No Island is an Island: Chapter 30: My Hole

(From 2012)

The plane ride was quiet and uneventful. I tried to read my new Marian Keyes book. I tried to play solitaire. I thought even to pick up a pen and write something, anything, but my brain was still stuck in "record" mode.

 The crew spoke English amongst themselves and spots of Spanish to passengers here and there.  They brought cups of soda, not in a cart, not with bags decorated by dancing nuts, then collected them back up.

 I shouldn't tell you that a lot of us started pulling out our electronic devices and checking email and voice mail. I shouldn't tell you that I saw texting and emailing going on from up in the sky, because you might then think of these post-Cold War warriors as not obeying the rules.  Forgive us, forgive them, the pull of a first world nation, of connectedness on Facebook and Twitter and gmail and iMessage after such deprivation was too much.

When the plane lands and the pilot announces we are in Miami, the plane bursts out into a Superbowl celebration. We did it. Together. Alone. All of us. Up and over the Mount Everest Berlin Wall Cold War Hologram that separates Florida and Cuba, and back to tell the tales, or free to keep it secret.

Being in the back of the plane, Mom and I are among the last to disembark, leaving the ones who are waiting for wheelchairs and attendants and all the things they need to get into and through the megalopolis Miami Airport.  We catch a train to another area where too many people are funneled into a small space, like on Haunted Mansion at Disney.  Mom says she wonders what Ellis Island was like, and I don't even answer, leaving that off for another day.

  After passing through that narrow area we are fed into lines. Everyone goes into the longest lines, those must be the right lines.

Again, our Disney training comes through; we seek the shortest line, go to the right, all the way over there, and step into a spot with no line.  An unremarkable pass of our documents, a smile and wave, we are through to baggage claim, which is so big and bright after Cuba that I almost need to shade my eyes. We have no luggage and go on further, out the gate, out to meet Dad.

I recognize this gate from years ago. One day I was at my Abuelo's house when he got a call that a relative had landed in Miami. He was practically 90, and in no place to navigate that airport by himself, not with me around to help.  Where do we pick her up, I asked, and he didn't know. He really didn't know.  I needed to know where to park, what part of that megalith to aim at, but he couldn't tell me.

So I called the information number to the Miami International Airport. I didn't think anyone would answer, I thought I would push 9 and then 6 and then whatever whatever.   A man answered. I wasn't ready.  May I help you, he asked in English and Spanish.

I, um, I just got a call and um, I need to pick up... a Cuban? I can't believe my English is suddenly as bad as my Spanish.

Silence on his end.

Gate E.  

Gate E. Thank you so much.   Abuelo is ready, we go, we pick up a cousin that miraculously arrived here from there.

Now I'm coming here from there, and even at Gate E. Mom and I walk over and around and we can't find Dad. I start to text him. Then I realize I'm standing next to him.  Hugs, hugs, he gets us right out the door and two steps to the best parking. The parking fairy loves my Dad.  As he packs our bags I ask please are we really going to Versailles? Or was he just teasing?

Yes, he was really taking us there. It wasn't that far, but I can't tell you how long it took because I just stared at all the lights. All the cars. All the bright electric everything on and going that was buzzing around us on our way to Versailles. No horses, no meandering bikers, almost no pedestrians.

We park and pass the spot, the famous spot where Abuela threw her fit many years ago, way back when we used to be able tell secrets out loud in Spanish in South Florida except in a few pockets here and there.  Here, outside the restaurant, we pull up. Dad, Mom, my brother, myself, Abuela. Maybe we were in Miami for a concert. Maybe we were visiting Tiafi. I can only tell you that whatever the occasion was, it drove Abuela to wear pantyhose with her pretty skirt.

Pantyhose that ripped as she slid indelicately out of the car.

My Dad was standing there, holding the door, offering a hand to Abuela to help her out of the backseat. She refused and screamed, AYYYYYYY, My HOLE,  in English, followed by a stream of Spanish expletives I wouldn't dare to translate to any language, peppered with LOOK AT MY HOLE in English.A man walking by with his son covered his son's ears and crossed the street to get away from whatever was going on.  I stood there and laughed and laughed and laughed until Abuela figured out how to rip off her pantyhose instead of wearing them.

This tale comes with us every time we come to Versailles, reminds us of Abuela, of how she was here and now she isn't.

 I see this restaurant with new eyes. I understand why Cubans from Cienfuegos would have a restaurant based on a French palace. Now it makes sense. Before I thought maybe the place just happened to have a lot of mirrors.

pepsi, a grilled sandwich with turkey, jelly and cream cheese.  The drink is so good I want another and another but I stop after one.

The people at the table next to us appear to be from China. Two businessmen across from me speak English (loudly) and keep checking their phones for something that still hasn't arrived.

Quickly enough we are back in the car and heading for Abuelo's house. I stare at the maze of lights, I see the food, the stores, the car dealerships like flowers now, flowers that weave on a long vine twisting us all together here. It doesn't even seem fair Cuba is left out of all this fried chicken.

My timing isn't perfect. I arrive while Abuelo is watching his favorite show, so he stays in his chair a minute and I drop my bags and pour myself a normal, American size glass of red wine then join him.

Have you seen this before, he asks, pointing at the screen.

Yes, it's a pawn shop in Detroit, I tell him.

Gosh, these people, Abuelo says, fixated at the goings on of bargaining and haggling and loaning and buying, spectator sports in America.

I think to tell him about Cuba about everything now - his father's grave, his sister's wisdom, the views, the people. But it's too much, not now, I can't even do it justice now.

I love this show too, I tell him, and we spend the rest of the evening completely happy in each other's company.

The Veteran I Didn't Meet this Thanksgiving: Let Him Eat Cake

Thanksgiving went very well at Veterans Village this year.  In my tradition of not taking pictures, I didn't take pictures, but I did keep a mental list of what we brought and served: turkey, ham (2), three kinds of green bean casserole, four types of stuffing, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese,  several trays of corn casserole, bananas, pies, cakes, breads. If there was salad, I didn't see it, but then again, I'm very good at not seeing vegetables.

I didn't eat. My job (that I created and hired myself to do) involves introducing student volunteers to veterans and maximizing points of contact between people who might never else have met. 

Many vets aren't there today, which is not a sad thing. Several other organizations reached out to offer meals, and because #America, they were free to choose being somewhere else today. They know we will leave them leftovers in the fridge and be back next Thursday anyway.

In between introducing Ron to Rachael and figuring out why people are using spoons as forks I see one of my favorite Veterans (let's call him James) walking down the stairs carrying a closed to-go container.

We stop next to the pillar next the picnic table and chat and he tells me all this food is for his roommate. He won't come out of his room, he doesn't want to come see the food and see the people, he just wants to be left alone.

I get that, completely.

 It's like if he can't have Thanksgiving with his Mom, he doesn't want Thanksgiving at all. 

James nods and agrees. We've both been there. And today on this Thanksgiving neither of us are with our Moms. But still, we get him.

 I ask James if he packed some of my checkerboard cake for his roommate and he says yes and with that we smile at ourselves for being awesome, if only for a few minutes now and then,  and go on with Thanksgiving.

7 Thanksgiving Guests

(From 2097) 

On Thanksgiving, the official start to the holiday season (which, in my mind, ends around the 4th of July) I get the impression these crazy people who live in my house want me to cook for them.

I can't cook until the house is bleached down clean, and I don't feel like cleaning because, well, I'm the Mom and I say so.

 Anyway, I have something more important to do – I have to warn you about the 7 guests that will be visiting you this long Thanksgiving Weekend.


She might've hit your house three weeks ago, when someone went through recipes and "planned." I hear She visits   some people predawn hours, possessing them to drive towards bright lights that line Box-shaped buildings.

She likes to drop in around noon drag you to that ONLY place which is open to find that ONE thing you didn't get.
To be brutally honest, I was hoping Shopping wouldn't stop by this year,  and when she called me at 8pm the night before Thanksgiving my stomach hurt as I drove to Publix expecting it to be a loud bright crowded holiday nightmare. 

It was quiet and empty. In less than 20 minutes, I  got everything I needed for under $100 and was out the door.

I enjoyed my time with Shopping and I hope she comes back to visit soon.


It's inevitable she's coming by, so you might as well prepare.  She can sometimes be a bitch and try to keep you distracted all day, so watch out.

Before she arrives, set a timer for 30 minutes and get ready to work. Spray her favorite perfume around (Clorox Cleanup), clean off a few counters and toss some laundry in the wash. Or at least kick the clothes completely under the sofa. 

Take clutter off the refrigerator, sweep the Legos into the shoebox science project and put it all in the closet where you keep your board games (the ones with the missing pieces).

To make sure Cleaning doesn't stay all day and drive you crazy, I suggest you turn on some music and introduce her to your family and friends if at all possible. With all that attention, Cleaning gets all shy and slips away. (Then the fun begins).


He is going to show up - He *always* does - so be ready. Hopefully he will not bring his favorite date, Punishment, because when they arrive together their idea of a good time is ruining the holiday for the rest of the guests.

Maybe he will give you a surprise and unwelcome bear hug after you ate that last piece of pie standing up in the kitchen with your back to the chaos.

Maybe he will bring up the grief you hoped wouldn't visit today, reminding you of loved ones you can't see and a places you can't be.

Perhaps he will just punch you in the arm and say "you deserve something so much better."

You have two options when Regret inevitably arrives.

1) Spray Clorox Cleanup right into his (invisible) face and shout "AWAY" while spinning around three time or 2) take a deep long breath of the air that is around you and come back into the present.

Regret loves to drag you through time (forwards and backwards) but if you make space for him to visit for just one or two breaths, he will go quickly on his way to visit someone who welcomes his presence.

Dancing and/or Football:

I promise Dancing (and/or Football) will visit you this holiday weekend.

Maybe dancing with a baby, a grandparent, or because that Wii game is FORCING you to, you will be visited by Dance (and/or watch Football).

I'll just say what I say every year when they come over: Hopefully no one gets hurt.


The Guest of Honor, Celebration rare arrives on cue.

She might come early, at the airport, in a tearful hug.

She could hug you when that awesome dress zips up.

She might show up late, when “they” packup and finally leave. 

On a rare lucky occasion, she will show up at the meal intended for her.

If you recognize her and call her by name when you see her, Celebration will make herself a constant companion. 


Generosity is a shape-shifting guest who likes to disguise himself in gestures of patience and hospitality.  

Make sure to leave extra room for him because Generosity’s constant companion is Gratitude.


The guest few people expect visits everyone, every year, and many of them dread it.

Sometimes she visits everyone at once, covering the table with an awkward stillness.

She may swing by when they all leave and you feel alone. (Please don’t take the wine if she offers).

She might be sitting on your chest when you wake up, alone.

When she comes to visit this year, please don’t  be a rude host and shoo Silence away, because she’s just trying to introduce you to her best friend, Peace.

Happy Thanksgiving*

(I 'm not cooking, let it go.)


From Marvin's Book, The Story of a Professor and a Promise, with permission giving by me, lol.  
Happy Turkey Day, I'm going to Cracker Barrel on my broken-foot-wondergirl-scooter and eating fried eggs and biscuits FYI

Don't Frost Me!

Its been over a month since my trip to Cuba and I'm still not ready to write about it. The stories walk with me still, twisting themselves in shapes that fall apart and leave question marks at the end.

So instead of writing, I've been baking. Yes, me. I know, right? Ever since I gave up diet coke I've become someone else, someone who owns a cupcake tote and can dip strawberries in chocolate without burning herself.

It started with a batch of brownies that looked too plain so I put chocolate chip cookie dough on top of them and viola, "brookies."

Next came strawberry layer cake that looked to plain and pink so I studded it with chocolate chips and strawberry halves.

After that was spice cake with cream cheese icing covered in roasted pecans, followed by cupcakes, potpies and a baked Ziti thing that was too good to be anything but dessert.

I bake in the morning, I bake after school, and last night in particular I baked 8 cakes that are destined to become two large checkerboard cakes while watching Scream Queens and American Horror Story.

I bake so much that my children fear me.

Zack has asked, more than once, if I'm going to fatten him up and eat him like the witch from Hansel and Gretel.  I tell him no, of course no, and anyway the cakes are for veterans anyway so stop looking at them and get back in your cage etc.

I bake so much that I must bake in my children's dreams because this morning while I was gently waking Zoe up at the horrible pre-dawn hour highschoolers must be awoken, she winced at my touch and while still mostly asleep begged "Please don't frost me!"

Veterans Village SignUps through 12/31*

November 26 Thanksgiving
December 3  Dinner and Decorating
December 10 Crafts and Desserts
December 24 Dinner and Gift Distribution
December 31 Dips and chips