Showing posts with label 5 Days in Cuba. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5 Days in Cuba. Show all posts

Rising Up Quietly

I refuse to stop researching, it is my bliss.  

I  hope one day to have a job where research and writing is rewarded and expected. 

Oh wait. Yay. Check that off my list.   

I keep researching until my neck is twisted and my back hurts. 

If I lower my desk chair to the lowest setting then my mechanics are perfect and it all feels great, but I've noticed that if I get up for longer than an hour the chair rises up quietly back to the highest setting, the one that makes my shoulders ache.  

I can't blame the chair but really it is failing at the basic things we  ask chairs to do.

I figured this out and I know to not trust my chair to just do what I ask it to do.  Each time I get up to stretch and walk (and take Zoe to the mall), I know to check the level when I sit back down and lower the chair again. 

 I say "bad chair" but I also know it is the nature of things to rise up, so just work around it. 

Today’s treasure pile is huge and also neatly filed on my desktop because I have started renaming screenshots after saving them.  When I started computering in the 80s we couldn’t create long interesting file names so this is a new thing for me  

 I am making files comparing where all of Mama Rosie's grandparents were in the 1870s (St. Mary's Street, Tchopitoulas, 10th and 11th Wards) and where she was born and where they were buried.

 I am secretly planning a tour of New Orleans much like my tours in Cuba, and also probably a tour of Louisiana to include the rest of my father's ancestry.

Let me be honest. I went to college in New Orleans at Loyola and didn't have any idea how deeply my family's history was intertwined with the streets I walked on. 

The deepest most memorable feeling I had in New Orleans was that I needed to get out of there, that my destiny was elsewhere.  The push was unmistakable and unavoidable. 

I wonder if that impulse to move and keep moving isn't wired into me from both sides of my family, generations of people pushed here and there (TO NEW ORLEANS!!!!)  by famine, persecution, war and revolution.  

I want to make a map of everywhere my ancestors have lived in Louisiana since the 1750s and visit every single place.  

Maybe this is too much, but maybe this is what I've been waiting to do. 

My most favorite file title is the culmination of today’s research question: How Irish was my father’s mother, Mama Rosie?   

Here is your answer, enjoy ---    I have to get back to research!!! 

Grading: Platt Amendment

"The Platt Amendment says the US must invade any country if they are experiencing harsh times or a cruel oppressor."

Love, Money, Things to Do

My earliest memory of Abuelo is him saying “nariz!” “nose!” “ojos!” “eyes!” “cara!” “face” – I must have been all of four years old, sitting on an itchy red blanket, trying desperately to please the man who greeted me at the airport with a secret bag of M&M’s that I didn’t have to share with anybody.

His Spanish lessons didn’t fall on the most fertile soil because I also learned from his visits and from our many visits to relatives in Miami that that Spanish was the language of adults. Spanish was the language of stories “I wouldn’t understand” and things I shouldn’t interrupt.   My Spanish was (is) so atrocious (despite passing college Spanish) (despite passing PhD level reading comps in Spanish, y'all) that my Abuela – whose English was broken at best – begged me to only speak English to her.

So maybe I didn’t learn Spanish from Abuelo.

I learned other things.

I learned to be useful. 

Abuelo came from Cuba to the US in the 1930s and went to business school in New Orleans then returned to Cienfuegos to join his father in the almacen he owned. For most of my life I thought “almacen” meant store but when I returned from my first trip to Cuba with pictures and asked why his store had no windows he explained it was a warehouse. Abuelo’s father bought barrels and large lots of things like oil and flour and turned them into smaller sized offerings which they then sold to smaller rural stores out of the city.   

With their profits the family joined the Cienfuegos Yacht Club and built their dream home in Playa Alegre. With all that said, Abuelo was clearly a member of the capitalist class that Castro targeted for elimination.

 I knew when Abuelo fled from Cuba in 1960 during the time that businesses and properties were being nationalized under the reform laws. He started a small store in uptown New Orleans where the family worked and lived until the second time an armed robbery convinced them that being a small business owner right there and then, was an unacceptable risk.    Risky financial situations were not OK for a man who had in the last four years lost his father (heart attack), his business and his dream home in Playa Alegre, Cienfuegos.

Risks like “staying open after being robbed at gunpoint” were not OK for a man responsible for supporting a family in New Orleans (wife, three kids, and Cuca, who is family we can’t explain, and also cooked) and the family he left behind  which included his mother Emilia, his unwed sister Lourdes, his sister  Josefina (whose husband was in jail) and her four kids JulioJose, Teresita, Eduardo, Miriam.

When he left in 1960, everyone expected the “Castro situation” in Cuba would end quickly.

It did not. 

Abuelo worked at GE (General Electric) in the mail room for 20 solid years of his life.  I have heard family rumors that once upon a time he received mail sent slyly to GE that he brought home and was meant to forward to a friend who would whatever whatever and it had to do with the Bay of Pigs. But my young uncle, 5 or 6 at the time, opened the letter and I’m still not sure how the story ends with it being resealed or Abuelo meeting with the CIA handlers he never told me about.  

I admire that he chose to be useful, even in that small quiet way.

I don’t blame Abuelo for retiring as soon as he hit his 20 years with GE.  He lost everything twice and kept going, collected his pension, left New Orleans and moved to Pompano Beach to be closer to his daughter and his sister Josephina who escaped Cuba with three of her children.   To this day I cannot imagine the torture they faced in leaving her other son Julio Jose  -- who was of military age and couldn’t leave – behind.  He joined us after the Mariel Boatlift 1980, but that’s for another story. Stick with me here.

Even after retirement, my Abuelo could not stop working.

He had to be useful.

 He worked in our family hibiscus farm, he clipped articles and advertisements for corporations, he volunteered at hospitals and never stopped taking care of his family in Cuba.

The hardest years of his life were the ones that came after Abuela jumped into the sky in 2007.  It wasn’t unexpected but it was a shock to the root of his being and he spent the next ten years yearning for her, yearning for his mom, yearning for somehow feeling home again.

Hard times and increasing challenges didn’t stop Abuelo from working.

 In his last years he was too frail, too exhausted to continue his 40 and 50 hour week volunteering at a hospital. He could no longer safely drive, no longer safely handle getting and sorting and counting his medicine and dealing with housekeeping alone, and reluctantly moved to a gated community full of active and also much less active and quite invisible “older Americans.”

 I’m not sure but I think he might have been the first Cuban guy there. I did hear from a most reliable source that when he was served lasagna and he said it was “la mierda” and the staff giggled and thanked him for teaching him how to say lasagna in Spanish. So there’s that.

In his last years, despite degenerating eyesight and arthritic hands, Abuelo was driven to contribute, driven to make money, driven to win the lottery, driven every day to get up and do something good.   

Abuelo made pictures.

He didn’t paint them, he didn’t print them.

No. That would cost money and cut into his profit.

He was an entrepreneur, not an artist.

 For hours and hours and days and weeks and months and years, my Abuelo flipped through page after page of glossy magazines and catalogs tearing out the best pictures. 

After that he would  place the pictures in one of many assorted consignment-store-bargain frames my mom brought him.  He then sent boxes of framed pictures to nephews and daughters and friends who offered the framed picture for sale at flea markets and etc. and brought Abuelo back envelopes of cold hard cash.

I cannot tell you exactly how or where or even if the hundreds and hundreds of framed pictures sold, but I can tell you this: Abuelo never ran out of two things: love, money, and things to do – clearly a legacy worth emulating.

No coincidence, no story.

I haven't read a good book in a long time.  I haven't wanted to, not since finishing my Mad Man binge, and my Orange is the New Black binge followed closely by yesterday's Gypsy binge.

No book on my Kindle could pull my attention from the pieces of things to read that scatter across my screens refreshing every 30 seconds.

Mom did her best to help.  This past Mother's Day I sent my mother exactly what you should get a person who has everything: 2 books and a funny art frog for her garden.  A week later,  Mom sent me a box with one of the books along with a hand-painted silk fan and a carefully packed set of teeny Cafe Cubano cups that hold one thimble of cafecito each.

 I promise to read the book. I want to.  But summer school just started, and there are Veterans dinners to arrange and stories about Mr. D* to write and essays to grade and the dog suddenly requires much attention (watching her sleep, brushing her, giving her peanut butter so she will leave me alone so I can grade).

I carry the book with me everywhere I don't compelled to open the book.

Not yet.

 This continues for  over a month, including last week when I got a phone call and had to write down turn-by-turn directions for something that I probably could've looked up later but the lady insisted on giving to me right then and there.

This morning I pulled the book out to check the directions for tomorrow's thing, and flipped open to my favorite part of almost any book - the acknowledgments/authors notes at the end.   The first sentence of the end piece hooks me.

It starts "No coincidence, no story." Hell yeah, I love that!! Stories aren't ramblings, that have to have a shape, they have to be crafted and smashed and rebuilt until they make a space people can stand inside of.   The house is quiet, my coffee is at the perfect temperature and all the sudden I want to do nothing more than read this book.

Hours later I am halfway into the 355 page book and realize I haven't taken a single sip of my coffee.

My neck hurts and my jaw is clenched and I put the book down (after texting my mom OMG YOU WERE RIGHT and checking Twitter and seeing Trump wresting CNN and turning Twitter off), stretched and made fresh coffee which I never drank.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See is a perfectly architected story of family, cruel traditions, hardship, hope and love.

It is a story about a tree, about friends, and about how we are all connected.

It is beautiful and elegant.

I only cried at the end.

We Continue.

 Mom calls and I quickly realize she is talking to me in her calm quiet voice so I know something is up.

Missy, I have bad news for you.

Of course she does. 

My mind goes ballistic. 

Just hours ago she sent an email to let us know Abuelo’s pacemaker’s battery had died on 12/13 and because of his heart and kidney situation it just wasn’t feasible to admit him to a hospital for surgery to implant a new battery.  

I start writing in my head. This is it, this is when and where I find out.

 She shouldn't have to tell me. I can't imagine how hard this is to tell me.

But it isn’t Abuelo.

It’s Charro. 

I wasn’t expecting this and I start crying harder than any of us could have bet on in Vegas.

Remember Charro? I’ve known her my whole life because she was our family in Cuba, Abuela’s niece who was only barely younger and therefore a cousin.

Mom continues. 

Charro died in a nap this afternoon, after talking to Mom this morning because of course they talked because it  was her 86th birthday and also because she opened the gifts Mom sent her.

She died on her birthday  A circle. A perfect circle.  We make circles isn't that perfect? 

That’s all I can say, and it makes sense to us. 

Mom continues in a whispered voice to not wake up Abuelo.  Charro loved her gifts, couldn’t wait to see us soon.

Now I’m crying so hard I can’t believe my poor Mom isn’t heaving wordless too. 

We aren’t like this, she tells me, we are strong, come on. 

I come on.  

I keep going. 

She goes back to Abuelo, I go back to putting Christmas together for Veterans Village and for my kids.

Meanwhile my kids don’t know why I’m crying so they think Abuelo has jumped into the sky and I very awkwardly must tell them that no, no, not him. 

Not today. Today he’s here, we will see him in a few days.

Not much later Zoe finds me sitting on my yoga ball and I tell her about the circle and about the gold necklace. 

She’s like “what?” and I tell her how Charro gave Mom treasure from heaven and that’s where I got the title of the manuscript I wrote about that visit to Cuba.

Zoe shakes her head.

You don’t remember? Charro kept the things Abuela left with her when they fled?

Zoe shakes her head again.

 I have her complete attention and love, and this alone is enough to part the clouds of sadness.

I continue.

You should read my story, I feel like I’m telling my student’s “it’s in the book” when I have actual never said that to students because not much from lecture is in their textbook since I didn't write their books. I digress. Charro was a banker. She negotiated with Western Union to bring the services to Cuba.

Zoe nods. 

I continue.

My dissertation was on Cuban bankers who came to America and changed Miami. They were all men. All. Men.  Meanwhile my own flesh and blood was an important Cuban banker and I didn’t notice or really get it because she was a woman.

Zoe nods, giving me the attention I give her when she makes me quiz her before huge exams.

I continue.

Charro’s life as an independent single successful woman supported by a community of people who cared for her and respected her is giving me a feminist mind smacking.

Zoe nods.

Instead of crying I’m going to have a big big mind opening feminist moment.

Zoe nods and pauses from her snapchat poses to reassure me. “Yes, you are.”

That is enough. 

We continue.