As Rosemary and I watched the hilarious Arts Club Theatre production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I was struck by the story’s ancillary connection to my own life. The Importance of Being Earnest is about two friends, both with brothers, who suddenly are forced to kill them off while finding out that the two pairs of brothers, in reality is one. My life may be as complex.
Consider that I had a father who became, two, and the brother I never had was one of my father’s sons while his other son began to doubt who his real father really was. My story begins when I was nine when my mother told me of my origins. It seems that my grandfather Harry Waterhouse Hayward did not marry my grandmother Ellen Carter until they had moved from Manchester to Buenos Aires in 1901. They came with their firstborn, Harry. Subsequently they were married in Buenos Aires and had two more sons, my father George, Uncle Freddy and three daughters Inez, Dorothy and Lelia. My father was the second oldest son. The family tradition was that the firstborn was to have the middle name Waterhouse. Either because my Uncle Harry was indeed, by all accounts born out of wedlock, he was a bastard and could not appropriate Waterhouse, he never did, to his name or perhaps he simply did not care. So the name Waterhouse disappeared for a generation.
My mother told me that before George Hayward had married her, he had been previously married to an Argentine socialite, Yolanda Zapata Benitez from the province of Salta. It had been a wedding which had been presided by an archbishop. On their wedding night George was informed that she was pregnant by another man and that she had known that by marrying George he would be the gentleman that he was and would remain married to give the child his name. A boy was born and my mother told me his name was Enrique but that only I had the name Waterhouse.
When my father had registered me (the story is that he may have been too drunk to remember and when he did so almost a year had passed so legally I am a year younger) he had slipped the registrar some money under the table (a coima in BA speak) to add Waterhouse. The man had protested that in Argentina nobody could have given names in any language but Spanish. I was named Jorge Alejandro. My father explained while passing the money, that indeed Waterhouse was my surname and that there should be a hyphen between it and Hayward. And so it was.
At this time my mother was always explaining that since my father was such a wonderful tango dancer that I would one day dance as divinely as he had. It seemed that when they went dancing in the dark and smoky tango joints of Leandro Alem, people would stop to watch my father George and my mother Filomena dance. As far as I can remember I never saw my father swim but I have fond memories of my mother’s beautiful back stroke which she would execute with not one ripple on the water. One dance the other swam.
In 1954 my mother, grandmother and I moved to Mexico City and my father who had a drinking problem was abandoned. When at 20 I was informed by the Argentine Embassy in Mexico City that I would have to serve in the Argentine military in order to obtain a passport I knew that this was the opportunity I had waited to return to Buenos Aires and look for my father.
By bad luck I had won the draft lottery and instead of a one year service in the army I had won the dubious honor of two years in the navy. It took me a couple of months to find my father. Eight months later he died on the street (of circumstances which somehow I never asked). He was taken to a nearby hospital, Hospital Pirovano by a police sergeant. He was pronounced dead on arrival. Of my conversations with my father, pleasant ones they were, I have no recollection. I have no idea why my otherwise exceptional memory fails me in this which would be so important to me. The phone rang in my office at the US Naval Advisory Group where I was the translator and aide to the Senior Naval Adviser. The man on the line was my uncle Leo Mahdjubian.
He was not my real uncle but my grandmother Ellen had “adopted’ him into her pension which she had opened when Harry, my grandfather had died. Uncle Leo had instantly been made part of the Haywards. Uncle Leo, who was blunt but funny, said, “ Che, your father George kicked the bucket yesterday. He was found by a policeman so you have to go to the police station to sign some documents.”
When I went to the station I was shocked to learn that according to the policeman at the desk, the dead man’s son had already been there so it was impossible that I could be his son. In circumstances that are also hazy in my memory I was called later by one calling himself Enrique Waterhouse who said he was my half brother and that he wanted to meet me. Before my date with Enrique Waterhouse I had received a call from the police sergeant who had taken my father to hospital. Over a café cortado the sergeant told me that he had been a friend of my father’s. He revealed to me that in my father’s pockets he had found a large sum of money. It was money that George had earned while working at a laundry. The money was to be used to bribe an army general who would have cut my conscription in the navy short and I would have been able to go home to Mexico sooner. The money was placed in my hand. He told me that had he not removed the money from my father’s pockets it world have disappeared at the hospital.
The only other item was my father’s Cedula de Identidad, the Argentine identity card that in those days was a compulsory document that one had to carry at all times. I tried to give part of the money to the sergeant who was instantly offended. I paid for the coffees and the sergeant smiled and shook my hand before he left.
When I met up with Enrique I was shocked to find a blond man with blue eyes who was the spitting image of my father. He spoke no English. He offered to help me pay for George’s funeral. I told him of the money found in his pockets and how it would pay for a modest funeral (Uncle Leo took charge of it). It was here where I decided that if my father had been a gentleman to give Enrique his name (why the Waterhouse, I thought) I had the obligation to keep my secret. But it was difficult for me to say “our father” when I spoke to Enrique, so we both in some silent arrangement called the man George.
Enrique took me to his home where I met up with two sons (a daughter and a third son had yet to be born) who were blond and had my father’s blue eyes. Before I left for Mexico, Enrique who was a wealthy man, took me for lunch and gave me a crisp new $100 US bill to help me in my travels.
I returned to Buenos Aires in the mid 90s. My first cousin Inesita O’Reilly Kuker (the daughter of my oldest aunt Inez) who happened to be my godmother and was 20 years older than I was refused to answer any of my questions about Enrique saying it had been so long ago that she did not remember. But I did manage, over her cold objection, to bring Enrique over to meet her. The stay was curt and I kept looking at the pair, noticing how much they looked like each other. With my brown eyes everybody has told me I inherited all of my mother’s genes.
The youngest of Enrique’s sons, Patricio told me that originally they had all been called Waterhouse Hayward but with the problems of having such a long name which in Argentina would also include the mother’s surname they had decided to shorten it to Waterhouse. Pato as he was affectionately called was the only one of the family who seemed to want to pump me about my father. I told him what I could while keeping my secret.
Pato went to La Chacarita Cemetery in search of George’s grave. He returned and in a most disgusted way gave me a sermon as to why I had not paid for a plot that would remain in “perpetuidad”. That I had been a poor conscript did not seem to satisfy him. He threw a bit of white marble at me and said, “I found this in Mrs. Raquel Gutierrez’s grave where George was once buried. Perhaps it may have touched one of his bones.”
I asked Pato if he would take me to meet his grandmother, Yolanda. He seemed to be eager. His grandmother was kind, gracious and warm with me. She offered me an excellent glass of wine from Salta as well as some homemade empanadas salteñas. In another memory lapse of mine I remember only that she showed me the wedding certificate and then Enrique’s birth certificate. I noticed that there was a difference of some years between the wedding and Enrique’s birth. I asked her to tell me about George. She told me that he had taught her to swim and that he had been an excellent swimmer. I asked if he had ever danced the tango with her. Her reply was astounding, “To my knowledge George did not dance.”
She told me another story. George would disappear on weekends so she thought he might have a “querida” somewhere. She hired a detective. After a month the detective told her, “You can be “tranquila”. Your husband is faithful. On weekends he goes to el Tigre (a suburb of Buenos Aires by the Paraná River delta) and plays cards.” I don’t drink. I have never gambled. I dance terribly and my swimming is, at best, efficient. Sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I wonder who I am.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.