There we stood at the entrance, both really in awe that we found this house. Surprisingly quickly. The next logical step was to see who’s home.
Mom knocked and a minute later, there in the doorway, stood a short cuban lady whose family had taken over the residence. My mom introduced herself, explaining that she had lived there as a child but had not been back since. For the purposes of the blog we’ll call her Mari. Mari’s face lit up. They were instant friends as if they had known each other for a lifetime. We were invited in to see the house. It was obvious that she wished the house were in better condition, but that didn’t matter to my mother. My mom told us stories about the house and condition it used to be in. It must have been beautiful, with tall ceilings, exquisite details, and ornamentation. The entrance itself a double door over nine feet tall and worn from old age and layered paint.
We spoke in a side room for a brief time, Mari brought her husband down and introduced us. He was obviously weary of who we were. But this didn’t matter to my mother or Mari. I took note that only some of the rooms had electricity from exposed electrical wires running to lights and sockets. The small room we were in had a computer, something from the late 90s, and it had internet access. This was somewhat surprising to me, as up to this point the only internet access we found was at the big hotels. It was somewhat censored from what I can remember as well.
Soon after some stories exchanged Mari invited us to just walk around freely. My mom moved from room to room telling us stories. We stood in front of the very same stairs that her sister had walked down the day of her wedding. I had grown up seeing this image displayed in my aunt’s house, and now to see it there was so much more impressive even in its deteriorated state. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It was dark and I didn’t want to impose on the hospitality of our new friends by setting up a tripod. There was no real furniture in the house outide of the bedrooms. It seemed that things had been accumulated and stored in the middle of rooms and not moved for a decades. I’m also not sure how they cooked, since the kitchen in it’s entirety had been removed. However I did see that in order to flush the toilet one must use a bucket.
As with many houses that had been vacant from Cubans seeking exile in other countries, my Mom’s house was pretty dilapidated. Families came in from the countryside and took over these homes. This particularly family came and in order to make ends meet they stripped the very home they lived in of anything they could sell. I guess times had to have been very rough for them for some time. Currently they seem to be doing better.
Mom made her way upstairs to the rooms of her sister, her parents, and her own. I could see it was a lot for her to take in, but she soaked it up in a way of remembrance that I don’t think I’ll ever know in my life. We went downstairs and out to the courtyard where the new owners had expanded and put a small domicile in the back. It was a small one or two room place where a person came home to.
We talked and reminisced for some time before Mari offered to show my mom where her old school was. So we walked the path that my mom had done weekdays as a child. Mom told us stories about how she would come home and her grandmother would be there. That’s a great feeling, my grandmother used to live with us as well. Unfortunately, when we came upon the school it had been closed down for an untold amount of years. The gate was open, so we walked around the front and peered in through the windows, stayed for a short time, then walked back.
A few short blocks and we had returned to the old house. The neighbors next door had just come home from running some errands. He was a tall Cuban man in his mid to late fifties and she slightly younger than him. Mari walked up to them and said, “you won’t believe who this is”. The tall Cuban man had a quick look at my mother and said, “Dios mio, you’re the daughter of Mr.Vega, you’re Mayra Vega”. This took everyone by surprise since he was a baby when my mother had left.
Fifty years ago my grandfather was arrested for speaking out about the political regime that had taken over. He escaped and the whole family fled. At the time they thought that the political turmoil would only last several years, then they would return home. So in order to preserve their mementos they passed off the family albums and home videos to their trusted neighbors. Years pass and a curious boy grows up looking at pictures of a family that used to live next door, and he’s struck by the aqua eyes of the little girl in the photos. Present day he finally sees these same eyes and knows instantly who my mother is.
They invite us in for coffee, we sit and talk about how time has passed and how are relatives are. They look for my family’s albums but couldn’t find them. We’ll make a return trip to Cuba, so there was no rush to find them right away. They showed us around their house which was in much better condition. We promised to make a return trip and left them after a series of hugs and photos.