Amid family photographs, a surprise

This is a story about serendipity.

When two of my younger siblings and I went home last fall, my mother gave each of us two envelopes with photographs my grandmother (and perhaps other family members) had taken with her when she, my father and my aunt left Cuba in the 1960s. My mother had us draw numbers and we were given the envelopes with the corresponding numbers.

There were family photographs, but also many photographs of family friends. Among the photographs of friends that I received was the black and white you see below. It is a picture of Elena Herrera and Alberto Moya, who where neighbors to my father in their hometown of Cienfuegos.

I had the good fortune of meeting Elena and Alberto when I visited Cienfuegos on our epic Cuba trip with Manny Mendoza and Marta Crawford in October 2017. Elena is a retired piano teacher who has taught professional pianists who tour the world, and Alberto is a retired engineer. They are a delightful and engaging couple, and have four children and several grandchildren, including two lovely granddaughters we met.

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Elena and Alberto (center) on their wedding day.

That is a picture of Elena and Alberto’s wedding day, and they evidently sent it to my grandmother almost 50 years ago. The back of the photograph says, “With affection, to our longtime friends, a memento of our wedding.” It’s signed by both of them and dated June 1971. (Alberto is the young man on Elena’s left.)

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Elena and Alberto at their home in Cienfuegos.

Elena was one of my father’s playmates, and her mother was good friends with my grandmother. She shared memories that revealed the closeness they had.

She recalled that my grandfather helped her with her English language homework. When one of her grandparent’s died, my grandparents looked after her while her parents dealt with funeral services. When she gave me a tour of the house my father grew up in, she pointed to the spot where my paternal great-grandmother used to sit to have her café con leche, the much sweeter Cuban version of a latte.

She also remembered the day my grandmother, a recent widow, told her mother she was leaving because things were going to get bad. In the days that followed, Elena watched her take family heirlooms to relatives and friends who stayed behind. Soon after, my grandmother, father and aunt left Cuba for Miami. My grandmother, who died in 1993, never returned.

Elena, Alberto and I stay in touch, and I talked to them about a week ago on WhatsApp. It was good see them and to hear their voices.

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