Soil from a family’s Cuban homeland connects generations

Urn of Delia Calderin's ashes in Delin's home

On a table in Delin Bru’s Miami home, she kept her mother Delia Calderin’s ashes in an urn along with a photograph of Delia, when she was young.

Delin had a dilemma. What to do with her mother’s ashes? She’d intended to house them at the Miami, FL, cemetery where her grandparents (and many other Cubans) were buried. There, while Delin was putting her mom’s cremains into a niche, someone broke into her car, which was parked next to the cemetery office. A small case of jewelry was stolen.

Delin saw the incident as a sign. The next day she returned to the cemetery and demanded her mom’s ashes, and her money, back. Delia’s ashes sat for many months atop the piano in the Brus’ Miami apartment. (Their main residence is on Longboat Key, Sarasota.) A vase of fresh flowers, a photo of Delia Calderin, and a candle completed this piano top altar. (Delin’s a pianist and singer. I’m sure Delia appreciated the musical vibes.)

Every week a housekeeper checked on the apartment and changed the flowers. After more than a year, the housekeeper called Delin and recommended the Catholic Cemetery of Miami. Delin made an appointment. She found “a big, beautiful place out in the country, very quiet with peaceful energy.” The perfect spot.

Delin also decided to move her grandparents’ ashes, so the family could be together. She’d been told that moving ashes requires a court order and considerable lead time. Nonetheless, she picked a lovely glass case in the chapel with space for 4. (Her elderly father’s still living.)

When would she like to transfer the ashes? Delin’s daughter Bonnie and son-in-law Gerry happened to be visiting from Panama. The whole family would be in Miami that weekend. Daughter Barbara lived in Miami. It was a Wednesday. How about Saturday? Delin asked, though doubting the cemetery could obtain her grandparents’ ashes that soon.

The cemetery director agreed. He showed Delin pictures of urns. Delin picked “a pretty one,” blue and silver with an image of 3 doves. (An only child, Delin liked the symbolism of 3—her mother, father and she.) The cemetery was out of that style. Delin asked daughter Bonnie to find the urn and order 4. Bonnie found it on Amazon, and for a lower price. An Amazon Prime customer, she received 4 urns in less than 24 hours.

And now, some background.

Delia Calderin and Juan Antonio Calderin

Delia Calderin and Juan Antonio Calderin

Delia was born in Cuba. After Castro took over, in 1959, the government nationalized privately owned businesses. Many wealthy Cubans left the island. The government determined when they could leave. When Delin was 12, her mother put her on a plane, saying “Even if I never see you again, go.” Delin was sent to Malaga, in Spain, and lived with family friends.

Now a mother and grandmother, Delin says, “I can’t imagine the courage it took for my mother to let me go.” Delin and her parents were reunited in New York City 5 years later.

Wedding of Delia Calderin and Juan Antonio Calderin

The Calderin wedding

Delia was “amazing, smart and successful,” Delin says. Delia graduated Magna Cum Laude and earned master’s degrees at NYU and Columbia. She taught 3rd and 4th grades in Cuba and the Bronx. She taught college Spanish. In her 70s, Delia became a journalist. She wrote about Cuban issues for a Miami magazine, for which she interviewed Marco Rubio. She herself was photographed for an article in front of the popular Miami Cuban restaurant Versailles.

Juan Antonio Calderin, Delin’s father, lost his business in Cuba—a company that manufactured and sold fertilizer to the sugar cane industry. In the US, he started and ran a company that supplied food to restaurants.

As a young woman preparing to attend Juilliard, Delin met another Cuban, Abelardo. A few months later, they married, and Delin accompanied her husband on his fast rising career. They lived in several places including Mexico, New Jersey and Texas. Al became CEO of Frito Lay. In 2005, he retired as vice chairman of PepsiCo. Recently, Delin and Al returned to Cuba. They visited Reforma in the province of Las Villas, the sugar plantation once owned by Al’s family and where he lived as a boy.

Delia and Juan Calderin with their grandchildren

Delia and Juan Calderin with their grandchildren

Delin’s mom despised the revolution that happened in Cuba. Delia hated the Castro regime and refused to ever return. She was so adamant that Delin never told her of her visit.

Delia had diabetes and, at 80, lost a leg. Still, she carried on. Delin says, “Her motto was: acceptance.” She lived another 5 years. “I think she owed her last 5 years to her faith in God, to my father’s support, and to the devotion of Pearl,” head of the wound care center at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

In failing health, Delia learned her caregiver, Aymara, would visit her son in Cuba. Delia asked her to bring back some dirt from their shared homeland. The day her caregiver returned, Delia died. Aymara gave the bag of dirt to Delin. The reddish orange soil, from the Pinar del Rio region west of Havana, is the soil in which the best Cuban tobacco leaves grow.

When Delin at last decided to commit her mother’s ashes to the Catholic Cemetery, she knew what else she needed to do. Putting the ashes into the urn Barbara found on Amazon, she mixed in the soil from Pinar del Rio.

Proving you can go home again, just not necessarily in the same form.

(Thanks for sharing this touching story, my dear friend Delin. Vaya con Dios, Delia.)

Delin and Al Bru

Al and Delin Bru

Print Friendly

6 thoughts on “Soil from a family’s Cuban homeland connects generations

  1. Suzy Farbman Post author

    Thanks again, Delin. You, too, are incredible, resilient and lovable. I see where you got it.

    Reply
  2. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed from Delin
    I don’t have enough words to thank you for the beautiful article. My mother was an incredible, resilient and lovable person! Her remains are almost resting in Cuba. Abelardo loved the article also.

    Reply
  3. Suzy Farbman Post author

    As emailed from Delin:
    Suzy, you are such an amazing writer. You have an inspirational way of describing life, in this case my family, my life. Thank you. Not easy to go back and remember, but it’s important to never forget. Thank you and blessings to you!

    Reply
    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for the thoughtful note, Delin. So glad you took advantage of the chance to share such a touching story. You are a treasure.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *