Friday, October 30, 2009

DAY TWO

Some questions came... What is this about? It is about leaving one's country, family and life as known, at age 15. These are memories of the days immediately preceding my departure (as it could be for any one of the thousands of children who left alone), what we went through as a family, and my arrival in this beautiful country.
Due to the nature of the posting structure, the order of the days will end up reversed; the first day was posted on 10/29, and all subsequent posts will be added later, but appear before (Huh??) Anyway, you have to go to the bottom of the pile to start at the beginning.

DAY TWO; MAY 6, 1962
The next morning I was still in a fog. Then I remembered that it had been only when I heard the word “telegram” that my somewhat baffled brain began to react, and the first thing somewhat coherent muttering that came out of my mouth had been “WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?” My mother was crying, my grandfather was waving this yellow piece of paper around and I had been about ready to go ballistic. Not exactly the picture of pastoral calm and beauty.

All of the sudden, as I lay in bed, events in my recent life began to flash in my mind. The Christmas dinner in December, when my grandparents had gone all out in order to get all the goodies that we had used to, normally, have in these celebrations; a trip on which my grandfather had taken me in late February, visiting many areas and revisiting some. It had then been described as a “nostalgia” trip. It was really more of a “look at all these places and get them imbedded in our mind” kind of trip; then, my birthday celebration last September, my 15th birthday. A huge, and unusual, surprise party where all my friends had been invited and where all the members of my family (even those not talking to each other) were present. Little issues and telling events which when looking back, could be thought off as a long goodbye in the making. The adults knew what was going on; the only ones who did not know a thing were the two who would be leaving.

-“I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE” was the thing that continued to come out of my mouth. “I don’t know anyone up there” as I continued to react to the information that had been handed to me. As in: “Hi and, by the way, you are leaving and we may not see each other ever again but, don’t worry”

I realize it’s petty of me to say the above but only now, after many years and after four children of my own, do I really begin to understand the immense and loving sacrifice these two people (as well as my grandmother who, with her infinite patience, had been a surrogate mother to me) were making at the time. I was only fifteen years old then, and my main concern at that point had been limited to doing my best to be in the good graces of a very pretty young lady I had met some three weeks before.

I know these were not deep thoughts and worries but, hey! … I did say I was 15, right?

As off that moment, my life went into a spin and I’m not sure it has stopped some 47 years later. How much of my current situation is due to that original spin? I really don’t know; and probably never really will. Still, I refused to acknowledge what my ears had heard. It could not be!! My life, as I knew it, was coming to an end.
-“Who will be there?” I asked; - “How can you send us by ourselves?” “Where are we going to live?”… “How are we going to make it?”…. There were too many questions and too few answers. My grandfather, God rest his soul, was as unsettled as I had ever seen him be.
-“Don’t worry too much, he said”, I have arranged for a friend, Mr. Herbert, to visit with you after you are settled.
-“Settled WHERE? I shrieked, not really caring who may be listening.

I had heard all kind of stories from people who had already gone on to the US. The jury was out as to what kind of a move this would be. Most definitely, a life would end and a new one begin. Only, no one whom I knew and loved as “my family” would be a part of this new life.
Talk about a life change… in a matter of 15 minutes I went from being a typical, cocky 15 year old, to being a scared kid.

Scared out of my wits, and with nowhere to hide.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Day in The life... Day One

Since this probably will not be read by too many people, I chose it as the venue in which to publish these thoughts. I will add one day at a time and, if anyone out there comes across these lines and likes them and wishes to share some thoughts, please drop a line to . If you don't like what you read, don't write; critics are not welcome... These memories are all too real and still painful.

A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A “PEDRO PAN”

DAY ONE; May 5, 1962

-“¡Abuelo!! I shouted, -“What are you doing here?” – “Why did you come today instead of Saturday?

I was excited to see my grandfather. More than a grandfather, he had truly been my father. My parents had been divorced when I was 2 years old and my mother’s father had been my granddad, my father and also a friend. I lived with him and my grandmother in Cienfuegos, a city on the south-central shore of Cuba for most of my life but, since the remarriage of my mother I went to live in Cruces, a small town nearby; he would usually come to take me for the weekend. But, today was a weekday and this visit was unexpected.

-“Hola”, he said to me, but without his usual smile and usual “semi hug” (he was a very caring and loving man, but not overly expressive about it) and this unsettled me a little bit. Because of my own personality, circumstantial life experience gained even in the short time actually lived, and the acquired survival skills needed in a politically highly unstable environment, my sensitive skills antennae were developed at a very early age. When he went directly to my mother’s room and closed the door, an unusual action for him, I really became concerned that something was very wrong.

-“Perhaps, since I am not going to school, he has come to take me with him earlier than usual. Maybe he has a trip and wants me to go with him”, I thought. “Well” continued my argument with myself -“he has taken me in his trips many times before”.

-“M’ijo” I heard my mother call out, -“Son, please come in here for a few minutes”. I did not know it then, but with that call, my life changed forever. I know now there are pivotal moments in life. That moment was, perhaps, the pivotal moment in my life. I walked into her room and felt the tension in the air; my mother’s eyes were sad, teary and troubled. I felt scared. Had I known what was coming, I think I might have run the other way.

“Si mama” I said, -“what did you want?”. She started to say something but, somehow, the words could not come out. She looked at her father, my grandfather, in a look that I understand today as being one of a desperate request for help… “You tell him”, she said, “I can’t”.

-“You know” he started to slowly say –“the situation here in Cuba has really become very difficult, and we believe it will get much worse as time goes by”.

As did many people in Cuba, my grandfather had originally supported the idea of a government change. But, unlike many others, he was able to quickly see beyond the glitter and the posters into the harsh reality of a potentially closed and ruthless regime. By late 1960, he had already disavowed any allegiance to the Castro Brothers, and was listening to the clandestine radio messages and programs issued through the short wave radio every night. Then, when the catholic school I was attending was taken over by the government, he began to earnestly figure out a way to get my sister and I out of the country. I just was never consulted about the idea.

“Because of this” he then continued, - “your mother and I thought that it will be better if you two were sent to El Norte” (The US was then referred to as “The North”, based on its geographic position vis-à-vis Cuba). It still did not register in my mind what I was being told. Until he added –“the reason I came today, is that the telegram just arrived; you are both leaving in 5 days”. It was well known that those who received permission to leave were advised of this via a telegram from the corresponding government agency. It usually gave you 5 days to prepare for the rest of your life.

At age 15, this was definitely not nearly enough…

Veterans Day

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