Guayaberas Blancas

I was going to my grandparents house as I did everyday during high school to take them their hot off the press copy of El Diario de las Americas, the newspaper I delivered back then. I remember there being way too much traffic around their house. Some streets were cordoned off and there were motorcycle cops everywhere. There were alot of cars moving through the usually quiet street of their apartment building. I wasn’t sure what was going on.

I pulled into my parking space at their building – it was the one parking space for their apartment but abuelo wouldn’t let anyone else park there, family or not, if he was expecting me. It was my space. I picked up their copy of the paper and knocked on the door. My grandfather’s voice came through with his usual “Who is it, you or your brother?” A quick “My brother” from me would always get me in the door.

As usual my cafe was ready for me on the kitchen table. I handed my grandfather his sports section and abuela here society page, sat down at the table and relaxed for a minute. I drank my cafecito.

“There’s alot of traffic out there today” I remember saying. “Must be an accident or something. The streets are all closed.”

“Bah! It’s the President’s visit. Pero que te pasa a ti muchacho?” My grandfather looked at me almost stunned that I had no idea the President of the United States was going to be less than two blocks from his apartment. I had completely forgotten even though it was the front page headline of the very newspaper I’d been delivering.

Of course I felt like an idiot. Abuelo had been watching the mortorcade when I had arrived.

I dont remember who’s idea it was, but the next thing I know my grandfather is splashing on his English Leather and donning his white long sleeve Guayabera. We were going to see the President.

We walked the two or so blocks from his apartment to La Esquina de Tejas, the restaurant where President Reagan was to visit. I don’t remember exactly what my grandfather and I talked about on that walk but I’m sure Abuelo tossed a few tidbits of knowledge my way as he always did.

The restaurant was a well known place for us. It was across the street from the clinic where as a boy I had to go for my daily shots to battle anemia. It was my grandfather who’d walk me there, teaching me about baseball or talking about our family or telling me jokes. After the shot we’d cross the street, he would order his cortadito from the cafeteria window of the restaurant. He’d always buy me a pack of gum or the violet candies I used to like. The very same restaurant where the President would be eating was ours in a way. We had a history there.

The day President Reagan went to La Esquina de Tejas, the day where he later said “Cuba si, Castro no” in a speech, that very day was one where I would take one of my last walks with my grandfather.

We stood in the parking lot across the other street from the restaurant and waited for the President. There were alot of people there. Abuelo stood there calmly, smelling like a gentleman and wearing his finely pressed white long sleeve guayabera. He held his paragua – umbrella – open above him to block the sun while I clamored about the crowd in search of a better view. When the President’s motorcade arrived Abuelo and I looked at each other as if to say He’s here, are you paying attention? with our eyes.

A few minutes later out from the limo came President Ronald Reagan, the most powerful man in the world and leader of the free world. He turned and waved at the crowd, at us, and we cheered. Abuelo just stood there as before, a smile beaming from his face.

There at our little corner, at the little cafeteria where Abuelo had consoled me every day for a year after my shots, at the very same little spot where we would ultimately end our day no matter where we had traveled, there stood the President of the United States in a white, long sleeve, finely pressed guayabera.

I wonder if he, too, smelled of English Leather.

8 thoughts on “Guayaberas Blancas”

  1. Art, Painted with Words

    With a screen for a canvass and a keyboard for a palate, Val Prieto gives us a small masterpiece of the writer’s art. My small words are shadowed by such brilliance. Thank you Val for your incredibly poigniant recollection. Thank

  2. I had the good fortune to see President Bush when he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day in St. Louis this year. Impressive motorcade, snipers on the roof, and I had the same proud feeling of being in the presence of the most powerful man in the world.

    When he looked up to the crowd and waved, I felt like he was waving at me, and waved back. Then I thought, there’s 50,000 people here and you think he’s waving at you?

    When he waved again, I waved back.

    What a day.

  3. Thank you for sharing your treasure with us.
    A beautiful story that I am sure will always be in your heart. It is this kind of treasure that keeps us all young, full of hope and grace.
    You have given an image of your grandfather as a beautiful man.

  4. This is what you do, man:

    When I was ten years old I stood with my bare luau feet on the worn asphalt of Mokolua Drive in Lanikai, Oahu, with my friends — about ten or twelve ethnic groups represented between the four of us — as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, white as a statue but smiling and waving vigorously, rolled by in his Lincoln convertible to heartfelt applause. Hawaii had just been granted statehood.

    The very road we knew like we knew the whole neighborhood. And the President drove on it. Hey, the President drove by all our houses!

    You know how long it’s been since I thought of that?

    Just keep writing. But you know that already. What I mean to say is — thanks.


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