My parents were supposed to be married Jan 3, 1959. On Jan 1, Castro’s forces entered Havana.
While the revolutionaries were mostly greeted with cheers and adulation, Batista holdouts remained. Forces loyal to the dictator fought on for days in small pockets; some because of a sense of duty, some, like Batista’s dreaded secret police, knew they faced a firing squad anyway. Every small independent anti-Batista groups, like the Students Union, that had been active for years now got a hold of guns and mingled with the cheering crowds while gunfire sounded off in the distance. Needless to say, my parents' wedding was canceled.
A few friends picked up my father to join the action. They drove around Havana in the mayhem of the moment. Celebratory crowds smashing pictures of Batista mixed with bearded revolutionaries who mixed with entranced Havana University College girls. Everybody wanted to show loyalty to the revolution, and people started handing out armbands and guns. Roadblocks popped up. Neighbors started rounding up those accused of working with the secret police. Looters joined the action, looting stores owned by people allegedly sympathetic to the old regime. All the while there was shooting in the distance. This was how my father was swept up in the euphoria and ended up driving around Havana with an armband and a rifle he didn’t know how to use. After driving around for a couple of hours, he witnessed a vigilante mob beating up an alleged Batista collaborator nearly to death. He came to his senses and told his friends he wanted to go home, handed back the armband and the rifle and got dropped off in front of his house.
A few days later on January 4th, my maternal grandfather---my dad’s future father-in-law—was arrested by the revolutionary army. He was an Army Engineer in Batista’s army in charge of civil works. He was mostly in charge of building bridges and roads and otherwise benign projects, but when as a member of Batista’s army he was told to report to the barracks and placed under arrest, he knew it was not a good thing. The next few days were nerve wracking. Every morning a revolutionary officer would call out names and they’d be lead to meet with a revolutionary tribunal. Less men returned in the afternoon than got called out in the morning. After a few days of this, my grandfather’s name was called. He stood before three revolutionary officers who went over his dossier: Army Engineer, no combat unit, no combat experience, useful skills. The leading officer said he saw nothing incriminating and that he was free to go, but that he should consider joining the Revolutionary Army. My grandfather was very careful to state that he supported the revolution but that he had had enough of armies and just wanted to go home. He was released the next day after four long days.
On Jan 10, the priest called my mother’s house and told them that if they could get to the Church by 10am, he could marry them. My mother called my father’s house, family members where gathered, arrangements were rushed through at the last minute, and on Jan 10, 1959 my parents were married. Their wedding picture is of my parents standing in front of the altar flanked by my grandparents on both sides, my grandfather looking very serious and exhausted but proud to be there. My parents wedding pictures is like a thousand of other wedding pictures of a young couple about to start their life together, but in my mind, there’s always gunfire in the distance. Revolutions, mobs, and looters stand no chance against love.