“Time doesn’t really ‘march on’. It tends to tip-toe. There’s no parade. No stomping of boots to alert you to its passing. One day, you turn around and it is gone.” ― Heather Babcock
This summer – this stiflingly hot, oft sad and depressing, and quite insane Summer of ’22 – is both my 59th summer overall and the 50th since Mom and I (later joined by my older half-sister Vicky) moved back to the United States after living in Bogota, Colombia, for nearly six years.
The “reverse migration” – for me, anyway – had been unplanned and hasty, made necessary by the cerebral hemorrhage that sent me to the pediatric ward at the Hospital Militar in Bogota’s posh Chapinero neighborhood a few days after my ninth birthday. While I was recovering from that frightening and life-threatening event, the doctor in charge of my case strongly suggested that I would be better off living in the States rather than in Colombia because – at the time – health care for kids with cerebral palsy was better in the Colossus of the North than in Latin America.
My primary physician – Dr. Roa, I think his name was – had gone to medical school with my mom’s first husband (and Vicky’s dad), Manuel Pineros, and my mother knew him well enough to trust his medical opinion. So while I was recuperating and undergoing physical therapy at the hospital, Mom somehow managed to – through the help of the U.S. Embassy – expedite the necessary paperwork for our return to Miami and ship some of our belongings there, while selling or giving away the rest, including most of my toys, books, and other knick-knacks.
We arrived in Miami in early April of 1972 and stayed first at the house of one of my dad’s co-workers when he was a pilot for Aerocondor in the ‘50s, but had to move to an apartment in Sweetwater, Florida after Caron, the family Doberman Pinscher, nearly bit my nose off. Luckily, my mom found out that a house in Coral Estates Park, the same neighborhood where my family had lived from the summer of 1963 till our move to Colombia in early 1966, was on the market – for $31,000 – and bought it relatively quickly.
According to the Miami-Dade Property Tax Collection agency’s online records, Mom’s purchase of the property at 1001 SW 102nd Avenue was recorded on August 1, 1972. I don’t know when the closing date was or the exact move-in date. What I do remember was spending many long hours at the house of my mom’s best friend, Carmelita Blasco, who lived with her Cuban husband Norberto at 915 SW 102nd Avenue, and playing – albeit with some reluctance due to the difference in ages – with three-year-old Patrick Blanchard, who lived with his parents, Chuck and Sheila, and older brother Robert, at 925 SW 102nd Avenue, while Mom was running errands, dealing with the legal issues of buying 1001, and getting the house ready for our official moving in.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the house on SW 102nd Avenue, I do not recall whether my older half-sister Vicky arrived before or after we moved from Sweetwater to Coral Estates Park. I vaguely remember going to a newly built apartment building in the then-new Fountainbleau Park development and that Mom had briefly considered buying an apartment there. She dismissed the notion because (a) she was not fond of apartments on high-rise buildings, and (b) by then my grandparents had informed Mom that they were tired of Vicky’s antics and that one way or another, she was coming to Miami regardless of what either Vicky or Mom thought. Mom – knowing that she didn’t have much of a choice – accepted the family’s decision and adjusted her house-hunting parameters to include three-bedroom dwellings, preferably houses.
Based on this hazy recollection, I assume that I knew by late July of 1972 that Vicky was rejoining us, with my mom’s first cousin Olga Cecilia, who was my half sister’s close contemporary, in tow.
What I am not 100% certain about – and this is because Mom and I did not talk often about this period in our lives in later years – is whether Vicky returned to Miami before we moved into the house or shortly after.
(I do know that she was in Miami when I started attending school at Coral Park Elementary, which was five blocks away; I remember that she sometimes helped me with my homework, especially with my English language skills.)
“…I have to admit that I’ve … always felt burdened by nostalgia, by a desire to stop time, to recapture things that have been lost. A sense that everything, absolutely everything, is on a journey from which there’s no return.” ― Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
I don’t remember being particularly homesick for Bogota in August of 1972. Back in the spring months, when I was still getting used to the flatness of South Florida after living for so long in the middle of Colombia’s Cordillera Central, I did feel pangs of sadness at the thought of my former classmates in Colegio El Nogal moving on to third grade without me.
“Sometimes the wonder over the object of a crush is indistinguishable from the simple relief that you are still able to leap into one at all.”― Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby
I especially remember trying to hold on to mental images of a girl – Diana by name – that I had a crush on when the 1971-1972 academic year started. I, of course, would never have admitted to it, but I was smitten by my pretty classmate, who had long chestnut brown hair, a dazzling smile, a friendly demeanor, and looked lovely in her school uniform. For a while, she haunted my dreams. Once I met – and fell in love with – other girls, Diana faded – but never quite disappeared – from my memories.
“Some people are in such utter darkness that they will burn you just to see a light. Try not to take it personally.” ― Kamand Kojouri
The only other former El Nogal classmate that I remembered then was a boy named Jaime, who was in the same class as me but had taken an almost-instant dislike to me when we met. I don’t know if it was because I was the only kid in school with a disability, or if it was because I had mentioned I was from the U.S. at a time – the Vietnam War era – when anti-American sentiment was strong everywhere, but especially in Latin America.
Whatever his reasons were, Jaime never missed an opportunity to harass me on campus, either verbally – out of earshot of our strict Catholic school teachers, naturally – or physically, by chasing me up and down the semi-dark corridors of the school campus (which at the time was in a converted old mansion with three floors and a dining room-turned-school cafeteria next to a slightly-larger-than-average kitchen).
I don’t remember if he ever caught me – I was a fast (if a rather ungainly) runner as a kid – or beat me up; considering how stern most of the teachers on the faculty were, and that the owner/headmistress of Colegio El Nogal knew all of our parents (it was not a particularly large school, and the student body probably was between 75 to 100 strong, ranging from ages 6 to 13), I don’t think he did. But he did chase me in that old and intimidating school building quite a few times, only stopping after I – following the advice of one of my few friends on campus – stopped in mid-run, stuck my right foot out, tripped him, and caused him to fall on his face and get a bloody nose.
Honestly, though, the changes in my environment and the fast pace at which they took place gave me little time to think much about the life and people that I had left behind in South America.
The first few weeks after our arrival, when everything seemed unfamiliar and even scary, I missed my old room – especially the Apollo lunar landing display that my mom had made for me in 1970 and mounted on my bedroom wall – and my “stuff,” for I had left behind all my toys and most of my books because shipping them was prohibitively expensive.
And, of course, I missed my relatives, especially my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins, but Mom assuaged my fears of never seeing them again by reassuring me that either they’d visit us in Miami from time to time, or we’d fly down to Bogota to visit them once we were settled in Miami and Mom found a job to support us economically.
Like most kids, especially kids who live in happy homes and are not experiencing hard times, either financially or emotionally, I did not live in the past or with an eye toward the future, but in the ever-present “Now.”
And in the Summer of ’72, every day saw a new adventure or a new discovery. Some, like the artificially longer daytime made possible by Daylight Savings Time, made playing outside (unsupervised, mostly) with my posse of new friends – all boys – a novelty to nine-year-old me. In Bogota, the chilly temperatures, the darkening of the sky after 6 PM, combined with worries about crime and the exigencies of our nightly schedule, plus my lack of a “posse” of friends – they all put a kibosh on playing outside after 4 PM.
In sharp contrast, I still remember playing with friends – sometimes it was with the far-younger-than-me Patrick, but increasingly more with my bilingual buddies who lived on SW 8th Terrace, Armando (who we sometimes called “El Bandido”) and Luis, aka “Luisito” – until Mom would phone one of the mothers (they all had exchanged numbers) and send word that I had to get home pronto. And when I’d get home, I would look at the kitchen clock, see that it was eight o’clock, and marvel at the fact that in Bogota, I would be getting into my pajamas and going to bed for the night.
Other discoveries, such as the painful bites from red ants, the chirping of crickets, and the croaking of frogs that came from the wooded area – which is no longer there in 2022, and has not been there since late 1975 – across SW 102nd Avenue, and the ever present gnats and mosquitoes that came out after sunset were either unpleasant or just unsettling, And, of course, after living in the cold and thinner air of the Andes for six years, the heat and humidity in South Florida during the summer took me a while to adapt to.
Language is “the infinite use of finite means.” – Wilhelm von Humboldt
The one thing I do remember well about this time in 1972 was my frustration that even though I’d been born in the United States and was an American citizen, I did not speak a lot of English. When my mom enrolled me for a brief time at a school in Hialeah early after we’d moved to that apartment in Sweetwater, I picked up enough of the lingo to understand basic instructions such as “Sit at your desk,” or “Don’t talk in class.”
And, of course, when I watched TV with Mom after dinner, she – with a patience that would have impressed Job – would explain what the characters were talking about during, say, an episode of Emergency, which was my favorite show for a couple of TV seasons back then.
And once we moved into 1001, I had access to Mom’s huge doorstop of the Larousse English-Spanish/Spanish-English Dictionary, which became my go-to guide to improve both my vocabulary and pronunciation of American English, especially once school was in session at the nearby Coral Park Elementary.
I, of course, eventually learned how to communicate in the lingua franca of the United States, but 50 years ago, my most used phrase before I started school (and even for a time afterward) was, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand English.”
 I was lucky that I was sharing a room with the two teenage boys in the family, Fernando and Mario. If they had not intervened quickly and pulled Caron off me before the dog could close his jaws, I might have needed far more reconstructive surgery than I got.