Fidel Castro died, and I wanted to tell my mother. You know, she’s dead, too, and whether the Castro news is important to her now, I don’t know. But it would have been important if she’d been alive because she saw his tanks roll into Cuba and destroy her island fantasy.
Single, childless and 30-years-old, my mother planned to move to Cuba. She was serious about it. She worked for a glass factory that was building a plant there. Mom was learning Spanish to prepare. She loved the tropics. Palm tree fronds wafting in the wind. The warm sun on her face.
In Atlanta, she’d met an airman before her visit to Cuba in 1958, the year before Castro came to power. Smitten, he’d written her that spring, and I found the letter years ago. It reads: “I hope that ‘police action’ in Havana didn’t interfere too awful much with your planned ‘siesta.’”
That airman became my father. Castro’s takeover forced American businesses out of Cuba. Instead of moving there, my mother married the man who became my dad.
I’ve heard her stories about Cuba. I wish I’d asked questions, gotten more details. Perhaps I thought I had forever to hear her stories. I only know she saw Castro’s tanks before she left the island. I imagine she was pretty spooked.
I’ve seen the photos, too. They take up two pages of my parents’ photo album. There are no tanks, only youthful pleasures. In them, my mother lolls around a beach with a girlfriend and then poses by a stand of palm trees. She looks as happy as I’ve ever seen her.
Last year, I was cleaning out my parents’ home, a process that’s taking years, when I decided to closely examine a ruby red stirring stick in a dining room buffet drawer. I held it by the busty mermaid perched at the top and read the stem with the help of a magnifying glass.
“Copacabana Hotel. Havana, Cuba.”
I smiled. I now knew why this object was in my parents’ home. It was a keepsake of my mother’s. A reminder of a happy time. I felt connected to Mom and to the place she loved.
As history unfolds on a worldwide stage where dictators move people around like pawns on a chessboard, I grasp at the little details of another history – of my mom’s. And I feel connected. That takes the edge off my grief. She’s here with me – smiling.
What historic events have made you feel connected to your parents? Can you embrace a happy time in their lives to help you manage the sorrow over their loss?
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