By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – It was 1980. There had been two years of talks between the Cuban Government and a group of emigres.
The dictator had made the condition that he would only talk to emigres who didn’t belong to opposition groups. A controversial dialogue that allowed many to come back to Cuba and visit their families.
Yup, the Cuban regime has always claimed the ability to dictate who enters and leaves Cuba, a flagrant violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Well, anyway, I was 5 years old when some relatives of my maternal grandfather were able to come back and visit Cuba, in 1980. I guess that after being in Havana they decided to spend a day in the countryside and see their cousin.
I have quite a worn photo from that time, a picture that is now one of my most sacred possessions.
In it you can see my grandparents, two aunts, my uncle, my mother, a cousin and myself, the youngest. A few days ago, I was looking at it and it stirred up all kinds of memories.
I remembered stories about the 1950s, when my family lived in Marianao, Havana. When they belonged to a middle class, in a country under a dictatorship, but with future prospects, far from thinking that the future might be a lot worse.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve seen photos of a large house, a young man and I guess his wife and small children.
Photos of birthdays with the typical tiered cake surrounded by Coca-Cola bottles and men wearing suits or guayaberas and women wearing dresses, in a large mosaic room, surrounded by old pieces of furniture in the middle, not anything luxurious, but with an elegance that divulge a comfortable life.
They were to lose everything in the next few years. Especially when they decided to emigrate to the US. Those relatives helped them out, but the social climate was really tense, repressive acts were the order of the day and they chose to live out their last few months in Cuba in the countryside, calmly, far from informers they knew and closer to my grandmother’s relatives, until they were able to ensure their departure.
They were so sure…
But because nothing is certain in life, everything fell through and they had no other choice but to adapt to the new reality that befell them like an earthquake, the kind that nobody sees coming.
That’s how my grandfather, a city man and man of the world, found himself in a large house, but made of wood and tiles, in the middle of the countryside.
My grandfather was very skilled and had a strong character. After cleaning away a load of weeds, he created his Eden, within a 50-meter radius.
He built a well that never ran dry, he planted a banana tree, a coffee plantation, malanga, avocadoes, mangoes, canistel, coconut trees, guavas, lemons, custard apples, soursops, oranges, and even grapefruit. A real paradise.
When pretty much no one in the neighborhood had a TV or fridge-freezer, we had all of this at home and our closest neighbors would bring bottles of water to turn them into ice, so they could drink cold water. Some neighbors who were fans of soap operas would come to visit us at nighttime to watch the telenovela at the time.
My grandfather was a cultured man, despite not having studied at university. I learned a lot from him, especially his love for books.
I remember his routine: Hard work in the morning, he would have a long shower at noon, eat lunch, have a half-hour nap and then read.
He had almost all of the classics of universal literature in his little library. Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of la Mancha, books by Julio Verne, adventure stories by Emilio Salgary, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, and even History and Science books, well… hundreds of books.
He was also a very seductive man; women fell in love with him and men ended up hypnotized or resentful of his personality. Despite being a former businessman who became an unusual farmer, he dressed impeccably, always neat, eloquent and with a body language that showed off his power and masculinity.
But he also had his dark side. He always had a harem of women around his life, and he made a martyr out of my grandmother, a young and attractive woman who aged prematurely after 30 because of her nerves and heartache.
This grandmother is the person I loved the most in the entire world until my daughter came along.
A respectable wife if you’ve ever seen one who was never with a man that wasn’t her husband, she didn’t do the slightest thing that could be turned into gossip on sharp tongues.
There is a very famous anecdote in our family. My grandfather had been living with a lover for three years, separated from my grandmother. Three years in which some men dared to pay her a compliment or try and get close to her to win her over and this young woman, who was a 20-something olive-skinned woman, very easy on the eyes, told them “I’m not interested, I have a husband.”
One of them said, “you’ve been separated for three years,” to which she responded, “It doesn’t matter, he’s still my husband and the only man I’m interested in.”
Many people would condemn her today, rightfully or wrongfully, especially women, but it’s a source of pride for her grandson, yours truly.
A woman who fought during the toughest years of the so-called “Special Period” and went to Havana to buy products and then would exchange them for rice and other food in a distant rice growing town, because money wasn’t worth anything, less than now, and it’s only for that reason that nobody in this household ever went hungry.
A sociable and helpful woman, but introverted about her pain because she never complained, even when one of the hardest blow’s was my uncle Dominguito becoming disabled after a car accident in 1984, when he was just 24 years old, and having lost her eldest son in 1969.
A loving grandmother who spoiled her grandchildren like any Cuban grandmother.
Back in the days of my compulsory military service, I ran away because I’ve always been a bit rebellious. She got a meeting with the chief of the military unit and begged him not to rest arrest me.
We three grandchildren were her life. The two of us in this photograph and Danuski (yes, I know, my aunt Marlen really lost it with this Russian name) born in 1983, the best of all of us, the one who moves you the most with his nobility and intelligence.
Like I wrote before, in this photo you can see my grandparents, two aunts, my uncle, my mother, a cousin and myself, the youngest, almost blonde, with my preschool uniform, and the camera clicked right as I was itching an eye.
Only my younger aunt, my cousin and I are still alive today.
Nobody emigrated, they all died here. Of that time, all we have today are memories and nostalgia.