Showing posts with label *Love*Letters*. Show all posts
Showing posts with label *Love*Letters*. Show all posts

Pandora's Safe Part 1: Where is Fear?

(first published 11/24/17) 

I can’t stop researching, and so I don’t. 

I spent most of today clicking away in between cleaning the oven and cooking leftovers into new things and buying Fanta and figuring out what smells like sad wet dog in the laundry room (it was the dog’s blanket. I guess she put it there for me to wash? Go figure).

Every single ancestor in my ancestry tree has to be matched up with their parents, and if possible, their grandparents.  I can’t leave any orphans, I can’t leave hints unfollowed. The tree keeps growing exponentially and my mind gets a little numb but I can’t stop until I find* it.*

I don’t know what that “it” is, but it is waiting. 

Maybe it’s a resolution to my grief, pushing me to find more family as I learn to let go of Abuelo. 

Maybe it’s trying not to face how December 1 will mark ten years since Abuela jumped into the sky.

Maybe it’s also the review I heard for the new movie, “Coco,” where the ancestors live until the living forget them.  The idea of ancestors disappearing  brings me to tears and I want to list and name every single person ever.

 Yes, now that it’s in the sunlight this is probably displaced grief, but feelings have to go somewhere and right now these feelings are making me drill away through history, mining for the treasure I will surely recognize.

I just know it is waiting for me.  Perhaps gamblers feel this way, but I assure you I’m not gambling because there is nothing to lose.

There will be a story. There will be many.

My aunt read what I wrote yesterday and asks me a few questions that I am sure I will answer, but first I have to keep going back up Temperance Avery’s family, back to her mother, Thankful, and her grandmother, Fear. 

Imagine being a devout Puritan living in colonial New England and naming your child “Fear.”

Were all the good names used up?

Or was it about facing Fear? About Fear bringing forth treasure? Because the actual fruit of Fear was Temperance, who then bore Thankful and together they tell a story of large colonial families tangled with cousin marriages and widow marriages.

I imagine leaning out a window (it doesn’t have glass, y’all, not in 1645 and also all the neighbors listened in on each other and testified about it and you can read all that stuff but I digress) and calling, WHERE IS FEAR??


DON’T WIGGLE AT CHURCH FEAR, THEY WILL BONK YOU ON THE HEAD WITH A STICK (I have certified PhD read about this and am authorized to add that detail).


My dog can’t stand seeing me sit still and demands a walk.  I make her run so she’s get tired faster, and also to punish her for the fact she still won’t go anywhere near the 16th, 17th and 18th holes on the golf course, the pretty part with the lake that is so purple lilac butter cream orange on shimmery water at sunset.  

Ever since she ran away from me on Halloween I don’t push her, but I am deciding to take walks without her if she’s not going to let me go my way.  

After the walk I settle back down to get the answers I knew I could easily get for my aunt, but first I had to go a little farther back looking for new treasure.

Then I admitted it to myself. I wanted to be related to someone who came on The Mayflower.

That sounds like treasure, right? Once I found a generation of ancestors that marry and die in the 1630s and 1640s in Plymouth, I just have to know when and how they came over.  

Were they part of the Great Migration of almost 20,000 to the large joint-stock funded Massachusetts Bay Colony? Or were they part of the original few hundred who lived in Plymouth and may or may not have known Samoset and Squanto?

I see page after page of information that tells me  I am descended from some of the earliest British colonists (Virginia, Plymouth, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina), and it doesn’t feel right to only be finding this out later in life; don’t ask me how it would’ve have mattered if you’d told me.

 Maybe I wouldn’t have cared.

Maybe someone did try telling me and I had nowhere to put it.

 I’ve tried telling both of my kids but so far they mostly smile at me and ask for more mashed potatoes and if we are out of mashed potatoes can I make more later please?  I have mastered mashed potatoes this year, check that off my life list of things to do and back to researching.

My ground zero hint is reading that my way back grandmother Susanna Ring being born in Leyden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands in 1606. 

In case you skipped class or if I went too fast that day, be reminded that the original Puritans were challenging the church-state-king and were so persecuted that they left and went to Leyden.

 Google "Scooby Separatists" and "Puritans in Leyden" if you don’t believe me. 

And yes this will be on the test.  

Anyway, their time in Holland wasn’t what they’d hoped for so then they get a boat then another boat and then, well, you know what comes next. 

If you don’t, then OK. Their first boat, the Speedwell, got only as far as Plymouth (England) where it was sold and they moved on to get the Mayflower.  The Mayflower had permission to go to Virginia (Jamestown was chartered in 1607) but it ended up much farther north, oops. 

 But back to the story.  I kept researching and I think I have tripped on a very funny very awesome story for you. But not yet. I still have to answer the questions my aunt gave me!! Is this how students feel when they need to study for a test but they really prepare by relaxing by watching Netflix?

Also, I researched a bit more and found William Penn, which under normal circumstances would be reason to love this journey, but it isn’t the best treasure today. 

Nope. I found it a minute later, and when I found it, I knew. 

It was something that you might not have recognized If you didn’t know what you were looking at.   It’s perfect, it’s everything, it is the story I want to tell in a book that unfolds over 7 chapters. 

So, anyway, I still have to answer my aunt’s questions, so here we go.

First of all, regarding my grandmother’s real official name. Is it Rosanna?

My answer is to look back in Mama Rosie’s family tree to, Rosanna McCrea, born on 12/8/1838 in County Cavanaugh, Ireland.  Three guesses on why she’d leave Ireland and be in the US and married before her 20th birthday and the first two aren't "famine."

Rosanna marries fellow Irish refugee/immigrant Henry Davis in New Orleans, gives birth to Mama Rosie’s grandfather James Bernard Davis in 1858 and in dies in New Orleans on 1/29/1896 and is buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery #1 in New Orleans. I have found records calling the wife of Henry Davis “Rosanna McCray.” I can’t find Rosanna’s parents but I’m admittedly not connected to Irish sources online.

In every official mention of Mama Rosie (census, marriage to Papa Jerry) her name is Rosanna, just like her grandmother.  

So yes, Mama Rosie’s name is 100% Rosanna.

The next question goes back to Achilles Jean Soldani, son of “Jean Salami” and Clementine Mutt or Moti. Family lore has it that both of Achilles’ parents were from Sicily and drowned on a boat. 

I can confirm that they each died in New Orleans but I cannot find their actual death certificates which contain all the juicy stuff like how they died and where they were born. 

Jean Goldani dies in New Orleans in 1868 (unless he is the other Jean Soldani the pastry chef who runs away to Missouri) and Christine/Clementine Moti dies in 1869. 


I know for sure that Achille lived at St. Mary’s orphanage (I found him on their roll, god bless the internet!!!) and ends up on an orphan train but I cannot confirm that he was an orphan because Jean Soldani either is dead in 1868 or is the 50-year-old who pops up in Missouri in 1870.  

I found a passport application from Anthony G. Soldani who went to Oklahoma with the Osage – perhaps on an orphan train like the one that took Achilles Jean Soldani to his destiny in Avoyelles Parrish. Anthony G. Soldani may or may not be related to all of us but then again, his passport application lists his father as “Jean Soldani” born in France.  Not Sicily. Hmm.

My dad pushes back at this information, wondering why Achilles and his descendants looked Sicilian. shows that Christine/Clementine Mutti/Moti was born in Sicily, but I lose her there. I think for an extra $15 I could chase this lead but I'm already going as fast as I can before my free trial expires. 

Here is why I officially doubt Jean/Giovanni is the person I find online (Johann Soldani) who was born in Alsace and ends up dying in Missouri.  

I don’t think Christine/Clementine spoke anything but her native tongue which was probably Italian when she arrived in New Orleans, and so I don’t know how she would meet and marry someone who came to New Orleans from France. I think someone who arrived in New Orleans speaking French would have found a Francophile community and maybe learned a little English before learning Italian.

Also, we have no marriage documents for Giovanni and Clementine, which makes me wonder if they were either married before they came to the US (which is why I have no church documents) or lived in a civil marriage arrangement unable to afford a ceremony.  I imagine that if they met in New Orleans, they came together as quickly as two “paesanos” from Sicily and didn’t foresee that they would die young and leave their small children to the mercies of the charities Catholic Church.

 If they hadn’t have died, Achille Soldani would not have been sent on an orphan train with the world SOLDANI tied around him with a string.  Archille wouldn’t have ended up living with the brother-in-law of his future wife, Ella Mae English.  

I’m going to keep pushing this to find the death certificates for Jean Goldani and Christine Moti so we can see what is listed as their places of birth, their parents, and the causes of their deaths.  All and all, they don’t seem to have died on their way to the US, but that story probably has roots in a grain of truth that I still haven’t found.

Until then, I’m going back to the treasure I found today, to the ancestor I want you all to meet, the one whose life is so perfectly crazy and historically accurate but not normal that it calls me back. 

I can’t keep writing this for you, I have to go back and keep researching. 
My grief is bearing fruit, and that alone makes it bearable.

Father's Day: Santo Domingo

(From 2013)

When I was growing up in South Florida in the 1970s, if you had asked me where my family was from I'm pretty sure I would have said that we were from New Orleans. 

That's where my parents met and married, that's where my brother and I were born; that's where most of my cousins and aunts and grandparents lived.

In the 1980s, after countless weekends in Miami visiting Cuban relatives (and sometimes leaving Mom and Abuela to visit relatives while Dad took us to Monkey Jungle and Parrot Jungle and Vizcaya)  I would have added that I was Cuban, but I wasn't sure what that meant yet.

My Dad, if he were in earshot and I only mentioned being Cuban, would have reminded me "And you're FRENCH. And IRISH. You have two sides, dammit."

I heard him, but it didn't sink in.

Dad stood back and watched me write my final Master's paper on Cuban immigrants and a dissertation on Cuban-American bankers all the while biting his tongue.

Or maybe he did say something, maybe he mentioned it alot. Probably I didn't listen too hard. I do that sometimes.

Then a few years (months?) ago he sent me an email full of his family history with the title line "This is your island" and attached some papers a family member had scanned that appeared to be a land grant from  the King of Spain to the Santo Domingo family, who then moved to the island of Hispanola and lived in Santo Domingo.

 The family prospered under French and Spanish colonial rule on the island, but as the ideas liberty, equality and Republic and the successes of American and French Revolutions  travelled on boats and by word and in books and in sermons from  through the world, causing an uprising of slaves on the island.

The Santo Domingo family left (translate: FLED) their (namesake?) hometown for Cuba, where they had a son who would be pulled by the lure of the booming Mississippi basin Cuba and join the Creole community in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana.

From there my Dad's family tree took root in a couple of places in in Louisiana,  and over the next 150 years became an urban braid of Creoles, Irish, and an Italian orphan named Achille Soldani who came to rural  Louisiana on an orphan train and was adopted by a young French couple who didn't change his name.

My parents are hopeless romantics who became engaged on their first date and have been together since.  They always say they would have met somehow, somewhere. 

  Seriously, my stomach hurts when they do that, get all mushy and talk about how they can't stand to be away from each other. I don't get it. I appreciate, I definitely benefit from it, but I think if I ever set off on life to look for someone to complete me like they complete each other, I might have forgotten to apply to grad school. 

But then again, I think maybe they are right.

After all, pieces of  his Santo Domingo-exiled family were in New Orleans and in Cuba when New Orleans sugar planters started Cienfuegos.  The cities are tied by history and blood. The entire Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are tied the same way, 

I'm not sure if it's been too long or if my father and I  can travel back to Santo Domingo, now, and use my super historian detective powers  find a piece of him and me and us waiting there.  

Maybe we will.  If we do, I promise you that he and I expect the food to be a little better than it was in Cuba.

Happy Father's Day*

Enough Fun

(from July 22, 2010)

My 90 year Abuelo sits next to me on the shallow pool steps on a
cloudfree hot July afternoon.

The kids dance and splash and invite us to join their game involving
coconuts and shrieking.

He turns to me and says (unapologetically) "Ive had enough fun."

I smile at him, he continues, "I mean it. 90 years of fun is enough.
Put that in your book. I'm serious."

I nod my head at the gravity of the moment, promising him I'd write it
somewhere for him.

After that, we joined the kids in their coconut-laughing game anyway.

Everywhere, now.

(From December 2007)

"Ay, Marta...." Abuelo mutters under his breath, sitting on his recliner surrounded by bottles of pills. He's just finished setting up his medicines for the next few weeks. Heart pills, stomach pills, I don't know what else, and I don't ask.

Usually his hands are in constant motion, writing letters, sorts stacks of paper, doing things always. Everything is done, for now. He is stuck unoccupied, and unwelcome thoughts slip into his mind.

"Ay, Marta..." he says again, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

I shut my book, finger holding my page in the thick book by an author who's last big novel came out in 1998, the year Abuelo had a heart attack on my birthday.

He changes the channel, puts on Lawrence Welk.

It is white people with big hair and stiff smiles singing about the old South. One African-American tap dances, alone, off stage. The audience looks stiff and uncomfortable.

Abuelo moves the pills to a shoebox and carries them to the counter where he sets them down. He gets his milk and cake, then settles back into his chair.

"Ay, Marta...." again he mutters, and this time, despite my harsh warnings otherwise, fat hot tears spill down my face.

She is here.

She is not here.

She is gone.

She is everywhere, now.

Through a Glass, Darkly

From 12/6/07

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known"
Corinthians 13:12

It's about 8:15pm on Wednesday December 5 , and I am home in Tallahassee after a long drive from Fort Lauderdale.

I am surrounded by love, hugs, coloring pages and candy canes, all things that make me thirsty.

I open the cabinet, grab my favorite aqua cup, the one with the Mickey Mouse insignia so subtly and artistically etched on it, then cry.

This was HERS, I sob to the unlistening sink and the empty 2 liter of Sunkist.

Wave after wave of sadness and guilt wash over me.

I stole this cup from Abuela.

I did.

She had a set of 8 that my mother bought her at Downtown Disney a few years ago. One day I poured myself a "to go cup," stuck it in my car, and never returned it.

Every time I've used it, I've thought, "nope, not going to give it back... not until I get myself a set..."
I always loved that set, and each of the countless times I've been to Downtown Disney I haven't made a single sincere effort to buy myself Mickey Mouse cups.

Maybe I didn't really want my own cups.
Maybe I just couldn't be honest.
Maybe the truth was just too ugly.
What I wanted was Abuela's cups.

The cups aren't that old, and maybe they aren't very special looking, but they mean something to me.

I imagine that other people -- maybe people who aren't descended from refugees? -- have heirlooms like great-grandpa's rifle, great-great-Grandmother's teapot, lace curtains, WW2 letters, tiny silver spoons.

We don't.

So instead of things, we have traditions.

We lie.

And then, of course, tell stories about our lies.

For example, my abuelos lied to their children when they were leaving Cuba in 1960.

Instead of saying "tell everyone goodbye, we are OUT of here!" they told the children it was just for a vacation.

This is forgivable.

Tearful goodbyes or packing sentimental things-- baseball gloves, love letters -- were red flags that have jeopardized their safety.

Just a small lie, but a memorable one nonetheless.

Years ago, my abuelo's sister -- Tia Fifi ( stayed at with Abuelo and Abuela house while recovering from a heart attack.

During her month-long visit, Tiafi's son Eduardo had a heart attack.

She kept trying to call him at home, but he wouldn't answer.

Because, of course, he was in the hospital.

Finally someone -- I won't point fingers here -- told her "Oh! Didn't you hear? Eduardo is in the Keys."

For awhile, every time someone was sick or dying, we'd say, "Oh? Visiting the Keys?"

Lies, lies, lies.

One year while I was home from graduate school for Winter Break my mother confided in me that she had three tickets for the Orange Bowl -- don't tell your father!

Later that same day, my father pulled me aside to show me the three tickets he bought for the Orange Bowl -- don't tell your Mom!

When the three of us were together, Mom would rant about how she wished we could go to the game, how we couldn't afford tickets, how there were no tickets to be found.

Dad kept making speeches about how he wouldn't dream of going to the Orange Bowl and missing other games on TV.

Keeping their secrets and watching them lie made me physically ill.
This went on for a painful long week until game day, when they both broke it to me there really only was only one set of tickets.


They laughed.

I cried.

We still see that as a positive family experience.

And then there's last Saturday, December 1.

I guess we couldn't tell my abuelos why I was really driving down.

Imagine "Melissa is coming here to say her last goodbye."

That's too deep.

Too real.

Too honest and painful.

So when I got to the hospital, Abuelo asked, "Where is it that you're giving a lecture again? University of Miami? On Cuban History? That's something! " I stammered, said something vague, changed the subject.

When I sat next to Abuela, my mom elbowed me, and I dutifully looked the woman right in the eyes and let out a string of lies.

"Aren't I lucky to be here, now, giving a paper? What a wonderful coincidence that they brought me down right now, and I can see you?"

Abuela pulled her hand out from under mine, narrowed her eyes.

I could hear her thinking all sorts of curses for me.


And worse.

She knew why I was there.

And now that she no longer sees things, "through a glass, darkly" I just know Abuela forgives me for lying to her on her last day on earth.

It was, after all, a cherished and unbroken family tradition.

Abuelita, I'll see you in the Keys.

Goodnight Abuelo

(from November 2008)

I turn off the reading light, folding my thick book against my chest.Again, as the night before and the night before that, the two of us end our evening sitting in reclining chairs facing the TV.

Last night we watched a game show, then musicals.

Tonight we're watching M*A*S*H.

Soon enough, having finished his milk and cake, he falls asleep in the chair, dark blue slippers dangling from his black socked feet.

I turn the TV down, smooth the hair off his forehead and kiss him above his eyes.

He stirs, smiles, and calls me "Me vida," (my life), and I believe him.

Without turning back, I walk down the narrow hall to Abuela's room, book in hand, then sit in the silent darkness, thankful.

Our Last Trip to Cuba 7:The Mafia-like Shakedown

As a historian I am predisposed to research everything, most especially things in Cuba, and so before our last trip I looked up the history of Hotel Jagua

  One google search and I have enough.

Here is your screenshot from

I love immigrants making good on the American dream, spreading capitalism and etc.

Boardwalk Empire's Meyer Lansky, soon to have a sequel to series set in Cuba where he and all his associates lose everything to Castro and then decide to kill Kennedy only to have James Franco stop the assassination, etc.

Anyway, the hotel is gorgeous and open and clean and empty and we walk straight to the desk where three women speak in quiet tones.

 One woman has  a clipboard and a list of names that she reads off one at a time. Another woman is sitting behind the desk saying names back and checking things off. The other woman sits behind the desk stares into her computer screen, typing slowly with long nails.

Mom and I drop our things by the desk and put our purses on the counter.

None of them acknowledge us, so Mom goes through her stuff and pulls out her paperwork and we stand there.

And we stand there.

And we stand there so long we are having trouble not giggling because they can't be serious.
It's like we are whatever comes after invisible. And also they can't hear us because we are asking each other (in perfect English lol) if this is actually happening, if really people can be like this in the 21st century.  She clears her throat some. I clear mine.  The good news is that I've been in this weird place in life where I really like plants and I really enjoy looking at (gawking at) the gorgeous plants cascading everywhere so I wasn't in the slightest bit annoyed.

Then my mom elbowed me and slightly whispered. Oh, you have another friend.
I follow where she is looking and saw a thin-ish man in normal Cuban civilian person clothes leaning over the counter a few feet away watching us. (see diagram below)

Watching us.
Not even trying to act like he was doing anything but watching us.
 Not helping. Not speaking. Just standing and looking.

After the better part of a half hour, the lady with the clip board stepped away from the desk and the two women at the desk turn towards each other and talk about this and that. Neither looks at us, despite the fact they are inches away.

My Mom proclaims, BUENOS DIAS and they both look up.

They apologize. They get our room information and the room card-key.  Mom explains that we are here because her aunt is gravely ill. One of them knows Tialourdes, she was her student, and sends her love.

Mom asks how to call home because she needs  to call my Dad and check on Abuelo. They tell her just come downstairs and have hotel staff call Florida and hand her the phone.  This isn't the answer we were expecting, but OK. Mom nods her understanding, and we get ready to go upstairs.

The elevators have a lot of mirrors. Just let me say that. So if you go, don't be scared, they're just mirrors.

We get off on the top floor and before I can see how awesome the view is, I see this plaque. Castro stayed here. Awesomesauce.
 We don't actually get Castro's room (oh darn, but actually we needed two queen beds and I bet he isn't a two queen kind of hotel room guy) but the room next to the room next to it.  Grand.
Mom puts the card into the slot. A light goes on. The door doesn't open.
We try again. The light goes on. The door doesn't open.
We repeat this 10 more times, then go downstairs to ask for help.
This time one of the ladies from the desk came up with us. She put the card in. The light went on and then she lowered her shoulder and SHOVED the humidity-swollen door open.  Not the solution we expected, but OK.

The room was about as spartan as you'd expect a hotel that opened during the birth of the communist revolution might be. The floors were lined with clean white tile. No rugs, nothing soft. The beds were low and flat. The bathroom was completely lined with white tiles, and contained exactly two white towels.  The TV worked. Yay. There was a balcony that looked over the pool below and the bay.

By this point, we were beyond famished and headed downstairs to the place we've been before. We order wine, and unlike before, they don't sell it by the glass. Bottles only. And no, they don't tell us the price. But we get a bottle anyway because we are together and it is Cuba and wind is blowing.

My mom falls into a barrage of phone calls and so I step away to the sunset.

 Then Mom got in on a picture, family-tree style, standing by the Bella Carolina.
 Then I took one of Mom.
 And while I was doing all that I was incredibly distracted by this whole thing going on in the very empty pool. The girl looked thirteen, but was probably going on 15 and taking pictures for her big 15 party and was doing all sorts of prowling poses and sexy faces etc that kids her age generally Snapchat.

We are starving. The waiter brings us the menu. There are no prices but OK, we order anyway.  
They each order a meal. I order vegetable soup.

The food comes, then more wine, and much talking.

 I can't tell you about most of the rest of the night, not because I CAN'T but because private things were shared and they aren't all mine to discuss.

 I can abbreviate it for you, would you like that? OK.

Person: I have a great IDEA that will get me to AMERICA
Person: Great. idea. and. practically. done.
Me: WORST IDEA EVER and also, we have so much better makeup in America, wait until you visit sephora.
Person: I will be there soon.
Me: NOOOOOOOOOOOO people have to stay where they are they can't just go to other countries!
Person; (wine) I'm definitely coming
Person: That's a pretty bracelet (she says this with her eyes)
Me: This is a pretty bracelet. It was a prettier earring. (I say to my mom in English) (Gives her the bracelet/earring) (Opens purse, gives her makeup)(Gives her cash to make sure she has some).

The bill comes and my mom leaves us and was gone a bit, long enough that we fall into silence.

We say our goodbyes and head up the elevator to our white tiled room.

I ask where she went, and she says she had to get more money because dinner was over $200.

Well THAT felt like mafia shakedown, I mutter in the direction of our entire evening, and mom agrees.

Crazy Frog

My stomach is rolled into a knot of dread, and I can't shake it. Nothing is really wrong,  nothing that should make my stomach hurt like this yet it does and it's almost choking me so  I take deep breaths and get myself to work anyway.  On the walk from my car to the building I see trees laying gracefully down where they should not be, sprawled and leggy like ballerinas curled up for naps outside. 

Just as I put my key in the door, a tiny tiny green frog flies out of nowhere and lands in front of me, then crawls up the door toward my face. Other people might scream, I'm like hello my crazy frog friend, nice to see you.

In my corner of the universe this is a bold sign from heaven of something, its just too funny and perfect not to be.

 I'm sure this frog has seen a lot these past days, but I know better than to stand around and talk to a  crazy frog, so I took this picture for you before I made it to my office, took more deep breaths, and got on with things that had to be done.