My friend Piti and I were born next door to each other in Cuba and were playmates throughout our childhood.
My aunt Isel López Capestany was our kindergarten teacher. My grandfather, not wanting to see his youngest child work outside the home, continued a tradition of over protectiveness that would only end after his death which was quickly followed by my father’s imprisonment. So with great love, he built her a Kindergarten on the property, and also with great love, he built a second floor that housed the servants’ beautifully appointed rooms. The kindergarten was aunt Isel’s dream come true, and mine!
When the kindergarten students left at noon, Piti and I stayed there and played with the clay and the crayons, we drew on the blackboards and on endless reams of paper, and best of all, we never had to leave our paradise because there was a bathroom there that had toilets just the right size for the kindergartners’ use. If we tired of inside games, we could play on the seesaw, the swings and the slide right outside on the ample property or talk to the hundreds of canaries that my grandfather kept in two huge cages in the yard. Failing that, we could chase the ducks, or sit quietly and eat mangoes from the mango trees that graced the property.
If we decided we were bored, we could go next door to her house, provided that someone was available to accompany us there, in the tradition of over protectiveness already entrenched in the family.
Piti’s house was full of games to play, but our favorite, bar none, was the dollhouse her dad had built for us in her back yard. I say for us, because Piti and I were inseparable and in my heart, her family was an extension of mine.
Piti and I began formal school, pre-primary, at Nuestra Señora de Lourdes school in the suburb of La Víbora in Havana, Cuba. It was there where the duo became a foursome with the addition of Rosita Pulpeiro and Olguita Fuentes. Our hearts became close, and it seems we recognized each other early as safe havens from any storm. Piti’s cousin Angui, our guardian angel, walked us to school every day and watched over us with tenderness and a wonderful sense of humor. Although first I and then Piti left Nuestra Señora de Lourdes to attend American schools and learn English, we all lived in the neighborhood and stayed close.
What a childhood we shared while flowers of all colors surrounded us and the parakeets watched us play our innocent games! But one day the island paradise disappeared in a sea of olive green and we disappeared from one another’s presence fearing we would never find each other again. Yet our hearts never forgot.
Piti and I reunited a few years after we parted from each other in Terre Haute, Indiana, a day I will remember as one of the sweetest days of my life. Her brother Rafi, much younger than us but beloved to both of us, was with her. Seeing her and her father and mother Tita and Felo again was like a dream come true
Eventually a chance encounter at an airport brought Olguita back into our lives, and through her we learned that Rosita had stayed behind in Cuba, her father a member of the communist party. From that day on, through phone calls, snail mail, and eventually email, the four of us and Angui, our Angel, have kept in close touch.
Things have not been easy for Rosita in Cuba and she had tried to leave the country with no success. Although she has a Spanish passport and claims her Spanish citizenship, she remains at the mercy of the whims of a mad hatter leader. So the rest of us decided, acknowledging our powerlessness, that even though we are scattered through this great land, we would offer a prayer at noon EST for our Rosita, so that someday we would see one another again.
This week our prayers were answered. Rosita, whose son lives in Miami, will arrive there the last week of April. All of us, Piti, Olguita, Angui, and I, will fly or drive to Miami to make this dream come true, in a testament to the love of children and the power of prayer, to honor our friendship that continues to be a constant in all of our lives. I wake up every morning now in disbelief and anticipation, and gratitude. Over half a century later, without the kindergarten, without the seesaw, without anyone left to overprotect us or protect us, we will be with one another again in the shadow memory of everything that was.