I’m in Miami, at my grandparent’s house, lying on an air mattress that I’m sharing with my sister, who, only 5 minutes before, had gotten up to get ready for her flight. We slept in the kitchen because all of the other couches and rooms were taken the night before. I turn my head to the left and catch a glimpse of the sun peeking in through the patio door. I let my eyes focus on each of the decorations hanging on a little strip of wall above the round glass table: ceramic houses crafted and painted by hand, with beautiful detailing. I remember looking up at them as a child and thinking, “I want my house to look like that one day.”
There’s an energy in the space that makes me smile. If the walls could talk, they would tell about the amount of life that has been lived within them. They’d share about the countless parties and get-togethers; the holidays and the birthdays celebrated; the laughs, tears, and loud voices (because Cubans only have one volume). They’d even tell the story of how the house became a family fortress when hurricane Andrew pounded our shores.
As I lay there, I realized that there were parts of my childhood with which I had lost touch. Aspects of it eluded me, becoming more like a faint hint of a past life, something that occurred a long, long time ago. I’ve been able to recall periods of time in bulk, but specific memories have felt more difficult to access.
From 1990 to 1996, we lived in Miami. My sister was born there and, a month and a half later, we moved to Argentina.
The general feeling that has remained with me from that six-year period is that I was happy and surrounded by my mom’s family, but that’s about the extent of it. My fascination with Argentina and with my dad’s side has kept me entertained for many years. Our move to Buenos Aires in 1996 pretty much defined and foreshadowed a key, future era of my life, leaving all else that was lived prior to that time almost out of the picture.
All of that changed last weekend, however, when I flew to Miami to attend my grandmother’s funeral. I’ve been back many times before, but, unfortunately, there’s nothing like losing a loved one to remind us to be fully present and appreciate what we have, while also grounding us in the memories we created with them.
Lying on the air mattress, as I delayed the start of what would be an emotionally tough day (the burial was taking place a few hours later), I once again felt enveloped by the immense love with which I had been surrounded as a child in that home. In addition to feeling my grandmother’s presence, I also felt my grandfather there in a very, very strong way. He passed away when I was 10, and while I’ve missed him every day since, it had been a long time since I could feel him with me.
The night before, we had stayed up looking through old boxes of photographs, from which I could not peel myself away. There were photos of my grandmother in Havana, Cuba in the 1930s and 40s; gorgeous photos of her wedding day with my grandfather, who could not have looked any more handsome; photos of my mom and her siblings as babies, kids, teenagers, and young adults; and photos of us grandchildren, so many of them, because we have always been adored. We even found photos of my great-grandmother as a child; those are now between 96 and 103 years old.
Later that night and the next day, we poured over more photographs and shared the memories that they each inspired. I was once again hugging and running around with the inflatable Easter bunny that was taller than me. My brother and I were swinging on the hammock in the patio with my grandfather, who agreed to let us stick large, colorful gift bows on his forehead. My grandmother was wearing her signature, oversized, slightly ridiculous (but still fashionable) 1980s glasses. My aunt’s latest hairdo made her look like a female David Bowie. And my little cousin was struggling to hold up my chunky baby sister. I heard stories from my mom and her siblings that made me laugh so hard that tears were unavoidable from the sheer joy of it all.
It all started coming back to me. I began to feel reconnected. It was as if the space itself was filled to the brim with these gold nuggets of a past that was very much still alive, well, and present. We were the vehicles that made each memory come alive every time a story poured out of us. It was a magical experience, despite the sad circumstances.
To this day, my grandparent’s house is the only house that has remained a constant throughout my life, and that’s important to me, because I like attaching meaning to physical spaces. Although we reunited with the purpose of saying goodbye to abuela, one of the pillars of our family, I also sense that both my grandfather and her wanted us together to remind us that their love is very much still present and alive within and all around us, and that one way of making it known is through sharing our stories about them.
May we continue to share them, always.
Photo by: Unknown / Mexico