Salvador was always happy when his boys came home dirty with sticky fingers caked with tobacco residue. He told them, “Boys your age should be earning wages for the family. Work hard, boys, or die like a lazy dog.”
On Javier’s tenth birthday, Salvador named him his apprentice. The economy was still recovering from the Ten Years’ War and employment as a cigar maker was sporadic so Salvador taught Javier how to roll cigars using the inferior leaves that were normally thrown away by the sorters. He taught Javier the art of blending tobacco to balance the flavor of the leaves, and instructed Lazaro to salvage scraps of floor sweepings and bring them home so Javier could practice.
“Soon you will be a master cigar maker,” Salvador told Javier. “And you will be able to work in the factory with real leaves, rolling cigars that will be smoked by rich men all over the world. Your cigars will be tasted in every major city from Mexico City to London to Madrid. Imagine that!”
After E.J. was born in 1890, rumor began to grow of a new cigar city in Tampa and many Cubans began to leave for Florida to work in these brand new factories. But Salvador’s sense of nationalism was strong and kept them planted firmly in Havana. “My father died for this island,” he would remind Olympia until it made her sick. “I have killed for this land and you have given up too much to just walk away.”
But when the city became overcrowded with peasants and beggars and the Spanish-American War started with the explosion and sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor, everything changed. The Ortiz family packed their belongings, left the land of Salvador’s father, and settled in Ybor City. Salvador wondered if Olympia ever regretted her decision to leave the plantation behind. One time when they were alone in bed, he asked her how she felt.
“Do I miss the comforts of affluence?” she replied. “Of course I do. Who wouldn’t dream for someone to cook your daily meals and wash your clothes? The food was divine and I loved the clothes and perfume. But I have learned that the necessities of that lifestyle are nothing more than luxuries meant to satisfy the very desire they create.”
She never told Salvador about the times she wished she could drop everything and return to Cuba to be with her brother and sleep in her giant bedroom. It didn’t happen often – only when food was scarce and the family sank into lulls of depression – but there were times Olympia wished she could run away like before, and be free once again.
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© Copyright 2010 by Mark Carlos McGinty / Seventh Avenue Productions All Rights Reserved.