Valentine + Ida

A love that began on the busy streets of Havana, endured through the Cuban Revolution, stood up as immigrants in a new country, and survived to tell the tale over 60 years later.

1948 marked the first time in 20 years that Cuban athletes could compete at the Olympic games, Carlos Prío Socarrás was elected president, and future president Fulgencio Batista (who would later go onto being overthrown and run out of the country by Fidel Castro) was elected in Las Villas to the Cuban Senate. 1948 came as any new year filled with its changes and living its day-to-day life unaware of the loom of a revolution that would come a decade later, altering the lives of each and every Cuban for the rest of the century and beyond. And here begins our love story. This tale, much like many, is not exempt from its fair share of hardships and difficulties. However, amidst our story's ever-changing setting, we see a couple that have faced some of love's biggest tests, its fight for freedom, and how trust and hope can become a human being's biggest strength and means of survival.

Before they met...

In the spring of 1948, Ida was working for an American-owned clothing factory in Havana. This was a job that she had gotten through her sister and brother-in-law. Her brother-in-law was American and started this factory in the 40s while Americans could still own and operate businesses in Cuba. Her sister, Josephina, had been working at the factory and fell in love with the young businessman. Through her ties to the factory, she got Ida a job trimming and finishing garments. 

In the spring of 1948, Valentine was living as any young Cubano; enjoying life, going out with friends, and working hard at his job. At the time of this interview, it was apparent by the look of his worn and worked in hands, that he is a man of a certain work ethic that you don't see on just anyone. He was always known for doing jobs involving heavy labor, and as of 1948, he was working in glass installation. He was a true Cuba boy and considered Havana his forever home.

                                                                                         young Ida

                                                                                         young Ida

How they met...  

When walking the streets of Havana, it's hard not to notice the scattered meat and produce markets, stray dogs roaming everywhere, people young and old playing dominos on pop-up card tables at random street corners, and the wave of salsa music oozing out of every building. It's what makes it Havana. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody takes care of each other. It's not only their way of living, but their way of surviving, especially after living the past 60+ years under a strict Communist rule. To see people of all ages sitting on their stoops at any given time of the day is not just normal, but part of their everyday flow. 

This love begins on a busy Centro Habana street in the spring of 1948. Valentine Rodriguez was getting his shoes shined when a gorgeous young woman passed him by and he immediately got up and asked her, "Where you going?!".  Little did he know this babe of a woman lived right around the corner from him. Although, there was an initial spark and flirtation, this love story had a bit of a delayed reaction. Due to the complexity of life, Valentine and Ida continued to live amongst each other for the next four years before they finally took the leap to be together.

Once that leap happened, there was no going back for these two. It was love.  Ida described their first date with a wink and a smile as a "love date". Much of their dating life was seen on the dance floor salsa dancing into the night, frequenting the nearby Guanabo Beach, night walks to the theatre or out for ice cream, and romantic strolls down the Malecón. Ida recalls one night when they had gone out dancing, Valentine had spun her around so fast that she flew and landed on the floor. He then looked down at her with a mischievous smile and said, "what are you doing down there?"  By her eagerness to tell this story, one can tell even talking to these two who are now both in their eighties, that they liked to laugh and play, and they probably had quite the colorful dating experience.

How he popped the question...

The two had dated for over a year, and knew that it was inevitable that they would get married. When asked how the proposal happened, Valentine said, "When I asked her to marry me she told me 'ok', and we didn't waste too much time after that." 

The wedding...

Although, it was a beautiful day in Havana in 1955, the nuptials between Valentine and Ida didn't start without a minor setback. Ida was clad in her custom-made floral dress and excited for the day ahead. Meanwhile, the ever easy-going Valentine was finishing up a job. He always has to finish one thing before he could go to the next, and his wedding day was no exception. The wedding was about to begin, but there was one thing missing...the groom! The guests and bride included thought that the groom had gotten cold feet, so one by one, the guests started to leave.  To everyone's surprise, an hour after the wedding was supposed to begin, Valentine came frantically rushing in. Luckily the bride still took him despite his tardy arrival, but later commented with a sly smile, "Could you believe I did?!"

The couple's wedding day in 1955.

The couple's wedding day in 1955.

Against all odds...

In 1959, along with every living and breathing Cuban, everything changed for this young family. Fidel Castro, a young revolutionary, overthrew president, Fulgencio Batista, and the Cuban government. At this moment in history, many considered this hopeful and promising, considering much of Castro's supporters and army recruits were from Cuba's poorer districts. However, it was soon realized that Castro's leadership was going to look much different. Castro soon converted Cuba into a pro-Soviet, one-party, socialist state under Communist party rule. The Cuban people went from the mindset of being "liberated" to in all actuality having very few liberties and opportunities, and would soon be fearful for the safety of their lives and lives of their families. 

Little by little, things started to change. Signs covered with Fidel's face went up all over the island filled with propaganda telling Cubans what to think and believe. Businesses, hotels, and casinos that once catered to jetsetters from all over the world were boarded up and closed down. One by one, American-owned businesses started getting run out of the country. Suddenly, you were suspicious of your neighbor down the street tattling on you for not being a Castro supporter. Finally, after a series of catastrophic events leading up to 1962, the U.S. embargo was put into place ending relations between the United States and Cuba. The world knew that Cuba was going to change forever. If Cubans didn't feel frightened and threatened living in this new Communist bubble in the Caribbean, they soon realized that they needed to make some of the hardest decisions and sacrifices that they would ever have to make.

Valentine and Ida Rodriguez knew that a tough decision was upon them. Ida had lost her job when her brother-in-law's business had gone under. Which meant her sister, Josefina, and her husband had fled to the U.S., being her brother-in-law was American. They promised to send for them, but the young Rodriguez family knew this would mean many things for them. The couple who had both been born and raised on the island that they loved would have to denounce their Cuban citizenship, leave the many loved ones who decided to stay for the time being, and become aliens and immigrants in a brand new country. All of these scenarios were heart-wrenching to this young couple, who not only had to think of themselves, but their three young children who this decision would affect.

The deciding factor came upon their eldest daughter's fifth birthday approaching. Fidel Castro had set up a system that when children reached the age of 5, they would get sent away to learn the "Communist way". Valentine and Ida were fearful of this, so they decided it was their time to flee. On a May night in 1962, the family was in the middle of packing all their important belongings including family photos, jewelry, and any valuables. All of a sudden their was a pounding on the door, and a few men from Castro's regime burst through the door. Word had gotten out that the family was leaving. The officers soon scoured the entire home taking all the valuables, even ripping apart their young daughter's doll thinking they had hid valuables inside. Ida recalls comforting her crying child and telling her, "Don't cry, baby. We're going to a country where you can have all the dolls you want."

The family were forced out of their home that night leaving their things, their birth certificates and important documents, and the home that they had built together. The officers boarded it up, and the family went to Ida's mom's house for a few days until they could fly out to America and leave Cuba behind. The couple left days later with their 4-year-old and 11-month-old daughters, leaving Ida's teenage son behind with his father, promising to send for him later. The couple would never get to see him again, as he passed away unexpectedly while Ida was pregnant with her third daughter. This would lead to grief that would affect her for the rest of her life, and add to one of the many heart-wrenching stories of the horrible events that happened to all the Cuban people due to Castro's tyrannical rule. 

Over the course of the next 50 years, the couple lived in Florida and California, and now live in Southern California amongst a large piece of their family. 1962 would be the last time Ida would step foot on Cuban soil, but for Valentine, he would return to his homeland briefly in 1980. Fidel had opened the doors for a short time to anyone who wanted to leave, so Valentine rented a boat off the coast of Florida and rescued his sister and her family, an uncle, and Ida's brother. Although this was a victory for their family, it didn't account for the many loved ones that were still left behind with little freedom and opportunity for their futures. 

On left, the couple's three precious daughters in the late 60s. On right, Ida and her loving son.

On left, the couple's three precious daughters in the late 60s. On right, Ida and her loving son.

Beauty from ashes...

These words, these paragraphs are but a blip of the 61 years of love, hardship, and perseverance this couple has gone through. However, the beauty in this long-standing union is the fact that they chose each other at every twist and turn. Through the heartache, the massive changes, and braving a new land, they chose to grow together and face each hurdle as one. When asked what they have learned about one another over the years, Ida stressed the loads of patience she had grown for him. For a man who is never rushing, she had to learn to slow down her pace to meet him halfway. She even recalls being in labor, and Valentine was calm and taking his time. She frantically told him, "the baby's coming out!", which put him into a tailspin and turned him into a crazy driver honking and yelling his way to the hospital. She soon longed for her calm and gentle husband to return. Valentine said that he had learned how important order was in the house being married to an orderly woman who liked things just so. It's how she had grown up, so it was important in her own household. Ida gave me a wink and her husband a sly smile when she said, "He eventually learned. He gets me." The mix of his easy-going demeanor and her feisty personality have made for an interesting and beautiful life. 

When asked if they had any advice for couples starting out their love stories, they both stressed how important having respect for one another is. To never hurt each other with your words, and to try and live well as yourself and together. Valentine brought tears to the room when he said, "I would say to always remember the beginning. In my case, I never forgot the first time I saw her and the feeling I got from her beauty."

On left, the couple in the 90s. On right, the Rodriguez couple with their sweet daughters.

On left, the couple in the 90s. On right, the Rodriguez couple with their sweet daughters.

When asked if the couple had any closing thoughts, silence hit the room. Although this couple's love has stood the test of time, much of their marriage has been defined by what they have overcome. The freedom that they fought for early on in their marriage became their story, and by the solemn look on Valentine's face, I knew he had something to share. "I’m grateful for this country for opening the doors for us to start a new life. What I've been doing my whole life, I could've never done in my country. I feel very grateful. The most important thing for me is that since we came to this country, we have freedom. Going through everything we went through made us strong, and I am so grateful."

We live in a world where some suffer more than others; where the cost of freedom is greater in different parts of the world; where the color of your skin can determine your place in society. I will never know what it feels like to flee my home country with not a penny to my name and two tiny children. I will never know what it feels like to have every freedom stripped away. I will simply never walk in their shoes and truly understand. However, what I can do is listen. I can empathize and admire people just like Valentine and Ida who have fought to the nail for a better life. To say that these things aren't real, and that some people don't suffer more than the next is where ignorance comes in and steals joy. In a nation that is going through such divide and differences in opinion, let's look to stories like the Rodriguez's and remember who we are, and that freedom and the choice to choose love is a privilege, and it belongs to everyone.

The adorable couple, 2016.

The adorable couple, 2016.

Thank you, Valentine and Ida, for sharing your incredible story with me, and transforming me by your love. I am honored to record your tale and will forever cherish the time I spent with you. Thank you for choosing each other and always remembering to say, "I love you too".  This one's for you.

xoxo, G

Vince + Lois

A simple, old-fashioned love story of a guy and a girl who found love on the brink of the "golden age", and chose that love for the next 65 years.

1947 marked the year Francis Craig was topping the music charts with "Near You", the WWII peace treaties were signed, the first TV soap opera was broadcasted, the first Tony Awards took place, Jackie Robinson became the first African American baseball player in the MLB and "Rookie of the Year", Pan Am became the first worldwide passenger airline, and the Marshall Plan took shape becoming the first American program aiding other countries with economic support following WWII in order to prevent the spread of Communism. Amongst a country going through great change in history after the war, there was a young and sweet farmer and a cute and feisty waitress in North Dakota who fell in love.

Before they met...

In the summer of 1947, Lois had just finished her sophomore year of high school and was working at the Munich Cafe as a waitress. This is a job she had been working since the young age of 14. She worked there every lunch hour and Wednesday nights when the freight train would come through town. Her main worries were her job, getting ready for a new season on the basketball court, and going to as many dances with her friends as possible.

In the summer of 1947, Vince had finally made it back to Munich from serving in the United States Navy. He captured the end of WWII on an oil tanker in the Lucian Islands and Japan. After serving in the Navy from 1944-1946, he was ready to go home and farm; a place that would forever have his heart.

On left, Vince on board an oil tanker off the Lucian Islands. On right, Lois in front with her high school friends.

On left, Vince on board an oil tanker off the Lucian Islands. On right, Lois in front with her high school friends.

How they met...

Back in the good ole' days, long before bumpin' and grindin' became a thing, town hall dances were all the rage in small towns all over America. It was a chance for everyone from the surrounding towns and areas to come together and dance, drink, and have a good time. According to Vince, you would go to the dance and get burgers and shakes at the cafe afterwards. Live bands, swing dancing, and loads of people young and old were guaranteed at these events.

On one particular night in the summer of 1947, there was a dance going on at the Munich town hall, and love was in the air. The music was playing, and Vincent Dawley wanted to dance with Lois Wirth. He had known her from working in the cafe and was friends with her older brother, Norman. His good looks ands suave personality got him a dance, which led to more dances, and a chance to drive her home. Lois points out, "I think there was a spark pretty quick."

That ride home led to a love that definitely lasted past the summer. Vince was not only a farmer, but a referee for boys and girls' basketball in the winter time, so many of their dates consisted of Lois going with him to his games. When she wasn't at his games, he would be at hers. She was still in high school after all. Vince recalls one occurrence where he was actually officiating one of Lois's games, and he called a foul on her, which led her to getting so mad that she threw the ball at him! With a wink and a chuckle, Vin ended the story saying, "She must have gotten over it because she still went out with me."

Once Lois had graduated from high school, she got a job as a teacher's aide in Egeland, North Dakota; a town 17 miles from Munich. If you're familiar with the weather of North Dakota, you'd know how deathly cold and snowy it is in the winter time. Due to bad roads and harsh conditions, Lois rented a room in Egeland for $15/month. What a steal! Through the bad roads and horrible weather, Vince kept it his regular routine to visit his lady as frequently as possible. 

How he popped the question...

After hearing from most of his family and friends, "If I were you, I'd hang onto that little blonde," Vince decided to make it official. On a spring night in 1950, Vince was driving the two of them to a dance, and couldn't hold it in any longer. He pulled over the car, and asked her to be his wife. Her response? YES!

The dating couple in 1949.

The dating couple in 1949.

The wedding...

July 31, 1950 was a wet and cloudy day. There had been a terrible rain storm the night before, but this couple wouldn't let it get them down. Through her many years as a waitress, Lois had become quite the cook, so naturally, she did most of the cooking for their reception. She remembers going home early the night before the wedding to make the dressing for the meal. My how times have changed! With the ceremony in the morning and reception at noon, that left the afternoon for a kick-back at the farm with friends and family. Their most favorite part of the whole day was the wedding dance held at the place where it all started, the town hall.

Being the youngest of 11 kids and a sister getting engaged at the same time, Lois's mom suggested (and forced) her and her sister to have one wedding, a double wedding. The brides took it very literally with matching dresses ($50 each!), veils, and flowers. One thing they didn't share, however, was the groom.

Vince and Lois Dawley wedding portrait.

Vince and Lois Dawley wedding portrait.

Wedding day candids.

Wedding day candids.

After 6 kids, 16 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, and 65 years together, this couple's love story came to a close in the fall of 2015 when Vince was taken to his heavenly home. At the time of this interview, they both said the key to their marriage was hard work. Lois recalls, "The 50s were different. We depended on each other for our livelihood. It's a different world nowadays, and people don't depend on each other anymore."

The support and hard work that they put into their family and farm solidified their marriage and stood the test of time. They both stress how important it is to do things together and spend time with one another. Don't say "I" this, but "we" this because you're in this as one.

Vince put tears in my eyes and his when he said this, "She is my family...my everything. From the very beginning I have loved her beauty, personality, and hard work for our family. I knew we'd have beautiful children, and she'd be a good partner to spend my life with. I feel we've had a good marriage, and I couldn't be happier and more blessed. I still love her as much, if not more, as I ever did."

The couple still dancing over 60 years later.

The couple still dancing over 60 years later.

As I'm writing this, I can't help but feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Why does this love letter make me so emotional you ask? Well, I am proud to say that these two are my grandparents. I was blessed with the chance to grow up within 6 miles of them my entire life. I spent much of my life sitting in the tractor with my grandpa and kickin' it with my grandma. Between spending countless hours in my grandma's old photos, playing dress up with her fancy jewelry and old clothes, baking, and washing all her china on a regular basis (simply because I have a love affair with cups and saucers), we became very close. There is never a day that goes by where I don't long for a tight squeeze and kiss from my grandpa, or my grandma's witty responses and sly winks. The two of them have made my life so rich and full of love. I saw their cute faces at every basketball game, volleyball match, theatre production, pageant, music concert, and graduation. They never showed up in my life out of obligation, but because they love and support their family with their entire beings.

It's been 4 1/2 months since my grandpa passed away. I think of him everyday and miss him with my entire being. I can't begin to imagine how my grandma feels being she got 65 years with him over my measly 25. I recently got to spend time with her during our first holiday season without my grandpa where I didn't just feel like her granddaughter, but her friend. After laying in bed looking through old photos of them dating and watching hours of home videos dating back to the 50s, she finally opened up to me about the struggles of letting go. The thing is, she didn't just lose her husband; she's not just mourning her love, but her life. Most of her life was him.  There's something so beautiful, yet so painful about that concept. Not one of us deserves love or a story like this more than the next, which makes it such a gift when you do get to experience it.

I can't begin to express how thankful I am that I was able to sit down and talk with them about their story before my grandpa approached the final chapter of his life. Boy, do I wish I could have been a fly on the wall of that town hall 69 years ago when sparks flew on the dance floor. They were young and excited to spend their lives with each other. The way that these two view marriage and commitment is a faraway concept that was thrown out the window years ago. That is why I adore this love story so much, and will hold onto it for the rest of my life. I plan to carry these same principles into my love story. Love is not just a feeling, it is a choice. Somedays, love is the furthest from your mind when you're dealing with finances, frustrations, and crying children, but you choose to love and commit through the good and the bad right? May we live by that example and choose to love through all of life's twists and turns, even when it's hard. 

Thank you, grandma and grandpa, for transforming me forever by your love story. Thank you for showing me such a strong example of what love, commitment, respect, and trust looks like, and never forgetting to say, "I love you too". I love you forever. This one's for you. 

 

xoxo, G