CW: brief allusions to suicide
I think a lot about my Padrinho Fernandinho. It’s hard not to. I live on a street that shares his name. My favorite author is another Fernando. It’s never for long, but my grandfather’s memory is a regular visitor.
When I was 12, I spent the summer of 1997 on São Jorge with him and my Madrinha Julia. A lot of it was spent leaving the foggy edge of Rosais to head into Velas, the main town, to visit the casa de repouso — the old folks home.
Avó Rosa, his mother, lived there. I’d go with him not to see her, a frail old woman who was confined to her bed as the summer wore on who started calling me Debby, then Idalina, then Julia before she finally wasted away. I went with him because my cousins lived across the street and I wanted to play with someone my age.
However, I always went with him to see her, pay my respects with all the filial piety I was capable of at 12, and then go off to swim at the pier or get a gelado with my cousins.
Eventually he’d summon me out of the ocean or from my Tia’s hospedaria and it would be time to go back to Rosais. Usually that meant going to the grocery store first. We’d pick up some milk and other staples, but Padrinho always took his time picking out fruit.
Honestly, it made me really impatient. Patience was not a virtue I had much of as a preteen.
I think about him a lot, but not usually about as he was in the summer of 97. The vigorous man who’d just turned 60 is eclipsed by the shadow of himself that he was when I was 29 and he was 77. In 2014, he didn’t live in the home where he and Madrinha Julia had raised my mother. Madrinha had been gone for about a decade by then.
He lived with Fátima (who will not come into this story again today, but maybe another time) not at the edge of Rosais, but at the heart of the parish. It was an alien place to me, even if it happened to be the house my father was born in. I think the bedroom I slept in was where he was born, but I have no desire to find out.
I think a lot about Padrinho as he was then because took his life in the garage under my borrowed bedroom not two weeks after I left him to go start my study abroad program.
But on Sunday, I came home with a bag of stone fruits that I don’t eat. Not raw, anyway — I’m a picky eater and I like fruit cooked somehow.
Padrinho, as we would say, was guloso when it came to fresh fruit. Not a glutton. That word is too sloppy for him. He was too proper for that. Let’s say instead that he had a sweet tooth.
Stone fruit was his particular favorite. After dinner, he’d carefully peel and slurp down with delicate relish whatever had looked good to him while I was impatient to go. Peaches, nectarines, plums, whatever the bounty of summer was that day.
At this weekend’s farmer’s market, I picked up some pluots and plums while I was out visiting my ailing parent. (Don’t worry; my dad slipped and fell but he’s not going anywhere.) Pai has a perfectly good apricot tree in the yard that keeps the bowl of fruit on the counter full, so I decided to bring some home with me after my visit.
I couldn’t have told you why, not at first. I wasn’t planning on eating them. I didn’t think Jim could eat all of them. (He has since informed me that he would have taken up that challenge, but I digress.)
It was only when I turned onto San Fernando Street that I realized that a friendly ghost was riding in my front seat, disguised as plums and pluots.
On Sunday, Padrinho wasn’t the man I could have stopped from taking that step off that chair. He wasn’t a warning of the possibility of self-destruction in my blood. He was a man who still had years ahead of him, who loved fruit, and who lived in a parish of hydrangeas and clouds. Most of all, he was a man who loved his family quietly but deeply.
It’s so easy to remember someone by the way they died. This weekend, I experienced the happy accident of remembering someone by living the way that they did instead.
I don’t have a grave I can visit. It’s too far away and I’m not ready to set foot on that island of fog and ghosts just yet. But I can make something with these Fernando fruits. Sometimes, saudade can be sweet.