This was how we celebrated birthdays back in Cuba. These are my sisters and me at different ages.
(If you’re really curious, just count the candles on the cakes)
There was always a big, beautiful, almost-too-perfect cake from a fabulous bakery.
We always got a fancy new dress (think linen, satin, ruffles). By the time I turned four (in the last picture) apparently giant propeller-style hair bows were over. (proof of the existence of a merciful God. =D) But the one thing that remained constant in our lives until the time of our exile, was Salvador.
Salvador was a professional photgrapher. And he was at every birthday party.
I use the term party loosely. Sometimes, but not always there were other kids there. Usually siblings and cousins. Miriam, the 3rd daughter always had a big party because her birthday is in August and because we summered in Varadero, and were out of school, all the cousins were present for her birthdays.
But it was Salvador who was the fixture in all our celebrations.
To us, a party meant, "Salvador y Coca-Cola." All other details were negotiable. My oldest sister, Ofelia is 15 years older than I am. Which means that Salvador was schlepping his camera equipment across Havana to our house for years. Sadly, I don’t know what ever happened to him. But most of our family photos are autographed by Salvador. (the last two to the left were embossed with his name. (He must have hit the big time by 1956!)
It has become a familial idiom when we’re planning a party – which we are right now for Mother’s Day – "Salvador y Coca-Cola" – that means party in our family.
I am indebted to him. He captured our innocence and youth. The highlights of our family’s year. Salvador. Ever present. Of course, he’ll never know the impact he made on me personally. Salvador’s service and product was always received with such joy. I think of him constantly. Isn’t that odd? I was so young. But I remember him so vividly. What a great job he had. Going to parties, capturing memories, having cake and Coca-Cola, getting us to smile our best smiles. Giving us the things we value the most to this day, when we’re so far from the land of our birth.
I will consider myself successful if I can leave that kind of mark on the lives entrusted to me.
Whenever I find Coca-Cola in a bottle, I silently whisper a toast to Salvador. Muy agradecida.