Archived Post February 2010

 February 2010


We are driving through the Everglades.  On this clear, chilly morning the sun is shinning brightly, and the trees are dressed with the widest array of birds that I have ever seen.  It is impossible to identify them all or take in the vast landscape rolling by, as we cross Alligator Alley; and yes alligators also abound.  Mile after mile it looks like such an inhospitable place, and yet life flourishes.  The majestic herons stand next to the alligators sunning themselves in perfect harmony.  Deer run through the thickets of fallen branches, and flocks of flamingos suddenly take flight, stirred by some unheard call. 

The miles are passing quickly, as we head toward a historic meeting.  There will neither be heads of state nor captains of industry present, and the only coverage of the said meeting will be on these pages, yet for the small group involved, in today’s event, the moment is epic.  I am on my way to meet an actual member of my father’s family – something which I had always prayed would happen. 

Our sojourn in the Sunshine State has provided Kate and me with countless blessings, but none have been more unexpected and rewarding than the encounters and connections with previously unknown family.  While many of the initial contacts have been under less than joyful circumstances, I am pleased to say that today’s meeting does not involve tragic news.  Well, perhaps that statement is not completely true.  The day will be marked by occasional sad lamentations regarding the many families that have been separated because of politics, the mention of those who are not present to celebrate, and of course the repeated reference to my Father having died so young.

Recently, I have learned that my Aunt Carmen is visiting the United States, from Cuba.  She is to return in a few short weeks.  Aunt Carmen is my father’s youngest sister, and one of two surviving siblings, apparently I also have an Uncle Amado, who is now in his 80’s. 

My Aunt was in the States visiting three of her seven children, the other four are still in Cuba.  I have a cousin in Mississippi, who teaches physics, and likes to paint and is a snappy dresser, I soon learn.  My Aunt says that he reminds her of my father; today I will not be able to meet this cousin.  I will be meeting two cousins who live in Florida! 

Our drive is smooth, and we arrive in plenty of time for a quick stop to pick up flowers.  I am usually overly sentimental, but have been quite contained regarding the days events.  The day before I baked several cakes, and will be happy to learn that my cousin loves carrot cake; I also sorted through photographs, that cover fifty years of our family, and put together a few gift bags for people I had not met – always a bit of a challenge.  I go into Target, which usually carries beautiful flowers, and I am disappointed to learn that this particular Target does not have cut flowers.  There is a Publix a few blocks away, and I am overwhelmed with choices.  I finally find a mix bouquet and go to check out.  The cashier ask me if I am treating myself to flowers, and instead of saying yes or no, I blurt out that I am about to meet my Aunt for the first time!  She congratulates me, and I am grateful to be wearing sunglasses, as I am suddenly overcome with emotion and begin to cry – I do not want to mess up my make-up and look for composure. 

Why do such moments matter?  What is family?  How can we feel connected to people we do not know?  In the early hours of the next day, while Kate and I are driving back across Alligator Alley, reflecting on our visit, Kate will begin to talk about the days we spent in the hospital when my Uncle David was sick.  She will mention how as the Coopers gathered together and I became acquainted and reacquainted with members of the other side of my family we continually found that we had so much in common from our love of history and politics, to gardening and food, and of most comfort our shared faith in God – oh yes, Kate also says I have those great strong Cooper legs!  

I compose myself and we arrive.  My Aunt instantly knows me and greets me as if I were family.  She sighs that finally she gets to meet me; she gets to see her brother’s daughter.  We hug for several minutes and the shock of the moment gives way to exhilaration.  She and I sit holding and touching each other, initially exchanging words which I truly do not recall.  Within minutes, I am brought coffee and water by my cousin’s daughter’s mother-in-law, who has been in the United States for less than a month, and will later make us a scrumptious dinner.  My cousin is out running a quick errand.

My Aunt and I talk, and I am surprised by how much she knows about me, my family, and my father.  She has just celebrated a birthday, on February second; I am surprised that she knows my father’s birthday would have been on February first.  Equally, I find it surprising that she knows he died on April first, I do not know why I should be surprised.  She mentions that she has the last letter he wrote her, and that it was strange because my mother always wrote the letters to Cuba, but this letter was in his hand. (They have the same handwriting.) She said it was a melancholy letter and that in it he spoke of how long it had been since he had been home and how he had never given up hope of going back but did not now think it would happen.  I want to see this letter, it is in Cuba.

I begin to show her pictures, and repeatedly she says: I have that picture.  The old photographs of my parents and sisters which are a treasure that my Aunt Helen gave me, when I first moved to Florida, my Aunt Carmen has in Cuba.  I am shocked.  She has seen my high school graduation picture.  She has lots of pictures of Caroline and Doug’s wedding, where Caroline is not wearing glasses – you know she normally wears glasses, I say yes, I do know that.  She also has lots of pictures of Beth, and comments on all of her beautiful curly hair and how her smile is just like one of my cousins – there is a picture to prove it.  My Aunt is excited to see Allison’s wedding photographs and of course says that Allison is gorgeous and looks like one of her grandchildren.  My Aunt also assures me that Nic will have no problems with his paperwork, to immigrate to the United States, and that we should not be worried, as they look so happy who would want to separate them.  She has seen pictures of Hannah, but it has been a while, but remembers when Caroline was pregnant and wonders why it has been so long since she received new photographs.  I have no answer.  My Aunt held Joy, well Cecilia, and tells me that Joy did not really have a fair chance in Cuba; my parents did not let Joy stay long enough in Cuba.  Apparently, if Joy had spent more time in Cuba she would not have wanted to leave.  I look like my Cousin Esmeralda, who I will have to go to Cuba to meet, and who also bakes cakes! 

I write down names, addresses, and birthdates.  I learn that correo no longer simply means post office, but rather email.  My cousin Caridad arrives.  Again, we are instantly family.  I had spoken to her on Sunday, where she had assured me that I now had a home.  It is a strange sentiment which I do not know how to easily translate; but I will say, as Kate and I are driving home later that night, we will both comment that we actually do feel like we suddenly have this expanded sense of home.  There is joy.  My Cousin takes out her computer and she too begins to show me pictures, we make promises to email each other and share all of the family photographs; and my Aunt promises me older pictures. 

I speak with Caridad’s husband, who is in Ohio, on business.  I laugh at the irony of that moment.  He says it is cold and snowing and is sorry not to be home, but that we will soon meet in person, and that I should make myself at home.  His voice is warm and pleasant, and I look forward to soon seeing him.  My Cousin Henry then calls, and we too speak.  He is on his way home from work, and will stop to change, if there is time – there is time.  His wife is working, and we will later go to her house to meet, but Cousin Henry soon arrives.  He is tall, strong, and smiling.  Immediately he asks about his Aunt Stella, and we then begin to speak about his Uncle, my father.  He feels a connection to them which I relish hearing.  We, this Mosqueda-Cooper family are real to all of these people in Cuba whom I have never met – it is a strange and wonderful moment.  There are people sharing news about our lives and keeping track of us and waiting for us to come visit.  When are we coming?  I assure them we are coming.  Cousin Henry too wants to go back for a visit and my Aunt suggest we come together; she mentions we can even come for a weekend, it is very close, though very expensive – all that will change, it has to. 

Cousin Caridad’s daughter, the stunning Claudia, arrives from work.  She is expecting her first child around the first two weeks of March, near my Mother’s birthday.  Her husband is working tonight, and I will not get to meet him today either.  We gather to eat and I notice that my Cousin and I have the same china.  How strange is that?  (When I was a freshman in college, our RA had a china party, where for ten dollars a month you could buy china, silverware, and pans.  My dishes served me well, especially in those early days where I often lacked so much but could still set a beautiful table, even if it was to eat black beans which never got soft.  I know she did not spend her freshmen year at the University of Redlands, but she did spend some time in San Diego, when she first arrived in the United States.)  My cousin too was a teacher.  She taught high school English and Spanish, and is working on getting her teaching credential in Florida.

Though I mostly avoid politics and religion, everyone is quick to tell me that they are all Christians – one for our side that is against communism.  After dinner, as the hours tick by, we begin the famous Cuban good-by: “La despedida es mas larga que la visita.”  One of Luis’ gems, for Cubans saying good-by, at the end of the night, takes longer than the visit itself.  We say good-by, at Cousin Caridad’s house, and then follow Cousin Henry to his home, to meet his wife and her mother.  Initially, I think only my Aunt is coming to Henry’s home, but then we find that everyone decides to go to Henry’s.  Henry’s wife and her mother welcome us again, offer us coffee, juice, supper, and assure us that we are again home.  This short hello becomes another warm and inviting opportunity to further get to know each other. 

I am happy.  I am overwhelmed with all that has happened.  I do not know when I have had so many people say so many very lovely things about me, and I feel loved and special and at home.  Earlier during the day, the pen I was writing with leaked, and my Aunt took me to the restroom to wash my hands.  She stood with me as I tried to get the ink off, which is still on my hand, and then insisted that I dry my hand on her obviously special hand towel, which I did not want to dirty.  It is now very late, and though no one wants to leave, Kate and I have a four and half hour drive home.  We have been asked to spend the night, but cannot.  If we must leave, then we should use the restroom before we leave.  I am not sure that I need to use the restroom, but everyone insist, that before I hit the road, we should go to the restroom, as they have apparently taken note that neither Kate nor I used the restroom all day.  I go.  Kate, however, does not go to the restroom.  How can it be?  My goodness she has an amazing bladder.  Even Cousin Henry is insisting.  Kate not going to the restroom will be the last topic of conversation that night. 

They have all embraced Kate, and complemented her on her Spanish.  She too must go to Cuba; it will give her more time to practice.  (Henry’s wife spends three nights a week in English class, as she is hoping to go to nursing school soon and there is some discussion on which language is easier to learn, but no consensus.)  Kate has felt welcomed, and comments on the simultaneous half a dozen different conversations, which she says perhaps I did not notice.  I have to think, is that not the way it always is, I ask?  When I am with my sisters and their husbands and children do we not all speak at the same time, and manage to keep track of all of the various topics being discussed?  Kate says my Aunt kept rubbing her leg, and I do remember that – it was nice. 
            I have more family!  I have even more family than I knew I had, and I have more family in Florida.  Driving home I lament that we did not have time to stop and visit Aunt Roxanne or Aunt Karen, as we quite literally drive by their exits.  I also then start thinking about Cousins Adam and Carla, as well as Cousins Kristy and Brad and Cousins Todd and Dana, who would have thought?  Alligator Alley is now dark, and there is a hint of smoke in the air.  We are both very sleepy.  I speak with my Mother for a few minutes, but mostly we are lost in thought, reflecting on our day.  What we know for certain is that we are blessed – that is all for now. 

February 2010

I Hit My Dinger


“The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this: What is the use of climbing Mount Everest? And my answer must at once be, it is no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”

~ George Leigh Mallory ~

George Leigh Mallory was a British mountaineer and educator who participated in the first three expeditions of Mount Everest.  When asked, by the New York Times, why he wanted to climb the world’s tallest mountain he responded: “Because it’s there”. 

In June of 1924, a year after uttering those three famous words, he and Andrew Irvine, his climbing companion, were lost on Everest.  In May of 1999, Mallory’s body was discovered on the mountain, setting off a flurry of conjecture and speculation regarding whether or not the two men actually could have made it to the summit.  Andrew Irvine’s body has not been found.  Missing also is the Kodak camera which the men carried with them, and a photograph of Ruth, Mallory’s wife, which he had planned to leave on the summit, if he succeeded in his climb.  Flashlights used by the men, as well as Irvine’s ice-pick had been found years before, serving only to further enhance the mystery of what happened on the mountain.  If they had made the summit they would have bested Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay by twenty nine years.  

On May 29, 1953, Hillary, who was from New Zealand, and Norgay, who was a Nepalese Sherpa, were part of the successful, ninth British attempt to climb Mount Everest.  The two men were on the highest point in the world, for only fifteen minutes before beginning their decent, and while Hillary photographed Norgay, and took several other shots, there are no photographs of Hillary, on the summit of Mount Everest.   He went on to become the first man to summit on Mount Everest, and step foot on both the North and South Poles.

I have been under the weather for more than a week, nursing some form of the flu.  Mind you, I am not complaining; at least not now that I am finally starting to feel like my head is no longer going to explode.  I suppose I have looked at my sore throat and running nose as a sort of badge of honor, for having braved the Alaskan winter!

Two weeks ago, Glenda, a friend, from California, called me and asked if I wanted to go to Los Angeles or San Francisco for the weekend.  I countered that I would rather go somewhere else; she then suggested Seattle, to which I said yes.  It had been a very long time since Kate and I had traveled in the northwest, on our way to Mount Rushmore; and after asking Allison, my niece, who went to school in the area, about what should be on the must see Seattle list, I enthusiastically began to pack.  I would fly out to Los Angeles, and Glenda and I would then head north together.  We had about two and half days to plan our trip, which for me, turned into a ten thousand mile journey over five days that ended up covering both Washington and much to my surprise and bliss Alaska, my dinger. 

Alaska was my last state to visit.  I must say that I was feeling quite giddy on Friday, a week ago, as I met one of Glenda’s friends, in Seattle, and commented that I was about to hit my last state.  The tall, distinguished, Harvey was quite gracious as he mentioned that he still had three states yet visit, and magnanimously congratulated me on what I was soon to accomplish.  He then added that he had been to all seven continents.  It was my turn to humbly offer congratulations.  Stepping foot on all seven continents, before I was thirty, was a goal I had let go of some time ago – I suppose when I turned thirty and had failed to achieve it.  I was glad however, that neither Harvey nor anyone else involved in my quick trip laughed at my objective.  Somehow everyone understood that hitting that fiftieth state mattered; and I was willing to settle for simply dinner in Alaska, if that was all there was time for – after all, Hillary had only had fifteen minutes on the top of Everest!

Glenda pointed out that we would be getting the more authentic Alaskan experience because we were going in the dead of winter.  I tried to find encouragement in her words as I contemplated a starring role in my own Nanook of the North, the Robert Flaherty documentary, from 1922.  Yes, I know the film was shot in the Canadian Hudson Bay, and not in Alaska, but Nanook starving to death, after the film was shot, always left quite an impression on me.  Still, I felt sure that Glenda was right about this winter experience, we were after all going to have at least a more genuine taste of what most Alaskans experience, or so we hoped. 

We first spent a lovely day in Seattle, which included Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, a touristy stop rich in history and thanks to our guide, humor, and then the requisite stop at the hundred year old Pike’s Place Market, where the first Starbucks is located, and from which Miss Hannah, my youngest niece, who is collecting their location mugs, scored a mug.  Escaping a light rain, we ducked into the Seattle Art Museum, where Sam, Glenda’s youngest niece, scored a very cute SAM card.  With Kate serving as our GPS, three thousands miles away, we headed for the Fremont Troll, a funky cement creation which sits under a freeway, and Allison said is a Seattle must see – though we passed on the Vladimir Lenin sculpture.  (That whole Cuban and American thing, enough said.)  We then had dinner with two fascinating gentleman, who gave us a lovely little tour of their Capitol Hill neighborhood and drove back to our hotel, entirely hopeful that the half a dozen cups of coffee we had drunk, throughout the day, would not keep us awake!  

The next morning, after a repeated series of obstacles from not easily finding where the rental car needed to be returned, to leaving a bottle of water in my purse, as I went through security, we finally made our flight.  We were starving, and ate what we agreed had to be one of the worst meals in our lives, and then managed a quick nap before the majesty of Alaska overtook us. 

Our first view, through the airplane windows, was of a freezing Prince William Sound.  It was like nothing I had seen before, and it is impossible for mere words to do such beauty justice.  In the horizon was a vast expanse of white and grey mountains, splashed with hues of pinks and purples, jutting through ice and into the heavens that was truly breathtaking; and accompanied us through our landing in Anchorage and throughout our visit. 

  The airport was pristine and dotted with display cases which housed exhibits highlighting the indigenous people of Alaska and the wildlife.  If my visit to Alaska had only included the airport, I would have had quite a lovely time; but not wanting to waste a minute, we quickly headed toward our rental car, which we easily found.  Well that is actually untrue, what we easily found was what we thought was our rental car.  (I think this is one of the stories I was not supposed to write about.)  Nevertheless, we spent several minutes trying to start the wrong car, and I even went up to the booth to ask the nice young man for help, though I felt rather foolish.  He pointed out that it was a new car without a traditional key, it turned out that it was not a problem with the key, but rather we were trying to start a car in the wrong space. 

Anchorage was easy to maneuver and with help from George, who gave us directions to our hotel, we were soon settled in, and on our way.  In downtown we ate at Humpy’s, just as Harvey had suggested, and then walked across the street to the park which was decorated by ice sculptures from the recent winter festival.  In the park there were families playing in the snow, teenagers skateboarding, and men curling – the first time either of us had seen anyone curling in person.  Oddly, people were barely dressed for winter.  It seems that we had chosen one of the warmer January’s to visit Alaska. 

We looked at several tourist shops, as we made our way to one of the highlights of the trip, the Anchorage Museum.  This was truly a delightful museum, which encompassed everything from detailed dioramas that covered thousands of years of history, to the art of Sydney M. Laurence, Alaska’s premier painter, with whom I was completely unfamiliar.  We then made our way down to the bay and strolled along a snow covered path, where the locals brought their dogs to walk and play on the frozen water which magically held their weight.  In need of warmth, we headed to our car and continued to tour the city and its outskirts, stopping to shop and have dinner at a local restaurant, which a sales clerk suggested. 

Repeatedly, we encountered the friendliest people I have ever met.  Even those who had been born in Alaska seemed willing to share their story and to answer any question we posed.  It was uncanny how quickly people offered the most intimate details of their lives and how welcomed they managed to make us feel.  In fact, our greatest trip souvenir is actually a gift from a nice woman, at a roadside diner and convenience store, in Palmer.  We had headed out toward Mount McKinley, which we managed to see, on our whirlwind tour, after a stop in Wasilla, to pay homage to Sarah Palin, we started on Highway One toward Matanuska Glacier, which we also made before nightfall.  When we stopped for lunch, we found the store basically closed for renovation, though I did manage to buy a single candy bar and use the restroom.  When I came out of the ladies room, I found Glenda engaged in conversation with the shop keep.  There had been a phonebook sitting on the counter, and Glenda had decided to flip through the book and see if the Palins’ were listed, they were!  The woman told us what we already knew; Alaska was a very friendly and open place.  We were welcome to take the phone book, if we liked.  In fact she had a few new copies.  I could not resist, and had to ask for a copy myself. 

On Glenn Highway, at Pinnacle Cafe, I bought a hat in Alaska, made from wool of an alpaca which I met, spun on a spinning wheel which I saw, by a woman who made me lunch, and happened to be named Jill!  We took the red eye back to Seattle and then on to Los Angles, and then back to Fort Lauderdale, where I barely made if off the plane before the fever overtook me, but it was worth every day of discomfort to hit my dinger. 

I know that some milestones matter more than others.  Undoubtedly, with all of the insanity in the world, especially lately, visiting fifty out of fifty states is highly insignificant in the scope of most things, but it mattered to me.  No, we did not take a cruise, which I know you are supposed to do in Alaska, we did not see whales or seals, nor did we sleep in an igloo or go on a dog sled ride; but we did see snow covered mountains with dancing red peeks, which caused us to scream out in delight, and meet people who were willing to share their dreams and hopes with total strangers, and we walked to a glacier that was open just for us.  Yes, our trip was a bit unorthodox, and the sailing was not always smooth but I am certainly glad that Glenda asked me if I wanted to come to Los Angles for the weekend. 

Sir Edmond Hillary said: “If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain?  I am rather inclined to think personally that maybe it is quite important, the getting down, and the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.”  It was a good trip, and we came back safe and sound.  That is all for now.

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