My father and I have a bit of a strange relationship communications-wise. I don’t remember when this started and have not yet figured out a way to fix it. What I often learn about my father’s thoughts and general state of being across five years is equivalent to what most family members probably learn about each other within a single conversation. The occasional moments when my father would open up and share anecdotes from his childhood and adolescence are some of my most treasured memories of my childhood with him. It is because of this that I have been trying to pry some of these stories loose, especially as I feel like I let my son down for not having more to say about Grandpa. He shared two stories with me this week that I love for their Colombianness.
My father at 9-years-old was on his way to a birthday party dressed in what was a frequent and humiliating manner in 1940’s Latin America: The White Sailor Suit. While waiting for his mother to be prepared to leave he began playing in a neaby construction zone with some teenage boys. At the time, (and possibly still in some parts) dried cow manure was used for filling in walls, as some kind of spackle. Large piles of it could generally be found at constructions sites, dumped there to dry in the sun. A larger boy challenged my father to jump over one of these mounds, probably knowing full well that my dad’s little legs would not provide the necessary clearance. As I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, poor little Fernando ended up chest-deep in the fetid mound.
I asked my father to clarify whether he was born in Buenaventura or not. He actually was born in Cali but moved to the Pacific coastal town of Buenaventura as a very young child when his father was assigned to the Customs office at the port there. While Buenaventura has always been considered a somewhat raggedy-looking port town due to poverty, my father remembers it as Paradise; his family lived across the street from the bay.
Although his mother would have never allowed it, my 10-year-old father would find a spot enough hundred of meters away to avoid his mother’s vigilance and swim in the bay with the Negritos. They were excellent and fearless swimmers and would swim all the way across the bay. He would chicken out and give up halfway and return to shore and wait for their return (or perhaps he was just very aware of his limitations). Here is where the magic realism kicks in, and like other stories he has shared with me, I cannot verify the truthfulness of it but that doesn’t matter to me. On certain occasions when the tide was low, a shipwreck would be visible above the surface of the bay. He and the Negritos would swim out and sit perched on the wreck and wait for the tide to rise, lifting them up with it as they swam back to shore.