My mother grew up in Cuba on a sugar plantation outside of Cienfuegos. Her British father was the administrator of a plantation for a Boston family.  In 1952, while a freshman in college in the U.S., my mother learned that her family would be leaving Cuba; unbeknownst to her, the family would never return. 

In 2002, my mother learned that the alumni travel group of my dad’s university would be taking a trip to Cuba in 2003. There were only 4 spots left. My mother, father and aunt were going, but my uncle declined to go so this left a spot for me! 

There were many highlights on the trip including visiting the shuttered plantation and being allowed to enter the house in which my mother grew up. But the knowledge I gained about the country itself came from the American university professor and the Cuban tour guide who accompanied us on the trip. When we visited San Juan Hill, you know, the site of the battle in which Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders participated, our American professor provided background information on the Spanish-American War. Hold on, the Cuban tour guide with a wry smile gave his take on the Cuban-Spanish War. Hmm… perspective. 

In Cuba, we were required to have the Cuban tour guide. The cool thing that happened over the trip was that he opened up to us as he came to realize that we valued his opinion on Cuban history past and present. He shared with us his experience during the Special Period as the Cubans called it. The Special Period began in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of its monetary support of Cuba. Cubans were called to leave their jobs and work the sugar cane fields for the good of the country. Our guide did this. Eventually, he ended up in the tourism industry which, at the time, was more lucrative than practicing medicine or engineering which was his field. 

It seems that we, all over the world, are in another “Special Period.” We practice social distancing, shelter in place and wear masks for the safety of ourselves and our neighbors. We make signs and bang pots to thank the healthcare and other essential workers in the food, retail and delivery industries who care for us. CARE FOR US.

So as this “Special Period” continues, let us all continue to care for each other. Reach out to family, neighbors and friends who may need an extra boost. Then, the next time you see a thank you sign, you will know it is meant for you. You, too, are a hero. 

Be Well. Be Chowdy.

Elizabeth Parkinson
Chowdy Organization 


If you are in a crisis, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.