I used to visit my parents at least once a week.
My dad was confined to a wheelchair and in his late 80's, but his brain was sharp as ever.
We would sit at their kitchen table and talk about anything, everything, and nothing. You know, like you do with the most familiar people in your life. Even though the kids would visit with me and be in and out of the room, he always asked very specifically about each one.
He was an avid reader and especially loved books about adventure. I mentioned that I was reading Treasure Island to Adam (who was young then and loved to be read to) and we both agreed that Robert Louis Stevenson was a genius.
It was in the midst of this discussion that he looked at me very seriously as if something had just occurred to him, and said, "I want you to do something for me."
Imagining it had to do with going to the store to buy him some fresh bread or some such errand, I quickly agreed. "Of course. What can I do for you?"
"There's a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that I love. When I die, I want you to take my ashes back to Cuba and scatter them in Pinar del Rio. And read this poem."
I don't think I answered immediately. It was such a shocking request in the middle of what was otherwise an ordinary visit.
"Yes. And I know if you promise me, that you'll keep your promise."
He went on to tell me that he wished it could be when Cuba was free, but that he understood that might not be possible and to do what I could.
Then we resumed our conversation about books and the kids and I did go to the store for that fresh loaf of bread.
And I didn't think too much about that conversation, until he died six months later.
My mom would remind me occasionally of the promise I had made to Papi. And I kept trying, but I couldn't find a way to make it happen.
I had scheduled a trip in the spring of 2003 and two weeks before I was to leave, 75 dissidents were rounded up and imprisoned by the Castro thugs in Cuba. I canceled my trip. (That crackdown is referred to as The Black Spring.)
I was discouraged and I felt it would be impossible for me to keep my promise.
Ten long years now, Papi has been gone. His ashes sitting in the back of a closet.
But yesterday, against all odds, my daughter, Amy, made good on the promise I had made back in May of 1999. She went to Cuba. She took his ashes. She made her way to Pinar del Rio. To the beautiful land that saw his birth and where he lived for a half a century.
Yesterday, on March 3rd, 2010, my Papi was finally laid to rest in the Valley of Viñales. Amy will tell that story when she returns from Cuba next week.
But for now, I cried a bucketful of tears and I sighed a big sigh of relief. And I think, maybe, so did he.
I love you, Papi. Rest in peace.
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This is the verse you grave for me:
'Here he lies where he longed to be;
Here is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.