One photograph — a lifetime of memories

Photographs do more than record a static instant in life, they can also record a lifetime of memories and preserve them for future generations. What might be to one person nothing more than a picture of a simple object, can to another person hold a deep and emotional meaning spanning an entire lifetime.

The other day, out of simple curiosity, I entered into a Google search the name of the man who was my father’s boss in Havana, Cuba, back in 1958. I was surprised when within a couple of clicks, I came across this gem of a photograph.

vela

The yacht pictured above is the “Vela,” which my father captained for many years. The photograph of this 45-foot sport fisherman, which was owned by a prominent and successful attorney in Havana, was apparently taken in 1952. My late father and the Vela participated in countless fishing tournaments in Cuba and the Caribbean, and we have many photographs of him posing on a dock somewhere with marlins, sailfish, dolphins and practically anything else they managed to catch.

As the captain of a yacht owned by a well-connected attorney, my father got the chance to meet famous and powerful people in Cuba. He even met Ernest Hemingway on several occasions, though the only lasting impression the famous American author made on him was the fact that he was a nasty and obnoxious drunk.

My father did not always hobnob with the rich and famous; he was actually raised in a poor village in the province of Pinar del Rio. During the first half of the 20th century in Cuba, however, nearly everyone had the opportunity to achieve prosperity and better themselves. My father was the perfect example after he went from being a barefoot and shirtless boy during the depression era, fishing with his older brother to help feed his family, to being able to provide a modest home and comfortable life to his own family in Havana while doing what he loved the most–working on the sea. Our family was not rich by any stretch of the imagination, we were just a middle class family, and that is all my father really wanted.

To me this photograph of the Vela tells more than just the story of how the rich and famous enjoyed themselves in Havana before its destruction in 1959. To me this picture tells the story of a young boy who grew up in utter poverty and was given an opportunity to experience a better life and ensure his children would never feel the pangs of hunger. This picture not only speaks of fishing tournaments and regattas with the glitterati of Cuba, it also speaks about the opportunities that existed on the island that were available for anyone who wanted to better themselves.

I imagine that all that remains of the Vela is its memory and a few photographs. And it is a fact that as every year passes, there are fewer persons left alive to remember what Cuba was like when it was free. But as long as these photographs continue to be preserved, and the memories they represent continue to be passed to the next generation–as my father passed them to me and I pass them to my children–they will never be forgotten.

7 thoughts on “One photograph — a lifetime of memories”

  1. Nice picture and beautifully written. This is the history lesson I find myself constantly repeating when so many people – both in Cuba and outside – repeat the “mesa redonda” line that all old-school exiles are the uber rich that first left when castro took over. That is so far from reality!!! Like if there was no middle class in Cuba prior to 1959!!!

    BTW, was the photo taken in the bahia del golfito (playa El Cachon), in Cojimar? The sight and the white building in the brackground look awfully familiar from my view on the other side, in Alamar…

  2. I’m not sure where that picture was taken, Cubanita. According to the site I found the picture on, it may have been Miramar since the festivities for the regatta it was reporting on started at the Miramar Yacht Club.

  3. Fantastic find, Alberto!

    I have cousins that have worked in the yachting business for decades in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. In addition to maintaining and refinishing yachts they have also been “First Mates” on celeb yachts, such as Evel Knievel and Anthony Quinn. Ah! The stories they tell! Most recently the ‘drug pirates’ out on the waters.

  4. Alberto –

    Ask him if he’s ever known a Dennis or Adrian Szugye (Hunkie name for sure). I haven’t seen/heard from my cousin Dennis in well over 30 years. (Honestly wouldn’t know him if I passed him on the streets)

    But Adrian stays in touch. Most recently last year he was hired to work for a Sheik for a year in the UAE to oversee the conversion to “yachts” of military ships the sheik had purchased to present them as ‘model’ yachts for the Sheik to start that as a business … but quit and came home after a couple months when the sheik was stiffing him and the crew of pay.

  5. Do you think, or have you thought, that at the time the photo was taken your father may have been onboard? It could be almost like looking at him through a window in time. Stirring. . .

  6. OldSarg:

    That is possible, but the photo is too far away and too grainy to really see any faces on board. My father passed away several years ago and since I just found this photo, I never got a chance to show it to him and get the details.

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