In memoriam

Thirty years ago today, I met death for the first time in my life.

I had been fortunate that at the age of twenty I had not had a close family member pass away, but that day, July 27, 1977, changed my life. My grandfather died at about 2 in the afternoon on that long and sad day thirty years ago. The day is as vivid in my memory as yesterday is. I was called at work and told that my grandfather, who had been suffering his second (and final) bout with cancer would not survive the afternoon. He had been in the hospital for almost a month. When I received the call I rushed to get to his side, but he had already passed away when I arrived. He and I had had talks before he died, about family mainly, and he knew he didn’t have much longer to live. He faced his illness with courage and he never, ever, showed us any weakness in his last hours. He was regretful that he would never see Cuba again. As the man of the house, it was my responsibility to finish all of his arrangements, which I did. He is buried right here in Miami, next to my grandmother, although they will be reburied in Cuba when the beast has left.

Rogelio Modesto Garcia Perez was born in Havana, Cuba on March 25, 1890. He was from a poor family, as so many were in those difficult days pre-Republic. At the age of 13 his father died, and from that day he worked and supported his mother and two sisters by doing whatever job he could find. He was not schooled, in the traditional sense, he could hardly write, but he was a smart man, a man with the common sense that the street and a hard life gives. He read whatever he could about the world and was better informed than many with more extensive formal educations. He worked his way up in Cuba to work in casinos in the 20s and 30s. He became a croupier, and made a good living to support his wife and daughter, mother and sisters. When he retired, he opened a little furniture store with the modest winnings from a lottery ticket. That windfall allowed him to run a business and be close to home. The arrival of fidel changed all that. In 1960, at the age of seventy, he left everything behind, his house, his business, his pátria, to come here to the United States to begin a new life. He was penniless again.

My grandfather was not a religious man, but he was a man of faith. He always went to church but never went to mass. He was a loyal friend, always writing, or having me write for him, letters he would send to his other friends in exile that lived in New York City. He had sworn off his beloved cigars after suffering a bout with cancer, but always carried some in his pocket to give away. To this day, the smell of a good cigar brings back the memory of abuelo. He taught me how to play poker and blackjack. He would always remind me that de enero a enero el dinero es del banquero, a subtle reminder not to fall in love with gambling too much. He helped me buy my first car with a $200 loan. He taught me about women. He was a simple man who wanted the best for his family, not materially, necessarily, but something deeper. Thanks to his sacrifice, and the sacrifice of my grandmother, mother and father, I was given the most amazing gift anyone could receive. I was given the gift of freedom. The gift of being able to think and read and believe without fear of repression or imprisonment or the paredón. I have been able to give my son the same gift thanks to his sacrifice.

He was more of a father to me than he knew and I loved him dearly.

Gracias, abuelo. Nunca me olvidaré de tí.

Rogelio Modesto Garcia Perez | March 25, 1890 – July 27, 1977
Rogelio Modesto Garcia Perez, March 25, 1890 – July 27, 1977



9 thoughts on “In memoriam

  1. Your story is very touching and it reminded me of my grandparents that came to America during the late 60’s freedom flights. My grandad, grandmom, and my auntie. Guarjiros de Cuba…..del campo!
    They raised me and told me all the stories the communists did during the revolution. One particular story was when the Fidelistas picked up my Abuelito and took him to the local jail. He used to be a Police lietenent (sic) so the local commi squad wanted to make sure he would not rally the faithful. My grandmother went to the police station and waited outside for three, yes 3 days AND nights (so they dont kill him) until he was released.
    The problem was the head comie mielda (sic) was saying he was not there. With so many dead bodies showing up on the streets in the morning with missing people, mi abuelita was not going to let that happen to my abuelito.
    To finsh the story they finally let my abuelito out. He finally came to America after having all his house hold goods inventoried like the wonderful book I read of Luis M. Garcia, “Child of a revelution.” A tobacco grower with seven (7) farms reduced to nothing! Held in the Vardadero airport for three days sin comida and the bathrroms not fit for an animal it was so filthy.
    My grandmother died in the early ninties at the ripe age of 95……..30-days to the death of my abuelita my granddad died in his sleep. Funny thing his birth certificate stated he was 98.7 years old but the real story is they issued it to him when he was like 10 or 11 years old. They did not have a registry en el campo back in the days of the late 1800’s.
    We tend to think he died over 110 years old. I remember the stories he told me and now your story brings his memories in my mind rushing back. Que Dios lo bendiga a todo!

  2. That was an absolutely beautiful and touching post, George. Your grandfather must be so proud to see, from above, the man you have become.
    Hugs to you on this day, my friend.

  3. Like all who came before us, we see as far as we do because stand on the shoulders of giants. That was a very touching story. Your grandpa must have been a heck of a guy.

  4. George;
    Your story brought tears to my eyes. There are so many abuelos like yours that hardly knew childhood. They worked and struggled all their lives. Sacrifice was their daily bread. All of those men, with little or no formal education were able to make it in our little island paradise. To lose your livelihood, your home, your family, and your homeland is too much to bear. Yet, your grandfather continued to live like a champion. He saw the beauty in life and gave you all the love he had in his heart. May his memory be a blessing to you and all who knew him.

  5. Leave it to my big brother to make my cry so early in the morning. Mi abuelo Rogelio died when I was 11 years old. Due to my young age, I was not able to enjoy him as much as George did, but I do have some wonderful memories of him. Since my mom worked long hours, my grandparents would take care of me after school. Since we lived close by to my grandparents apartment complex, I remember walking to their apartment everyday after school (back in the days when it was safe for kids to walk home from school.) However, my grandmother who used to work in a clothing factory would not come home until later in the afternoon so it was my grandfather who used to greet me at the door most days. At this point in his life, he was in his 80’s and would spend most of his days at home. However, he still would take an early bus to go downtown to meet up with his friends and visit the Gesu church. He’d go to the “ten cent” (five and dime) store and bring me back candy – usually his favorite coffee flavored hard candies. (Maybe that’s why I’m such a coffee addict today.)
    Having been given a proper Cuban girl education, I was taught to cook at an early age and I remember one of the first things I learned to cook were scrambled eggs. I made them with passion and I made them until I perfected them over and over again. I would make them for everyone and I remember making them for my grandfather. I remember he would sit down and I’d proudly and lovingly serve him a plate of scrambled eggs (granted -usually at 4:00 p.m.) and he’d sit and eat them. I mean, who else would eat scrambled eggs prepared by a ten year old at 4:00 in the afternoon? I’d get a plate for myself and sit down and eat with him. I remember that he tried teaching me how to play solitaire. I always remember he had a game going on and I’d see the cards laid out on his desk. I remember his gray hair, his hands and his old green recliner. (damn it, i’m crying now.) I remember seeing old pictures of my grandfather and my favorite one is where he is with my grandmother and a group of friends at a beach in Cuba. While everyone was in their bathing suit (1920’s), my grandfather was in a white linen suit (coat, tie and all.) Always classy, always being his own man. That photograph always makes me smile. 🙂
    I remember being much to young to fully comprehend what happened when he died, but I remember that it was also my first brush with death. And after that, so many things changed.
    Abuelo, gracias por el corto tiempo que te tuve en mi vida. Te extrano y te quiero.
    Tu nieta,

  6. George,
    Sorry I got to this post late. God bless your Grandfather. He must be very proud of you, as you are keeping up the struggle for a free Cuba.
    Bravo George!

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