El barquito


Silver Pen Ken, January 2021

I can hear her singing: “Había un barco, chiquitito que no podía, que no polía navegar… .” (there was a little boat that just couldn’t sail).

My wife, Beatrice, met Leito nearly 70 years ago when they were classmates in Bogota, Colombia. Later, Leito left Colombia with her husband and young sons and settled near Boston, Massachusetts. When Beatrice and I moved from South Korea to Massachusetts in 1969, Leito and her sons rode on local trains and appeared at our door. An aunt in Bogota had told her we were there. She was immensely likable, and her laughter was infectious. She and her husband, Hector helped in many ways as we settled into a new home (as it turned out, not for long). Somewhere along the way, she introduced us to the little boat song.

A few years later, when Bea and I moved from Ethiopia back to Massachusetts, Leito was there again to welcome us. She might have witnessed the birth of our first daughter, but it was Christmas Eve and there was a snowstorm.

Leito’s husband, Hector, was an orthodontist in Bogota and could never accept that his credentials were not valid in the U.S. Refusing to study all over again, he worked in a dental laboratory. Soon, he became ill, and Beatrice and I were there when a lady in white introduced herself by saying, “I’m the oncologist.” Cancer had already invaded his digestive system. The treatments available and a drastic change of diet could save him, and Leito was left to raise three bilingual, bicultural boys.

When I followed a job to Laredo, Texas, our families only corresponded occasionally. Two years later, my family moved to New York, where we followed more closely Leito’s triumphs and misfortunes as her three sons became men. At least once, we drove to Massachusetts to see them, and once Leito traveled by train to see us. She showered us with presents, and we enjoyed a presentation of My Fair Lady.