When Celia and Larry met in Cuba in the early 1950s, they immediately fell in love.
At first glance, Larry’s bohemian lifestyle and Celia’s strict and conservative upbringing made it almost impossible to imagine a lasting connection. Larry was a Steinberg. He was Jewish. Celia’s mother was a Capestany. The Capestany were Catholic and had produced along the way their share of mystics and even a nun and a priest.
As if those differences weren’t enough, it seemed the universe endeavored to make their union almost impossible. Larry was a business owner who made and sold lamps in his store in Havana. On his days off he loved to sing in the cabaret circuit, where his voice enchanted many in his audience. Celia was a librarian. In all the years we shared together during my childhood and early adolescence, not once did I ever hear her break into song. She was somewhat shy and abhorred the spotlight, a problem for an upper class young woman who often found herself in the society pages of Havana newspapers. She loved to read, spend time with close friends, and play canasta. She was still living with my grandparents, as single women in my country normally did until they married. And she was fearful of their disapproval.
It was in this impossible framework that their love blossomed. Although it was made clear to her that she would NEVER be allowed to marry Larry, he was tolerated in the family circle on occasion. They settled into a courtship that felt comfortable to them. In order not to upset her parents Celia had Larry ring the telephone once when he wanted her to call him back, which was almost every evening after dinner. They saw each other at the country club, mostly at the Casino Español near a beach house we owned at Club Nautico. This was their story for almost twenty years.
My grandfather died shortly after Fidel Castro’s Revolution. Eventually the family left Cuba and came to Florida. Larry stayed behind in Havana. For two years Celia and Larry wrote to each other faithfully every single day, until finally, having settled his business interests in the island, Larry joined her in Gainesville, Florida.
It was there that they finally married.
Destiny had removed all the obstacles in their paths. Now they were both poor hard working exiles living anonymous lives. My grandfather’s death had softened my grandmother’s edges and exile blurred them to the point that even Larry’s Judaism was invisible to her. And so on a day like any other day, they went to the courthouse and became Mr. and Mrs. Laskar J. Steinberg. They married at 11:30 in the morning. From that day on at 11:30 in the morning when work didn’t keep them apart, Uncle Larry would find Aunt Celia and kiss her gently on the lips and tell her he loved her.
This year I am going to have my seventy third birthday. As I sort through the what to keep and what to let go to make it easier for those whose job it will be to sort what is left, finding their pictures warmed my heart. It dawned on me that Aunt Celia and Uncle Larry’s love story has no one left to tell it, and I couldn’t bear to take it with me. It seems wrong not to leave some vestige of them behind to inspire others for whom love is difficult, others who might come to care just a little for this precious love story after I fade away.
My aunt Celia and my uncle Larry loved my through some difficult times in my life. I loved them through his stroke, the years they spent at the nursing home together, and loved my aunt Celia through the Alzheimers that eventually robbed her of any memory of even Uncle Larry’s name.
When my husband and I went to clean out their home after their admission to the nursing home, we found, pasted on their headboard, a little cardboard heart that read: “Celia y Larry”. Through my tears I understood that there are great love stories that never make it to the pages of a book. That some love stories blossom in the shade of ordinary lives.