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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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My Mother. My Inspiration.

Submitted by on May 10, 2012 – 4:15 am8 Comments

Growing up Cuban, the concept of Mother’s Day was like a secular High Holy Day (Wait! Is that an oxymoron?) to celebrate the woman who cooked and cleaned and kissed skinned knees and kept the household running smoothly. So many of us remember how it was abuelita who was always available, always wearing an apron and smelling of sweet talc, always selflessly putting others before her.

This coming Sunday, I will be celebrating the woman who brought me into this world and has been such an inspiration in my life. But not for the reasons you may be thinking.

Marta and her mom, Luza

When we left Cuba, I barely knew my grandmother and my own mother has never quite fit the bill of the classic abuelita. She inspires me in that she is much more like an interesting character in a novel than just “Mami.” And someday I’m going to sit down and write that novel. Until then, let me tell you about this character named, “Luza.”

My mother turned 98 this year. I have to start with that fun fact because when I tell the rest of the story you must keep reminding yourself that she is 98, and has lived almost a century.

Her given name is Luz Aurora, but her grandchildren gave her the nickname, “Luza,” and it suits her, so she kept it. She is Luza to all friends and acquaintances, including those who now know her through my writing.

Luza was born in 1914. The same year that Babe Ruth made his debut with the Red Sox. When she was around 19 or 20 (that would be around 1934), she and her brothers started listening to the World Series when it came around every year on the family radio. She has not missed a series to this day.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo flight non-stop from New York to Paris. She and her family listened to the news of this amazing feat on that same radio and it so captured their imagination, they named their German shepherd, “Lindbergh.” But this was Cuba, 1927, so they pronounced it “LEEN-BERR.” She still remembers him fondly.

Luza and "Leemberr."

She has been a political refugee, a green-card carrying permanent resident alien, and eventually became an American citizen when she was in her 60’s. She has voted in every presidential election since 1974.

She went from her mother’s house to being a wife and a mother.

She has never worked outside of the home.

She has never driven a car.

She has always been provided for and has always gone wherever she has needed and wanted to go.

She loves to travel.

She still wears red nail polish, dyes her hair, and wouldn’t be caught dead without red lipstick.

She loses her balance occasionally, so she uses a walker now, but she still wears heels when she dresses up.

She only wears her glasses “sometimes,” because she’s a little vain about her appearance. She does not need them to read and only puts them on when her eyes get tired. (Let me remind you again that she’s 98, people.)

She saves every single greeting card from every single occasion and works diligently to get them pasted into her scrapbook. She is on scrapbook number 34, but that’s not important right now.

She loves juicy bits of gossip, watches way too many telenovelas on tv, and describes William Levy as a “muñecon.”

She’s still very bossy. (The apple does not fall far….)

She is a voracious reader, usually juggling 3 to 4 books at a time.

She has sixteen grandchildren and will tell you that although they are all nice looking, her own six children are much, much better looking. (This makes me smile every time.)

She knows about blogging and the internet and will happily tell you how the internet search engines work. (See the iconic, “Cuco and Yayo.”)

We got her a fur coat for Christmas a few years ago because she really wanted one. Now she wants us to take her places where she can show it off.

We never tell her anymore when we’re going to Vegas because she will invariably insist on coming along. She plays roulette, and always puts her money on #22, ” el sapo” in the “Charada China.”

She spends one weekend with my family every month. This last time, she arrived in her fur coat, with her walker and the first thing she said was, “I dyed my hair red. Do you like it?”

Luza in her fur coat and rocking the red hair.

See what I mean? I seriously have to sit down and write that novel.

Share, por favor!


  • Martha, the story of your mom Luza just brought a tear to my eye reminding me of my Cuban grandmother who died at the age of 86. Luza’s story reminds me of Mima’s story {my grandmother} who would always -until the day she passed away- say when she saw another older woman: “ay mira era viejita pobresita que necesita lentes!” I think Cuban mom’s and grandmothers are the best! I still have my Cuban mom, which I adore! they are bossy and very outspoken but I love that! Thank you for sharing Luza’s story and reminding me today of my grandmother. :)

  • ALEXANDRA says:

    I could comment in English, but I’ll do it in Spanish..será que todas las mamás y abuelas latinas le sacan jugo a la vida hasta el último momento?! Will we be able to live up to that? Me encantó tu relato y si te animas a escribir la novela hazlo ya, me imagino que será inolvidable para ti verlo en el buró de tu mami como uno de sus 3 0 4 libros…Felicidades!!

  • Grace says:

    Luza reminds me of my grandmother in her feistiness, and that picture of her with her red hair wearing the fur coat is precious. Of course, “Cuca and Yayo” is a classic!

  • Victor says:

    Your stories about your mom brings me to tears when i read them. I came from Cuba at 6 years old. And the memories of my grandmother are of chubby arms so soft and comforting when you held on to them. I am lucky as you are too, to still have my mom. She is 85 and Thank God very healthy and lively. I never realize just how blessed I am until somebody tells me about their moms being ill or not healthy in their old age (or passed away). I am the youngest of three live in NJ and she in Tampa and I still call my mom if not everyday it’s every other day. I learned Love, Respect, Charity and Laughter from my mom. God Bless Cuban mothers and abuelas.

  • Abuela says:

    Marta, que bendicion que tu madre a esa edad sea como es,yo quiero ser como ella si Dios me da esos años,muy lindo tu articulo.

  • So William Levy es un muñecon? Her eyes aren’t THAT tired!! ; )

    Abrazotes to her and all your family- may we keep reading stories about them for years to come.

    Bohemian Babushka´s last [fabulousness] ..American Latino Heritage Fund- Castillo de San Marcos

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