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Papi's Rambling Man

Papi's Rambling Man

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Published by Chaz Mena

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Published by: Chaz Mena on Oct 04, 2012
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05/13/2014

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Mom  &  Dad’s  50th  Wedding  Anniversary,  2008  

 

  My  father,  Carlos  Manuel-­‐Isaac  Mena,  of  Jatiboníco,  Province  of  Camaguey,  Cuba   (cattle  country),  will  tell  you  he  has  seen  all  the  westerns  ever  made.  All  of  them,   each  and  every  one,  in  every  language,  including  the  silent  ones:  I’m  talking  Justin   Barnes  and  Tom  Mix,  each  one  of  His  Holiness  John  Wayne’s,  TV  shows  like   “Bonanza!”,  “Gun  Smoke”  ,  “Daniel  Boone”  and  “Dr.  Quinn”,  Leone’s  Spaghetti   Westerns,  obscure  ones  like  My  Name  is  Trinity  and  Dead  Man,  parodies  like  Little   Big  Man  and  Blazing  Saddles,  patriotic  ones  like  The  Alamo  and  The  Undefeated,  and   at  present  he  is  delving  into  the  eastern  delights  afforded  by  Curry  Westerns.  When   the  Western  Channel  came  out  on  cable,  mom  quietly  bought  another  TV  to  watch   her  soaps  on.       My  father  was  an  orphan.  His  father,  Ramon,  died  of  TB  when  Papi  turned  two;  his   mother,  Ana,  died  from  grief  a  little  after  Papi’s  eighth  birthday.  Ramon  had  been  a   cowboy;  a  cowpuncher  in  a  cattle  ranch,  roping,  herding,  branding.  When  he   married  Ana,  he  knew  that  he’d  need  a  different  line  of  work,  so  that’s  when  he   bought  a  bodega  and  settled  down  but  died  soon  after.       A  schoolteacher  and  her  husband,  an  accountant,  both  of  whom  loved  music,  raised   my  dad.  By  the  time  he  left  Cuba,  Papi  had  amassed  a  large  record  collection.     Thirty  years  later,  I  decided  to  visit.  When  Papi  found  out  I  was  leaving  for  Cuba,  to   see  a  country  that  had  suffered  so  much,  to  meet  family  members  unknown  to  me,   he  didn’t  scold  me  as  many  of  his  generation  do  when  their  children  want  to   experience  the  beauty  of  Cuba  first-­‐hand,  (the  same  beauty  they’ve  heard  their   parents  yearn  for  all  the  time)  no,  he  just  asked  me  to  do  him  a  favor:  could  I  find  his   hot  wax  collection  and  bring  it  back  to  him?  “Uhh,  sure  dad…”     I  could  write  another  story  about  my  trip  to  Cuba,  a  land  where  I’m  not  a  minority,  a   place  where  the  bus  driver  was  Cuban,  the  pilot  manning  the  plane  over  head,  the   lecturer  at  the  university  class  I  audited,  the  museum  guides  in  Havana’s  myriad  

museums,  the  conductor  at  the  symphony,  the  train  conductor,  each  and  everyone  a   Cuban!  No,  let  me  stick  to  my  story,  here.       I  went  to  Jatiboníco  and  found  Papi’s  house:     -­‐Pardon  me,  madam,  sir,  I  know  you’ll  think  me  crazy  for  intruding  like  this,  but   have  you  ever  come  any  records  here?”     -­‐No,  we’ve  never  come  across  any  records.    Why?   -­‐I’m  visiting  from  the  U.S.  My  father  used  to  live  here  before  the  revolution…   -­‐Oh,  I  understand.  No,  we’ve  never  seen  any,  isn’t  that  right  Chini?     Chini  suggested  my  going  to  the  city’s  Museum,  they  might  know.     The  old  mansion  that  served  as  city  museum  had  indeed  received  many  items  from   the  “gusanos  (“worms”  in  Spanish)  who  abandoned  the  revolution  early  on,”  said  the   museum  official  “but  a  lot  of  that  was  redistributed  or  simply  destroyed.  I’m  sorry.”   Well,  I  had  tried.       “Hey,  you  still  haven’t  gone  by  my  mom’s,  we’d  better  get  there  before  dark”,  said   my  cousin  when  I  got  back  to  Camaguey  City,  at  whose  house  I  stayed  in  during  this   trip.       Estelle,  my  aunt,  a  painter,  was  waiting  for  me  with  a  cup  of  coffee  that  she  had  no   coveted  for  weeks  to  offer  me—coffee  being  strictly  rationed  in  Cuba.  She  took  me   to  her  atelier  to  show  me  her  latest  work.  The  place  was  strewn  with  canvas  and   plywood  paintings,  penciled  work  on  cardboard,  charcoal  on  brown  paper,  paint   spattering  on  the  floor,  filled  ashtrays,  bread  crusts,  dirty  coffee  cups  to  mix  paint— the  flotsam  and  jetsam  of  a  creative  life.       Approaching  one  piece  that  had  caught  my  eye,  I  noticed  that  it  had  been  rendered   over  a  beat-­‐up,  forgotten  old  desk  stained  many  times  over  with  every  conceivable   mixture  of  primary  colors.  “What’s  this?”  I  asked.  “Oh  that  old  desk?  Well,  I  can’t  find   any  easels  to  work  on  in  Camaguey,  so  I’ve  used  this  bureau  –why,  now  that  I  come   to  think  of  it,  I  think  it  belonged  to  your  mom  and  dad,  way  back  when!”       I  was  only  curious  to  see  what  was  inside  the  desk  when  we  cleared  it  and  began   opening  its  drawers.  The  second  drawer,  down  from  the  top,  right  hand  side,  was   opened:  there,  laid  a  dusty  stack  of  over  fifty  hot  wax  45s.  Oh,  Papi,  I  found  your   stash!!     The  next  day  in  Miami,  Papi  was  handed  a  stack  of  45s.  We  had  to  borrow  my  niece’s   kiddy,  record  player  to  play  the  one  45  that  my  dad  chose—“please,  out  of  my  way,   por  favor,  where’s  that  record  player?”  Papi  yelled.       My  dad,  that  Cuban  cowboy,  had  found  what  he  was  missing.  Going  round  and   round,  condensing  all  the  virtues,  the  failures,  all  the  pain  and  all  the  joy,  into  one  

musical  expression.  Here  sat  listening  to  a  scratchy  recording  of  Hank  Williams  Sr.’s   “Rambling  Man”,  that  1950’s  teenager  from  dusty  Jatíbonico’s  one-­‐horse  town.       Time  travel  is  possible.  If  you’ve  stuck  to  your  guns,  if  you’ve  loved  well  and  fought   for  decency  and  for  well  being  of  those  you  know;  you  can  go  back  in  time  and  come   right  back,  fitting  right  in,  not  missing  a  beat.  I’ve  seen  it.  I’ve  heard  it:  the  time  my   dad  sang  “Rambling  Man”  along  with  Hank  Williams’  haunting,  twangy  falsetto:   (dad’s  rendition  in  quotation  marks)     Let  me  travel  this  land  /  “Leme  trabel  dis  laahnd”   from  the  mountains  to  the  sea  /  “frong  de  mountang  to  de  see”   'cause  that's  the  life  I  believe  /  “Cos  dats  de  laif  I  beleef”   He  meant  for  me  /  “He  ment  for  mee”   And  when  I'm  gone  and  at  my  grave  you  stand  /  “And  weng  I  am  gone  an  at   mai  grabe  ju  e-­‐stand”   Just  say  God's  called  home  your  ramblin'  man    /    “Yust  sei  God’s  colled  home   jur  rangling  maahn!”                  

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