What remains after all are dead? What can I know of their past? One thing I have is images — sweet silent photographs containing a residue of that elusive dead souls’ society we call our ancestors. Here is another picture of nine dead relatives, Carmela’s family, likely taken in the early 1920s. Unlike her two sisters pictured earlier at what may (or not) be La Reunión, Maria Vidaud Trutié, the black-gowned lady in the front row, was a married woman with a loving husband and a large family of seven children. Her pregnancies were difficult, I’m told, but she dispelled morning sickness by drinking champagne. Standing right behind her is her oldest daughter, the saintly María, and right behind María is Manolo, the little boy in that earlier picture, now a young man with interesting eyeglasses and an intellectual demeanor. To María’s left, at the center of the photograph, is green-eyed meditative Carmela. The other young man is Fernando, who could never have imagined then that he’d spend more than three decades in a cold northern city named Boston, where he would die. Next to him is Emma, who died in Miami, as did little Adela right in front of her, the youngest, born in 1914, and whose Exile was spent mostly in Mexico. The other girl, to the right of her mother, is Margó, whom we know little about; she broke up with her siblings after an inheritance dispute, moved to Havana, and died there sometime before the revolution. The man in the front, my great-grandfather, is Manuel J. de Granda, a war hero of sorts and the author of two books about the process of Cuban independence.
Here again, in an earlier photograph taken in Havana circa 1910, is Manuel J., Capitán del Ejército Libertador. He did not die a romantic death, but could have. His father, Manuel de Granda y González, was born in Oviedo, Spain, had a medical degree from Salamanca, and had gone to Cuba as a doctor with the Batallón Covadonga of the Spanish Army. As a native of Asturias, he may have had the Reconquista in mind as he contemplated those Cuban rebels, the mambises, rudely seeking independence from Spain. Manuel J., his own son, was a mambí. In the hope of nipping those ideas in the bud, Manuel sent Manuel J. to Costa Rica, where his wife, Corina Odio, had numerous relatives. But it didn’t work. In Costa Rica, Manuel J. met up with Antonio Maceo, one of Cuba’s great heroes. Intent on taking part in a new war against Spain, they, with twenty-one other men, sailed out of Puerto Limón on the Adirondack, a New York-bound steamer that, after a stop in Kingston, Jamaica, dropped them off on Fortune Island, in the Bahamas. When Columbus, that other Caribbean mariner, made landfall on that little isle on 19 October 1492, he called it Ysabela, in honor of Isabel de Castilla; four centuries later, Maceo and company were fighting against another Spanish monarch of the same name, Isabel II. The island is now known as Long Key, and there they boarded a schooner named Honor bound for Oriente. They landed at a place named Duaba, near Baracoa, where one can now visit a monument to Maceo and the brave men of the goleta Honor, a name that I heard Carmela mention many times during my childhood. With much pride, my grandmother would also refer to her father’s later appointment as chief of police in Santiago de Cuba — a fact I sometimes recall as I jaywalk around downtown Los Angeles — and as a member of the Academia de la Historia de Cuba.
But what interests me most about Manuel J. is the love story and, more specifically, how he met María. Early in the course of the war, the young man was captured and taken prisoner to the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a seventeenth-century fortress at the entrance of Santiago bay. There, deprived of his liberty, he met the woman who would become his wife. What prompted a young lady of French descent to visit a jailed mambí in a colonial dungeon is not clear, but Ana María Esteve thinks that María’s and Manuel’s families were somehow related, yet another twist in the family twigs I haven’t figured out yet. According to some family lore — but I find it improbable — María knew only French when she met Manuel J. in his castle prison, and decided to learn Spanish in order to speak with him. In any event, Manolo and Maluya, as they were called, were married for more than fifty years.
As an author and soldier, there’s much about Manuel J. de Granda on the web. Historians frequently cite his two books as sources for the study of Cuba’s War of Independence, and he has undergone a minor (very minor) revival as a character in a Cuban docudrama about the Honor produced by the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión, the Ministerio de Cultura and (gasp!) the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias. The show explores the accidental death — or was it murder? — of James McKenney, the English captain of the Honor. It’s a complicated story, but suffice it to say that it ended with José Martí himself writing a letter to the British consul in Santiago de Cuba explaining the incident. It’s all in the past now, but the ghost of McKenney still haunts the honor of the Honor.
As for his father, Dr. de Granda, I’ve found a quick reference to his death in January 1916 — just a couple of month before E.L. Ekman went foraging at La Reunión — on a site belonging to the Conservador de la Ciudad Santiago de Cuba. It reads, “Fallece el médico, doctor Manuel de Granda y González, muy estimado por todos excomandante médico de batallón Covandonga del Ejército español que residió mucho tiempo en Guantánamo, era el padre del patriota comandante Manuel J. de Granda, que a su vez falleció en el reparto Vista Alegre el martes 2 de diciembre de 1952.” The irony is inescapable. As much as Dr. de Granda, who stayed in Cuba after independence, was “esteemed by all,” his son, the “patriot commander,” somehow trumped the paternal glories. After he died, a horse-drawn carriage transported Manuel J.’s body to Santa Ifigenia, the city’s cemetery, where Martí too is buried.
As for Maluya, María Vidaud Trutié, my great-grandmother, there’s really nothing on the web about her, but that, I hope, is being remedied as I draft this blog. After all, she is a pivotal figure in this ancestors’ tale. She is the oldest person I ever met who descended directly from one François Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne, born on 26 January 1764, the seventh of fourteen children, and, as far as I can tell, the first Vidaud in Cuba, the seed of my Cuban Gauls.