“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Whenever I speak – or write – about my childhood, I often state that I had not one but two childhoods: one in the United States that began in Miami in March of 1963 with my birth but was interrupted by a second one that started when my maternal grandparents, “Tata” and “Quique,” convinced my Mom to move with me to Bogota circa 1966 in the wake of my dad’s death in a plane crash. Consumed by grief and assured by my grandparents that we would be better off living in Colombia’s capital and largest city because most of our family lived there at the time, my mother agreed.
Because Mom decided to rent the house at Southwest 9th Street and 99th Place rather than to sell it outright (she didn’t want to burn her bridges in the States, so to speak), she had a lot of prep work for the Big Move, so she allowed my grandparents to take me to Bogota on a Pan American World Airways jetliner first. I have vague memories of sitting inside a Boeing 707’s cabin and seeing mountains for the first time from my window seat. (I still have, somewhere, my Junior Clipper Pilot wings from that flight; my grandmother had kept them as a memento, and when she died in 1981, I somehow got them back.)
I was three years old when I left the United States, so I don’t have too many memories about how I felt about moving from Miami to Bogota. I do remember that the city was colder, bigger, and far more congested than South Florida was at the time. I also remember the bout of separation anxiety that I felt while I lived with my grandparents in their huge house in the Bogota neighborhood of Santa Barbara, which is located in the section of the city called Usaquen.
Mom once told me that it took her about six to eight weeks to make all the arrangements necessary for (a) renting our Miami house and (b) her own move to Bogota. For three-year-old me, who was staying in my grandparents’ huge (and to a young, impressionable child, sometimes scary) house, those weeks were an eternity, so I was glad when we were finally reunited and moved to an apartment near a park on Calle 80.
In all our time in Bogota – roughly from late 1966 to late May of 1972 – we never owned any of the apartments or houses where we lived. And although I have fragments of vivid memories about them – one house, I remember, had two floors, a huge library, and two fireplaces, as well as a large backyard where I played with some of my cousins – I don’t remember the addresses or phone numbers. (In sharp contrast, I remember all too well the addresses of the two houses in Miami where I lived with Mom and [sometimes] my older half-sister Vicky.)
Things I Remember
Just as kids who grew up in Miami in the 1960s and 1970s remember Burdine’s, Jordan Marsh, Richard’s, and other department stores that either closed or were bought up by larger national chains (Burdine’s was bought by the company that owns Macy’s in the 1990s and changed its name to Macy’s), kids in Bogota remember Almacenes LEY.
I have never, not even as an adult, liked plain milk. Even now, I can only drink premade chocolate milk or I have to add Nestle’s Quik powder or Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup to – ugh – plain moo juice. When we lived in Bogota, I always used Milo to make milk more palatable.
Here’s a 1970s-era Mexican commercial (I couldn’t find one from Colombia made when we lived there):
The “Himno Nacional de Colombia” (Colombian National Anthem)
When I lived in Colombia, television broadcasts were still in black-and-white (Inravision, the state national network, introduced color TV sometime after we returned to the States in 1972), and we didn’t have ’round-the-clock TV then, either.
If I recall correctly, broadcasts started at 6 AM and ended at midnight. And just before sign-off, Inravision would play the Colombian national anthem to end the broadcast day.
This is a relatively recent version and is in color (as well as more melodramatic), but the anthem is the same.
I wish I had access to the photographs I managed to inherit after my mother died in July of 2015 and a way to digitize them so I could share some of the ones from my Colombian childhood days. Alas, I have no idea where my treasure trove of photos is; it’s in this house, but only the Caregiver knows where it is, and she’s busy working from her remote office in the master bedroom. And I have no scanner of my own, so….
As I said earlier, we lived in Bogota for almost six years. My older half-sister Vicky rejoined the family when she – along with our cousin Maria Clara – graduated from an all-girls Catholic school in West Virginia back in 1969. I went to a Catholic co-ed school called Colegio El Nogal from kindergarten till halfway into second grade. I don’t remember much about that part of my life, though; I know we wore blue-and-white school uniforms and that much of the curriculum was devoted to religious studies, I also dimly remember that I had a crush on a pretty girl named Diana. Other than that…not much, except that when we had to sharpen our pencils, we had to go to a closet out in the main hall and use an old-fashioned pencil sharpener attached to the door.
50 years ago today, I was still living in Bogota. I wasn’t quite eight yet on February 11, 1971; then, as now, it was a Thursday, and I was probably on my way home from school on the school’s minibus (or jitney, as we would call it in Miami). I can’t remember if I was a studious child who did his homework as soon as I arrived at the apartment (the last place in Bogota where we lived before we moved back to the U.S. a year later). Based on my habits as a kid in Miami, probably not. But the cerebral hemorrhage I had in March of 1972, as well as the passage of time, have dulled my memories, so maybe I had better study habits then than I did when my American childhood resumed the next year.