Cuba on My Mind
While Catalina recalls her teenage years in Batista’s Cuba, on the verge of Castro’s revolution, her grandson, Wayne Olaf, listens. Wayne is undergoing his own minor revolution against his parents, especially his mother, Catalina’s daughter. Catalina encourages Wayne to forge his own way: after all, he is the namesake of her dead husband, his grandfather. Together, Wayne and Catalina traverse fields of time to come to new insights.
ISBN: 978-1-60489-063-1 Trade paper $17.95 Sale $9.00
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I was born in Banes, Cuba 1935. My father, William Howard Cameron was Scot; my mother, Angela Martinez, was Cuban. My father worked for United Fruit Company growing sugar cane.
I went to high school in Louisiana and married Carl T. Wainwright in 1953. Between five children and work, I managed to get a B.A. in Education from Southeastern Louisiana University. My husband died in 1990 (cancer) the lowest point in my life. Writing has always been my hobby. In a crazy household, it helped maintain my sanity. Until now I never tried to publish anything because I didn't want a hobby to become a second job, although I did write 'Travelin,' articles from travelers around the world, including some of my own travels, for the Hammond Daily Star for 5 years. Solar Today, Inside Northside, Christian Science Monitor, and Chicago Tribune have also published articles I wrote.
The big hand clutching mine had warm fingers. Why black grime under the nails? Mud from the cane fields stained red. And the gasoline smell—diesel, maybe? I raised my eyes and looked into a distant yet familiar face, wrinkles and creases erased, the skin smooth; the deep cleft in the chin still there. Who was this man with a red halo bending over my bed? Not my Olaf. My Olaf smelled of field sweat, dark circles under the armpits. He came inside seeking shelter from the tropical heat and stifling humidity. This place was cold.
“Who are you?”
The man released my hand and carefully straightened my arm as though his grasp could break my fragile bones. “I’m your grandson. I’m here for your birthday party Sunday, the big seven-o.”
The deep, rumbling voice halted my sliding mind and drew me back to now, to here, to the bed where I lay dying. “You’re little Olaf?” He’d sprouted a red beard and a mustache. He looked so much like his grandfather!
“Everybody calls me Wayne, Gramma. You’re the only one calls me Olaf, but that’s okay.”
“You’re here for my birthday? Is it August?”
“You do remember things! Mom said you forgot a lot. You were going to tell me about Cuba before I went back to school, remember that?”
Oh, yes—he wanted my story before he returned to Tulane next week, or was it next month? Time slipped like water through the fingers.
I was propped on a white cloud, pillow cases monogrammed with my daughter’s initials, kKv. The sheets on the antique four-poster bed were tangled like frothy white waves. I was surrounded by life savers— oxygen tank, IV, needles, bottles, vials, and an aggravating home care specialist named Surviva.
My grandson had wanted me to take him to Oriente Province, to Banes, the mountain village where I was born, but we never got there. The United States didn’t allow travel to Cuba. A visitor had to slip in illegally through Mexico, Canada, Haiti or any nearby island. I was afraid to do that. Too many of my relatives and friends ended their lives in dungeons, the lucky ones in exile. Presently, there was no way I could travel to Cuba or anywhere else for that matter.
Since I was never going back, Olaf thought I should record my history, connect my past to his present and give my life permanence. Future generations hearing my voice on tape would become excited as though they’d discovered hieroglyphs carved on an ancient cave wall.
I didn’t want to disappoint my grandson. He’d spent time with me these past days. We’d gotten to know each other better—bonding— as they said now. To be frank, I’d lost track of Olaf. We lived a thousand miles apart, visited sporadically—vacations, Christmas, sometimes Thanksgiving. He was no longer the little boy I remembered.
“C’mon,” he prodded. “You know you can do this. Do it for me. We’re going to Cuba—” he gently rubbed my arm—“one day soon.”
Remembering was a chore. When I boarded the ship my childhood years sank into the sea. Could I revive drowned memories? In thought resuscitate the dead? Breathe life into the watery graves of those who were no more? I’d never been one to look over my shoulder. Even now, I looked ahead, anxious to be on my way and reunited with my love.
“If you really want to know—Castro is dying and I’m not far behind and I have lingering thoughts of the island floating like a crusty green crocodile on a blue sea. Why do I call it a crocodile? Go bring me the map, I’ll show you, but it’s more than the shape, you know. It’s all that scaly green—green hills and forests and palm trees waving in the wind—deceptive tropical paradise, slumbering, so docile one never suspected it could grumble, open up big jaws and swallow a way of life.”
Olaf left the room and returned with a world globe and a tape recorder. “I’m back, Gramma. Can you hear me?”
“Don’t exhaust her,” my daughter said.
Good daughter…good mother…how did I end up here—in this house?—in this room?
“Rehab hospital,” James had said. “That’s where your mother needs to be.”
“No,” replied Katherine. “She doesn’t belong there. She’s too far gone.”
“Extended care, then—”
“James, please. She’s my mother.”
“Assisted living? We can pay for that.”
“I want her here, with me.”
Riding in the car’s back seat from the airport to the house, eyes closed, my daughter and son-in-law assumed I was either asleep or deaf. But I heard them, heard the arguing and understood my intrusion into their orderly life. James wasn’t keen on having his dying mother-in-law taking up space, not to mention Katherine’s valuable time. He didn’t tolerate disruptions well. That’s why my previous visits had always been short ones.
A dying person changed the tenor of a house, demanded full attention. Death hung like pallor over every room, silent spaces, contrived quiet. Death bleached the color from life, turned the world a dismal gray. Laughing would’ve been a relief, but finding anything funny in death would’ve mortified Katherine. Her intensity left no room for humor, not to mention that absurd hilarity would give James a ready excuse to ship me to a loony bin.
Living in my daughter’s house, in her care, at her mercy, I had to be careful, watchful—no telling what little nothing would trigger her hormones or James’s wrath. A shiver went through my rusty old bones.
“Are you cold, Mama?” Katherine asked.
The August heat in New Orleans was stifling, yet I was always cold. Katherine’s handyman had climbed a ladder and closed the bedroom ceiling vents. The central cooling unit ran constantly. In the night’s dark and heavy stillness, unable to sleep, instead of sheep I counted the shudders that sent cold blasts through the house followed by the quick vibrations as the unit reached its peak and cut off.
I motioned Olaf to come closer. My memory was faulty. Life was a confusing voyage. Some events stood out and others blurred. I would tell Olaf things I remembered. They might be true or maybe I dreamed them.