For the next few days I will be sharing this with you. It was written a few years ago when I had not yet considered writing my memoir, and it contains the seeds of what later became Ordinary Terror and then The Long Night of Whispers.
For years I have journeyed back in my daydreams and night dreams to my grandmother’s house at San Mariano 102 in Havana, where I spent most of my childhood. Like a ghost, my spirit haunts that house; a purposeful exercise I liken to astral projection, although I am no shaman. I always pause at the front gate and grasp the hot black iron with my hands. Only lately have I noticed the hands are no longer the hands of a child but the wrinkled hands of a sixty two year old woman. I open the gate with a child’s heart, aware of the discrepancy.
It is a clear day and heat waves under the sparsely clouded Cuban sky cause the white house encircled by its carefully tended gardens to shimmer in the sun. The Greek columns look splendid and immutable. I slowly breathe in the air pregnant with the scent of a multitude of tropical flowers and let it fill my lungs. I linger there, breathing heaven. After a while I amble toward the intricately tiled front porch as my grandfather’s carefully tended roses greet me. I always pause to look at the roses and to honor them, for I am sure that my attention pleases them and him. The child has not forgotten.
Entering the house I walk to my grandfather’s study. The Capestany coat of arms adorns a wall next to the Cuban coat of arms. My grandfather’s desk is positioned in the center of the room, his chair facing the door that is always open in welcome. He cherishes his time with me in his study and often uses our time together to teach me about the world as if he knows that someday I will need this knowledge to survive. On his desk is the telegraph key that he uses to teach me Morse code. How I love the times we spend together “talking” to one another! Dot dash, dash dot dot dot dot dot dash, dot, dot, dash dot dot, dash dash dash dash, spells ABUELO: grandfather. Also on his desk are his unique glass paperweights displaying his favorite quotes in beautiful calligraphy, all except for one that features a picture of a broadly smiling cross-eyed little girl. Me. His “Yolandita”.
Sometimes my grandfather reads the paper to me. I savor the sound of his voice forming words. I am pleased by the attention he gives me and proud that he considers me smart enough to understand what he is sharing. This day my newfound sophistication crumbles as he reads the headline: “Patricio Lumumba Trata de Mantener la Paz en Katanga”. The African sounding names are foreign to my ears and they strike my funny bone causing an interminable burst of giggles. In his wisdom, he allows his own laughter to join mine and the moment remains forever in my memory.
Giant bookcases fill the walls of my grandfather’s study and my eyes immediately seek out their greatest treasure: Enciclopedia De La Mejor Musica del Mundo; several tomes that begin with simple tunes and increase in difficulty through fifth-year piano and beyond. In the months after the Fidel’s militia destroyed the chapel in our school and attending school was no longer an option, I taught myself to play every piece of music on every page of every tome, allowing the music to drown out the sound of death and desperation that surrounded me and to fill the silence left behind by my imprisoned father and my disappearing friends.
I turn my attention to my grandfather’s first editions of the classics; veritable treasures rest inside those bookcases! By the time I left my Cuba I had read them all. Books and music were my refuge from the terror.
After a time I wander to the family room and sit on my grandmother’s rocking chair and rock as she once did. She spent hours and hours on this rocking chair saying the rosary during Lent while she sometimes watched movies of the crucifixion. I wonder for what or whom she prayed, and suspect many of her prayers went unanswered.
Suddenly, I become uneasy. I remember sitting on this very spot when I was twelve, directly across from my grandfather’s dead body. His weak heart had finally stopped beating; too many heart wounds in too short a time. Looking through the haze of the Revolution, he could glean nothing but suffering for himself, his family, and his country.
I rise from the chair and turn away from the horrible tableau of all the weeping women dressed in black. My grandmother stands stone-faced, not joining in because weeping was foreign to her or perhaps because she had long ago run out of tears from burying six brothers and sisters when she was a child, dead during a smallpox epidemic.
I amble to the formal living room. I caress the ivory keys of my piano and play Lecuana’s La Comparsa. I get lost in the music just as I did then. I am so glad to be back in that room, at that piano. Slowly, the music fills all the grieving spaces.
When I am ready, I gently close the piano cover, get up and stroll through the rest of the house. I touch the walls, the floors and the furniture in a futile Braille-like attempt to suck all of it into myself until my senses are full to the brim and can hold no more. I must never forget. So many memories…..
Adrianne Miller 2008
I really enjoyed reading your beautiful memories;
…I feel like I am walking besides you, it is like magic.
Thank you so much Dulcita. There is no greater compliment you could give a writer! I really appreciate your presence here.
So beautiful images and words to describe those days of confusion and wake.
Thank you so much Martín. Thank you for your appreciation of the work, for your invaluable partnership and for your willingness to look at the past with me despite the pain that it may bring.
Beautifully written, your grandfather seems to have been a wonderful person and your description of your relationship with him is wonderful! It is a gift from God to have somebody like that in your life specially when you were so young. Being loved and cherished by him has probably been a good source of strength for you in your darkest moments, I am sure of that. I had a wonderful relationship with my grandmother and to this day I can feel her presence and her love around me…..even though she is long gone.Thanks for sharing your grandfather with us….the only thing that I wonder is why you changed your name to a different one…..I would have loved to be called always “yolandita” if I was you….it brings such beautiful memories…..
My grandfather Pablo López Morales was quite a gift in my childhood. All my friends from “back then” call me Yoli, but not many call me Yolandita. Just as my life is divided between BC (before Castro) and AC (after Castro), my name denotes the old and new relationships without meaning to. You are more than welcome to use what suits you best. One day I will write about the name issue.
Thank you so much for your support of my blog Carmen. It means the world to me to have other Pedro Pans visit.
So many memories! What a wonderful vivid dream! I felt like
I, too, was walking into your grandparents house with so many happy childhood memories. How well I remember the study with all the books and a grand desk in the middle of that study and your grandmothers rocking chair!but, I do also remember that day I walked into that house and his coffin lay in that room and all the ladies dressed in black,just like you said, weeping.. ….Some childhood events one never forget..What year was that???
I love reading your stories,”Yolandita” because they are so inspiring and memorable and because I know most of the characters!! such a blessing!!
Thank you, Seida! Being an only child makes one feel like the only witness to events. It’s always good to know others also remember. I really appreciate your visits to my blog my dear cousin.
Speaking of black dresses Seida, My grandmother wore black for a whole year after that. I had to wear a black skirt and white blouse for the longest time. I’ll look up the exact date and email you. I still have the “estampita”.
Your description of the “traditions” within the cuban families, the honor and respect for the elders in the family represent a “way of life” lost after the cuban revolution when families were torn apart and the seed of mistrust was planted.
Reading your passage is like visiting a “fairy tale” of something that sometimes I feel never existed…only in dreams. It helps to re-visit through your writings!
By: Emy Botet
on October 9, 2010
Our traditions sometimes were the bane of our existence also, but they were good for the most part. Respect for the elders was good and much was learned from the elders. Beloved grandparents in many cases. Aging in the U.S. is an interesting experience. Each day one becomes more and more invisible. First to men, then to everyone! Also, you are treated as if aging had somehow made you dumber. Sometimes you are treated like a child. One day my friend who is 70 and I were at the makeup counter at Nordstroms trying on makeup. A young woman came up to us and said: “Aren’t you girls cute?” It was worse than the first day I got called ma’m! But it was also funny. We laughed a lot that day…
You are right about families torn apart. Suspicion within families. Honestly, our family was never the same.
I am awed by your writing and your memories. Thanks for sharing them. I had not read about Lumumba in so many years! And it still makes me laugh. There was some kind of song about “Lo que le pasó a Lumumba…” I don’t remember the rest. I do remember playing with a black inflatable doll that I think was supposed to be Lumumba. And I can hear La Comparsa, but played by my brother Javier, who was already an accomplished pianist and played mostly classical music.
Thanks Elena. I wish the memory that remembers the exact words of a headline in a newspaper when I was in grade school would have been as sharp during my Master’s program.
I don’t remember the Lumumba doll! I wonder if anyone has pictures of it.
I still love La Comparsa. I love Lecuona. My friend Yoli Cardenas sent me a CD of all his music which I am afraid I’m going to wear out!
Glad you’re back.