Old Letters

Irina Echarry

Foto: Caridad

“There’s nothing more delightful than rummaging through drawers, you can find anything,” said my aunt.  And it was true.

Among her things were everything from a silver cigarette case to an ivory necklace, in addition to a scrapbook of religious pictures and a slew of other surprises.

I should add that my aunt didn’t smoke, nor was she so showy as to wear any kind of jewelry. What’s more, her religiosity was limited to hope, which she demonstrated during the Special Period when there was nothing to eat.

It was then that she told us, with the tranquility of her 96 years, “God will provide.”

For anyone here in Cuba, I have no need to explain how much that statement clashed with the anxiety that weighed on us, especially since we knew that no one outside the house could give us anything and we had nowhere to turn.

Nowadays I think back to my aunt whenever I clean my room. I’ll throw away anything I’m not interested in hanging onto and I’ll organize what I want to keep.

That was how I came across the religious pictures that she had entrusted to me so solemnly and that I dared never to destroy.  I also turned up a green buckle that I used to wear as a little girl and some photos of friends of whose whereabouts I now have no idea.

But the most difficult task was selecting from among all my old papers, ones that included information copied from books, almost forgotten telephone numbers, passionate poems and letters – lots of letters.

There were letters from my father when he was in Angola, letters from my grandmother who lived in Cienfuegos, from my mother when she traveled to Eastern Europe, and other more recent ones from friends.

At one time letters were as important as the oxygen we breathed. They became the passageway through which I could connect with the people I loved most.  Many of my friends left, one after the other, and I was stuck on this island having little contact with them.

I received their letters only from time to time. Abel talked about his arrival in Valencia and how he managed to survive. Nena detailed how she started out in Acapulco and then her anguish upon getting to Mexico City and feeling so alone, so completely alone. Juvenal spoke about the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico.

Gloria (the nun who I met at Alliance Française) said goodbye and thanked the Lord for us having met.  Rauly shared his life, the same life as he did while he was here – with sincerity, with love.

The letters shortened distances, every word was a bit of company. But with the passage of time they became scarcer. People began to adjust to their new lives and their new problems, new joys, new friends and new anxieties.

Some continue to communicate via email, others have disappeared without a trace.

Now that I reread the letters, feeling a certain distance (this time distance is measured not in miles, but years), I believe that to recall an epoch in our lives one has to go back to correspondence that was circulating at the time.

I especially love reading letters from people I don’t know but who tell of their adventures and misadventures in other lands.

How many letters are scattered about here, stored in drawers that never open but containing fragments of the history of Cuba, describing those things that we do day after day with our dreams, our commitment, our frustrations?

So many words that would contribute so many different perspectives on these past years.

One thought on “Old Letters

  • Thanks for this story, Irina! Once again, your stories act as a catalyst for my own memory.
    Some years back, while visiting the homestead of my wife’s family, in New Berlin, Pennsylvania, I came across an old packet of letters in a chest-of-drawers. They were an extensive correspondence exchanged between my wife’s great aunt, and a young German she met during her stay in Germany in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s. The letters, which started in 1932 or 1933, go right up ’til the eve of World War II. She died in the late 1950’s. I often wonder what happened to him? Unlikely he survived the War. I imagine him dying in some godforsaken marsh on the Eastern Front. Then again, like Christopher Isherwood’s lover, he might just have survived. I’ll never know!

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