(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a fictionalized memoir. This is a first draft so I hope you can excuse any typos or imperfections. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty one-years ago. Tomorrow I will post the final chapter. The previous installment can be found HERE. Thanks for reading).
“I heard my father’s voice talking to my Aunt in the kitchen when I first opened my eyes. I stumbled to the bathroom and threw cold water on my face and changed my shirt before joining them. My Aunt had a buttered piece of Cuban bread and a couple of hard-boiled eggs sitting on the counter for me. I couldn’t eat eggs with the kind of night I had. My Dad told her that my Uncle Heriberto was waiting downstairs to go to the cemetery and we didn’t have time for breakfast. My Aunt Eloisa wrapped the bread in a piece of brown paper after she gave me a cup of black coffee to help me wake up. We would take the eggs as a back up on our trip later that morning to San Juan, just in case we didn’t find any food store open on the road. “Go visit your grandfather,” she said, as she handed me the bread.
“When I saw my Uncle Heriberto, he was sitting sideways on the driver side of his car, reading Granma, the official government paper, well the only Cuban paper, really, the door open and his feet resting on the sidewalk. He looked up as we approached and smiled. He folded the newspaper and dropped it over the dashboard and then he pulled himself up holding on to the edge of the door, making a little noise, like his legs were a little stiff from sitting. My Uncle held me close to him and then he called me his ‘dear oldest nephew’ and there was a wistful quality to his words and my Dad said ‘your oldest nephew is an architect, Heriberto,’ in the way my Dad seemed to brag when introducing me to others except that this time his words carried a little more weight as if he was telling his older brother that the decision to take me out of the country — a move that according to stories I had heard, was adamantly opposed by my Uncle Heriberto — had turned out alright.
My Uncle Heriberto and I shared the same December birth date. My Grandma Rosa wanted me to have the same name she had given My Uncle and when my Mom objected they had gotten into an argument about it. Mom won because my Dad supported her position against Grandma. I always thought of Uncle Heriberto on my — our — birthday. I also thought of my friend Paco Beltran on that day. We also shared the same birthday, but with Paco, we had been born on the same year, at the same Hospital. I was planning to see him later in the day in Pinar del Rio. There’s something that binds you to someone that was born the same day as you, even when you don’t see that person for ten years. I wanted to ask my Uncle if he remembered me once a year, but I didn’t want to put him on the spot. Besides, he would probably say that he did.
“Driving to the Colon Cemetery to visit my Grandfather’s grave, sitting in the rear seat as my Uncle showed us the different projects the Revolution was building in the different neighborhoods we crossed — perhaps his way of asserting that his choice of staying and defending the cause had also turned out fine – I was reminded that I had never seen my father and my uncle together. They had both fought against the Batista dictatorship but then they had split along the same political fault lines that had divided the vast number of Cuban families, after the Castro Regime had come to power and made the infamous pronouncement that it was pursuing a communist ideology instead of the return to democratic principles it had promised. I would see Uncle Heriberto at my Grandparent’s, but he had never visited our house again after my Mom and Dad announced that we were leaving for the States.
“But on this somber occasion, under the late morning brilliance of a burning sun, in front of the family mausoleum where my Grandfather laid buried, I saw them come together and I believed that they could bridge, at least temporarily, their two-decade old schism. I saw no recrimination from either one of them, or disagreement or even regret for the different paths their lives had taken but a shared pain for having lost someone dear to them both. And when I tried to escort my father away from the tomb towards the car when his sorrow appeared to be on the verge of overwhelming him, my Uncle Heriberto gently stopped me, telling me that my father needed to unburden his pain, like he had done previously. I saw my Uncle put his arm around my Father’s shoulders then and as they both cried together their hands resting on the stone, I imagined my Grandfather joining them, crying together over the family separation and the terrible loses we all had experienced, and the misery and the absurdity of it all. In my eyes, they ceased being my elders or the communist and the anti-revolutionary, but the sons of a good man, together grieving his absence.
“Driving back to meet Danilo and Aunt Eloisa, Dad and Uncle Heriberto spoke about getting together after we returned from Pinar del Rio for a dinner at my Aunt Maria Rebeca’s. “Mama would love that,” they both said about Grandma Rosa. And the rest of the family could get together, maybe even play a game of dominoes, like in the old days. Just like that, almost twenty years of animosity had faded, at least for the time being, possibly out of respect for the memory of my Grandfather Lino. On that day, Grandpa was more influential than the governing ideology that had done more harm to his family than any other disaster, natural or man made, that had crossed our path.