Did I ever tell you that my dad couldn’t read?
It seems odd doesn’t it? That in the modern age there are still people on this Earth who can’t read words or recognize letter. And it wasn’t that my Cuban dad didn’t know the English words. He didn’t know the Spanish ones either.
The third oldest of 8 children and the oldest of the ones that survived, he reached fourth grade and was surprisingly absent the day when they taught letters in and how to sign one’s name. My dad couldn’t write either. His signature was a loopy and stretched collection of nonsense.
His story is the typical one through out Latin America; he left school to work. He helped my grandmother wash clothes for money, learned to cook and clean and take care of a household, and at one time, cut sugar cane in the fields.
When dad escaped Fidel’s Cuba for Spain, in the early to mid 60s, he learned how to be a cook for the tourists. That’s how he earned his keep. Spain, he said, made him a man. He was so enamored with Spain and learned so many things there that he went back a couple of times after he moved to the States. And during one of those times (although, I couldn’t tell you what year) he brought back at book. An important book.
A hardback, early edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish.
This from a man who couldn’t sign his own name.
Fast forward many years and his daughter is now a writer practicing in the language he could barely speak. She gravitates to one of the world’s best practitioners in storytelling, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Upon his death, she is given this book, wrapped in newspaper.
It was one of those times that I was truly breathless and speechless. I didn’t know dad had this book or when he brought it back, however, when my mom, the woman who taught me how to read, gave it to me in the years after dad died, I was overwhelmed by it.
I consider that book, with its deep green cover and too thin pages, my father’s writing legacy to me. Mr. Fernandez didn’t know much about letters or words on a page but he knew how to tell a good story. He knew about character and plot and structure as if it was part of his DNA. There is a rhythm to storytelling, something in the ear and in the heart that is seamless, like an unaltered piece of cloth. It was effortless the way that man told a story. In this way, my dad was like Garcia Marquez.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve dedicated my life to telling stories — fiction and nonfiction — and that now I help others do the same.
Legacies came in many different ways and each are special in their own right. Mine are within the pages of books, imprinted on newsprint, and in the megapixels on screens around the world. From a matchbox apartment in Havana, Cuba to a worldwide readership, his legacy is my inheritance — all words and the stories they fuel.