For 22 years I lived in the same building, at apartment 702. A 4-bedroom, 2-bath apartment, with nothing particularly unique to it, except for its terrace. The mountains of Serra do Curral that takes over the east edge of town could be seen from there, as well as, Prudente de Morais Avenue down below, where as a kid, I could see the donkeys that provided rides in the Municipal Park galloping in the morning into town, and returning at the end of the day for a deserving rest. Small fruit trees were carefully planted on each corner of the terrace’s generous square footage, all bearing fruit: bananas, figs, limes, tomatoes. The terrace held a cacophony of pets owned by my Dad and sister – A black bird; A rabbit; A parrot; A dog; A hamster – living there simultaneously, or not. A box turtle was the only pet I dared to call my own. Basking in the sun was the only way I believed I could prepare for school exams. And the turtle would make its way to rest right next to my warm body, as we both sunbathed in the afternoon, under crisp blue skies. A thin glass window in my room seemed astronomically positioned for the moon to break into every night. Even the marble floors of the building at each apartment entrance where smoothly suited for my clunky 4-wheel-roller-skates. From which, to this day, came all my knowledge on nuts and bolts, screwdrivers and the importance of a good lubricant for mechanical parts. For the 25 plus kids inhabiting the 41 apartment complex, the garage was the ultimate hide and seek spot. Eventually evolving to be the perfect pot smoking and dating nook for the despair of parents and of the supper in charge of the building: my Dad.
I believed back than, my Dad’s craving for precise engineering and meticulous calculations was what made him such a committed supper. The constant checking of piping, TV antennas, and renovations throughout the building’s grounds; Followed by late meetings and detailed minutes hand written religiously every month. But on the right side wall of the garage entrance was the reason for his zealous care. There on top of some marble tiles, in gray rusting letters was written: Edifice José Amaro. My grandfather’s name.
José Amaro was the owner of a bakery – Padaria Sul America at Rio Grande do Sul Street, in the center of town. Like most cities in the turn of the century, Belo Horizonte’s main residences had a special slots not only for mail to be delivered, but bread and milk. Early in the morning, 12 coaches would leave my grandfather’s bakery full of bread loaves and bottles of milk. Its more than 40 horses wondered the city. Since most of the clientele lived in the neighborhood of Cidade Jardim, the horses would come to rest at the end of its main avenue, Prudente de Morais. The land where Edifice José Amaro would be built, and where I would grow up, was where it once stood my grandfather’s stables.
The bakery used 12 bags of flour a day – 60 kilos each. Dozens of bakers worked from night to dawn. They provided bread for the community circling the select Country Club, Minas Tenis Clube, different priesthoods and hospitals around town, and scattered apartment buildings and mansions. But nothing was reason of more pride to the family as to be the sole provider of bread, milk and butter to their soccer team: Clube Atlético Mineiro. The one and only team you could be faithful to. A family rule as black and white as the team’s stripped uniforms. Just watch an Atlético soccer match with my dad and unclesand it’s clear that its an honor to this day. The team headquarters was still in the center of town, conveniently located in the bakery’s delivery zone.
My uncles and aunts would help my grandfather at the counter or as cashiers. Their commitment of hours to the bakery dependent on their chosen careers. The lawyer and the teachers were not expected to be available as often as the others. My dad’s childhood memories at Sul America bakery are sweet. Even though, according to him, he never cared for the cakes, cookies and fine pastries surrounding him at the store. Just bread and butter. Fresh out of the oven. His memories at the bakery go back as early as when he was 4. He was the youngest of the 6, and constantly busy getting yelled by teachers for bad behavior. When he was finally accepted into Colégio Loyola, a catholic boarding school, it was a relief for his older siblings and a chance to save his soul. Later, he too would join his brothers in running the family business. Specially when my grandfather’s failing heart couldn’t keep up the pace. Later, in his career as an engineer, my Dad would have his own business. It wasn’t a mere coincidence that he owned a factory that built industrial ovens for bakeries.
The bakery and land would be sold, many years after my grandfather’s passing. An edifice was built in the late 70’s, and each son and daughter received an apartment in return for the land. To this day, I have uncles and cousins living in the same building: Edifice José Amaro, together with all my childhood memories, still suspended on that 7th floor terrace.