It’s hard to believe, but 50 Julys ago, I was a nine-year-old boy, living in South Florida with my widowed mother in a small apartment in Sweetwater far removed from the lifestyle – and the family we left behind – we had enjoyed in Bogota, Colombia.
Four months earlier, less than a week after my ninth birthday, I suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while I was at a relative’s house – my fallible memory is not sure whether it was at my Uncle Octavio’s or somewhere else, although I think it was at my uncle’s house in the barrio called Santa Barbara – and spent some time in the pediatric ward in Bogota’s Hospital Militar before one of my doctors strongly recommended that Mom and I move back to the United States because Colombia, while not precisely a backward country, still lagged in quality of medical care, especially for children with physical disabilities (like Yours Truly).
As I’ve written in past posts in this quasi-memoir, by early April of 1972 Mom and I had left the chilly Andean capital city of Bogota for the hot, subtropical South Florida area where I was born and had lived for my first three years or so. And for the first three or so months of our “reverse migration” Stateside, it was just Mom and me because my older half-sister Victoria Eugenia – aka Vicky – insisted on staying in Bogota rather than join us in Miami.
The passage of time and the effects of the cerebral hemorrhage have sandblasted my once-vivid memories of the summer of 1972. I also think that the rapidity of events and the fact that I did not keep a record of what I did or what I felt at the time has accelerated the process of forgetting much of what happened between my ninth birthday and Christmas of 1972.
I do have fragmentary memories of the summer of 1972, especially July, which is when Mom began the one-month-long process of purchasing our penultimate house in Westchester, a congregation neighborhood in the Miami area.
This is what I remember:
- The apartment complex in Sweetwater that was our temporary home before my mother bought the house at 1001 SW 102nd Avenue consisted of two long buildings sited west-to-east between SW 107th and 109th Avenues, with a swimming pool and patio area in the center of the complex. The two buildings had two stories, and our apartment – I think it was Apartment 109-A – was on the ground floor of the easternmost building
- We spent a lot of evenings visiting my mother’s best friend at the time, Carmelita Carrillo Blasco, and her husband Norberto, at their house (915 SW 102nd Avenue), which was on the same block as our future house. Carmelita was around my mother’s age and was from my dad’s hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia. (In fact, she knew Dad before Mom, so she was the one who played matchmaker between my parents). Norberto was from Cuba and was one of the first Cubans I met as a child old enough to remember such details. (I already had met Cubans as an infant, but of course I didn’t know the difference between Colombians and Cubans then.)
- Lizards and cockroaches terrified me, and because I’d had a close encounter of the worst kind with a Doberman pinscher early in our “back to Miami” adventure, I was also scared of most dogs. I eventually got over these fears, although to this day there are breeds of dogs that I will not willingly be near
- I didn’t speak English at all when we arrived in Miami in April of 1972, and to get my ear accustomed to the language, my mother forbade me from watching WLTV-23, Miami’s first Spanish-language TV station. I was not thrilled, but I understood her reasons, so I obeyed
- One of the first movies I distinctly remember watching on what was then WCIX-TV (Channel Six) was the 1964 film Zulu, a historical drama based on the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. It made such an impression on me that I watched it every time Channel Six aired it, either as an “Eight O’Clock Movie” offering on weekdays or on weekends when the then-independent WCIX broadcast old movies as counterprogramming to the Big Three networks’ mostly-sports content
- Another movie that made a big impression on me was 1953’s Titanic. I had never heard of that maritime tragedy before I saw that somewhat melodramatic recreation of the April 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic, but even though I did not understand the fictional elements of the movie, I found out that Titanic did sink after colliding with an iceberg, and that struck a chord with me
- I also remember that I became acclimated to South Florida’s heat relatively quickly, although I never quite loved subtropical summers because of the frequent thunderstorms and the nerve-racking hurricane seasons. I remember that once I was more fluent in English I checked out as many books about hurricanes as I could from the Tropical Elementary School library to learn more about tropical storms and thus confront my fears by being more informed about them
- Before Mom bought the house on SW 102nd Avenue, we went there at least twice to talk to the owner, an elderly widow named Eleanor Zimmerman. She had lost her husband only the year before, and although she loved the house, she was having a hard time making ends meet so she was selling it. Mom eventually purchased that house for $31,000 on August 1, 1972. I dimly remember that around this time in 1972 Mom and I were busy getting ready for the move, which was our second in less than a year
Of course, at the time, the American involvement in Vietnam was still ongoing – although it was winding down – and TV news broadcasts often included the “casualty count.” In the background of that summer, the 1972 Presidential campaign was ongoing. Although the Watergate break-in had occurred a month earlier, the American public was still in the dark about President Nixon’s involvement in that scandal. Also, I remember – dimly – that ABC was promoting its upcoming coverage of the 1972 Olympic Summer Games in Munich (München), Germany, which were scheduled to begin on August 26, 1972.
It was around this time that Mom told me that my half-sister Vicky would be rejoining us in Miami after a three-month separation. I do not believe I understood why Vicky had stayed behind – other than her oft-stated dislike for the U.S. – or the reasons for her change of mind (I later, much later, discovered that it was not voluntary on Vicky’s part), but at the time I was thrilled. Back then, I thought highly of my “big sister” and loved her immensely. Considering that her antipathy toward me as an adult is the biggest reason for my living in Lithia now, it’s one of those things that is rife with sad ironies.
 Zulu is also one of the few movies that I watched on WCIX as a kid and now own on home media. The other titles I own that were “Channel Six” movies are The Battle of Britain, The Sons of Katie Elder, and The Enemy Below