Tío Antonio would often come to Matanzas for business and he would drop by our house. There was something about him that would bring joy to my heart. There was a positive aura about him. He was married to Adela Fernandez and they were parents of the five Hernandez-Fernandez cousins all with names beginning with “A.” Antonio (Tony), Alcira, Augusto, Adria and Aixa. Although they lived in Cardenas we would see each other fairly often.
As destiny would have it, we all left Cuba. When my siblings and I came from Cuba, my oldest brother temporarily stayed with Tío Antonio and his family for a month until he was relocated to Wisconsin to go to medical school. The rest of us were in the Pedro Pan Program – Lolita and I in Florida City and Wichy in Matecumbe. Augusto or Pancho (who was also staying with them) would pick us up and we would spend the weekend with them. At the time we got here Tío Antonio had suffered a stroke and was bedridden and unable to talk. I do remember tears rolling down his cheeks when he first saw us. My father died in Cuba a month after we got here and we later joined Santiago in Wisconsin. Over a year later Tío Antonio passed away. By then we had reunited with my mother in Wisconsin. Slowly the Hernandez-Fernandez family joined us there – first Adria, then Alcira, then Tía Adela and Aixa, then Augusto. Tony was married and still in Cuba. There is so much more I could write about my very dear Tía Adela (made the best breaded steaks in the world) and my wonderful cousins and their equally wonderful spouses and I will in future posts, but now more about Tío Antonio.
Once when he came to our house in Matanzas, my mother’s sister Tía Cary was there. Tía Cary was notorious for her practical jokes. She told Tío Antonio that the cook was deaf and she told the cook that Tío Antonio was deaf. They spent the day shouting at each other, each one thinking the other was shouting because of being deaf. At the end of the day the cook was frying some plantains and they were kind of burnt. As he was tasting them, he said to my mother “Fulastres” (Terrible). The cook turned around and said – “Yes, they are a little overdone.” He looked surprised and asked – “isn’t she deaf?” Well, it was all in good fun and everyone had a good laugh.
During one of his visits my mother ironed one of his shirts. He was most grateful and told her so commenting on the terrible job done by the girl that did their ironing – he said: “Let me show you what she does.” On examining my mother’s ironing he reflected: “You do the same thing!”
When he was in the U.S. waiting for his family to join him, he was looking for a place to rent. Everywhere he went he was rejected because there were too many of them. By this time he was fed up. He went to look at yet another place and when he was asked how many people, he replied: “Half a person” and walked away.
The weekend visits to the Hernandez-Fernandez were precious. Those were hard times. But their humble house in Miami was a castle to me.