Hi, there, Dear Reader. It is afternoon in Lithia, Florida, on Saturday, June 25, 2022. It is a hot early summer day in the Tampa Bay area. Currently, the temperature is 85°F (30°C) under mostly cloudy skies. With humidity at 78% and the wind blowing from the north-northwest at 5 MPH (8 KM/H), the heat index is 95°F (35°C). Today’s forecast is a reprise of yesterday’s: Thunderstorms are expected to pass through the area, and the high will be 92°F (34°C). Tonight, scattered showers will linger after sundown. The low will be 75°F (24°C).
As you know, this year (2022) I have written many posts dealing with the passage of time, in no small part because this year marks the 50th anniversary of my return – and my mom’s as well – to the United States after living for six years in Bogota, Colombia. Our move to Miami in the spring of 1972 – which was not planned but a result of a medical emergency I experienced shortly after my ninth birthday – was, in retrospect, a “life-changer,” and its consequences led me down the path that brought me to the west coast of Florida 44 years later.
In late June of 1972, I was living with Mom in a small two-bedroom apartment in a Sweetwater apartment complex called El Portal. As I recall, this was a two-building complex that faced SW 107th Avenue to the east and SW 109th Avenue (Andrews Boulevard) in the west, with a pool area with a vending machine for canned sodas, restrooms, and a shower stall with a sign that stated, “Shower Before Entering Pool” placed between Buildings One and Two.
I don’t remember much from our first layover at the El Portal apartment complex – there would be another one just five years later because my maternal grandmother, without giving much thought to the consequences of her suggestion, convinced my mother to sell the house in Westchester and buy the townhouse in East Wind Lake Village that was “home” from 1978 until early April of 2016. Those early summer 1972 days are a confused blur in my memory; the only crystal-clear memories that I have from our three-month-long sojourn in El Portal are sensory ones of reading a couple of my Spanish language books from Bogota in my sun-bathed room and of a terrifying close encounter of the worst kind with a huge palmetto bug in the swimming pool.
It goes without saying that in June of 1972 I was becoming reacquainted with Miami’s subtropical climate and the sizzling temperatures of the season in Florida. Remember, up until March of that year we had been living in Bogota, a huge city that sits on a plateau in the Cordillera Central of the Andes Mountains, nearly 9000 feet above sea level. The air in Bogota is thinner and the temperature there is chillier than in Miami, so I had some serious acclimation to do that summer.
As to what was going on in the U.S. during that strange first sojourn in Sweetwater whilst Mom was house hunting, and I was learning to love wearing shorts, T-shirts, and most things related to Miami (except for palmetto bugs and mosquitoes):
It was around this time in 1972 – on June 17, to be exact – that the poison of the Watergate break-in and the resulting coverup by the Nixon Administration entered the bloodstream of the American body politic, a feckless act of Presidential abuse of power that continues to be felt – and how! – in the Republican Party and the way it has behaved over the past 50 years. Of course, nine-year-old me did not watch the news on TV or read the Miami Herald; my English was sorely limited then, and I did not understand politics yet.
Around this time, too, President Richard Nixon – whose role in the Watergate scandal was not yet known by the American public – announced that he was not going to send draftees to South Vietnam. Again, this was a fact that I would learn about long afterwards since (a) I didn’t understand English well enough yet to follow any kind of news reports and (b) my nine-year-old’s worldview was very much like that of a Trump supporter in 2016, i.e., America is in the right, always, no matter what.
If you were born around this time, Dear Reader, you have no living memory of the nightly casualty reports from the Vietnam War that were featured on the three Big Network news programs that usually aired at 6:30 PM Eastern/5:30 Central. I don’t have perfect recall of those, either; just hazy memories of graphics – usually of a map of North and South Vietnam, with U.S. and South Vietnamese flags sometimes added in, with that week’s reported number of American casualties from the still-ongoing war.
I also lived in a country that was almost as divided – politically, socially, culturally, and ethnically – as it is now. In 1972, for instance, abortion was illegal in all 50 states, and conservatives hated anything to do with liberalism just as passionately as they do half a century later. The only difference, of course, was that Fox News was still just a gleam in Roger Ailes’ eye – it was in 1972, I believe, that the late co-founder of Fox “News” floated to Nixon the idea of creating a TV network devoted to pushing a conservative “message” as a counterweight to the mostly-liberal newspapers and TV news divisions that, in the American right’s mind, had a profound bias against “good old fashioned American values” that reflected a regressive, reactionary, and religious-based conservative mindset more suited for the Fifties rather than the Seventies.
So, the divisions we see now were also there 50 summers ago; we just did not have 24/7 cable news networks nor the Internet around to intensify the vitriol and widen the fissures between the two competing visions for America.
Again, nine-year-old me was too young to understand, much less care, about such abstractions as politics, culture wars, conservatism, liberalism, the rightness (or lack thereof) of American involvement in Vietnam, the controversies over the draft or abortion.
Nah. My concerns in late June were:
- Tengo que aprender ingles, y pronto
- I hope we don’t get struck by a hurricane
- I miss my family in Bogota
- I hope I make friends in school
- I hope I meet a girl that likes me
- I hope I can get (insert name of a cool 1972-era toy geared for boys here) for Christmas
- I hope I do well in school
- I hope we get a color TV for the house
- I hope I have friends in the new neighborhood
- I need more books!
I honestly don’t remember being particularly homesick for Bogota in June of 1972. I missed my relatives, sure, but I think the trauma of being hospitalized not too long after my ninth birthday and the sudden transition from the Colombian way of life to the Miami one was, to use a cliché, a shock to my system. I was sad on the long flight from Bogota to Miami, mostly because I intuited that this was a “forever” move and would grow up apart from my cousins and the few friends I had made in school. But that sadness dissipated fast, partly because kids usually adapt to changed situations faster than adults, but mostly because I was, despite my penchant for overcaution, genuinely excited about my new life in Miami.
Ironically, considering my present circumstances, the person I missed the most (aside from my beloved maternal grandparents) was my half-sister. I missed my aunts, uncles, and the rest of the family, as well as our two live-in maids Lili and Olimpia, but 50 years ago I adored Vicky and I could not understand why she chose to stay behind in Bogota.
As it turns out, the separation would not be permanent, and in fact, Vicky’s behavior had, unbeknownst to Mom and me at this time in that fateful summer of ’72, guaranteed that a family reunion would take place soon.
But, that, Dear Reader, is a tale for another day.
 At the time, this included missing my half-sister Vicky, who had refused to move back to the States and wanted to live in an apartment she inherited from her late father, Manuel Pineros. Vicky was 22 years old at the time of our “reverse migration” to Miami, and she legally could have done that. Alas, my strict, Catholic, and extremely conservative grandparents and my mother’s two siblings were opposed. The Sexual Revolution, like most other shocks to the culture in the Sixties and Seventies, were affecting Colombia, and to them, the thought of my half-sister living alone and potentially having premarital sex with any man she chose was too much to bear. The family collectively refused to let Vicky – a grown woman by then – live in her own apartment, but at the same time, no one really wanted to be “responsible” for her in our mother’s absence. Mom’s parents – based on previous experiences with my moody, impulsive, and unpredictable half-sibling, said that she could not live with them, especially since they had sold their huge house in Santa Barbara – a municipality in Bogota – and moved to a more modest apartment near Chapinero. (Hey, if any of my English-speaking primos or primas sees this, please remind me where our grandparents last lived!) Likewise, my mom’s two siblings and their spouses said they wanted no part of being responsible for Vicky either. It was only when my grandaunt Gabriela, my grandmother’s sister, offered Vicky a room in her house that The Issue was seemingly settled, and Mom and I flew to Miami without my older half-sister.
 I was never the kind of boy that thought girls were “gross” or “had cooties.” Maybe it was because I grew up in a family where women and girls were always around and I interacted with them daily, but I liked girls a lot. I did not know anything about sex – Mom and I never had the “Where do babies come from?” talk – so my notions of love and relationship were naïve and innocent, and the raciest thing I ever dreamed about doing with a girl was kissing. I think I even had a couple of “crushes” on pretty girls at Colegio El Nogal, the Catholic private school I attended from 1967 till my cerebral hemorrhage in March of 1972, but I can neither confirm nor deny this.