Buddy-roo turned to me and reached up with her hands. I bent over to accept what I thought was an offered hug. “No mama,” she said, “You have my back-pack.” I’d carried it all the way to school because she’d ridden her little bike, I didn’t even realize I still had it on my shoulder. I handed over her pink Barbie bag; she grabbed it from me without looking up and ran toward the big doors of the school courtyard. For someone who never wants to go to school, once she gets there she’s too excited to even say goodbye. I called out to her. “I’ll see you in two weeks!” She turned and blew me a kiss, and ducked through the doors, disappearing into the mob of screaming children.
Last night I lay in bed next to Short-pants, having one of our bed-time talks.
I reminded her that I was leaving today to go away for a long trip, to Cuba. “But I’ll miss you,” she said. She always says that, with the sweetest-sad song in her voice, when she sees me preparing my suitcase for a trip. And then, after thinking about it, she asked, “Why are you going there?”
I explained that I’m going to work with some colleagues to help run a meeting, but that the really coolest thing about going to Cuba is that I’m going to visit the city where my mother grew up. Though she was born in New Orleans, mi madre spent her formative years in Havana. Of course this was another era – before Che and Fidel – which I suspect I will only be able to imagine when I find myself in standing on the dusty streets of her old hometown.
“Will you go see her house, where she grew up? Will you see her school?”
I thought about the detailed and yet vague email my mother sent me, describing the location of her house in Miramar, with its numbered streets and the placement of her childhood house on the such-and-such corner. She remembers exactly where the house was, though she says it’s no longer there. She remembers how she used to watch the Las Comparsas, the Mardi Gras parade, from the balcony of the American Club, which is also no longer there. Her memory is better than mine will ever be. Or maybe it’s just easier to remember things that you know are gone for good.
As for the school, I hadn’t thought about going to find the one she attended, but now I just might try, if there’s time, so I can take a picture and bring it back to show my daughters, to show them something about their grandmother’s early life that they can relate to. Would I see my mother when I’m there? Short-pants wanted to know. Oh, but if this were true! My mother has made only one trip to Havana since she left at age of 18. She would love to meet me there.
But no, I’m going solo on this trip. No De-facto, no kids. Just me, traveling on my own, a bit like the old days. “Have a big adventure,” De-facto said to me, after he carried my suitcase down the stairs this morning. Who knows? Maybe I will.