Happy Birthday, Dad. Still missing you, man!

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Author’s Note: I published this entry on my father’s birthday for the first time in 2009. I still miss him and not only on his birthday, so I post it again today. This is the one post that gets picked up most by search engines. Other folks who missed their departed dads come here to read about mine. If you’re reading this, I wish that you were as lucky as I was in having known someone like my dad Gilberto. Blessings to yours and mine.

If my Dad was alive, today would have been his 81st birthday.  He died in a car accident in Cuba in 1979. He was 47 years old.  I almost died with him.

On a day like today, I am remembering his courage and his grace.

I would love to tell you a little bit about both.

We were in Cuba visiting the family we had left behind a decade earlier.  Ours was one of the first groups to travel back to Cuba under the Family Reunification Act.  This was a recent agreement of the Cuban and American governments that allowed family members living in the US the opportunity to visit relatives on the island.

Like a lot of Cuban families, ours had been split along political lines.  After supporting the Revolution from its infancy, my Dad broke with it in the early Sixties.  He felt the original promises of the Revolution — a return to democracy after Batista, with the Constitution of 1940 as guide — had been betrayed.  He called the Castro gang the real counter-revolutionaries.  After the nationalization of private property — including my Dad’s humble-single pump Sinclair station — and the declaration by Castro that communism, not democracy, was the future for Cuba, Dad filed the necessary paperwork for our family to emigrate to this country.  I can only imagine the pain Dad must have felt leaving his family and friends behind to move to a country that spoke a different language and lived a different culture.  He was only allowed to take with him the clothes he was wearing.

About a quarter of my family did the same thing.  The other three quarters stayed behind with different degrees of involvement in the Castro government.  Some close relatives, believers in and defenders of the Revolution, were high up in governmental circles.  I loved these people as much as I loved the ones that made it across the Florida Straits.  My Dad taught me that.  I never heard him say one negative, unloving thing about any family member that had chosen differently than him.  He had a big, accepting heart.

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Unintended Benefits of the Current Recession

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(Author’s note: When I wrote this piece, originally posted here on February, 2010, my financial situation was dire. It was the same — and, sadly it still is — for millions of Americans. I have been employed for over a year, and things have improved a great deal. I have a lot of gratitude for the change in circumstances and I thought of reposting this piece to spread a little hope and encouragement for anyone still struggling. Remember, don’t give up before the miracle).

It has been almost two years since I decided to close my six year-old business because the economic realities were all pointing in one direction: downward. At the end of the line, I felt about my business as I felt at the end of my previous marriage: sad, disappointed and frustrated but I was convinced that I had done all that I could to save them both. It just had not worked. On both instances, when I walked away, I felt that I was not going to look back, except occasionally, to see if there was something to be learned that would help me navigate the current waters.

I make it a habit of not complaining about my situation because I know that there are so many more families that face equal or worst problems than mine. Besides complaining never got me anything, unless I was dealing with Costumer Service at a department store, and even then…

What I have tried to do instead is look for the silver lining — not in a pollyannish, but a practical way — in this economic Waterloo.

Silver Lining in the current recession

I’ve come up with some evidence of silver. I would love to share it in the hope that it might help some of you deal with your own storm clouds. I know that it will certainly help me to talk about it as I move forward.

I never suspected, when I closed the doors to my business, that I would be almost two years without employment and that I would be facing the dire financial difficulties I have faced.

I’ve heard the expression “Every cloud has a silver lining” a thousand times and I’ve never looked up its meaning or origin until I sat down to write this. According to Wikipedia:

The origin of the phrase is traced to John Milton’s Comus (1634) with the lines, “Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?”

I am not going to talk much about the cloud part of the expression because I don’t want to bore anybody. Besides, we all have our own misery quota. I want to talk about the silver lining component instead, as I have come to understand it.

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A Stroll Up Memory Road: Fireflies in the Garden

Image via Wikimedia Commons: "Gluehwuermchen Im Wald" by Quit007 ©2010. Some Rights Reserved

As an adult, I lived in three different houses on one block of Mountain Road. Four, if you count the apartment I shared with my second wife. I now live about a half a mile from there. Most days, particularly in the warmer months, my walking route takes me around these former residences. My emotional relationship to these places vary from the insignificant to the life altering, but because I see them so often, these connections tend to stay in the back of the memory bank. They’ve become part of the background scenery.

These are some of them: my daughter was born on one of these addresses; I lived across the street when I graduated from college; my family had a small garment business in an industrial building — now converted to condos — at the beginning of the street; I faced a “dark night of the soul” at another one of the residences at the end of the Road and lived to see the morning light. That was two and a half decades ago. I also see the house where I last saw my father alive, in a cold day in February, thirty years ago. This house, overlooking the Island of Manhattan and the Hudson River, is vacant. It waits, along with a few of the neighboring properties, a rebirth by redevelopment into high-end housing units. Continue reading

My Dad’s 1962 Chevy

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1962 Chevy image

(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a fictionalized memoir I hope to complete this year — if it doesn’t kill me first. This is a first draft so I hope you can excuse any typos or imperfections).

“What’s the matter? Why did you stop in mid-sentence?”

“I don’t know why I’m talking so much. I sound like a crazy person.”

“It’s understandable. I like listening to your story. I have a chance to catch up with your life for the last ten years. So, please go on.”

“Well, if you start feeling dizzy from me talking too much, tell me to shut up. After the trip was over, if Dad missed California and his cousins, he never mentioned it, but he did miss the car that we left behind. Dad had wanted to drive us to New Jersey. We had a 1962 Chevy Impala — by then it was like eight years old — but he thought it was a great car. Lando had to talk him out of it, telling him that if it broke down somewhere, it would cost us a hell of a lot more to tow it and repair it in the middle of nowhere. Well, I think that Dad was glad that he had listened to Lando when he saw the desert that first night, because it looked so damn scary. I am sure that it crossed his mind, breaking down there. It would have made Mom absolutely crazy. I think it would have been hell for all of us. My poor old man. He did get a chance to drive an Impala across the country years later, though. This was a Chevy they bought brand new, with their savings and their credit. It was avocado green with a beige top that was the love of his life. He thought Chevrolet made the best cars in the world. We drove down to Miami from New Jersey to see family and friends. It was Seventy Four or Seventy Five, I don’t know for sure. It was Mom, Dad, Elena and Sonia my girlfriend. Dad even let me drive parts of the way….”

“Why are you smiling?”

“I just remember something about that trip that was funny.”

“What? Tell me.”

“You can take the peasant out of the countryside but you can’t take the countryside out of the peasant. Mom insisted on cooking pork chunks to take on the road the day before we were to travel south. I don’t know if she thought there would be no food joint open between Union City and Miami but she brought, along with her espresso maker, the pork chunks in the oil in a pot and she stored it in the trunk, neatly packed next to our bags and all the crap we were taking for our vacation.

“Well, we were driving along, happy as can be but the smell of frying pork was trailing us from state to state and we couldn’t figure out why the smell was so strong. So in one of those rest-stops that they have on the highways over there, Dad popped the trunk just to see what was going on. When I saw him shaking his head, I knew something was wrong. The summer sun hitting the car for hours at a time most have sent the temperature inside the trunk to a thousand degrees because it made the oil hotter than a deep frier. It splashed oil over everything. Dad was furious about the mess and we spent an hour cleaning the car. We did eat the pork in the rest-stop with Cuban bread and Coca Colas but the aroma inside the car, that followed us all the way to Miami.

—Image: My 1962 Chevy 283 engine with stick shift in front of 11430 S. Yale 1961 © 2010 by James Voves. Please visit his Flickr Page

Everything Changed Then

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(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a fictionalized memoir. This is the final scene in this chapter. These are the most difficult words I’ve ever written. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty one-years ago. The 1,800 + paragraph without a break is no accident. It felt as if I wrote it without breathing. The previous installments can be found HERE, HERE and HERE. Thanks for reading).

“The drive west to San Juan y Martinez would normally take a little over two hours. It lasted a lot longer. At times I feel that I am still driving the Carretera Central, the distances measured in inches not kilometers, its stretches and turns, holding, but refusing to release, the answers to the central questions of my life, the original destination continuing to elude me. Continue reading

Visiting Grandpa

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(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.

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