Haydecita came into my life when I was in second grade. A mischievous grin, beautiful brown eyes and a heart of gold, we became fast friends quickly. She was one of four children, I an only. I loved going to her house where we would play duets on her piano, swing on the indoor swing set, and sometimes swim in the pool. And we would eat raw oysters every chance we got. She in turn, enjoyed coming to my house, an old and beautiful house where we played every game imaginable, sometimes joined by my beloved next door neighbor Piti.
When we were in third grade Haydecita and I learned to say the Catholic Mass in Latin. Both of us enamored of our Jesus, devout little girls who wanted to become priests….
My family accommodated our devotion. They would sit through the Holy Mass with rapt expressions, as if the house had become a church and their chairs faced the altar. “Dominus Boviscum” we would say, and they would answer “Et cum spiritu tuo”. For many members of my family it was the only time they attended church. Although we were NOT priests, I like to think that our devotion took their souls to a good place.
By far our favorite thing about her visits to my house were the times we spent with my grandmother, my Abuela. From the time they met, Abuela loved Haydecita. And Haydecita loved Abuela. I was never jealous of that love for when the three of us were together it seemed Abuela and I were closer. Abuela loved to sew, knit and embroider. In my friend she found a kindred soul for unlike me, her flesh and blood who much preferred her bikes and skates and books, Haydecita wanted nothing more than to learn everything that Abuela wanted to teach her. And teach her she did. At almost every visit for the next few years we would spend time with Abuela sewing, knitting, embroidering. I would get bored long before she did but I treasured the oneness of our threesome and so stayed. We shared so much over those years, trips to historical places in our Cuba, trips to her farm, to the beach, but the times with Abuela were really special.
Not long after the arrival of Fidel, Haydecita disappeared from my life without warning. We lost each other. When I arrived in Miami Haydecita was in boarding school back East and soon I was in boarding school in California. Back in the days before email and when long distance calls were not affordable we had no chance to keep in touch.
Over a year ago by magic we found one another again. By Grace she was to be in Seattle for a workshop. She asked me to join her there. After fifty years we reunited for a weekend together. I took the train, a three hour ride , then a half hour cab ride to the hotel where we were to share a room. Almost strangers now yet drawn to each other by the memories of Latin Masses, school, our Cuba….and Abuela. I hoped I would recognize her for we had not shared grown up pictures in our emails. What would she be like? I lingered in the cab talking to the driver, a young exile from Nigeria who wants to become a writer. Haydecita was waiting just yards away, out of my sight. Fifty years. I could hear my heart beat in my ears. Every step was a step into my past, every step a step into the future. Would there be a future for our friendship? Were we crazy to come together in such close quarters for a weekend after half a century?
Stepping through the door of the hotel I looked around and saw her looking at me. Our faces weren’t that different from the children we had been. Our embrace was genuine. Our eyes met and the years fell away. We dined at a Cuban restaurant in Seattle, steeped in conversation, enjoying the food of our childhood in communion. From the first few minutes there was this quiet and sacred connection, as we found that different and sometimes arduous roads had brought us to similar spaces. Sacred spaces that we cherish.
Again, Grace brought her back to the West Coast, this time for a workshop in Portland, 23 miles away! And do you know what she brought with her? Supplies to teach my then eight year old twin granddaughters how to embroider. A “J” for Jamie and and “E” for Erin. The girls struggled to learn this new art as their own grandmother had, but my friend patiently taught them what to do. I watched as I felt Abuela’s spirit surrounding us in the room, not doubting for a moment she was there watching as her favorite pupil gifted her great granddaughters with the craft she had loved. My heart filled with memories of Cuba, of Abuela, of Haydecita and I with our needles and threads…my friend was here. She was here with me, as was Abuela, and we were surrounded by love while making new memories.
This has been a difficult year for me.. Haydecita and I keep in touch through email and occasional phone calls. Our souls are never far away. Tonight, as I was getting ready for some quiet time and tough decision making, my husband brought a little package from the mailbox; a little package from New York. In it was a pair of socks. Not just any socks. Socks Haydecita made for me that look and feel like love. Every perfect stitch speaks of quiet times with Abuela, of shared memories past and present, of precious friendship, of her love for God and for excellence in all she does. She sends me warmth for my feet because she sees my heart already warm. My heart is so much warmer now as I sit here with my new red socks on. My beautiful and perfect red socks full of Dominus Boviscums, and Et Cum Spiritu Tuos, memories of a mischievous grin and a myriad of adventures, of a land that saw us grow, and a woman who loved us both.
Note: Haydecita’s son Mark VonSternberg, produced and directed his first film called Love Simple. It is very good. Find it. Watch it. It will touch your heart.