I wrote once before about my mother-in-law, Zenaida, on this blog, but last week I had the privilege of writing about her again, because we said our final goodbyes to Mama Z last week.
Here are some words I shared at the funeral of this tenacious Cuban lady, and the full story of her courageous exit from Cuba follows…
“We have a big family and each time after we had a baby, Zenaida would come for a visit, bearing LOADS of food. She didn’t just bring a meal and a bag of salad. It was more like:
- A huge watermelon
- 2 XL bags of tortilla chips
- 3 pineapples
- A large, heavy homemade loaf of banana bread, baked in a bundt pan
- A 10-pound package of ground beef
- And an institutional sized box of cereal
When she arrived, our refrigerator and freezer would be stuffed full and there was so much food on the table that there often wasn’t room for anyone to sit down and eat there.
That was just how she gave.
She gave BIG. and
She gave generously.
On these visits after a new baby, Zenaida would find things to clean. She was thorough, and there was always something to clean at our house. She would scour the grimy highchair, she would pull out the washer and dryer and sweep behind, and once she used a toothpick to completely detail our toaster — removing every last crumb.
Zenaida loved to work with her hands, and she would add beauty and sparkle to her creations and sometimes add her own creative touch to something she had purchased. She made her own clothes and was not afraid to tackle complicated styles. She usually chose fancy fabrics with a little sparkle, and she always wore her outfits with her favorite jewelry.
Zenaida and I shared a love of sewing, however, the fabric I usually chose was much more plain and simple and I seldom wear much jewelry.
One time she took me aside and said:
“Lisa. You shouldn’t dress so much like a nun.”
She sewed many dresses for me and for our daughters. Once she made me a jumper that had an opening cut out at the bottom.
“I made it like this, so when you are walking up the stairs, the dress will kind of open up at the bottom and show your legs a little bit.”
Actually, the dress I am wearing today is one that Zenaida made for herself and wore 30 years ago at our wedding. I think she would be happy to see me wearing something she made — and with a touch of sparkle in the fabric!
Tomorrow’s funeral service will include a Bible passage from Proverbs 31 about an inspiring, God-fearing woman. This is a fitting passage for Zenaida, because it includes phrases such as:
- She works with her hands in delight!
- She makes coverings for herself;
- Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
- The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil, all the days of her life. (I never knew Zenaida’s husband; he passed away many years before I became part of the family. But whenever she spoke about him, her words were loving and honoring.)
- She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
- Her children rise up and bless her.
And that last phrase is our desire: to share words that explain what a priceless part of the family that she will always be, and to express gratefulness for her investment of love in all of our lives.”
In 1963, Zenaida Martinez Araujo Luciano left Cuba with her beloved husband, two young sons, and nothing else but her faith and courage.
On August 15, 2020 Zenaida left this earth with a full life, along with the admiration of her large and loving family.
Zenaida was born in the town of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba in 1932. She was the only child of Francisca Martinez Araujo. Zenaida and her mother lived with Josefa Fernandez, a dear family friend, who became like a second mother to her.
Zenaida attended Escuela de Comercio where she joined the marching band as a drummer and played on the volleyball team. After high school, she studied at Escuela Profesional de Comercio and earned her degree in international trade and customs in 1955.
After finishing college, she fell in love with and married Antonio Luciano. The couple welcomed their first child, Antonio Jr., while living in New York. After Cuban dictator Batista was removed from office, they returned to Cuba, where their second son, José was born. When the new leader, Fidel Castro, declared Cuba a communist state, Zenaida and Antonio applied for permission to immigrate to the United States.
Zenaida and Antonio finally received authorization to leave Cuba in 1963, and when they departed their homeland, they were forced to leave behind their family and friends, their wedding rings, and all earthly possessions. After a brief stay in Miami, the family obtained sponsorship generously offered by the Richfield Jaycees in Minnesota. When Zenaida’s friends warned her that she would have to milk cows up in Minnesota, she laughed and said she gladly would.
While living in Minneapolis, Zenaida and Antonio’s family grew as they were blessed with sons Nicholas and Giovanni. Sadly, in 1974, Zenaida’s beloved husband died of cancer, which left her with four children, limited English, and without a driver’s license, car or income source. Dauntless and determined, Zenaida pushed through these new challenges, and studied to become a U.S. citizen in 1976. She learned to drive and secured a job at the VA in laundry and food service. Later, she transferred to the IRS, where she worked for 20 years. After retiring in 1997, she was free to travel, sew, care for her grandchildren and attend their important events.
Zenaida will always be remembered as a persistent, generous, faith-filled person who never gave up. She was the #1 fan of her grandchildren’s activities and she was always the first person to deliver a happy birthday phone call or a severe weather update. Among many other things, she was an expert seamstress, a sports enthusiast, the best banana-bread-baker, a lavish food-giver, towel-embellisher, soup-maker, salsa-dancer and the rainbow-jello-queen.
This past year, Zenaida faced her cancer with dignity and courage, and she often expressed gratefulness to her family, who cared for her in her home. Zenaida passed away on August 15, 2020 at age 88, surrounded by her devoted family.
(c) Lisa M. Luciano