Father’s Day

Hi Dad. Yes it’s been a while.

I’m good Dad. The family is doing well, too.

Yeah, I know. There are good days and bad days. But like you’ve always told me, I try to focus on the good days and not dwell on the bad days. Or fight what I can’t change.

Of course I miss Mom. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of her. We all miss her. We miss you, too.

I know I know. We should try to get on with life. Not dwell on your loss since we can’t change it. But, you and Mom were pretty awesome. So unique. Larger than life. We were lucky to have you.

Don’t say that, Dad. You and Mom went above and beyond for us. And despite the circumstances, despite the way your world changed around you and despite all those broken dreams, you and Mom struggled through it. Made new lives and sacrificed and toiled so that we could live our own dreams without anyone dictating what those dream should be. That’s an incredible gift you gave us.

Stop that, Dad. You did more than enough. We live by our own auspices, freely. Because of you. Because of Mom. Because of you and Mom. What more can a mother and father want for their children?

The grandkids? They’re great. The greatgrandkids, too. Plus, Dad, we added one more to the greatgrandkids tally this year. Beautiful baby boy.

Yeah, her first. The kid kinda looks like you sometimes. He’s definitely got your hands. Big ole hammers like yours. He’s gonna be a big boy.

You were there, Dad. Every second of the way. She held a locket with your photo throughout the whole giving birth ordeal. Not that she needed it. We all carry you in our hearts every moment of every day.

Of course I cried. You know me. You would have cried, too.

You should be really pleased, Dad. And proud. Like I said before, you and Mom raised a great family.

Stop crying Dad. You’re gonna make me lose it as well.

The house? Yeah, about that. We had to let it go. It was a difficult decision given that we lived there so long. So many memories, good and bad. But despite the fact that you and Mom were in every inch of that house, without you guys there, it was just a shell.

Oh, hell yeah. It was hard to even go there at first. I don’t know how many times I went and couldn’t even get out of the car. It was just too much for me.

Yeah, that’s what I think, too. Some other young family will have many years in it, filled with their own good times and bad times and their own memories. I’m sure it’ll be in good hands.

Anyway, Dad. I just wanted to let you know that I miss you. And that I miss Mom. And that I love you both forever even if you aren’t here with me physically anymore.

Of course, Dad. I’m taking really good care of your tools. Geez. I use them all the time. You taught me well, Viejo.

Anyway, Dad. Father’s Day is on Sunday and I figured I’d let you know that I don’t need a special day to think about you. To me, everyday is Father’s Day. And I cherish my Old Man always.

Don’t thank me, Dad. It’s I who thank you.

Give Mom a hug and kiss for me, Ok?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Wheelbarrow

I needed a wheelbarrow the other day. Had to mix a bunch of bags of concrete for a small slab I wanted to pour out in the old Mancamp area by the canal out back. Unless you do a lot of heavy yard work or construction work around the house it’s not something you usually have. They’re a bit pricey to start with and they’re big and bulky and difficult store for that one time you get to use it all year. So I asked my neighbor if he had one I could borrow.

He said he had one and was about to trash it. “It’s all screwed up. Doesnt even roll.”

I figured as long as the pan was good I didn’t need it to roll. I could just basically set it next to the slab form and mix the concrete in place. So I lugged it over. It’s a beat up old thing, rusty in some areas. Patchy with splotches of concrete and plaster and who knows what else all over. The ends of the wood handles were pretty much rotted and shot at the bottom and someone had replaced the wheel with a bigger wheel that didn’t fit properly and done a really shoddy job of installing it.

The nuts, bolts and screws holding the wheel brackets were either stripped or bent or too rusted to actually work. A nut was missing from one of them and nails had been driven in and bent in an attempt to keep the bracket from shifting and in turn keep the wheel from shimmying off. Whoever had replaced that wheel had done so in an obvious move of desperation. A last ditch effort to get whatever job was at hand complete and then be done with that rusty, rickety old thing.

“You can toss it when you’re done with it,” my neighbor had told me.

And I used it like that, too. Yeah, it was a bit cumbersome. Had it been in perfect working order I probably could have gotten the job done a bit sooner, maybe a bit easier. But, as it was, even with a wheel that wouldn’t spin and that would come off and dig into the ground, it actually helped me get the concrete mixed and the slab poured.

The slab is by no means perfect, but that’s not the wheelbarrow’s fault. That is all on me. I am by no means a mason and mixing twelve 80 lb bags of concrete isn’t something I do all that often, thank heavens. Still, tho, the slab is good enough for its purpose.

I couldn’t bring myself to dump the wheelbarrow after all the work was done. No. I rinsed it clean. Set it upright against the fence to let the excess water runoff. To keep the rust from rusting, I suppose.

The next day I went out back to see how the concrete had set. Hoping the forms hadn’t burst and concrete hadn’t seeped and oozed out all over the place. It still looked good. I was sore all over, but I stood there pretty proud of my work and incredibly thankful for that wheelbarrow that now leaned up against the fence, ready to be dumped.

The wheelbarrow, despite its aesthetic shortcomings and its utilitarian issues had still proven itself useful. So I set out to fix it.

I pried the wheel off, straightened the nails out and yanked them out, unscrewed what nuts I could and ground the stubborn bolts and screws right off. I studied the “this wheel is too big for this barrow” situation, figured out a plan and carried it out. I cut steel angles to fit, drilled holes in them, found new nuts and bolts and now the wheelbarrow, while it wont make any magazine covers, sits there ready for use. It don’t look pretty mind you, but it’ll work just alike any ole new wheelbarrow.


It’s now a working, useful wheelbarrow and I have my Dad to thank for that. Every tool I used to fix the thing was once his: the hammer, the little sledge, the long screwdriver, the angle grinder. I even found 8 brand spanking new bolts in one of his old nuts and bolts containers and a piece of angle iron I could cut to fit.

And the actual know how. The ability to examine the problem, to see what was available to me and to come up with a solution – and a good one at that – and to do the actual work required is something that like tools, Dad passed on to me.

Dad’s been gone 3 years and he’s still proving himself useful. He is still around getting shit done. How about that?

Can’t think of a better birthday gift that I could ever give him. Felicidades, Papi!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Call

I didn’t get to make the call. The one I so longed to make and the one Dad so longed to receive.

Dad and I never discussed it, the call. It was something understood between Cuban father and son. And I know I wouldn’t actually be breaking the news. Dad always had the TV news on at home. Yet, still, we both waited a long time, patiently, to have that conversation.

“Dad…” I would have barely mustered the word.

“Hahahaha!” Dad’s laugh would have boomed through. “Colgo los tenis el hijoeputa!!!!” The son of a bitch is dead.

The conversation would have been short and full of “finally’s”. But Dad would have said one other thing that now – right now that fidel castro is finally, actually dead – wrenches my heart.

“I didn’t think I’d live to see the day,” he would have said. Calmly. Almost under his breath.

Dad died almost three years ago and I didn’t get to make that call. Mom died almost two years ago and I didn’t get to make that call either.

I hugged my wife last night when we heard the news. Both of us crying. Me because I no longer had my parents here to call and she because she got to call her parents.

I didn’t get to make the call but I will forever remember the day. And I will reconcile the fact that my parents died before that bearded bastard in one simple way:

fidel castro shattered my parents lives and broke their dreams. But thanks to their strength and sacrifices and determination, he couldn’t shatter mine.

Dad, Mom, today I celebrate your lives and not that man’s death.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pasado por agua

I thought about you last night as I tried to peel a hard boiled egg. I never peel them right. They always end up missing chunks, looking more like jagged rocks than eggs. Mom, how did you do it? Yours were always perfect. No missing chunks, no bits of eggshell. Perfectly pristine, shiny and ovate. And to top it off, you always made my eggs the way I liked them, pasados por agua, soft boiled. I’ve tried to make them like that. Always end up with warm egg yolk on my fingers, dripping into the sink. How did you do it, Mom? A perfectly timed egg, pasado por agua, perfectly peeled, chopped up and served in that little glass bowl with just the right little pinch of salt every morning before I went to school?

With everything else you had to do every morning – getting me up and out of bed and dressed, making Dad’s thermosfull of cafe, my cafe con leche, getting yourself ready for work, my lunch, Dad’s lunch, your lunch and my little bag of Ovaltine and sugar – you still had the time to make me the perfect egg, watch me eat it and then wash the bowl and spoon. You still had time to check my hair, straighten my collar, kiss me on the forehead and bless me with a smile and a “Have a good day, Mi niño.”

I know. Today’s your 90th birthday and I’m here talking about boiled eggs. But I could just as easily be talking about a million other things you did for me and a million other things that remind me of you. I could just as easily go on and on about the things that made you happy or, even, the things that made you mad. I could tell you about how the orchids in my yard remind me of you. Or about the shirt you made me that hasn’t fit me for over 20 years that’s still in my closet there next to new dress shirts and that still gets dry cleaned every so often. And remember that time you took me to the beach and on our way home and a bug bit your leg and you lifted it and your foot came off the brake pedal and we hit the car in front of us that was waiting for the bridge to close? Yeah. I could talk about that too.
There isn’t much that doesn’t make me think about you and if it were just boiled eggs that reminded me of you I’d eat boiled eggs three times a day, seven days a week.

I guess I just wanted to say Happy Birthday, Mami. I just wanted to let you know how special today is. How special you still are and how special you will always be.


Thank you for making boiled eggs and just about everything else so special for me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


20150608_104443“I’m so happy you’re finally here,” She’d say through a smile. “I’ve been waiting for you to take me home.”

“Mami,” I’d whisper in her ear as I hugged and kissed her hello. “You’re in the hospital, Mom. I can’t take you home.”

“The hospital?” She would look around the room. “But I feel fine,” she’d say when she recognized that she was, in fact, in the hospital. Other days, she’d swear she wasn’t in a hospital room. “This is not a hospital room.”

She’d get a little ticked off then. “I don’t care. I want to go home. Why can’t you take me home?”

Some days, I’d let that last question linger for a bit. Let the thought of Mom being home engulf me. I’d imagine her swaying in her recliner in her Florida room, of her having her cafe con leche in the mornings staring out at her orchids in the patio. I wanted to take her home as much as she did. After weeks – months – of being in hospital or rehab with little or no improvement, of struggling with the indignities of constant thirst, being poked with needles and IVs, of having to wear diapers and then having to wait for a nurse or an aide to come and clean her soiled body, her soiled bed, having her home is what we all wanted.

“Mom, I can’t take you home today.” Sometimes, I didnt know if those words actually came out of my mouth.

“Well, I’m going home anyway,” she’d say angrier than before. “I’ll get dressed and call a cochero to take me home.” Thinking she could summon a cochero – horse drawn carriage – like she did when she was a teenager in Bayamo where she lived in Cuba.

“Mami,” I’d reply while holding her hand or brushing back her hair with my fingers. “You can’t go home today. The doctor hasn’t been by to see you yet.”

“But I feel fine. Why do I have to wait for the doctor?”

“Because the hospital wont release you until the doctor says you’re OK.”

“But I feel fine. . .”

“Mom. . .” Id take a deep breath, dreading what I now had to say and knowing where the conversation would take me. It was the same conversation we’d had every day for weeks. “Mom, you aren’t well. You’re in the hospital. You’ve been in the hospital for a while now.”

On most days, I could see what Id just told her sinking in. The tone in her voice would soften.

“Valen, and what’s wrong with me?”

“Mami,” I’d swallow hard, knowing that telling her about her bad mitro cardial valve and the litany of issues related to her heart and cardiac system would most likely be too much for her to understand. “There’s a problem with your blood pressure mom, and you are retaining water.” I’d clench my teeth as I’d say this because I knew what was coming next. Most days I would have to look away so as not to show my heartbreak at the coming question.

“Valen,” she’d ask with the frightened awe and innocent demeanor of a four year old. “Am I going to die?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



I had my first inspection at a project in Medley yesterday. If you’ve ever had to go to the heart of the City of Medley, you’ll know why I was dreading it. It’s a small, blue collar industrial enclave just South of Okeechobee Road, West of the Palmetto Expressway. It’s dirty, gritty and nowadays really crowded. There are hundreds of warehouses, logistics parks, manufacturing plants, concrete plants…etc.. All of these make for a plethora of semi trucks, dump trucks, concrete trucks and all manner of other trucks congesting the streets which are mostly single lane byways. I’d say the streets are littered with potholes and concrete splatters, dips, bumps, but really its the other way around. The potholes are littered with streets. A cloud of dust mixed with smoke and other debris looms over Medley like fog.

Dad worked in Medley for almost twenty years.

After braving the potholes and the traffic I made it to the project site running just a few minutes late. I could taste the foul air as I walked the site, took photographs and ensured my work was being done correctly. By the time I got back to the construction trailer to sign the Inspection Log Book, I had a sore throat. My nose was stuffy, my face was gritty and my eyes stung.

“Yeah,” the site superintendent told me as I signed off on the inspection. “Looks like you have the Medley Flu.”

I let out a chuckle that turned into a cough. “I dont know how you do it,” I replied. “What’s the quickest way out of here?”

Back in the truck I wiped the sweaty grit off my face and soothed the eyes with some eyedrops. My throat was still scratchy as I headed offsite and followed the super’s directions. Down this street, right at the stop.

There was a trucked stopped about a block after the right turn. It was blocking the street and I cursed it as I tend to do in traffic. As I stood there desperately waiting to get out of the grime and dust that is Medley, I realized exactly where I was. I had been on this precise street hundreds of times. Right then and there I was afraid to look to my left because I knew exactly what I was going to see.

I was right in front of US Foundry. Where Dad worked. And not only was I in front of US Foundry, but I was in front of the exact spot where Dad’s work table was. The same spot where Dad spent his days toiling, slamming his sledge hammer, plying iron and steel to conform to his strength and his will. Eight hours days out there in the weather, sheltered only by a corrugated metal roof, in the heat, the rain, the cold.

For almost twenty years Dad busted his ass right there at that spot, sucking in the foul Medley air along with welding fumes. Day in. Day out. In a dirty uniform and heavy steel toed boots. His face permeated with grime and grit. His hands and arms bruised and cut and scarred. Dealing with not only whatever heavy task was at hand but with asshole managers and disrespectful coworkers. Pricks that would steal his lunch and lazy shits whose work Dad had to finish. Working on his feet all day, despite pain in his ankles, or his knees, or elbows or shoulders or the thumb he’d accidentally smashed the day before. Ignoring the burns on his arms and little metal shavings under his fingernails. In Godforsaken Medley. With never so much as a regret or a complaint.

Day in. Day Out.

For my sister and me. So we wouldn’t have to work as hard nor ever have to make the sacrifices he did. So we would have clothes on our backs, clean faces, fresh haircuts and full bellies. For Mom. So she could have a nice home, an occasional trip to a faraway beach and not be want of anything, ever.

Pain and sweat and grime and grit and stench and sacrifice.

Day in. Day out.

For his family.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

La Farmacia

slingI took a nasty spill the other night and hurt my shoulder. I wasn’t in severe pain, but was in enough discomfort that I thought it best to see the doctor. “Pulled or strained deltoid,’ he said. “Nothing serious. Restrict movement for a few days with a sling and here’s a prescription for painkillers.”

Went to Walgreen’s directly from the doctor’s office and was told at the pharmacy that I had a fifteen to twenty minute wait. No biggie, I thought. I’ll look for the sling in the interim.

I don’t know who decides how to stage merchandise for the pharmacy chain, and I’m sure there’s a precise logic behind it, but, there are two aisles where one finds similar items for orthopedic issues. In one aisle there are all sorts of pain relief creams and ointments and a number of knee, wrist and ankle braces and the other has other related items like neck braces, back braces, walking canes and crutches and the like.

After a couple of quick walk throughs of both aisles plus one with a Walgreen’s employee there was no sign of a sling. My painkillers wouldnt be ready yet so I began a more thorough search. I knew exactly what I was looking for – packaging and all – because Dad had one. I had done this exact same search years ago with my father.

As I poured over the multitude of items before me I realized, right there in aisle 6 of my local Walgreen’s, that Dad had almost one of each of these things I’d been sifting through looking for the sling. Knee braces? Check. Wrist braces? Check. Back brace? Check. Neck brace. Orthopedic socks. Crutches. Walking canes? At least three. Walker coasters and rubber tips. Splints. Pain relief patches. Ace bandages. Bedpans and urinals. Heating pads.

My heart sank. Dad spent the final few years of his life accumulating medical supplies. Accumulating maladies for which he needed to accumulate the medical supplies. Dad’s final days consisted of a quick trip to the supermarket for a newspaper and daily staples and a trip to La Farmacia, because Mom’s refills were ready. Because the pain in his hip had worsened. Because he ran out of glucose strips. Because the blood pressure monitor needed new batteries. Because of a bad reaction to a new med. Because Mom had erutos again. Because my bed ridden Tio Luis had run out of bed pads.

Dad must have gone to the pharmacy every day. And when he could no longer drive, it was me. Or my sister. “Las Muchachitas de la farmacia,” as he called his pharmacists, came to his funeral.

I found the sling in its familiar packaging, the music over the speakers stopped. “Mr. Prieto,” the store intercom called out. “Please come to the pharmacy. Your prescription is ready.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Last year was our first Thanksgiving without Dad, yet his presence was not only felt, but manifested as shown in the photo below. A light shining brightly over Mom.


This year, our first thanksgiving without Mom, as we gather once again to thank God for all of our blessings, may their light shine upon this beautiful family created by their love, sacrifices and tenderness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I lost it yesterday in the soda aisle at the local supermarket. The Mrs. had sent me to pick up a couple things and I decided to get a pack of water and there they were, packed in sixes, 7 oz. bottles with the all too familiar Taino Chief logo, on sale.  Maltas, or as mom used to call them because of the smaller bottles maltinas.


And right there among all the Cokes and Pepsis and Sprites, cans and 2 liter bottles, with some off version of the Police’s Every Breath You Take playing from the speakers overhead, I lived my childhood through to the last couple of weeks of my mom’s life. All of it, in an instant.


I was, as mom would put it, una vara de tumbar gatos – a rod to knock down cats. (Apparently, in Cuba, if your cat climbed up a tree, you didn’t call the Fire Department, you used some kind of skinny rod  to poke them down and thus, if you were skinny as a rail, like I was, that’s what they called you. A cat rod. ) So skinny was I that mom tried everything to get me to gain weight and the only thing that I really enjoyed were the maltinas. She’d offer them and I’d chug them down. And when she mixed them with condensed milk…heaven.

There were always at least two or three six packs of maltinas at mom’s house. Six little bottles in the fridge and at least another six if not twelve backup little bottles in the pantry. I’d have at least two a day until I got older and switched to a different kind of brewed malt beverage.

Mom loved them, too. Every time she and dad would send me for groceries maltinas were always near the top of the list. “Bring at least two seepacks,” Dad would say.


Mom went into the hospital with shortness of breath caused by fluid in the lungs as a result of CHF and Mitral Valve Prolapse. She was retaining water at an unhealthy rate and was placed on diuretics and fluid restrictions right away. She would ultimately live the remainder of her days on said restrictions and diuretics.

She retained so much fluid that she even experienced third spacing, where the fluid ultimately traveled down to her legs and caused not only swelling and edemas, but blistering from inside her skin. It was heartbreaking to see her so swollen, but it was a million times worse to see her thirsty, hear her begging for a sip of water and not being able to give it to her.

For weeks – months – mom was subjected to unknown thirst. She would beg, she would scream. She couldn’t sleep from thirst and all we could do was moisten her lips and tongue with a little stick with a sponge on the end.

Her lips chapped. Her mouth got so dry that she could barely swallow, couldn’t chew any food and when she spoke her voice was hoarse. And when she spoke, all she said was Agua. Demen agua.

Right before she went back into hospital from the rehab facility for the second and final time, all she wanted, all she kept asking for and dreaming about was a nice, cold maltina.

So I broke down in tears in the soda aisle in front of the tons of malta six packs. So many to choose from, some even on sale. Had I been able to swallow, I could have downed two or three right there and then out of principle, as if to give mom the maltinas she yearned for but never got to drink.

I’m so, so sorry, Mami.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


My grandfather had so many brothers and sisters that still, to this day, at the age of fifty, I can’t name them all. There were sixteen siblings in total and consisted of everything from engineers to pintores de brocha fina – artists. One very special one of them, my Tia Dulce (literally translated “Aunt Sweet”) wrote poems. Long, beautiful odes to anything and everything that struck her fancy. On my 18th birthday I was handed a envelope that contained one sheet of ruled school paper with a poem written by Tia Dulce titled “Tetecoso.”

Tetecoso was about me. Penned in graceful cursive and in old school Cuban poetic metric, it described how I was the unique and perfect product of “Tete”, my mom, and “Coso,” my dad. Both of my parents loved it, and they read it aloud over and over that day to the point where I was embarrassed.

I didn’t pay it much mind, tho. I was eighteen and my priorities were elsewhere. Knowing this, mom took the poem, carefully folded it back as it had been, and placed it in the envelope. “I’ll put this away for you until you’re ready.

Years ago, when Tia Dulce passed, mom and I remembered Tetecoso and she went to her secret poem stash place and brought it out. This time, I read it aloud and mom and dad and I, while pleased to have received such delightful and elegant verses, found ourselves in tears.

And I stood there as mom took Tetecoso from my hands once again, carefully folded back as it had been and slipped it backed into its envelope. She then held the envelope in front of her with both hands, kissed it and offered it to me.

I couldnt take it from her. “No, Mami,” I said through a slight lump in my throat. “You hold on to it for me. I don’t want to lose it.”


We laid mom to rest less than two weeks ago and I fear I will never see Tetecoso again. I’ve searched everywhere for it to no avail. Lamentably, Tetecoso became a victim of Alzheimer’s by proxy.

Mom’s dementia related to the disease intensified as did other related symptoms, including perhaps the most heartbreaking of all Alzheimer’s related phenomena, Sundown Syndrome or Sundowning.

Every afternoon, mom would get increasingly confused, increasingly agitated and increasingly restless. The restlessness caused her to bustle about the house, room to room, opening and rifling through drawers, closets, cabinets…She arranged and rearranged everything with no apparent logic or coherence behind it.

What were once meticulously organized drawers with costume jewelry became stockpiles of empty boxes and old photos and medicine bottles and calendars and make up. Clothes mixed in with papers mixed in with pens mixed in with knick knacks. Cluttered and incongruous, like her thoughts.


Tetecoso the poem may be lost forever or I may find it some day tucked inside a panty hose found in the back of a drawer full of confusion.

Tetecoso the me lives, however, pride and product of Tete and Coso. This blog is dedicated to my parents, whose loss has been profound but whose love will always be eternal.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment