Editor's note: Jim Ott is off this week. This is a repeat of a favorite 2005 column of his.
On a summer day in 1946 in Cojimar, Cuba, 12-year-old Adolfo Capestany went fishing with his two brothers.
"We didn't have poles," said Capestany, his accent as strong as the cigars he enjoys. "We'd just cast our lines by hand when someone tapped me on the shoulder." Capestany looked up to find an American offering to share tips about fishing. The man spoke perfect Spanish and pointed out his yacht, Pilar, anchored in the harbor.
"I didn't know it at the time," said Capestany, "and even when I learned his name a few days later, I didn't really care, but the man was Ernest Hemingway."
Capestany, who lives in Seattle and regularly visits his daughter Francis Hewitt and her husband, Don, in Pleasanton, said he and his brothers asked Hemingway if they could dive from Pilar since Cojimar's beaches were too rocky for swimming. Hemingway agreed, and arranged for the captain of the yacht, Gregorio Fuentes, to row the boys to Pilar.
"My mother paid Gregorio 25 cents to row us out and another 25 cents to row us back," Capestany said. "We visited Pilar probably 15 or 20 times over the course of two summers."
Hemingway aficionados will recognize Gregorio Fuentes as the man often credited as the inspiration for Santiago of "The Old Man and The Sea," which earned a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1954.
"Gregorio -- we called him Goyo -- never wore shoes and always smoked a cigar," Capestany said. Fuentes would have been 49 in 1946, and, according to Capestany, always wore a straw hat. His face was weathered from years of exposure to the sun and sea.
Capestany said Hemingway became a favorite among the locals, who called him Papa. The Capestanys knew Hemingway well enough to visit his home, La Finca Vigia, located in a village just outside Havana.
"We visited about three times," said Capestany, who remembers the mounted heads of big game animals killed on safari in Africa. On one visit, the boys asked about numbers that were written on a bathroom wall. Hemingway said he recorded his weight every morning.
Capestany also remembers the kindness of Mary, whom Hemingway wed the same year Capestany met the author.
Hemingway's Cuban years came after he had gained international recognition. By then in his mid-40s, he had already published "The Sun Also Rises" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Along with his literature, Hemingway became a cultural icon, the classic American author with a passion for bullfighting, big game hunting, and deep sea fishing. Adding to the Hemingway mystique were his bouts with drinking and depression which led to his suicide in 1961 when, like his father, he shot himself with a favorite gun.
For Adolfo Capestany, though, Hemingway was a man with kind eyes who cared about the children of Cojimar, a man who played marbles with the village boys, and who once secretly paid for the Capestany boys' haircuts before their mother asked the barber what she owed.
"We looked over and saw him sitting, waiting for a haircut," Capestany said, "and he gave us a friendly wave."
Contact Jim Ott at email@example.com.