By Osmel Almaguer
My paternal grandmother’s name is Lucila, and my now-deceased grandfather was named Juan. They had six children: my father, two aunts and three uncles, though I don’t know the names of the latter because the ties with my family in Holguin Province are very weak.
What I do know about them I owe to my father, who occasionally after dinner talks about his childhood in the neighborhood where he was born. Most of what he mentions are references to his father, who would take my dad by the hand and bring him along on walks to neighboring towns during Grandpa Juan’s drinking binges.
That was my grandfather’s undoing. For having sold his piece of inherited earth, and having drunk so much rum and liquor, he was left penniless.
Since work in that area was scarce, my grandfather – who also lacked any real interest in earning a living with his own sweat – never found a job, which was why there was almost never anything to eat in the house.
My grandmother allowed Juan to take my father out into the world with the hope that somebody might at least give him a mouthful of food. My father said he would look at her and wonder how a mother could let someone take their son just like that, knowing that on those trips he would be exposed to hoodlums, hunger and having to sleep in some sugarcane fields under the rain.
Someone could have abducted him or done anything they wanted to do with him without my grandfather ever knowing about it, as he would have been wasted by his most recent bout with drinking.
When Juan woke up, he would again take my father by the hand and continue on their journey. This was how the early years of his life were spent. All, or almost all of them were like this, because Grandpa Juan would sometimes run into some acquaintance who would ask for my father as a gift, and he – being so carefree – would always give him to them.
Sometimes my father would end up at a home where he was respected and liked. In these places he was cared for to the extent that the poverty of the place allowed. Generally the families were so poor that it was all just the same sharing their hunger with him and fifteen or sixteen other people.
So much misery was due to the area being an unproductive plateau located between several foreign-owned sugarcane plantations. Not even sweet potatoes grew there, but such places were the only places left for peasants in those days.