Monday, August 19, 2013

Grandfather's Goddaughter

Like most Cuban politicians, Grandfather Alberto had lost count of how many godchildren he had sponsored. One in particular, however, he never forgot: she had the greatest claim to his love and protection because she was also his daughter. I do not know her name but I do know of her existence. It was confided to me by grandfather himself, and as far as I've been able to ascertain, nobody else is aware of it. She was born when grandfather was 17, which would have been in 1915. The baby was adopted by friends of the family, a middle-aged childless couple who raised her as their own. Grandfather was always a part of her life, however. He was officially her "padrino," which in those days was far more than the ceremonial distinction it is today. Then that honor was normally conferred on a family member, usually a sibling, but not uncommonly a grandparent (e.g., Mipa's father, Francisco GARCIA y Ziburu, was the godfather of all his grandchildren except the youngest Grand-Aunt Ester, who was born after his passing; Grandfather Alberto (her brother) was her godfather, and she in turn was the godmother and namesake of his daughter Ester ("China").

When a "stranger" (that is, not a blood relation) was chosen as godparent, he (or she) became a member of the family by adoption, not just the child's surrogate parent (or parent-in-waiting), but the parents' compadre or comadre (co-parent). It was highly unusual for a 17-year old boy, who was not related to the family, to become the compadre of a couple in their fifties, and people were not so naive then that this would have passed unnoticed. The goddaughter, of course, never suspected anything. By the time she grew up, her padrino, too, was a middle-aged man. I neglected to ask grandfather if the baby's mother, too, was her godmother; but I rather suspect not. Any further association with her "disgrace" would only have blighted her prospects for a future marriage and family.

Grandfather, of course, never told his goddaughter his real identity (or should that be her real identity)? That would have been cruel because she loved and cherished the memory of the only parents she had ever known. Such a disclosure would also have been unnecessary because she also loved her padrino, whom she had known all her life and who remained a paternal figure for decades after the death of her "real" father. Even in exile, grandfather continued to see his goddaughter and her family whenever he visited Miami.
Naturally, I wanted to know the name of the secret daughter, but this grandfather would never divulge. If she were alive today, she would be almost 100. It would not be impossible to discover her identity — a review of church records in Cuba would tell us the name of the child for whom grandfather stood as godfather in 1915. But to what purpose and with what end?

I have more than a dozen cousins whom I have not seen in 50 years, that is, since we were children in Cuba. I would have to track them all down before I considered searching for secret cousins who might be upset to learn the circumstances of our consanguinity, or, worst still, couldn't care less. As I've grown older, I've lost interest in solving mysteries for the sake of solving mysteries. Most mysteries, I'm convinced, are best left unsolved, since knowledge, not ignorance, is usually the cause of the world's unhappiness. Nevertheless, if this secret child had been a male — Grandfather Alberto's only son — I could not have resisted the urge to learn more — all — about him.

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