'In Your Face' Time: Remembering K-Rod's Abuelita - FOX 35 News Orlando

'In Your Face' Time: Remembering K-Rod's Abuelita

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Please allow me to introduce you to my sweet grandmother, Susana Redondo Feldman.   She passed away on July 1, three months shy of what would have been her 100th birthday.   My Abuelita (Spanish for granny) was an amazing woman, and hers was a life well-lived.
   
Before suffering a broken hip a few months ago, she was as energetic at 99 as any woman half her age.    Even as she neared the end, she helped others who did not have her physical ability.   Abuelita loved life, loved her family, and loved teaching.   Before the onset of dementia she was still grading my sports reports (always an A+!).
        
The best tribute I can give her is to share a school report written five years ago by my daughter, Kristi, about her great-grandmother.   Here are some excerpts from that report:


SUSANA FELDMAN de REDONDO
September 27, 1913 - July 1, 2013

                            
BORN TO TEACH
The Cuban summer was sweltering, the sky endless, and the ocean breeze blew through her hair as she ran with her brothers and sisters to the station to watch the train go by.  The locomotive would soon be rounding the corner, making their hearts race with excitement and filling their minds with wonder.   Who would be on the train?   What would it be carrying?   It never really mattered.   As she tells me the story ninety years later, all she cared about was that she was with the people she loved most.   It was my great-grandmother's fondest and most vivid childhood memory.   Her name is Susana Feldman de Redondo, born September 27, 1913 in Colon, Cuba.   The occasion of Mothers Day gave me the opportunity to go back in time with one of the most fascinating people I know.

Young Susana's father was the chief engineer of the American sugar plant, Dominos.  Her father, Alberto, was educated in Spain and came to Cuba to establish his career.  Typical of the times, he discouraged educations for his daughters, thinking they would make better use of their time preparing to be good homemakers.  His wife, the former Esperanza Bernal would have none of that.   She made it her life's mission to see that her children, especially her daughters, would be properly educated.  My great grandmother would prove to be the hungriest and most eager of her siblings to learn and study.   But this love of education would come at a price.   When her parents moved to the province of Camaguey, she was enrolled in a Havana boarding school where she remained until graduation.   Her studies would define her life.   While she would go on to marry my great-grandfather, Ignacio Molina, she continued her studies, eventually earning her PhD in Pedagogy.

On March 4, 1934, Susana gave birth to my grandmother, who she would give the family name, Susana.   Eleven years later, the family of three packed up and moved to New York City, USA so that Ignacio could take his medical boards.   Unfortunately, a year after moving to America, an affair would end the marriage, leaving Susana and my then twelve-year-old grandmother to fend for themselves in the big city.   A single mother who spoke little English, Susana did what she could to survive.   She took a factory job sewing toy clowns for a time before landing a job as a secretary in the Spanish Department at Columbia University.   At night she continued her studies and would eventually earn her second PhD.   Susana continued to work as a secretary during the day, but was now teaching Spanish at Columbia at night.   Again, her studies came with a price.   Susana would have to leave her daughter in a boarding school without seeing her for long stretches at a time.   These were tough days for mother and daughter.   But when I asked her how she managed to get through that period of her life, she simply said, "when someone is young and has energy, they do what they have to do."

Susana Redondo's hard work paid off when she was made a full professor at Columbia.   It was then that her life began to take an exciting and romantic turn for the better.   On the first day of class one of her students,  a New Jersey boy by the name of Kenneth Feldman (who my father was named after), asked her out on a date.   After explaining then, and many times thereafter that she did not date her students, he never gave up.   As she told me the stories of their first encounters she whispered to me, "he was very cute!"   Kenneth Feldman eventually got his wish on the very last day of class, when he turned in his paper and proclaimed, "don't you think I've worked hard enough for that date?!"   The rest became the sort of history that one would find in a romance novel.   Of course, they married.   And the credit for this union should once again be given to her life's work.   Like her own father, Kenneth Feldman was an engineer.   His work would take them both around the world over and over again.   They lived in Spain, and in several countries in South America.   Susana and Kenneth visited so many countries around the world that she said to me,  "it would be easier to tell you where we have not been!"   One of those places was India, where Kenneth refused to go because several of his colleagues were killed there.   "I would have enjoyed that trip," she said.
    
Spain would prove to be a home away from home.   While Kenneth worked with an engineering company in Madrid, Susana was busy publishing a magazine.   They were leading an exciting life.  But by 1962, they felt the tug of home calling them back.   Their new grandson, Kenny was a year old and a second was on the way.   The two were enthusiastic, energetic and loving grandparents.  Their days together, living in the same apartment, remain joyful memories to this day.   But her work continued at Columbia.   Susana, who had only a few short years before worked as a secretary, eventually became the head of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University.  She would not only teach, but by then, was publishing a monthly magazine that was distributed worldwide.   Her love of teaching kept her commuting from New Jersey to New York City well into her 80's and without a paycheck.   She was even honored by the city of New York for her accomplishments and received many other accolades during her career.  Susana simply couldn't imagine life without her work.   but priorities changed when Kenneth became ill in 2000.   For six years she never left his side.   The two continued to carry on like inseparable teenager lovers, even sharing their traditional martini for "happy hour" until his death two years ago.
    
Now 96 years old, she has since joined us in Georgia where we get to see her more often.  The tears flow easily when the subject of Grandpa (Kenneth) comes up.   Susana remains a teacher at heart, taking interest in our schoolwork and plans for the future.   Her mind is not as focused as it once was, often breaking into "spanglish" when speaking to me.   Does she miss Cuba?   "Yes, always," she answers.   "But a woman has more freedom in the United States.   So, I am lucky to be here."
   
I listen to her intently as she flows from one subject to another - talking about the way things were and how fortunate she is to know her great-grandchildren.   But I am the lucky one!   What a treasure this woman is!   All of her experiences.  They have been resources for me, and her life an inspiration.   She encourages me to study and to work hard to fulfill my dreams.   Her own life is an example of someone who persevered through tough times and succeeded.   A single mom, a new country, learning a new language, un-forgiving big city and what the power of education can help you achieve.  Any regrets?  Only that she wasn't around enough to teach me Spanish.  Otherwise, "no, this is my life," she answered.   "I never look back.  I just think about happy things."  She smiles.   It's the familiar smile of a Cuban girl who spent too much time chewing on sugar cane.   Many teeth missing!   I could just stare and listen to her for hours at a time.  Sometimes she repeats a story she told only minutes before.  But everything about the way she speaks and addresses you is done in a loving and teaching way.   Her eyes.  Her hands.  Her expressions.  No wonder Grandpa fell in love with her.   When she tells a story, it is as though I am instantly transported to another time.   When she describes the countries she has visited, she takes the times to describe every interesting detail of the culture.  The way they pronounced their words.  Native dances.  The food.   I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in her classroom.  How her students saw her.   What they took from her lessons and life experiences.
   
Harry Truman said, "I studied the lives and great men and famous women, and I found that the men and women who got to the top were those who did the jobs they had in hand, with everything they had of energy and enthusiasm and hard work."  This quote made me think of my great-grandmother.   And though she is not working anymore, she is still teaching with energy and enthusiasm.  It saddens me to know that she won't be with us forever.
    
It's nearly bedtime for Susana Feldman de Redondo, and her mind begins to drift as she recounts those sunny days of her youth in Cuba.   Running with her brothers and sisters past the beach and sugar cane fields that led to that train station.   What were those trains carrying?   What sort of people would they meet?   Her life has been one glorious adventure ever since.

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While sadness fills my heart, I feel blessed to have known her and to have been loved by her.
    
I miss you Abuelita.

K-Rod

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