I remembered that moment as if it had happened yesterday. It was a late Sunday evening in the first week of March 1966. The next day my brother and I were supposed to go back to school after the summer recess. But instead of the joy to return to a familiar place with  my buddies since kindergarten, I was starting in a strange school. I was sad. Very.

In 1965 my mother and her two children left our centrally located apartment to settle momentarily in our grandmother’s spacious home in Colon to take some needed refuge. My father had been arbitrarily  jailed by a judge for some unpaid personal loans; there was no bankruptcy legislation in Uruguay at the time, which exposed the debtors and their families to great financial strain and emotional suffering. Even though he was assigned to a detention center in the Police headquarters where he shared his short stay with educated and friendly inmates, it was still an imprisonment. Our dear mother Gladys had a nervous breakdown and Yolanda, her mother, offered to take care of us all.

Instead of slumping in an emotional void, we decided to take the challenge in earnest. Yolanda, all wrapped up in a woolen poncho, accompanied us early at dawn in those freezing mornings to wait for the bus 411 in a deserted stop. We boarded it for 45 minutes trip to the “Lycée Francais.” When the noon break came, we boarded the bus again to have lunch in Colon (as we could not afford the mess hall every day) and then go back to our school to be on time for the 2 PM bell. At 5 PM we left the school for our return trip home. We arrived at dusk to have a café-au-lait and do our homework load; around 8 PM we had dinner and went to bed promptly afterwards. No TV or radio.

In spite (or perhaps because) of this humongous sacrifice, I got a perfect score in my fifth grade of Primary School to rank first in my class and winning a much-needed full scholarship for sixth grade. Alas, our joy was short-lived. One day my father came back home and told us that the school director stripped me of my scholarship to give it to a politician’s son. We were so astounded and hurt that its memory still sears our minds.

My father quickly prepared a forceful letter to Mr. Chambord, the cultural attaché of the French Embassy at the time. He summoned my father to his office; he told him that they would give me the scholarship back, on the condition that he had to withdraw his letter of protest. “Absolutely not. Our dignity forbids it,” he rebuked him. Then my father filled the application to attend sixth grade in the “Escuela Jose Pedro Varela”, a public school just a  short distance form the French school. When he told me I agreed in silence. My dislike of the French (not the French culture) and politicians started right there.

When my mother and brother were fast asleep, I jumped out of bed and went to the kitchen to chat with my father. He embraced me warmly and patted my head. “Don’t worry…You’re a tiger…You’ll do well, wherever you go,” he said with a forceful tone.    We stayed together in silence in the darkness, forging a stronger father-child bond.

Mario Laplume Salguero was born on August 14, 1933 in Trinidad, Province of Flores, Uruguay and passed away on July 22, 2012 in Montevideo, Uruguay; he married Gladys Garbarino in 1953 and had two sons by that marriage: my brother Gustavo and myself. In 1967 he divorced her and married Isabel Mardaras with whom they had a son: Marcel. When he was a teenager he entered as a mail room clerk in the Swift meat processing plant located in “El Cerro”, across Montevideo bay. He was molded for life by the daily contact with those Post-World War II Americans that had a strong work ethic and a commitment to quality standards in the workplace. He could not go to High School due to his work schedule, but he attended English, French and German language classes after work. He started to read an collect a magnificent array of books that the has given aa a legacy to his three sons. One of my earliest memories of childhood is to watch him in awe as he meticulously took a book out of the shelf to pass a hand held-feather-duster on its cover and then open it parsimoniously to peruse a few pages. If he noticed me, he would ask me to sit down by. He taught me all the basics about World Literature, including all the classics in French and English.

He was a lifelong Socialist and union organizer in the bankers’ union (he worked in a private bank after the Swift company closed and pulled out of Uruguay); if he hadn’t had that financial mishap, he would have joined the armed insurrection against the military government. When I became a political militant, he understood my choice and, aware of the physical risks, he backed my decision. When the military government closed the Medical School and the police started to round up the die-hard militants, he convinced me to travel to Argentina to continue my studies in La Plata, sparing me a certain demise. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here writing this article today.

He always wanted to study Medicine as he considered that it was one of the noblest professions of humankind; he supported me emotionally and financially during my medical studies and he was very proud when I graduated from Medical School in 1981. He got one of his cherished dreams. He instilled in us the virtue of honesty and the value of a given promise to become a good man. Even though I questioned several of his progressive convictions as I grew older, he never lost his calm demeanor in discussing politics and economy; he never relinquished his core beliefs. From today’s perspective, I now fully agree that a life without a generous mission is not worth living.

Imbued by the strong work ethic of the Americans he had met in the Swift plant, he always admired the United States of America and he studied its politics and history in earnest; he became an expert in the Civil War, enjoying all the books, magazines and material I regularly brought him home. He enjoyed meticulously reading every section of the Sunday edition of “The New York Times.” He did not have to set a foot in this country to know how the system worked and did not too. He continually admonished us: “the USA is a land of chiaro-oscuri…But the brightness prevails. It will last 500 more years.”

As I am jotting down these lines on my laptop, my son Gian Luca, a born buff of everything cinematic, is watching a 1986 cult film called “My brother’s wedding” by Charles Burnett. Have you ever heard of it? I doubt it. Me neither. How does he know it exist? He inherited a gift… I still remember that in a small closet right next to the toilet in Montevideo, there was a tall pile of a French film magazine called “Les cahiers du cinema”; I always picked one to start reading it. Next to it there was another pile of the “Boxing” magazine, which hooked me to that “politically incorrect” sport for life.

When I told my father that Noel Marie, his first grandchild, was not pursuing a legal career, as we initially hoped, in order to become a video producer, he paused for a long second and then said: “Mmm…That little one will do whatever she wants in life.”

He was absolutely right. He is the family’s unique visionary that showed us the way.

Gracias Papa!

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “The visionary of Trinidad

  1. Mario me emociono mucho este relato de lo crucial que fue en nuestras vidas nuestro santo Padre. Que lindo es retrotraerse a nuestra infancia y adolescencia como si vieramos una pelicula. Gracias por este respetuoso recordatorio.

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    1. Buenas tardes querido Gustavo y muchas gracias por tu comentario. Hace unos meses vos me habias dicho en forma enfatica: “Papa fue un visionario…Un verdadero visionario que nos mostro el camino a todos nosotros.” Fueron tus sabias palabras y por eso le puse ese titulo a mi articulo en su honor. Tenemos el gran honor y la bendicion de haber tenido ese padre maravilloso. Sigamos su ejemplo luminoso. Un gran abrazo, querido hermano.

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  2. Good morning Dr. Sahib
    A great tribute to a personage who was born on this day on this day (14th August 1933). A memorable and auspicious day since on this day on 14th August 1947, we Indians got our independence and we are today celebrating our INDEPENDENCE DAY. What a coincidence! There are some days which has special significance for us, this day also one of them. I have read the moving and trying situations/scenarios which your respected father had undergone. My reverential salute to your father’s resilience, supreme courage and the one who knew what he should do and when for the entire family.
    Going through the entire story of your family shows as though it were a 3D movie running from one scene to act to another and from which we garner lessons as to how to come out of a trying situation with aplomb instead of ‘slumping in an emotional void’. The detailed description of state of affairs of affairs and your fathers enunciation ’Don’t worry…You’re a tiger….You’ll do well, wherever you go,’ these encouraging words are obviously is recipe of a lesson for anybody passing through such predicaments. In fact your father’s chequered history seems to be a narrative from story-books to be followed by those in similar situations. The strong work ethic of the Americans is also very authentic.
    From the account about your father, I am of the firm view that your father has been a real visionary with a mission for the family as a whole. I pray that all of us should have such guiding-figure in all the households.

    A WARM HUG TO YOU

    WITH WARM REGARDS
    HARBANS

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    1. Good morning and thanks for your extremely moving commentary, my dear spiritual friend across the oceans. This time it was your turn to make me cry! My dear father thanks you too from Heaven. Yes, my father had a checkered history but he never gave up his formidable honesty, even in trying times. He is the visionary that started our “intellectual clan.” We must follow his example. Happy Independence-from-the-Brits Day ! A big hug. Arrivederci!

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    1. Good afternoon and thanks for your sweet commentary, my dear son. Your granda Pocho loved youbdearly and now is watching your progress as a writer and a filmmaker from Heaven.
      Un grosso baccione. A posto!

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      1. Querido Mario,
        Es un artículo muy conmovedor!!
        Hoy en el Cielo los Angeles están de fiesta porque un Alma muy honesta y llena de Amor como la de tu papá, está cumpliendo años.
        Feliz cumpleaños Pocho!!
        Siempre estás en nuestras oraciones.
        Rosario y Carlos

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      2. Buenas tardes querida Rosario y muchas gracias por tus palabras tan emocionantes. Vos conocistes bien a Papa y sabes lo bueno y honesto que era. Tambien yo conoci a tu Papa Elly y me acuerdo como nos recibia con cariño cada vez que ibamos a un cumple de ustedes en la casa de el Pado. Un abrazo para tu marido Carlos.
        Que Tata Dios los tenga a los dos en su Gloria eterna! Un beso grande.

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