Daddy’s Little GirlJun 21st, 2009 | By Paquita Meseguer | Category: Short Stories | 2489 views
The Most Beautiful Baby in the World
She was only six months old, sitting up in her flowery pram. Her curls, black and silky, tumbled around her chubby face. Her left hand had grabbed one fat curl and she was twirling it with her finger, a habit that endures to this very day. She was hidden from view by a humongous sign that said, “Pay 5 pesetas to see the most beautiful baby in the world.”
And people paid. They actually paid just to see her. According to Mami, they made more money that day than any other booth. The booth was at one of the many yearly Bring and Buys, the English version of American garage sales, with the main difference that all proceeds were donated to local charities. Hopefully this time it was a worthy charity… Mami’s memory is not what it used to be, and she cannot remember. And Paquita, that baby, now all grown up, has no clear recollection of the day, but has heard the story so many times that for her, it still takes on the familiar feel of a memory.
The sign was also written in Spanish, Mallorquin, French, Italian, German, and Norwegian. Mami loved to show off her many languages. Daddy only spoke English and tortured Spanish daily. He refused to try to learn Mallorquin (“It’s not a language!! It’s a mixture of Spanish, French and Italian!! Couldn’t they make up their minds and stick to one?”) and he had quickly forgotten his native Hungarian. Paquita would take after her Mami in this one aspect, and learned many languages, starting as a young child, twirling her hair in deep concentration as she studied as many languages as her school offered, teaching herself some they didn’t.
That day long ago on a sunny Mallorquin day, still twirling that curl, Paquita gurgled with happiness, in baby Spanglish. With Daddy speaking to her in English and Mami in Spanish, she had quickly developed Spanglish baby talk, and still mixes them up quite happily today. She was bouncing in her pram, her other arm reaching out for the only man in her life who would never let her down. They shared such special smiles, moments of long silence, even once she was able to talk. It is said that she spoke Spanish to her Mami, English to her Daddy, and at first she had a very thick Spanish accent when speaking or singing in English to him. Thank goodness, she soon lost the accent (although it went the route of her teachers first: her kindergarten teacher was Spanish, hence the Spanish accent. Her next teacher was Scottish, and so she spoke with a Scottish accent for a while… today it is unclear what kind of accent she has).
He was always just Daddy to her. “Daaaaddyyyy” she’d say with a smile, as she lay her head on his shoulder, and he’d mockingly groan and ask her just what she wanted and how much it would cost him, and then he’d make sure she got what she wanted…. Spoiled rotten she was, but in a good way, and she only ever asked for what they could afford. They never had much money growing up, but she was wealthy with the love of her father.
He was Benito to the Spanish island of Mallorca. He was a man of several names, born Bela in Hungary, but had this changed at age 2 by the Customs officer at Ellis Island, who condescendingly changed immigrants’ names at will, telling the Roth family that Bela was a girl’s name and that from this moment onwards, the little boy would be known as Ben. Years later as an adult in Mexico, Ben’s name was changed yet again, this time by his Mexican “maid” who smilingly told him that “Ben” meant “Come” in Spanish, and that from now on he’d be known as Benito, after the famous Mexican hero. I think she said “Ben” to him many a time.
Benito lived the remainder of his days in his beloved Mallorca, his paradise island in the Mediterranean sea (even though he often joked about how it was such a paradise that God made sure to make it a little less idyllic by doing one thing… adding the Mallorquin people, who at times were surly and remote to those not native to the island).
He arrived in Mallorca in the 60′s and soon found his niche in the world, writing! He began a daily column called “Who’s News” by Benito, in a new local English paper, the Majorca Daily Bulletin, written for the many English and American tourists residing on the island. After a varied and rich life of many jobs (among the few he admitted to were being a decorator in California to Mickey Rooney, who never paid him, and a dance instructor to wealthy widows) and marrying many wives (5 that he admitted to – women today in many Michigan retirement homes still sigh his name in fond memories), Benito was finally happy. He wrote about all that he did on the island, and all the people that he met, all the restaurants that he visited and all the food that he tried. But mostly he wrote about his darling wife and his beautiful girl, Paquita.
Paquita was Daddy’s little girl from the first moment he held her. He didn’t wait long to write about her in his daily column, announcing to all of Mallorca: It’s a girl!!” He wrote it in Michigan and wired it to Spain via telegram (that’s what we had before faxes, before internet, before emails and text messages… Yes, those days did exist, not that we’d know what to do without them now!).
She was his princess, his pride and joy, and in his eyes could do no wrong (though, when she was much older she made certain Daddy never found out just what she was doing behind the cinema rather than in the cinema). He wrote about her constantly in his columns, telling everyone on the island about all her accomplishments, as she quickly became the little darling of the island, the Her Royal Highness of press royalty (as a recently found fellow Mallorquin friend told her she was called). His readers may have made fun of him at times for his love for food and a free meal, but they never made fun of her. She was the light of his life until the day he died.
Her pride in his columns came long after. As a teenager she burned with embarrassment that her most private moments were shared with the world as she knew it. Every year on her birthday, he’d put her photo on top of his column, announce her age and her yearly accomplishments. In her eyes, the fact that she was an early and avid reader and spoke three languages by third grade were great things to share with Mallorquin readers. The fact that she had a boyfriend who gave her a bracelet or that she had imbibed too much at an afternoon disco – to her these were not so good to share.
What I would give to have all those articles back to read them with pride. If only computers and internet HAD existed back then to preserve his work. That day of being the most beautiful baby in the world is so clear to me, even though I was too young to preserve a true memory. Today on Father’s Day, 18 years after my Daddy died, I can see how proud he was to show me off to everyone, and I am proud to have been Benito’s daughter, the most beautiful baby in the world, at least in his eyes.Help Support T21 with your Dollar Donation Today
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