Varadero, Cuba. Summer of 1960.
The one on the far left and the tall one are two of my sisters, Alina and Miriam. The other 3 are cousins. During the course of the summer there would be 14 more kids – all of our cousins, from 5 families, sharing that beach house.
It even had a name: Villa Obdulia
I think Obdulia was the daughter of the lady who originally owned the house (it was because of Villa Obdulia that I began my obsession with houses-with-names, but that’s another story for another post and it’s not important right now). We just loved saying it – “Obdulia.” The unusual syllables rolling off our tongues. It was like a magical incantation. “Obdulia.”
It meant fun and freedom.
I know. Freedom. In Cuba. Tough to imagine, isn’t it?
All of us in this group would leave Cuba within the next year.
But at that moment, life was still magical.
Summer in Varadero!
To stay in Havana for the summer was unthinkable to our families. A houseful of kids with nothing to do in the heat and humidity of the city? No, thank you. So we spent our summers at the beach. With our extended family. And these are some of the very happiest memories I have of my island home.
There were 20 cousins in all. Ranging in ages from one to twenty. By some clever coincidence, our parents gave birth to us in quasi-manageable age groups. So, the older ones, more often than not, took charge of us youngsters.
It never occurred to the adults that perhaps the cousins they had left in charge of us were not particularly qualified for the job. This is why my memories include climbing over a wall to sneak into the movie theater – I was 5! One movie in particular that I vividly remember was Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. I confess that because of it, many of my childish nightmares included near drowning by a mad whale. My kids laugh hysterically when I tell them that tidbit. =D
It also never really occurred to the adults that if we were spending most of our waking hours in the water, that learning to swim might be a valuable skill. Nope. They trusted to those soft, colorful, inflatable “salvavidas,” or “lifesavers,” pictured here. I admit there is something compelling about that degree of ignorance innocence.
We ate mamoncillos in the water.
We floated out to the sand bank.
We could recite, “Los Zapaticos de Rosa,” by heart.
We played Clue in the evenings.
We followed the “viandero” (fruit and vegetable vendor) around mimicking his greeting, “Buenos Dias, Familia!”
We ate pirulin (a type of conical shaped hard candy on a stick). And granizados (snow-cones).
There is just no translation for these things. You just had to “be there.” Or live it. Or just be Cuban. And they don’t exist for me anywhere outside of our Varadero summers, outside of my memory of those perfect days in paradise.
It’s the first day of summer.
And I’m crying.