The story I heard was this: my parents arrived in Havana sometime in the mid- fifties, and handed over their passports to the Cuban immigration authorities, and that was the first realization that my mother was 4 years old, had blonde hair, blue eyes and was 2 feet 6 inches feet tall. (My eyes are actually, currently, green)
She had picked up the wrong passport on her way out the door (in snowy Hingham, leaving behind her three children), and now she was in Cuba pretending to be her daughter.
That is all I ever heard. I assume my parents came to some satisfactory arrangement with the immigration officials, because they proceeded to enter Cuba.
I tried to verify this story, or my memory of the story, but my mother has no memory of ever going to Cuba, with or without my passport.
Which of us is most culpable of failing the narrative: Me for possibly making it all up? She for not retaining the memory?
One thing I feel certain about: They did go to Cuba, and not only did they go to Cuba in 1956, but – according to the paper trail - they did several things we did not do: they basked on the sunny beach of Varadero, they saw the wildly funny De Castro Sisters* perform, and then they attended Sunday mass at the parish church of Santo Angelo Custodio. It was, after all, the first Sunday of Advent.
I know all this because there is an enormous cupboard in the parental basement containing the relics of my parents travels. The drawers are labeled: Europe, South and Central America (Cuba was in this drawer), Asia, Africa. And inside each drawer are manila envelopes labeled with the country visited and a date. My mother’s organization will outlive her memory.
*Three singing sisters, Peggy, Cherie and Babette: they were raised in a Havana mansion that is now home to the Chinese embassy. Their mother, Babette, was a Zeigfield Follies showgirl, and their father, Juan Fernandez, owned a sugar plantation, Radio and TV stations in Cuba, and was planning with Batista to build a canal through Cuba. In 1954 the De Castro Sisters performed at the Desert Inn with Noel Coward when he made his Las Vegas debut, and in 1956 they performed at the Casino Parisién for my parents.