Monday, September 03, 2007

In Memoriam

Ms. Delia Carballo, of Havana, Cuba, since 1960 living in Miami, Florida passed away August 30, 2007. Her obituary notices were published in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, respectively, on August 31st, 2007.

With complete certainty, it is possible to state her name and her biographical information mean nothing to 99.9999% of Havana5060's frequent or infrequent visitors. But to her family, her many friends - among whom the Quirogas count themselves - and others whom she touched, she meant much. Thus was written this unplanned post, in order to honor and remember her.

She was one of many making up the generation around which a once-young blogger grew up and had the fortune to experience; a great generation of Cubans. The Greatest Generation of Cubans? No, cannot say that. I am neither qualified nor anointed to make such judgments or confer titles. Perhaps the Greatest Generation of Cubans was Marti's; the one which offered so many sacrifices, and gave so many lives to free Cuba. Some would say it is the generation which has been forced to endure the pain and madness afflicting Cuba since 1959. Who would argue against that? Well, one could - and fortunately we are free to argue. Still, the writer can at least state that, in his experience Ms. Carballo's generation, which includes his parents, even with all its inevitable human faults and follies, was a great one. And it is passing on too quickly now; therefore a brief pause to fondly, even lovingly, remember some who were part of it is proper. Delia would no doubt approve.

Her obituary states: "Delia's concern for others was evident in her opening her home to many in need until they could find means to be on their own." The Quirogas will vouch for the veracity of said statement. Perhaps it should even be called an understatement.

This was written to the online Guest Book in the Miami Herald obituaries' web page, and perhaps illustrates why this lady meant so much, not just to us, but to many others.

"September 3, 2007: We were one of those families Delia so generously helped in the early days of exile. In December 1960, having left Cuba for Miami the month before, Delia and her mother took us in, and we lived in her Westchester suburb home for about three months. There were four of us Quirogas, my parents, Nicanor and Teresa, 5-year old sister Marta and the writer, then a 10-year old, plus one on the way. We felt as if we were with family and indeed that is how it was. We will never forget this selfless gesture, which says much about Delia.

Mom and dad had been her friends at the Focsa building; many times we enjoyed the delights of her pastry and bakery shop, Ailette - not only were the goodies wonderful, but also they were always served with a smile.

Another Focsa neighbor and relation to the Mestre family said to us not long ago that "Abel Mestre considered Delia Carballo the best secretary in the world." She was obviously very talented and capable, applying her talents for the benefit of many, both in Cuba and in the United States.

We will keep Delia in our thoughts and prayers - she will never be forgotten; our condolences to the Carballo and other family members. Even though there is sadness now, let us be certain she has gone to her joyful and well-deserved reward.

God Bless all,
Albert Quiroga"

This was one smart, warm hearted, capable cubana, not necessarily in that order. What her former boss Abel Mestre said about her was high praise indeed; after all, he and his brother Goar were prime movers and shakers in the world of Cuban radio, television, and publicity, having also pushed forward the planning and building of the RadioCentro radio-TV complex in Havana, and having a hand in promoting the financing and building of the Focsa condominium project. The Mestres never suffered fools or incompetents gladly, and always sought out the best and most able in a particular field.

Abel Mestre is on the left, and his brother Goar on the right, in this 1956 CMQ-TV publicity photo; an award or recognition is being presented to Goar by radio personality Juan Amador Rodriguez.

And she was what we call today a "multitasker," a skill not present in the blogger's make up; perhaps it is a "guy" thing, or maybe to "claim" that is just an excuse. Not only did she perform her administrative and support duties well, but also ran a very successful business. A sweet business it was, literally...

Ailette-a classy, flowing name; a pastry and bakery, patronized by many of the Focsa dwellers, as well as by other sweet-tooth afflicted habaneros in surrounding neighborhoods. When you walked in, the wonderful smell of the place enveloped you and you knew then there was no way you'd leave empty-handed. And as the comment in the obituary Guest Book goes, "not only were the goodies wonderful, but also they were always served with a smile." Whether it was Delia or her assistant Esther taking care of you, the warm, genuine smile was part of the service.

And fortunately, a little piece of Ailette, in the form of the advertisement displayed, which Delia placed in the Focsa's own publication "Algo," in June 1958 survives as a small testament to her business savvy and palate-pleasing abilities.

All was not work for Delia in those days, though hard-working she always was; as was true for many of the Focsa homeowners and their families, there was time for recreation and socializing. Many tight bonds of friendship were forged in those truly social - as opposed to socialist - "socialism" being nothing more than a one-word oxymoron - days, and Delia was in there, happily mingling with her friends and acquaintances, of which she had many.

As seen here, in this nice photograph capturing a pleasant evening in the garden level at Focsa, during a dominoes tournament sponsored by the Homeowner's Association, December 8, 1958. Her partner in this particular round was the late Rosa Bustillo de Melendez, a lovely person; their friendly opponents, Mr. and Mrs. Orlando Martinez - their son Orlando Jr. and I "hung together" a bit - although Orlando Jr. was older; later, in Miami, we wound up together in junior college. Orlando Jr. got into law enforcement and at one time was police Chief for the municipality of South Miami; do not know if his parents are still living. No matter, these good people should be remembered. All of them. The Quirogas are grateful to have shared good times - even some bad ones, too - with them. Shared hardships often bond friendships.

Delia and Rosa must have had a good "hand" and beaten Mr. and Mrs. Martinez; for this next image shows them competing against Mr. Montero and the jovial, smiling Freddy Lancet. You should know more about all of them, a wonderful generation, now disappeared and disappearing except maybe for Freddy...pray he is well even as these words are written.

Rosa Bustillo de Melendez, married to our good friend Ignacio Melendez, who perhaps should be anointed "The Focsa Historian," as you will hopefully find out some day, was a beautiful, classy person, yet never one to "put on airs" or look down on others. Never do we remember a cross word or look coming from her; often smiling and sociable, she had a knack for putting people at ease, and laughter came easy to her. If there had been a "First Lady of Focsa," she would have won the title hands down. Tragically, she was one of the first, if not the first, in that congenial group to leave us. A malignancy insidiously sapped her joie de vivre; in an extremely rare show of humanity, the castroites even allowed her to return from exile, and end her days in her Focsa apartment. Father remembers "she arrived at Rancho Boyeros airport so weakened, they had to put her on a stretcher and take her home in an ambulance." It seems even the "fidelistas" recognized her essential goodness and, for once, showed some consideration for one of the despised "bourgeois class." Shows you what kind of person she was...we mourn her to this day. She died in 1961. Ignacio never remarried, and himself passed away just seven years ago.

Mr. Montero, Freddy Lancet's elder partner in this round, was the owner and founder of "Banco Hogar Propio." This more or less translates to "Homeowner's Bank." The enterprise was created for the purpose of providing aspiring homeowners with affordable loans, thus facilitating and promoting the growth of home ownership - and it was steadily growing - throughout Cuba. Needless to say, Banco Hogar Propio disappeared in the wave of confiscations following the passage of the infamous "Laws" 890-891 in October 1960. Mr. Montero went into exile, living and working as a free man in Miami until his passing, years ago. We remember him here.

The young, smiling Freddy Lancet's father was also an empresario, owning and managing a textile manufacturing firm, which produced stockings, socks, and similar products under the brand name "Once-Once," not as in "once upon a time," although that is unfortunately the case, but as in "Eleven-Eleven." Perhaps a reader or two may have worn "Once-Once" brand stockings or socks. We called them "medias, calcetines, o escarpines." Freddy and his family too eventually left Cuba, but we have heard nothing more from him. Hopefully, as this is written, he and his loved ones are doing well, wherever they may be.

The reminiscences associated with this pleasant evening gathering, almost fifty years ago come to us, once again, thanks to father, who joined his friends that evening to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes, with his game partner, Rafael Aguirre. Aguirre, an attorney in Cuba, is now peacefully retired, enjoying the Golden Years with spouse Olga in the Old Dominion State. We stay connected and hear from them frequently. As it happens his uncle, Agustin Aguirre was the first - unfortunately the only - president of the Focsa Homeowners' Association, which he ran smoothly and competently with nary a complaint from anyone. His uncle was Dean of the Law School at the University of Havana. Shortly after the castro clan seized power, he resigned because he refused to aid and abet the takeover of the University by the lawless usurpers. He died from a heart attack while delivering a classroom lecture at the University of Puerto Rico Law School in the early 60s. Perhaps it was a broken heart over what had happened to his beloved homeland? He is honored and remembered here also.

On dad's right, that would be your left, sat Mr. Walton, the manager of the La Torre Restaurant on top of the Focsa, at that time. A very nice dining venue it was, offering spectacular views of Havana to the diners. A then young boy had the fortune of being treated by his parents to an enjoyable dining experience at Club La Torre, one fondly remembered to this day. Of Mr. Walton we have no knowledge, except that as with all others who gathered to enjoy the dominoes competition that night, we do know eventually he took the road into exile.

Walton's partner, Mr. Ferrer, had been an officer in the Army of the Republic of Cuba - father seems to think he attained the rank of colonel. During the 1933 uprising against the dictator Machado, Ferrer and other soldiers fought pro-Machado forces during a battle and siege centered around the Hotel Nacional, the Focsa incidentally later being built only a few blocks away from the Nacional. Ferrer too ended his days in Florida because, clearly, he could not abide dictators. Requiescat in pace, miles.

December 8, the participants in this congenial evening of dominoes played, no one would have thought that thirty days later, the pestilence from the Sierra Maestra would soil Havana after metastasizing through the other Cuban provinces. That would begin the process of social and economic destruction which very soon scattered these friends and neighbors - their families as well - forcing them into exile, in most cases forever.

The pestilence may have taken their material goods, but that is not important. We come into the world with nothing, and we leave it with nothing, as someone will find out when his day of reckoning comes...Delia Carballo, her friends and family, our friends and family who are no longer walking this vale of tears, and to whom the Quirogas lovingly dedicate this inadequate memorial, lost neither their souls nor their freedom to the devil from the hills. This is their victory. We miss them and mourn them, but know in our hearts they are Home, in peace and happiness, this great generation of Cubans. God bless and keep them in eternal joy and bliss!


At 3:38 PM, Blogger Vana said...

Sorry to hear of Mrs Carballo passing, I fondly remember going to Ailette with my mother and sister, to eat those wonderful pastries, ah la Cuba de ayer, lives so fondly in my mind, and heart

At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too visited the Ailette when visiting my cousins on Saturdays. They STILL live in 11-f!

Not to far from the Ailette I think there was an entrance for the theater, right?

God bless Mrs.Carballo and will never forget the Ailette while we live.

Juan Carlos

At 1:37 AM, Blogger Ailette said...

Hello, I felt compelled to leave a message because my my named me Ailette after the bakery in Cuba. My mom is Nancy De Villiers and left Habana Cuba in 1964.


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