Tia Olga always visited our house on Sundays when I was a kid and I always looked forward to seeing her pull up in her green Comet and big Jackie O sunglasses. She never came empty handed, always having to dig into her car trunk for whatever it was that bringing with her that day. There was always something for me, a toy, a pair of socks, plastic maracas. (She had a penchant for giving me things that made noise.) She’d always bring herself a six pack, too. And some galletas cubanas and of course my favorite, “mariposas” from the butcher she worked at.
On special occasions – or, sometimes just because she felt like it – she’d bring out her radio and the Mr. Microphone that she always carried in the trunk of her car. When those two items came out, we all knew we were in it for the long haul and we were about to be regaled with music and Tia Olga’s rendition of boleros and Olga Guillot. And, if the guiro or the maracas came out, it was party time. The trunk of Tia Olga’s car was always a one stop shop of all your party needs and Tia was always both gracious emcee and starring act.
One particular Sunday, she showed up with her usual party accoutrements and a big bag whose contents she tried to keep me from discovering. Every time Id get near it, she’d shush me and give me the big eyes with the raised eyebrow. I was not to find out the contents of said bag until she was good and ready.
“Valen,” she said to me after what seemed like an eternity. “Come here. I have something for you.”
She handed me the big bag and I tore into it, giddy, thinking I couldnt wait to play with whatever goody was inside. Tia Olga just sat there smiling, just as giddy.
When I finally managed to get the three bags opened, I almost couldnt comprehend the contents. Tia Olga had bought me a swim mask, snorkel and fins set. One of those old blue ones, where the mask had a metal ring around the glass with screws at the bottom and the fins with the strap youd wrap behind your heel.
I was ecstatic, of course, but a little confused. We had no pool and in my mind I had no idea when or how I was ever going to use them.
“Nest Sunday,” she said after noticing my confusion. “I’m going to take you to El Farito.”
El Farito? The beach? Next Sunday? EL FARITO?!?!?!?
I’M sure I bounced around the house like a mad man. El Farito!!! Next Sunday! Tia Olga was taking me to the beach next Sunday and I had a brand spanking new mask and fin set and I WAS GOING TO THE BEACH NEXT SUNDAY!
For the next week, everything that came out of my mouth was El Farito. In the mornings I dutifully got up, dressed and ate all of my breakfast because I was going to El Farito and if I didnt behave I might not be allowed to go to El Farito so I’d better be good or I wont be going to El Farito!
I was obnoxious at school, boasting constantly to anyone and everyone that on Sunday, I, me, I was going to El Farito! El Farito! I was going to the beach with my Tia Olga who just so happened to have bought me a brand spanking new mask and fin set because she, and I, were going to El Farito! In just a few short days!
I was just as bad at home, too. All I could talk about was my upcoming adventure, on Sunday, at El Farito! It was all El Farito all the time. El Farito this and El Farito that. El Farito El Farito El Farito!
Im sure I called Tia Olga a zillion times that week just to remind her that Sunday was El Farito day. Not only did I wear my new mask and fin set in the bath, but I walked waddled the house with it. I was going to El Farito! I was going to not only frolic on the beach, but with my new mask and fin set, I was going to explore the awesome wonders underwater! At El Farito no less! Jack Cousteau had nothing on me!
Sunday came and Tia Olga showed up bright and early to pick me up. I probably didnt sleep a wink Saturday night, but come sunrise, I was already donning my swim trunks and had the mask and snorkel wrapped around my head. EL Farito!!!!
I barely said goodbye to my parents and hopped into the passenger seat of the old Comet where I immediately strapped on the fins because El Farito was just a short drive away! El Farito!!!
The drive took forever, not just because of the sheer anticipation of going to EL Farito – I had, after all, been waiting a whole week! – but because Tia Olga never made left turns. Every where she went, she drove there making only right turns. That was one of her things. No left turns. If she had to drive a mile or two our of her way, so be it. Right turn only.
I must have been crawling out of my skin by the time we made it to El Farito. But, here we were, FINALLY, at El Farito! Look out, beach! Here I come with mask and snorkel and fins and Im going to tear you up, El Farito!
We got there and unloaded the Comet. Towels, beach chair, snacks, cooler and set up camp right on the beach – at El Farito! – just a few short feet from the water where I was about to jump in and explore with ny new swim mask, snorkel and fin set. At El Farito!
I slapped that mask on, put the snorkel in my mouth and wrapped the fin straps behind my heels once again and just as I was about to start waddling up to the water, I get the bad news.
“Valen,” Tia Olga admonished. “You just ate breakfast before we left. You have to wait at least an hour.”
An hour?!?! But we’re at El Farito! Ive got my mask and fins on! We’re at El Farito! Pleeeeease…
But there was no way around it. I had to wait for la digestion. So I waited, mask and snorkel and fins on, at El Farito, literally feet from the water.
I dont remember what Tia Olga and I talked about, but the hour seemed to last forever and then Tia stood up, grabbed my hand and said let’s go.
Finally! FINALLY into the water at El Farito!!!
It was a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. I finally felt the warmth of the ocean as it lapped over my fin strapped toes and my Tia Olga was holding my hand as we ventured into the grand unknown of the seas. There was no current and the shore looked like a big mirror. After a few steps we stopped and looked at each other. El Farito.
And then, to my chagrin, after a week’s worth of anticipation, after running around the house shouting El Farito while wearing a mask and fins for an eternity, I learned that I wouldnt be allowed to go out any further.
Ankle deep ocean on a beautiful Sunday, at El Farito, wearing a brand new blue mask, snorkel and fin with my Madrina.
Tia Olga passed away yesterday morning and I can aver with no uncertainty that this world just got a little smaller, a little sadder, a little less unique. There was only one Tia Olga. She was the much needed percussion of our family – el guiro, la maraca y la clave – and our music will never be the same.