The View From Here: Four Days Off, Fidel and Fortitude
By Ken DeLaat
Nothing blows by like a four day weekend does it?
A sumptuous stretch beginning with Wednesday night’s annual Pizza –powered prepping of fabulous foodstuffs for the feast the following day. When Monday morning did not even appear on the most distant of horizons. A seemingly unlimited expanse of time following a three day work week. Wallowing in the wonderment of a quartet of days when Lifetime Spousal Companion (LSC) Lil and I could practice for post retirement life by being schedule free for a flicker or two of time.
And now it’s Sunday already.
Things I meant to do:
Go to the gym at least twice- I didn’t
Watch the Lions and U-M win- Did, didn’t (watched both though)
...playing with my favorite 2 year old, Harper- Did
Things that just happened:
Other things that happened:
The passing of an absolute icon of our age who ruled with an iron fist.
No, I’m not talking about Carol Brady (Florence Henderson).
Beyond the ever so predictable highly opinionated rhetoric surrounding this news with every politician and wannabee chiming in their two-penny thoughts, his death sparked a memory for me.
It was 1962 and three girls joined the 6th grade classes at Parkview Elementary school in Wyoming. They were newly arrived from a mysterious place we had all heard of. A place that seemed dark and shadowy and was chock full of communists who were plotting to take over the world and would begin by firing missiles into our neighborhoods.
Of course, we would be protected by kneeling under our desks (a concept few of us believed despite the sincerity of those administering the drills) and should it come to nuclear war we would surely triumph since as the history books taught us we won every conflict because we were always in the right.
But back to the story.
There were three 6th grade classrooms at Parkview and one girl was assigned to each class a decision apparently aimed at some premeditated and preposterous process of assimilation. Before their arrival our teacher Mr. Stull spoke of their impending appearance and cautioned us to not ask too many questions too soon. It was enough for us to know they had lived in Cuba, had escaped from that country and were now living in Wyoming Park. Mr. Stull was highly respected among the 6th graders at Parkview thus we solemnly and silently agreed to appropriately govern our curious nature with regard to our new classmates.
The next day we were introduced to Carrie. She was very cute, had a friendly and pleasantly squeaky voice with a bit of an accent, and within a few short weeks and a rapid movement to the top of the class academically Carrie had developed a popularity among the 6th grade boys, secured the admiration of the teaching staff, made some close friends and drawn the ire of a few jealous girls who disliked sharing the limelight they previously dominated.
In other words she had been accepted fully into the fold.
Having joined us in late fall, I believe they were with us until the end of the school year if my memory serves me. Two, one being Carrie, went on to other places perhaps rejoining their families, though some children who came across the 90 miles and vast ideological chasm separating the countries apparently ended up living in foster homes when their parents could not leave Cuba. One of the girls stayed in Wyoming if I recall.
What is clear in my mind and memory was her description of life in Cuba. She agreed to talk to the class and Mr. Stull arranged a time for her to present her story to us. You could have heard a pin drop in that room when he announced she was to address the class. To a kid we had respected the admonitions of our teacher and not asked her about the birth country she had left behind and we were hungry to hear what brought her to our school.
She told us that Cuba was a beautiful country but spoke in detail of fear and chaos and people being jailed and schools being closed and how everything had changed once Castro and his army had taken control of the island republic.
And how she and thousands of other children were airlifted to the US in an operation I later found out was called Pedro Pan. Some arrived with their families and some not. She didn’t say if hers had made it but I recall being at a birthday party for Carrie at the house where she lived and while introduced by her to everyone there, none among those I met were her parents.
It was stunning for us to hear about it. The idea of leaving your home and family and travelling alone to another land was not in the mindset of Parkview 6th graders.To live with host family people who took you in and let you stay with them but not having your Mom Dad or any siblings close by. Not knowing if you would ever see them again.
And I will always remember how she always, despite everything that had happened to her, seemed to be happy. She excelled in school work, had a great sense of humor, made friends easily.....and other than the time she spoke to us all about Cuba, never mentioned her parents or other family members.
I don’t know what happened to Carrie. My hope is she was reunited with her family and spent her teenage years living with them, going to dances and football games, doing well in academics, making many more friends and creating a successful life for herself after high school and college. That today she sits with her children and grandchildren to mark the end of a lengthy era in her birth country and tells them how they all came to be Americans.
I only know that the telling of her experience was a seminar in fortitude and perseverance. Of being given a chance for freedom and seizing it with both hands. Hoping you’ll be reunited with your family but not knowing for sure and taking the risk anyway. Not knowing anything at the tender age of 12 other than it was better to be here then it was to be there.
Carrie’s smile proved to be the most compelling symbol of freedom my younger self had ever experienced.
For the next few days the news will be filled with the legacy of Fidel Castro, the freedom fighter turned tyrant. As our age of 24/7 news cycle dictates, there will be a raft of opinions, uncomplimentary tie-ins with the Prez and Prez elect who will both, according to their ever-present haters bungle things when making their comments and significant and superfluous speculation on what will happen next will rule the airways.
Will Fidel’s brother Raul, who has already made changes, continue on a path that would open the country up to more ties with America? Will more sanctions now be rolled back? Will Havana be given an MLB franchise? Or maybe will we pull even farther away and reinstitute all those restrictions that have been in place for roughly half a century?
Who knows at this point?
For me the only takeaway of it all is my remembrance of Carrie’s courage at such a young age.
And the way she absolutely beamed when we began each day in Mr. Stull’s classroom by saying the Pledge of Allegiance together.
“Freedom lies in being bold.”- Robert Frost
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