nd St. causeway and bridge, they arrived at the Seabreeze Restaurant. It was a favorite of local Tampeños, Latin and non-Latin as well. Fernando suggested a light lunch since dinner would be more than substantial. The two men took their seats at a table next to a large window. 

"Aaron, may I order for you as well?" 

Aaron nodded in agreement. Soon the captain was indulging in a Cuban sandwich, a devil crab, and a Coke. 

"Fernando, other than the Coca-Cola, I've never had any of this food before. It's fantastic, especially the crab croquette."

"Aaron, if you want to be a true Tampeño, you must call it a 'devil crab'. Never call it a croquette in English, and never, ever, a 'DEVILED crab'!"

Aaron was quickly learning that Tampa had unique foods and a unique way of saying certain things. He confessed he had always been drawn to the unusual, and this was reinforcing his attraction to Tampa.

Aaron was surprised at the size of the Licata farm and warehouse. Business was unusually brisk, as Christmas was only a week away. Restaurants and grocery stores were placing unusually large orders. Fernando wondered if, because of the war, people were preparing for years of hardship by splurging on this particular holiday. Mandated food rationing was to begin by February.

Fernando led Aaron through the warehouse, dodging the numerous forklifts and employees that were hurrying about. They entered the quiet solitude of Fernando's glass-enclosed office. Aaron took a seat on the couch across from Fernando's desk. Fernando could tell that Aaron was impressed by his surroundings. 

"Aaron, Rosa's parents have built a very good business, as you can see. If you intend to spend time with Rosa, you probably need to know more about the family."

Fernando then proceeded to offer Aaron a version of the same talk that Gaetano had with him on the night of his marriage to Giuseppina. Without revealing more than was necessary, Fernando, in general terms, revealed that the Licata business interests included untoward activities. Almost apologetically, Fernando clarified his own role, making it clear he had no direct involvement beyond the food distribution aspects.

Aaron, having listened intently, sat silent for a while. He then told Fernando that he had heard workers along the docks of Tampa talking about a powerful Sicilian family that practically controlled the local longshoremen's union. Fernando, hearing this, pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows. Aaron got the message. 

Fernando then delicately let Aaron know that none of this extended anyway into the lives of Fernando and his immediate family. The operations of that"other" part of the Licata business was handled by Rosario and Turiddu, Rosa's brothers. Fernando, now smiling, offered to take Aaron on a tour of the warehouse and farm. 

Dinner was earlier than usual because the Suarezes, along with Rosa and Aaron, we're going to a late movie after dinner. This had been arranged by Fernando and Giuseppina, with Rosa's and Aaron's consent. All of Giuseppina's siblings and their families were at the dinner, a Wednesday evening tradition for the Licatas. As Fernando had predicted, Rosario was a bit distant, as usual. Turiddu was, as always, animated and engaging, and appeared to take a liking to Aaron. Aaron's introduction to the Licata clan appeared to go well.

The Tampa Theatre was Tampa's premiere movie house. Built in 1926, it was Tampa's first air-conditioned public building. Fernando and Pina enjoyed movies, and especially viewing them in this particular venue. Over the years they had developed a routine. They would usually attend in the middle of the week and their preferred seating area was the balcony. Since Pina's English was very limited, Fernando would softly whisper to her, in Spanish, the gist of the plot. In order to avoid disturbing other patrons, they chose evenings and seating locations which almost guaranteed they would not be near others. As they were taking their seats, Fernando explained the routine to Aaron. 

"Fernando, I'm learning that you folks in Tampa have very clever ways of adapting to the multiple cultures in which you live!"

Fernando smiled, thinking he understood this, but wasn't really sure.

With the two sisters seated between the men, the newsreel began. Naturally, most of it dealt with the new war, and the news was distressing. The feature movie tonight was Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion", set in England. Fernando was dismayed, as his understanding of English was always challenged by British accents. Aaron, always one for a laugh, proposed a four-way translation. He would translate British English to American English. Fernando would then translate this into Spanish, and then Giuseppina would relay it to Rosa in Sicilian. As this, itself, was being appropriately translated, the foursome broke into uncontrollable laughter. Giuseppina's heart was warmed as she saw Rosa the happiest she had seen her in years.

That same night, as Pina and Fernando lay in bed, they began discussing Aaron and Rosa. Pina sensed that her parents approved of them spending time together, as long as the relationship remained respectful. They both agreed that Aaron was a sincere and honest man of whom they were very fond. Pina lamented the fact that Aaron was living alone in a hotel during the holiday season. Fernando offered that he felt the same way. Hesitatingly, he asked Pina if she would be comfortable if they were to invite Aaron to stay with them until his ship was ready to sail again, which would be in approximately three weeks. Pina, smiling, said she thought that would be a good idea, as long as Aaron would accompany Fernando to work everyday. Luciano was rarely at home during the day, and, in her opinion, it would be inappropriate for her to be alone in the house with Aaron. This reflected no distrust of Aaron, this rule was simply ingrained in the Sicilian culture. Fernando agreed. He would speak with Aaron the next day.

Aaron was visibly moved by the offer. He initially declined, but after a bit of coaxing from Fernando, he graciously accepted, offering to help out in the Licata warehouse, as a courtesy. He confessed that hotel life was getting boring. That night he moved into Pilar's former bedroom, across the hall from Luciano.

The next two weeks went by quickly. An almost endless stream of Christmas and New Year dinners, parties and events were a welcome diversion from the bad news related to the war. Rosa and Aaron were becoming very close, somehow managing to overcome the partial language barrier. The Licata family embraced Aaron as, if nothing else, a new friend. Even Rosario seemed to fall under the captain's spell. 

On the Saturday after New Year's Day, Luciano returned to Gainesville. Fernando had asked Aaron to chat with Luciano about his future plans, knowing that his son would share certain thoughts with the captain that he wouldn't share with his parents. While Fernando didn't relish the idea of "spying" on his son, he wanted to perhaps prepare Giuseppina for Luciano's inevitable entry into the military. Draft notices had begun arriving with regularity. Aaron shared with Fernando that his son was seriously considering enlisting in the Army Air Corp. Fernando decided to spare his wife this news, at least until it was more definitive.

A few days after Luciano returned to school, Aaron informed his adopted family that his ship, "The Phoenix", was out of dry dock and ready to sail. He would immediately be moving into his onboard cabin in order to prepare for his first roundtrip run to Valparaiso, Chile. He would be leaving Tampa in two days. The next day Aaron invited the Suarezes and Rosa to a "farewell" dinner on board "The Phoenix". He had asked the cook to prepare a special feast for his very special friends. After a delicious dinner that lasted three hours, it was time to bid farewell to Aaron. As the guests began to disembark the ship, Aaron gently placed his hand on Rosa's arm, causing her to pause. Fernando gestured to Pina to continue walking ahead of them. A short distance ahead, the Suarezes stopped and turned around. They saw that Aaron had cupped both his hands over those of Rosa, and gently kissed her on each of her cheeks. Pina dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. 

 

--

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