In 1963 a few weeks before my family left Cuba, soldiers came to our house and took inventory of all our belongings. Everything my parents owned was confiscated by the government.
The day we left Cuba, mother packed a few family pictures in her luggage. They were torn and thrown in the trash in front of us by Cuban soldiers just before we boarded the plane for Spain.
Eventually, all my aunts left Cuba and my grandparent’s house became storage for all the sentimental things no one could part with. When my grandmother left Cuba, the Cuban government confiscated her house.
Having no one in Cuba to leave those items with, my grandmother and aunt made a bonfire in the backyard and burned everything. As they stood watching all the family memories go up in flames, my grandmother said they both cried.
I’m always cleaning out my closets and giving things away. However, neatly packed and labeled in large storage boxes are items that I will never part with. These things have no value except to me because they remind me of special moments in my life.
I can’t imagine walking out of my house and leaving behind all the sentimental items I’ve saved through the years. The outfit I wore when I left Cuba, and the doll I carried that day. A small wooden treasure box my father brought me from his first business trip to New York.
The baby-doll clothing my mother made for me our first Christmas in the U.S. The first gift my brother bought me with his own money, a windup alarm clock that plays the theme to Love Story.
Hanging in a bag in the corner of my closet is the outfit I wore on my first date with my husband. I also have a miniature bottle of Calandre perfume he gave me on our second date. The fragrance that lingers in the empty bottle always reminds me of the summer we fell in love.
If I could have rummaged through my grandparent’s attic, I would have looked for the old phonograph they had out in the ranch. The one my grandfather Pedro would crank up every night after dinner and then dance to with my mother and her sisters. I would search for pictures of my mother as a little girl, which I’ve never seen.
I would look for items that belonged to my grandparents like the safari helmet my grandfather always wore out on the ranch, or the Spanish fan my grandmother coquettishly used to fan herself with on warm afternoons while sitting in a rocking chair on the verandah.
For many Cuban families who had to leave everything behind in Cuba, it is as though part of their life never took place.
Things from our past are like pieces of a chain that link one generation with another. They are a glimpse of the different times we’ve lived and describe a bit of the person we were during that stage. Family mementos connect you to those you loved.