Elena’s Story Part I

For months I had been begging my parents for permission to bring home a rabbit that my neighbors had offered me.  I had stopped attending school at the Ursulinas de Miramar since early April. All of my close friends and classmates had left Cuba. On this hot morning of July 3 1961,  I had finally received my mom’s approval to bring the rabbit home. Overjoyed, I ran down the stairs from our third floor apartment.  As soon as I met my neighbor by the rabbit cages, I heard my mom calling me.

“Elena, come here, I have something important to tell you,” she cried out from the side porch of our third floor apartment in the suburb of Miramar, in Havana.

Puzzled, I went back up the three flights of stairs. I walked into the living room as my mom started to break the news: “Tomorrow you are leaving for Miami. Maurice Dussaq obtained a visa waiver for you, from Operation Pedro Pan. You will be leaving on the ferry boat that leaves tomorrow at noon. We have to finish packing your suitcase.”

I was thirteen years and seven months old, to be exact.    I was the only girl in my family. My brother Carlos Alberto was twelve years older than me, and he was already married and did not live with us. Javier was 7 years older and Alejandro was two years older than me. My parents were Carlos Muller Mantici and Augusta Mulkay Faife.

For months, too, longer than the time I had been pestering my mom to allow me to have a pet rabbit, I had been wanting to leave Havana.

Initially, when my brother Alex told me that he had overhead our parents “plotting” to send us alone to Miami I had rejected the idea. On November 16, 1960, I had written to my dear friend Ofelia Villamil who was already in Miami:  “…my parents are plotting a trip but I think that I am not going to accept it because it would only be Alejandro and I going to my uncle’s house who lives there.  And though I love my uncle very much and I would love to stay with them, I love dad and mom and Javier, Carlos, Maria Antonia and Cuba more.”

But since that day in mid -November of 1960 the situation in Cuba had only grown progressively worse. On May 25, 1961 I had written my friend Ofelia:  “ … I really want to go there even though I know that I am going to miss mom and dad a lot and pretty Cuba but there I will be able to study and have the peace and quiet that is totally absent here, one day you wake up hearing airplanes and bombs.  At night the gunshots from the accidentally discharged bullets and those fired on purpose don’t let you sleep, if you hear a car you think it is a plane, if it thunders, it seems like an air raid, a door that is shut hard sounds like a bomb and finally thousands of things that keep one in continuous shock.”

I was ready, or so I thought, to leave my family and my country. I went back to my neighbor’s yard and broke the news to her: “I can’t take the rabbit. Tomorrow I am leaving for Miami.”

My mom and I had been packing my suitcase months in advance. She was an expert seamstress who always made my dresses. I remember walking the streets of Havana with her, looking for a coat that I could take on my trip.  She did not feel that she could make one herself.  And after much walking from store to store we finally found a golden vinyl coat.  “That should do it,” we both thought. It would protect me from the cold up North. I remember packing only clothes, shoes, and hair clips. And, of course, the golden coat.

I had never really been able to be away from my parents for too long. I remember spending one weekend at Varadero, Cuba’s most famous beach, with a friend named Alicia and her family. We had left on a Thursday.  By Saturday I was so homesick, that I started crying and my friend’s family had to cut their weekend short and bring me back very early on Sunday morning.  Other than that, I remember spending one night at my friend Elizabeth’s house, which was not too far from my house.  I could only stay away from home for several days at a time at my uncle Panchito’s home in Tarará, a beach in the outskirts of Havana. And I remember spending two nights at my uncle Enrique’s apartment in El Vedado. My longest trip ever had been to Cienfuegos, probably a four hour car ride, where I had spent two days visiting my uncle Alfredo. But I had made that trip with my brother Carlos and his wife Maria Antonia.

 

Elena’s story will continue tomorrow.  Elena was my classmate the last year that I attended school in Cuba.  We have recently found each other again fifty years later.

3 comments

  1. I remember being torn between wanting to go to the US and to stay Cuba at the same time. At age 16 I thought I had a choice, and I also thought that if I left there would be no return. Because my 11 year-old brother had to be sent out first, I agreed go be with him. – Your story also reminded me of when my mother and I were looking for a coat and didn’t find one. She was also a great seamstress, but had never tackled a coat. My grandmother had made a couple of men’s blazers and said surely they could do a coat for me. They went searching for some heavy material and the only thing they found was green felt -the kind they put on billiard tables! I came to the US with a heavy, loud green coat that was a burden to me in Florida City, but I wore it gratefully in New Mexico the following year. I think that parts of that green coat are still among my mother’s things … A holy relic I need to find, as my mother’s and my grandmother’s so lovingly made it for me. I had not thought about it in years.

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  2. My mom would go window shopping at El Encanto. If she saw a dress that she liked, she would draw a sketch, make a pattern herself, buy the fabric, and make the dress. So I always wondered, why did she think she could not make a coat? Reading about your mom helps me to understand that coat making requires different skills. I do not know what ever happened to my coat. The only thing that I brought from Cuba that I remember keeping in a drawer for many many years was a red barrette.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story! It warmed my heart and I was moved with compassion for a little girl who had to leave her parents because of the state of her countrY. How brave! I have even now more respect and admiration for Elena!!

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