“Hey! Hook-ass! Ya gonna buy me a beer?” Nothing like a funny old Brazilian
guy to put a man in his place. Pedrinho smiled at me as I leaned my bike to the
side enough to swing my leg over the frame. My son’s bike seat prevents me from
disembarking in the normal way.
“You get down like a girl,” he said.
I pointed at the seat and told him he should be so lucky to be able to take his great-grand children to school on a bike. Odds are, though, he hasn’t ridden one in years.
I met Pedrinho several months ago. His name is best translated as little Peter. I’d guess he’s about 80, but he says he’s only as old as his bones. He has wiry gray hair, ears that droop to his neckline. Multiple tufts of steely hair sprout from his ears and nose.
His eyes are the color of ripe black olives, shining in that way preserved wisdom tells us we have a long way to go in life. Two yellow teeth inhabit the upper part of his mouth, and several others, black from the corn cigarettes he smokes and chews on, occupy the lower extremities. But the man can smile. His chocolate colored wrinkles turn white at the creases every time he sees me these days.
One reason is the way I got my nickname. He loves to fish. And here in Bertioga, Brazil, he can fish to his heart’s delight. Some occurrence of nature provided a place for what they call ‘the canal’ to form. Mountains rise just off the coast, waterfalls sending streams to where they can interact with other currents on their way to the ocean. Between the flat land where we both live, and the hills on the other side, a perfect fishing port was formed.
Pedrinho has a tiny boat, if you can even call it that. To me, it looks like a floating wooden bathtub. He built it himself, and after the first few times I’d met him, he invited me to go fishing with him.
Hook-ass. I tried to carefully lower my long, six-feet, two inch frame behind him, my knees wrapping around his shoulders. Then I sat down and got hooked. Barbed. I yelped, jumped to my feet and rolled the bathtub/boat right over.
I can’t live it down. Pedrinho can’t swim, so I had to grab him and paddle to the dock where laughter erupted like so many stray dogs howling outside the butcher shop. The worst part was my agony as the hook he’d forgotten had to be extracted from my butt. It was a difficult bike ride home that day.
We talk a lot now. Growing up in the United States where elder wisdom has passed by so many people in search of ‘happiness,’ his words teach me more about life than I ever would have imagined. And they make me remember my Grandpa.
The other day, a stiff breeze pushing me away from the port, I persevered, needing to talk to him. He doesn’t really understand what I do. He’d come to my house one day and gaped at all the books lining our walls. He can’t even recognize the letters of a pizza restaurant near the port that bears his name.
What he does recognize is a man in search of himself. He listened to me, nodding his head at the appropriate times, allowing me to refill his beer. He heard a tale of a man who has a dream. Then he asked me a question.
“Do you love your wife?”
“Do you love your children?”
Pedrinho moved here some thirty years ago. He brought his oldest son with him, in search of work and money to provide for his family. Up the coast a bit is a place called Riviera; a luxury resort town. They cleared the swampy land and laid the foundations for that place, while his wife remained in the northeast of Brazil.
A little boy named Luis ran up to us. “Oi Shakey.” Translated as, ‘Hi, Shea.” Brazilians pronounce my name just as oddly as most Americans do. But in the US, I can ask them if they’ve ever heard of Shea Stadium. Doesn’t work here.
Pedrinho rubbed Luis’ thick black hair.
I watched that interaction, understanding just how different boundaries are between age.
Culture doesn’t have to be a different place. More often than not, it’s a different age. I saw my hair in Luis’. I remembered my Grandpa doing the same thing with me.
Pedrinho finally brought his family down ten years after moving here. I can’t imagine more than two days away from my wife and boys.
I looked into Pedrinho’s eyes and I saw the same love there I’d always seen in my grandpa’s.
So I told him about how I’d been visiting here in Brazil one Christmas when my Grandpa had died. I said how desolate I’d felt about not having enough money to change my ticket to go back for the funeral.
He got that wise, toothless grin. “Hook-ass. You and I might be different, but we both know about love.”
Shea McCandless lives in Brazil with his wife and two young sons. American by birth, wanderer by nature, he is happy where he is because now it’s his mind that gets to wander.