By Fabiana del Valle
HAVANA TIMES – I remember a poem a wrote a while ago. It was born on a day when nostalgia took me by surprise, searching through the drawers where we keep old photos and documents.
In a plastic bag, I found the property certificate of that tape recorder that was stolen from us in 1999; the prescription the doctor wrote when my brother had pneumonia; a diploma that my father was given for taking part in a science and technical forum; and a battered piece of paper with my grades in first grade.
Documents that my mother treasures. Her and her habit of keeping everything! Her and her fear of forgetting! But it was the photos that captured my attention for hours, lost in the past.
I was able to see my grandparents with all of their twelve children together. This only happened once a year when my two aunts who live in Miami came to visit. “The aunties” as we called them, would come bearing many gifts. They would bring us candy and chewing gum!
My brother and I were born in the ‘80s, so when the Special Period took a hold of us in 1991, we were still very little.
My mother would make us candy by melting sugar, and we would improvise chewing gum with Damson plums and toothpaste. This is why the arrival of “the aunties” was a party, for the youngest of us.
On the other hand, my grandparents enjoyed the chance to see this great family that they had built together, and that ended up being separated in 1979 when two of their daughters left.
I’m with my parents in another one of the photos. My mother would sew my shoes when I was 8 years old. She’d use fabric for the upper part and the inner tube of a tractor wheel for the sole.
She set up a small business doing that. Sewing shoes, she helped my father, who could barely feed us all with his meager salary.
The reality is that I had shoes in lots of different colors and I really liked them. The problem was when it rained, and I had to do a juggling act so as not to get my feet wet with my improvised footwear.
My cousins and I posing with our loose and shiny locks. Thanks to the wonders of Cuban homemade techniques at the time, soap and bitter orange juice to rinse it out.
My slim brother and his wild hair, my father with his black moustache, my smiling grandmother, my grandfather walking around the farm, my cousin on a horse, my aunts and uncles sitting at the table.
Everything is a lot easier in the eyes of a child. In spite of shortages, and all of the things that threatened my innocence, I was happy.
At least once a year, I could run around in the fields with my cousins, see my mother smile and enjoy singing songs, because the husband of one of my aunts would bring his guitar and everyone would begin to improvise.
I’m with my cousins in one of the snapshots. Stuck in time, in the innocence that only an 11-year-old face can express.
My family is a lot smaller today, without my grandparents and its guide. My cousins don’t meet up like they used to. We have our own families and problems to deal with. An ocean separates many of us and we share the memory of these old photos from opposite shores.