(The following post was written and lived by Kikita. It is dedicated to her Big, Fat Verdés Family.)
**WARNING: You may need tissues.**
My grandfather, Rodolfo Verdés, died on December 11, 1999.
I never called him "Abuelo." Instead I affecionately called him "Papi" as did all of his children and grandchildren. My grandmother, Luza, never called him by his first name. He was always "Verdés" to her. He was always "Verdés" among his brothers and sisters and their children and grandchildren. It was a sign of respect. He was the ultimate father figure. He worked hard and he loved his family deeply.
On his 50th birthday, he began his life all over again in the United States.
I don't know all the sacrifices he made for his family, but I know they exist. I know that he went wherever there was work and sometimes that meant being away from his wife and children for long periods of time.
I also know that every one knew that he loved them. Somehow, despite his absence, there was no doubt about the love he had for his children and grandchildren.
I know he was quiet, but when he DID say something it was bound to be brilliant and, often times, hilarious. He had the BEST sense of humor.
I know his favorite color was red and that it had nothing to do with his politics.
I know that he loved Cuba passionately, loved the United States for welcoming him, and he hated the (c)astro dictatorship just as passionately.
I know that there is plenty about him that I don't know and, when I get to heaven, I intend to ask him all of it.
I know that I miss him.
And I know that he had asked my Mami to take his ashes back to the province of Pinar del Río (where he had been born) and scatter them in the Valley of Viñales.
I wasn't there when he asked, so I don't know if he specified whether he wanted her to wait until Cuba was free or not or if he just wanted to be there.
To be honest, I didn't know anything about Viñales. It was just a name to me.
But not anymore.
I now understand the breathtaking beauty that is the Valle de Viñales and why he would want his ashes scattered there.
And I know that I'm the only person who can tell you where he is now.
When Luza, my abuela, asked me to go with her to Cuba there was no doubt in my mind or in anyone else's that Papi's ashes would go with us. Papi had given Mami instructions about what he wanted, but Mami will not be going to Cuba anytime soon and the ashes had already been waiting for ten years. I worked impossibly hard calling all over the country to make sure I could get the ashes to Cuba. It became obvious that I wasn't going to have all the paperwork I had been told I needed and so I was faced with a dilemma. After much discussion, it was decided that I would "smuggle in" only some of the ashes. That way I would be keeping the promise Mami had made to Papi, but that he could still wait for a Free Cuba for the rest.
I don't think I can explain to you what it was like to separate out some of his ashes to take with me. I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation and I wanted to weep at the same time. It was an adventure, and it was a heartbreak. It shouldn't have had to be that way, but it was. I didn't want to get to the airport and have his ashes confiscated. Can you imagine? Waiting so long and coming so far and then having the ashes confiscated by the communists running the joke of an airport? What would they even do with them? Would they have made me turn around? Would they have just tossed them out? (I would not put it past them.)
I never told my grandmother how I got the ashes into Cuba. I told her to trust me and that I would get it done. I think she might have fainted if she had known I brought him in as Lancome face-powder. (I know that Papi would have gotten a kick out of it, though.)
I made sure I had the poem he requested and I had a "recent" photo of him.
My cousin, Waldo, and his girlfriend, Mille, came with me on the road trip to Pinar del Río. We wore red in honor of Papi. It was a beautiful day and it was a beautiful drive.
I was detached for most of the drive, until we were actually in Pinar del Río and I realized: "This is where Papi grew up." That was when the first wave of emotion hit.
It hit me a second time when we stopped to take pictures of the Valley of Viñales. I had never seen anything like those mountains before. (In fact, they weren't really mountains, they were "mogotes" - but that is not important right now.) Seeing them I understood why Papi would want his ashes scattered there and I was again choking back tears.
Waldo is wonderful for comic relief and asked if I just wanted to toss the ashes off the ledge where we were standing so we could go home. I laughed and told him that all I needed was to get next to one of the mountains.
We drove and drove and I started to get antsy, especially when the clouds were starting to threaten rain.
That was not the case.
There are many roads across the valley. There are any number of mountains and countless places to stop. We could have stopped at the third "mogote" on the left after you pass the blue shack, but how would anyone ever find it again if they wanted to?
And how would we put the rest of the ashes in the same place once Cuba was free?
So . . . the Mural de la Prehistoria was the place. I climbed up onto the mountain side and pulled out the poem. I stood under the chin of the red dinosaur and silently prayed that the wind wouldn't throw the ashes in my face when I scattered them.
I read the poem.
I scattered the ashes.
I placed a sprig of wildflowers on the rock.
I left the photo and the poem there.
And then I exhaled.
It was March 3, 2010.
It is father's day.
That is the only gift I could give him.
Feliz Día de los Padres, Papi. Te extraño bastante.