A Day to Live
I was born on March 6, 1954, in Havana, Cuba. My mother, Herminia Velasco Vivancos, and my father, Armando Garcia Triana, resided on 29th and D, Vedado. From there, after a short while my parents decided to move to 21st and A, Vedado, Havana, Cuba. Both my parents were born in Cuba, although my lineage extends to my maternal grandmother being born in Spain and my paternal great-grandmother being originally from Manila, Philippines.
Those who knew us then would agree that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My dad was the founder and owner of El Gladiolo Florist. My mother inherited an abundance of houses from her father, who died at the age of 45, and these houses were leased for profit. I had my own private nanny from Artemisa, who was as kind and loving as could be. Then, once my sister Lourdes was born, she had her own nanny to fuss over her. Our cook was a very nice lady from Haiti and she was a very good chef and person as well.
My first experience with a formal education was at the age of four. The school was named Margot Párraga – Arte e Idiomas. For the years I attended it was a pleasant experience. The teachers were nice and so were the friends I met. The bus would take us home for siesta and then school would recommence.
Some of the things that I enjoyed doing were going to my two great-aunts' huge three-bedroom apartment with a room for the chauffeur by the kitchen. The young kids from the building would gather to play hide-and-go-seek in the apartment. The only rule was not to hide in closets. Tía and Cucu, as we called my two great-aunts, would help us hide on rocking chairs covered with blankets and other great places. We would at times go downstairs to jump rope, play hopscotch, tag, or just sit around to talk and laugh. Tía and Cucu sure could make the best chocolate shake in the world.
Another great pastime was alternating weekends going to my father’s farm, named Manuela after his mother. There we would watch the cows, bulls, pigs, rabbits, and roosters. I learned how to ride my bicycle without training wheels. Since I was the oldest of a bunch of children from two families who visited, the others would follow me on my bike with their pedal cars, tricycles, and scooters. When we would get tired of doing that, it was off to the swings and slide, or singing Spanish children’s songs. During the other alternating weekends going to Miramar Yacht Club to enjoy swimming at the beach was wonderful too.
Mamama and I
My mother did not like to be called mami, mima, mom, or anything other than Mamama. When I started making the “m” sound I kept repeating it and Mamama stayed.
My birth certificate; the original document has aged and turned yellowish after more than half a century old. Back then, birth certificates were recorded months or years after birth. Even though I was born on March 6, 1954 at 2:00 P.M., this document did not exist until May of that same year.
At 15 months old with my mother holding me, who would have known what destiny had in store for me?
From the time I was about four years old, I loved attending church. My parents would take us every Sunday. But my Tía and Cucu would attend mass daily. I would sometimes beg to go. While the priest delivered the prayers in Latin, I would follow along with my mass book. I clearly remember the book having a vertical line that separated the Spanish section from the Latin. One of my two great-aunts would help me turn the page and find the correct passage.
From Riches to Refugee
Ana Maria García Velasco was my name until I migrated to the United States of America at the age of seven and a half on December 10th, 1961. That is when I went from riches to refuge as a refugee. Sometimes you have money and sometimes you do not. But thank God we had a roof over our head and food to grow strong. The Freedom Tower helped by providing dry powdered milk, cheese and canned beef for the people in exile. There were six of us including my cousin Elenita living in a one-bedroom apartment in the “Blocks of Alliegro.”
We would walk to Gesu Catholic Church every Sunday. The Gesu Church is a historic church located at 118 Northeast 2nd Street in Miami, Florida. It was scary crossing the bridge on foot with my parents and sisters, including Patty, the youngest one of my siblings, who was still in a stroller. While we would go across the Miami River, the alarm of that bridge when it was about to open gave me nightmares at times.
Each nun wearing her long habit would go and prepare the neighborhood children offering CCD classes. Even though I was fortunate to do my first communion in Cuba, the classes taught us well. The weekly visits by the nuns were welcomed by both young and old. Thank God that our faith was never taken away.
My father worked, saved, and being the businessman that he was, soon enough he opened El Gladiolo Florist here in Miami, Florida. On Sundays we would walk trying to find a bigger home. It was very difficult back then. There were signs on lawns that read, “For Rent, No Blacks, No Cubans, No Children, No Dogs.” After months of searching we finally found a wooden home across from Riverside Elementary School. The gentleman that owned two houses side by side was not prejudiced, so he rented one of the homes to us.
Once I started second grade at Riverside Elementary School in Miami, Florida, my name was shortened to Ana García. Since I enrolled in school during the middle of the school year I had to repeat second grade. I learned to read in the English language with the Dick and Jane series. I loved playing school and loved role playing, acting as the teacher or principal.
When I was ten years old my parents separated, then divorced. My mother soon married my stepfather. I am the eldest of four siblings, followed by Lourdes, Patricia, and Roger. My brother is my mother’s son with her second husband, Roger Ruano. After the divorce I attended a very small private school that I detested. Thank goodness that from fourth to sixth grade I had the privilege to attend Coral Way Elementary School. The school offered an excellent bilingual program. My schoolmates were Anglo, Jewish, Hispanic, and Greek. The Hispanics branched from Colombia, Venezuela, Perú, Panama, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the list goes on.
When I was ten years old, I visited Queens, New York. It was 1964 and during our stay I got to see the World’s Fair, the Empire State Building, and even went on a ferry to view the Statue of Liberty. I traveled with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. I would call my parents on alternating days, one day my mom, the next my dad, and so on. Each day I would cry because I missed them and wanted to go back home. My dad booked a flight and miraculously joined us.
A year later, I still was a skinny, scrawny looking girl. I loved reading, especially the Nancy Drew mystery series. From the time of my parents’ separation, followed by divorce, I lived with my dad, aunt, uncle, and cousin. My two sisters resided with my mom and stepfather.
My uncle loved buying beat-up houses, and after he would put the last nail in the fixer-upper it would be time to move again. After a few moves I told my dad I was sick of moving and that I wanted a house with a swimming pool. Eventually, he did buy a house that was situated on two lots. About a year later, he had the pool added. We continued living with my same aunt, uncle, and cousin until his other brother with his wife and my other three cousins came from Spain. Then they moved in, while the other family members moved out.
From the time I was ten to the age of 14 I danced ballet, enjoyed running the 50-yard dash, liked participating in standing broad jump, and volleyball. My mom would transport us to ballet classes, dances, and events.
By the time I was 14 years old, my father was working his business seven days a week, fourteen hours per day. So my mother and father agreed that it would be in the best interest of all the children if he left and she’d move in with my stepfather, brother, and sisters. My dad bought a condominium in South Beach and lived there a few years until he bought a house on Granada Boulevard in Coral Gables, Florida.
In our culture turning 15 is a big deal. The quinceañeara party is a big to-do. My parents planned my big event and it took place at The Everglades Hotel in downtown Miami. Four hundred guests attended. The fifteen couples danced the waltz, we ate, took pictures, and subsequently the guests danced to a live band.
During my teens I was no longer a brat, now I was a rebel with a mouth. If you knew me during high school years, you would have voted me, “Most likely not to succeed.” Thank God that eventually I did grow out of that stage. My parents sure prayed, cried, and never gave up. One thing I knew was that I did want to become somebody. I did not want to settle for unstable jobs. I wanted a career with benefits, stability, and a future. Plus, I wanted to do something I enjoyed. I dreamed of owning a house that would be my home for decades.
At the age of 19, way too young and for certain things immature, I married my first husband. After one and a half years the marriage failed. I truly thought that after that experience I would prefer staying alone. The first marriage left a bitter feeling that I did not wish to experience again. In a relationship you need respect, love, consideration, and trust among many things. Many of those key ingredients were not present in that marriage.
Determination and Tenacity
Rain or shine, tired or not, attending classes came first. Plus, all of the walking from one building to the other from class to class kept my heart pumping. First, I attended Miami Dade Community College, followed by Florida International University (F.I.U.) for both my bachelor and master's degrees.
Even though I would go dancing several nights a week, continuing to study was a priority. All of the dancing kept me fit and trim. As a matter of fact that is how I met Octavio. On an off-night, Monday to be exact, by chance I went to Honey for the Bears located in Coconut Grove. Honey for the Bears was a discotheque with great music. Call it fate, destiny, meant to be…
I met my second husband, Octavio Monnar, when I was 25 years old. He was a few days shy of 55. In spite of our difference in age and my father and best friend thinking and verbalizing that forming a bond would not be in my best interest, I was as determined as I am today and I know what is best for me. Imagine if I had listened to them we would not have experienced three years of courtship and 22½ years of marriage. We both worked full time, and volunteered at The Children’s Home Society.
After a few years my father and friends realized that age is just a number. They grew to love my husband, too and saw that we were good for one another. As a matter of fact, Octavio would collect rent from the tenants for my father, ran errands for him, delivered flowers on Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day, and even delivered flowers to funeral homes when it was extremely busy. My dad became conscious that Octavio was indeed a very good person who loved me and who loved my family too.
By the time I earned a master's degree in early childhood and elementary education in 1981, I graduated with a 3.5 something and on the Dean’s list. I am glad I studied to become a teacher because these 30 years flew by. Every year you meet your new learners and it is wonderful to see the improvement from the beginning until the end of the school year. It is indeed a very rewarding profession.
A Promise Is a Promise
When my dad was growing up, his father gambled a lot; the family was forced to move with all nine children from place to place. That made it very difficult for him to complete school.
Once my father was old enough to work, he started working in a movie theatre. From each paycheck he would give his mother one peso and keep one peso for his needs; he saved enough to put himself through business school. He was the founder and owner of El Gladiolo Florist in Cuba and then in the U.S.A.
His wish was to leave his three daughters with a house fully paid for. He made me promise never to refinance my home because a roof over your head is very important. I have seen myself in tight finances during my husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. His stay at the assisted living was very costly, approximately two thousand dollars a month for a period of a couple of years. His check was only nine hundred, plus a few dollars, my three children were in Catholic School, plus all the bills. But a promise is a promise and I did not refinance my house. I went into big debt; however God does send Angels your way when you really need them desperately. Father Lopez, the faculty and staff from Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, The Elvira Menendez Family Crisis Fund, Maria Verdeja, family and friends all helped in one way or another.
Pupi and Pupi
Pupi and Pupi is what my mother and stepfather refer to each other as terms of endearment. In English you pronounce it (Poo-pee) and as far back as I can remember that is what they have called each other. They love to travel, dine out, and are inseparable. My brother Roger is a product of both of them.
My mom worked for M-DCPS for Region IV as a part-time employee for seven years. Roger Ruano, my stepfather, worked at Bertram Yachts as a foreman for 26 years. He retired a few months ago, but went back as a part-time employee just recently. He is very handy and is always willing to help. He knows carpentry—making and installing cabinets, hanging doors, windows, roofing, electrical projects, and the list goes on.
Memories Last Forever
What we choose to remember mostly are the good times. If I wanted a parrot, a parrot it was. Octavio would go with me to the end of the world to please me. That went for anything and everything. If I did not feel like cooking, I would say, “Gordo, I’m hungry and I don’t feel like cooking.”
His reply always was, “Okay, honey, where do you want to go? Do you feel like eating Italian, Chinese, Cuban, or what do you want?” For many other things, it was either, “Yes honey” or “Yes dear.”
When the ladies were training us for the MAPP preparation to get the foster care license one of them asked, “Mr. Monnar, why do you want to care for children when you are close to retirement and could travel instead?”
His response was, “To make my wife happy.” She kept asking the same question because she wanted to know his true feelings about the subject. But he kept answering the same thing, “To make my wife happy.”
We Will Love You Forever
Good and sad memories are engraved in our hearts. Alzheimer’s disease will affect the memory. Perhaps one will not remember names or other important effects, but love is not forgotten. Octavio knew he loved us and that we loved him. My husband started getting lost, letting strangers in our home and placing himself and us in danger while I was at work. I knew that I had to find accommodations that would be suitable for him and for my children and me to visit.
After searching for a couple of months, I found a first-rate assisted living where he resided for about two years. He wore pajamas only to sleep. During the day he was assisted to shower, shave, dress and walk to the dining room, activities area, and corridors with sitting areas by the gated pool, fountains, and gardens. During holidays big feasts were celebrated on the premises and we would sign him out to visit relatives. Every single week, the children and I visited him, took extra snacks, and walked around the garden, or sat even in silence.
However in November of 2004 his stage worsened and he had to reside in an excellent nursing home until February 10, 2005, when he died. Seeing a loved one wither away was heartbreaking. For that reason, when his time came, he rested. Good memories last a lifetime and he will be remembered.
When the Tough Gets Rough
When the tough gets rough, and the tough gets going; we are one for all, and all for one. Our birth order is, I am the oldest, my sister Lourdes is the second born, Patty comes next, after that my brother Roger.
Even though we all live in the same city, we each have responsibilities that are job related, our own children, plus the daily obligations. However, if one is in dire need of assistance, the other siblings are there. For example, one day I had a flat tire and my brother was changing it. In the meantime, my lovely sister-in-law whom I truly love was calling him on the phone. She told him to go home to take a shower and get ready because they had a wedding to go to. He said in a few minutes, and stayed until the spare tire was on. Roger has been there whenever I had emergencies or experiences that needed his help. My sister-in-law, Mabel, and my brother chose me to be their first-born son’s Godmother. Then, they chose my late husband as the Godfather to their second son.
I guess you can say all of us enjoy dining out. I cannot speak for them, but my dancing days are not as frequent. I also don’t exercise at a gym, swim, or walk for the heart as much as I should. The four of us celebrate holidays, baby showers, and birthdates with all of our children. When the cousins get together, they love talking, listening to music, going to the beach, pool, and park, and participating in a lot of fun activities.
And the Beat Goes On
In a world of laughter and a world of tears, for me at times it is better to communicate in writing. However, sometimes words said or not spoken will work for me too. Writing has been very therapeutic for me since 2002 when my late husband started getting progressively worse due to Alzheimer’s disease complications. On February 10, 2005, he lost his battle on Earth, but conquered the spiritual continuation in the Kingdom in Heaven.
The lady on the far left is my stepdaughter Alina. She is my late husband’s only biological daughter after four marriages. I must have gotten him when he was older and tired because he worshiped me. Had he treated the first three wives as he loved, respected, and pleased me, the story would have a different ending. Alina is very close to our hearts and she is my children’s sister and my daughter, Anna’s, Godmother.
I am now 53 years old, raising three teenage children that I love more than life. I hope to live long enough to see them flourish and doing well as human beings with a good heart and soul. Whatever profession, spouse, and choices they make I will pray that God will guide them always. For the moment I enjoy taking them to the movies, parties, shopping, and sports events. My oldest son goes to mass with me every Sunday. The other two go not quite as often.
My favorite thing to do is go see my own children play basketball. Very frequently I have my minivan full of basketball players. It’s also fun listening to Power 96, Y100, plus some of their CD’s while we are on the road. Transporting some of the team players to tournaments and cheering for them by name is heart throbbing.
With age I have discovered that being mellow sure makes your life and other people’s lives easier. At work and in social circumstances I believe in being in low-key gear. But when it comes to my own children and my students I expect completed assignments, effort, and respect. That comes at the cost of gray roots growing more rapidly than I care for. With one’s own children the task is more difficult, but that is when rewards and consequences kick in.
Calm and smooth is what I aim for the majority of the time. But I must say that running a household with three teenagers is not easy. Getting sleep around here is sometimes very difficult. At times the speakers are booming past midnight.
Next school year Alberto and Anna will be juniors in high school, while Alex will be a sophomore. From the sound of their tune, Anna wants to go to a local university, Alex wishes to become a firefighter, and Alberto is the only one contemplating going away to college. We shall see when the time comes.
Hopefully, I will get a full night's sleep every evening, travel, wine and dine, plus continue writing once my three children become fully independent. For the time being I will hold on, won’t give up on any of the three, and continue to the best of my ability to guide them.
My dogs Lulu and Pepe are approximately 11 years old and slowing down. My Amazon Yellow Nape parrot Sunny has been with me a little over 20 years and still talks, whistles, and laughs. The four outdoor cats are still getting fed twice daily. All of the pets slow me down in the traveling department. I refuse to put them in a kennel while we vacation. Fortunately a family member comes to feed them, cover and uncover the bird, and let the dogs roam around the yard.
A Day to Die
There is a time to live once we are born, and a day to die. There is only one thing that is guaranteed in life and that is death. Since I believe in fate and destiny, I will die when it is my day to die. It won’t be a day sooner, or a day later. So before I go, I hope to make a difference in the life of my three children, family, students, friends, pets, and the world of literacy.
Good times, and rough times, good deeds and resentful sins are situations that made me the person I am today. I repeatedly tell my two sons and one daughter, “Choose your friends and mates, not by the money in their bank account, creed, ethnicity or color. Choose your significant others by their character, actions, heart, and soul. When we bleed, we bleed the same color.”
Before I am dead and gone, I will make a difference. This I am certain of, as one of my missions in life was to raise my three children. When I get feedback from them from time to time, I remember comments such as…When my son Alberto was younger, he once asked, “Mom, was that other lady nice?”
My response was, “Of course she was nice, honey; she gave you the gift of life.”
Just recently I was getting really tough on Alberto, telling him to spend more time studying and less time on the computer and telephone. Even though he knows how to pace himself and has earned the tribute of the National Honor Roll in ninth and tenth grades for his academic achievement.
“Alberto, I’m sorry that I have been really tough on you lately. Please forgive me.”
My oldest son Alberto then responds, “That’s your job.”
“My mom happens to be the branches because she is what keeps us from falling and she is our support system. She is there for us no matter what all the way until the end, just like the branches that connect to the trunk and go in deeply all the way through its roots.”
Quote from my daughter, Anna
“Mom I know I bug you, but I love you to death.”
Quote from my son, Alex
So if I had to do it all again—marry my husband and raise my three children, would I? The answer is a clear, “Yes!” Looking back at the great, good, tough, and rough times and the outcome, I am very glad I made my decisions and went with my heart. One knows when something feels right.
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First published by
Readers Are Leaders U.S.A.
Ana Maria, My Autobiography and Heart of Stone
Edited by Linda Weinerman from Inkwater Press
Copyright Ó Ana Monnar