When Natalie Catasús thinks of her grandfather, Alfonso Catasús Chicoy, she envisions:
▪ “An aspiring architect who traded his dream career for a less glamorous job at 7-Eleven in another country, so his kids could have the kind of freedom he dreamed of for them.
▪ “A young father on a plane from Havana to Miami with one of his children on each knee, not knowing what’s ahead, but determined to make it work.
▪ “An abuelo teaching his grandchildren how to swim, and how to drive, saying ‘imagine there’s a glass of red wine on the dashboard and you’re trying not to spill it.’”
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And the eldest of Catasús’ three grandchildren finds her heart swelling as she reflects on a beloved immigrant who found a new life and contentment in the Olympia Heights neighborhood of Southwest Miami-Dade. He called Miami home since arriving from Cuba in 1961 but his passion was wide enough to keep a hold of his homeland.
Catasús died Dec. 17 at 91 in the manner in which he lived: “Constantly engaged with the people and the world around him,” his granddaughter said in her eulogy. “This is a man who learned how to use the Internet when he was in his 80s. Less than a week before he died, he was riding his scooter through the McDonald’s drive-through ordering his four senior coffees with 20 creams. Even during his last few days in the hospital, he was talking with the nurses about the refugee crisis and eating fritura de bacalao. This man lived.”
And loved: His family. His work. His neighborhood Publix in the Miller Road Shopping Center.
Born Oct. 21, 1924, in Santiago de Cuba, Catasús moved to Havana in his 20s to study architecture and married his wife of 61 years, Aida. But he left the island for Miami and everything stayed behind, save his wife and two sons. In the new country Catasús worked for the 7-Eleven on Kendall Drive near Southwest 97th Avenue for 30 years, becoming its store manager. He then worked for Gancedo Lumber Co. on Northwest 36th Avenue as its comptroller.
He settled for a life of simple pleasures — but “settled” would be the wrong word. Reveled would be more accurate.
“I’ve had a happy marriage. I’m proud of the men my three sons have grown up to be. I have wonderful daughters-in-law. I love my three grandchildren and the people they are becoming,” he told his granddaughter Natalie.
“He looked at his family and admired what he saw as la dulzura y la fortaleza de ser cubano y americano [the sweetness and strength of being Cuban and American.] He felt that the family he built had the best of both worlds,” she said.
And he lived for that neighborhood Publix. When he bought his home in 1968, part of the reason was to be within walking distance of the supermarket. Nearly every morning one could find the happy gentleman at “his” store.
When age stole some of his vision a couple years ago, his sons bought him a bright red power scooter for Christmas. Catasús spotted the gift early and quietly rode it out of the garage en route to that Publix, carefully returning the gift to its hiding place back home. He convincingly acted surprised come Christmas morning.
“I would come and disconnect here,” Catasús explained in an April 2015 Miami Herald story. “It’s like a second home.”
When the retailer tore down the original store that was built in 1965 for a more modern, two-story branch, its biggest fan grew anxious. “I thought I’d never live to see its reopening,” he said when, at 90, he became the first customer through its new doors last spring. “This is so important to me. I’m like the only survivor.”
Catasús is survived by his wife Aida Catasús; his sons Juan Manuel, Alfonso and Jorge Catasús; his three grandchildren, Natalie, Alex, and Olivia Catasús.
He felt that the family he built had the best of both worlds — the sweetness that comes with being Cuban and the strength that comes with being American and he admitted in seeing that in himself, too.
Natalie Catasús, eulogizing her grandfather Alfonso Catasús Chicoy.