"In his drawings he flew World War One aircraft, traveled on flying carpets, rode hot air balloons, visited the stars." (Fernando Mendes de Almeida)
An aviator. That is was what Sergio wanted to be when he grew up. If for some reason he could not achieve that, he would be a race car driver. He got his taste for speed early on. He was still a young boy, but a great admirer of a friend of his grandmother Stella, Irineu Correia, who was an aviator and a race car fanatic. Another friend of hers, Pedro Correia da Rocha, had a large farm where the family spent many summer vacations. There was a real locomotive on the farm, and Sergio was happy while playing and dreaming of one day being able to fly or to drive the roads in a fast car. There was also a friend of his mother, Elsa, called Dark de Mattos, a millionaire who had boat and a plane and used to take Sergio's family for rides. The boat was kept at the Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club, and the plane would land nearby there, in a small field. The boy was fascinated: "I think my passion for planes comes from all these things. Dark would do pirouettes and suddenly lower the plane, it was sensational. I loved the smell of gasoline."
And not even the tragedy he witnessed in 1935 scared him off. A year earlier, in 1934, there was the first Gávea circuit, which he watched with excitement and further enhanced his passion for racing. After all, he kept pace with the history of racing cars ever since he was 6. But the following year, his grandmother's friend, Irineu Correa, who had a car repair shop, got involved in an accident during the race and died instantly. It was a shock that he never forgot. "I was there, and I think he was the first person I knew who died. I was very impressed with that." But the passion for race cars and aircraft followed him for life.
He got to know the Correia da Rocha farm, in Cabo Frio, while yet quite young. His parents took him there at age one for him to gain some weight because he was too skinny. His maternal grandmother, Stella Mendes de Almeida Santos, called Sergio a "chick" because he was born thin. And he was so thin that he himself used to say, when looking at his photos, that he looked like a monkey, with huge eyes popping out of his head because he was so skinny. He only left the place when his sister Maria Tereza was born. He was then two years old.
After they got married, Roberto and Elsa moved to Copacabana, near the Cardeal Arcoverde square. But they did not stay at that first home long. Since Mário, Sergio's paternal grandfather, had a huge house, almost a mansion, at Copacabana as well, at Joaquim Nabuco, 62, the couple eventually moved to Elsa's father's house when Sergio was less than a year old. More precisely to a "very nice" habitable basement, as Sergio would say later on as an adult. It was a house full of rooms to house the Rodrigues family, which had 14 children. It was in the basement days that Roberto met Cândido Portinari in college, who would always visit him at Mário's house. They were such good friends that Roberto invited Portinari to share his painting studio with him. Portinari came to paint several portraits of Roberto, Sergio's father, and of all the Rodrigues family. When her husband died, Elsa left the Rodrigues house and moved with her mother to another place.