My cousin, Jorge, put up on Facebook some old photos of my dad’s side of the family. One of them was a photo I’ve never seen before of my mom on her wedding day.
Can you believe she never really considered herself to be pretty? Can you believe I also have the same self-esteem issues? Like mother like daughter!
How she met my dad is a great story that I love to tell anyone who will listen and since y’all are a captive audience, here goes!
Picture it. Gibara, Cuba, 1957. A 16-year-old girl has returned home after living with family friends following the death of her mother. Her older sister received a letter from a new pen pal but is no longer interested. The girl says that she’ll write to this man. He’s also Cuban but from Regla, a city near the capital of Havana. The girl has other pen pals, particularly one in Mexico, but none intrigue her quite so much as this man.
Things in Gibara and all of Cuba are getting tense. Fulgencio Batista is still in power but los barbudos, led by a young man named Fidel Castro, are trying to over throw his dictatorship. Neighbors are showing up dead or missing or worse. There are near daily attacks from helicopters over head. Her father has closed the town’s only bakery. The milkman refuses to deliver milk in the early morning. The postman showed up missing fingers. He was mistakenly blamed for planting a bomb.
But in the midst of all this chaos and terror, the seeds of love are being planted and are taking root. Here’s my photo, the man writes, I hope you like it. Perhaps, I’ll make a trip back home and see you?
Her heart skips a beat and her other pen pals, including the boy in Mexico, are soon forgotten. A friend of the man, who is also from the girl’s town, visits her. He reports back to the man that she is much younger than he is, however, she’s funny and bubbly and comes from a well-respected family in town. He’d be hard pressed to find anyone better.
The man writes to the girl that he’ll be visiting in February. And perhaps, if they like each other, she could come back as his bride? Things are getting worse in Cuba, her father points out. He lives in New York City, she thinks. Perhaps she’ll be able to go to high school there. Maybe even meet Elvis, her sisters say. The girl assents.
He arrives and they are wed on February 9, 1958. She is 17 and he is 29. Her wedding was the talk of her small town. The daughter of Angel, the baker, is going to America. It was front page news. The streets were flooded with people trying to get a glimpse of their taxi. She is going to America and honeymooning in Havana? A humble baker’s daughter?
It was like a fairy tale come to life.