Out of all the exciting experiences and encounters I had this summer, I’d have to say that spending time with my great grandfather was the best. It was a sad yet joyous moment that lasted no longer than five seconds, but they are five seconds I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life. Almost every year I visit Cuba with my grandparents for one reason. That reason is to see my blind, soon to be deaf great grandfather. He just recently turned 91 and he still has more life in him than I will ever have. No matter how much he suffers with old age, he seems to always have a smile on his face or always make everyone laugh.
There was a point where I had not been to Cuba for five years, and in that five year span my great grandfather lost his eyesight. The day we found out he was blind my mother had just gotten off the phone with my grandmother in tears. As she heard my footsteps coming toward the kitchen, and she quickly spun her body around to hide the tears streaming down her face. As she almost tripped over my dogs green frog squeaky toy, I asked her what my grandmother had to say. She quietly whispered, “Your great grandfather is blind, and about to go deaf.” I stood there in shock, not knowing what to say. As I stared at the pale green kitchen wall with cob webs forming in the corner ceiling from being so high up I couldn’t help but wanting to cry. When I responded my voice cracked and almost pierced the window. She grabbed the tan kitchen rag and wiped her face. She explained to me that he was crying that whole day because he could no longer see. I stood there feeling powerless, as tears rolled down my pink cheeks onto my white high school soccer uniform.
The summer of 2008 was my first time seeing him since the news, and I felt terrible. I didn’t have the courage to talk to him or even say hello. The sad part is I can’t even explain why. He’s a man I’ve known since I was five years old. My family would talk about me in front of him mentioning I was there, but for some reason I wasn’t strong enough to even look at him. I might have said hello to him once as I lightly placed my hand on his gray hairy arm to prove my existence, but never started any conversations. I would always remember the times he would flick my nose sending a slight tingle that would bring a smile to my face. Or the times he played dominos with me on the porch, when all my older male cousins left at night to flirt with girls. I remember the gold Rolex my grandmother brought him one year and the ticking it made during dinner. His watch no longer ticks, but thankfully his heart does. It ticks like a strong marching band, refusing to give up. All the memories were flying by in my head like a movie, clip after clip and chapter after chapter.
This summer was different though. As we arrive at my aunt’s house that had a green fence with pink flowers and green leaves growing in and out of it, her two dogs rush to the bottom of the beat up gate to greet us. I could see my great grandfather through the doorway sitting on his wooden rocking chair wearing his blue and white pajama pants. He was just sitting there peacefully rocking back and forth in his white wife beater, pajama pants with a white handkerchief tucked in the front, and his black sun glasses. He has worn the exact same pair of black sun glasses with the small gold trim at the end since my grandmother brought them when he first went blind. As we approach the steps my heart beings to pound from anxiety. I was nervous how I was going to act toward him this time. Knowing there were two more visits left before we would fly back home weakened my confidence, and I chocked. I saw next to him in shame because there was a lump in my throat. A lump so big, I couldn’t speak a word to him. We left that night, and in that old beat up car with blue paint chipping everywhere, I did not speak a word due to disappointment.
The second time I arrived with confidence to show love toward my suffering family member. Whenever we vacation to Cuba, we bring clothes, necessities, and goods that Cuba can’t provide. This year my grandmother bought her dad a pair of blue Oasic sneakers with white and black stripes going down the sides. As my aunt and her mother approached him with the sneakers they let him feel them first. He passed his fingers over the leather and rubber of the shoe in concern. He was questioning comfort since many people in Cuba couldn’t afford certain types of shoe brands. They slowly lifted him from the rocking chair, waiting till he found his balance. My aunt lifted his left foot up slowly and slipped the shoe on, and repeated with the right foot. After they lowered him back into the rocking chair he began stomping his feet, testing them out for comfort. Being able to please him was almost impossible, so when I saw the smile on his face it shocked me. He fell in love with the shoes, and refused to take them off even though the intensions were only to try them on. His head went from side to side as his thin gray and white hairs flowed in the breeze. A few hours passed and it was time to say goodbye. He was still wearing his blue shoes that now matched his blue and white checker board pajamas. When everyone left the room, I approached his skinny fragile body and said, “How do the shoes feel?” He told me he loved them and began to smile and stomp his feet as if he were running. At that moment I felt a beating drum in my throat that almost made me cry. It would beat and beat and beat, almost making me lose my breath. I held in my tears and then gave him a kiss and told him I would see him next time. Once again a moment that lasted five seconds warms my heart and makes me want to cry every time I think about it.
The last day to visit my great grandfather approached and all I thought about was his huge smile from the shoes. Once again we arrived and he was wearing a wife beater, his black sun glasses, blue pants with a handkerchief tucked in the front, and his new blue sneakers. I sat on the gray sweaty leather couch, and watched as he sat there in boredom. Time flew as we sat there talking about past experiences and vacations. When it was time to leave my great grandfather for the last time, I left my grandmother say goodbye first because her goodbye was the hardest. She went up next to him whispering in his ear and tears ran down her face, smearing her Mac makeup. She threw on her Gucci glasses on like she always did every year, and left the room in pain. Since I was on the verge of tears I went up next to him kissed his cheek and said I would miss him. The car ride was hard for my grandmother and me. As she sat there staring out to all the palm trees, she constantly wiped her eyes. I would watch her in pain, sad that she had to say goodbye to her father once again, not knowing whether he would make it another year.
Every year I visit Cuba, and every year I see how my family has to suffer. It is always the same beginning, and always the same ending. We arrive with smiles, laughter, and happiness but unfortunately we live with tears. Seeing my great grandfather smiling and laughing even thought he suffers from old age, and suffers from poverty makes me appreciate my own life and the privileges I have. I sit here typing in tears due to all his suffering. It is a sad upsetting situation, but the way he finds happiness through all his pain makes me respect him more than anyone I know. I could never image that such a happy moment can come from such a sad case. Every day I think about Cuba, my family, and my great grandfather and I wish for the best of luck. I wish that they maintain the best health possible, and I wish my great grandfather stays strong through all his sufferings. The way I look at it is that every wrinkle he has on his shriveled body counts for every laugh he has ever enjoyed, and every smile he’s ever shined to those around him.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.