Time’s Relentless March
“It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.” ― Ally Condie, Matched
As August 2022 reaches the two-thirds of the month mark and meteorological fall waits in the seasonal wings, my thoughts turn once again to the past, especially to the 44 years that I spent almost uninterrupted in my hometown of Miami, Florida.
If you were to ask me why this is so, the glib answer that I would offer is “Because this year marks the half-century mark of my return to the States after living in Colombia for nearly six years. 1972 is a landmark year because I experienced several life-altering events – some of which were good, some of which were not – within a period of roughly nine months.”
And, of course, this is true. 1972 was a tumultuous year that kicked off a long and complicated series of events that culminated in my move to the Tampa Bay area in the spring of 2016. Even if we exclude the “triggering event” – a cerebral hemorrhage that prompted the pediatrician in charge of my care to urge Mom to bring me back to the United States for medical reasons – and the squabbles at home with my half-sister over her refusal to come with us, I went through a lot in a nine-month period as Mom and I – later joined by a reluctant (and resentful) Vicky – adjusted to living in the subtropical Casablanca that Miami was – and still is.
Between late March (or early April, I’m not sure) and December 31, 1972, I:
- Lived for a week or so at the now-gone Danker’s Inn Motel with Mom while she looked for a temporary living arrangement, which she found when Guillermo Valbuena, a former colleague of my late father, invited us to stay with him and his family in their large house in the Village Green neighborhood near Westchester
- Was bitten by the Valbuenas’ heretofore friendly Doberman pinscher and underwent minor – but scary – reconstructive surgery
- Attended for some time – not sure how long – a school in Hialeah to sort-of learn enough English to get by when I started school at the start of the 1972-73 school year
- Moved twice. First from the Valbuena home to the small apartment in Sweetwater, then to our new house at 1001 SW 102nd Avenue
- Had to learn English, and rapidito!
- Went to my first drive-in movie with Mom and my recently arrived half-sister at the Tropicaire Drive-In (which used to be at 7751 SW 40th Street /Bird Road) until it was closed and demolished a while back. (The movie we went to see? The Godfather)
- Became acclimated to the heat, humidity, and rain of summer in Florida
- Attended not one but two elementary schools: Coral Park Elementary near my house, and the not-so-near-my house Tropical Elementary School
- “Fell in love” for the first time. The first girl I ever “loved and lost” is perhaps the one I try to remember the most, partly because she was the first girl I shyly said (and more poignantly, wrote) the phrase “I love you” to, even though I didn’t know much about her and could not converse with because I did not speak much English then. I remember her only as “Cheryl T,” for that’s how she was listed in our class roster – where, as I recall, our teacher, Mrs. Cynthia Turtletaub, would post stars of different colors (bronze, silver, and gold) as rewards for good class behavior or turning our homework on time) – because there was another girl named Cheryl in our classroom. I sat a couple of desks away from Cheryl’s on the same almost-at-the-back-of-the-room row, and she was cute! I have – somewhere – the class picture from Mrs. Turtletaub’s third-grade class during the 1972-73 school year. It’s not a formal posed group photo, but rather a one-sheet collection of “thumbnails” with our individual portraits (and Mrs. Turtletaub’s, too) arranged in neat little rows. Even today, a half-century later, I can still remember Cheryl T, even though I never saw her again after I was enrolled at Tropical Elementary School in mid-November of 1972
- Ventured on foot alone for more than a block from my house for the first time ever. This was something I never did in Bogota – I wasn’t allowed to because Mom didn’t think it was safe, so whenever I wanted to go, say, to a nearby park or the occasional movie at a nearby theater, I had to go accompanied by one of our two live-in maids or wait till either Mom or Vicky had free time to go with me. At our Miami houses? Not so much. As I pointedly remark to the Caregiver when I’m frustrated about how limited my life here is, I had more self-agency as a kid in Miami than I do now in Lithia
Movies, Memories, and Nostalgia
“Books and movies, they are not mere entertainment. They sustain me and help me cope with my real life.” ― Arlaina Tibensky
I also suspect that the many x-th Anniversary home media re-releases of popular movies – starting with Paramount’s 50th Anniversary 4K UHD The Godfather box set earlier this year – are a trigger for nostalgia, especially since movies and other pop culture media tend to take us back to the time when we first experienced them. It is sometimes strange, and even perhaps unsettling, when we are reminded of time’s relentless march when we are told:
- The Godfather is 50 years old this year!
- Star Wars – the original movie – is 45 years old this year!
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial turn 40 this year!
- Patriot Games turns 30 this year!
- Jurassic Park will turn 30 next year, but 2022’s Jurassic World: Dominion states the events of the movie took place in 1992!
- Titanic is 25 this year!
These are all movies that I saw – and enjoyed – with my friends in Miami when I was younger. They might not be all Academy Award-winning films or the darlings of film critics, nor are they universally loved. But I enjoyed them when I was younger – maybe not The Godfather because it had some scenes that made me not want to see it again until I was nearly 50 – and many of my happiest memories from my Miami years are of those group trips to theaters in various South Florida malls, including Mall of the Americas, Cocowalk, Dadeland, Sunset, The Falls, and even the “cheap” Ambassador Four theater that for a while was the closest movie venue to my mom’s townhouse in East Wind Lake Village.
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”― William C. Faulkner
The true reason why I am so fixated on the past without romanticizing it, I think, is that my “here and now” is less than spectacular right now, especially on the emotional side. I’m not as happy in Lithia as I was at the beginning of 2020, for one thing, and as I grow more emotionally distant from my ex-girlfriend, I am far less optimistic about the future, so I have a tendency to either seek escapism through my home media collection or look back yearningly at the past, cos even though my life in Miami was never idyllic or conflict-free, I had my mom to lean on, and a circle of friends to hang out with when they had the time to go to a movie or eat at an inexpensive restaurant.
Here? Not so much.
“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.” ― Kris Kristofferson
 As far as I can recall, the brief period between January and the first 10 days of March 1972 was not particularly eventful. Mom was busy – as usual – managing another restaurant in Bogota (La Codorniz) and juggling a busy schedule. My older half-sister Vicky was starting on the long path to a nursing career; at the time, she was a volunteer at the Colombian Red Cross. And I was attending a private Catholic school during the second half of the 1971-72 school year.
I’m not sure why I have so few memories of those last months in Bogota; I suppose that the cerebral hemorrhage that sent me to the hospital a few days after my ninth birthday, combined with the speed in which Mom and I decamped from Bogota almost as soon as I was discharged, affected the part of my brain that stores memories. Or, perhaps, on some level, the pain of leaving the life I’d known since I was three years old (virtually, everything and everyone I’d known and loved) was too much for my nine-year-old self to bear.
I do remember a few things, such as getting into an argument with another third-grade student who was anti-American over an English-language book, Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II, that I’d brought back to Bogota after our Christmas 1971 vacation in Miami and unwisely took to school not long after that. Of course, I’ve forgotten specific details of the argument; however, the other kid’s thesis is that the book was, in essence, propagandistic BS and that the U.S. – which was then still involved in a vastly unpopular war in Vietnam – was no better than the Axis powers had been during World War II.
A happier memory: Around that same time, I took a Wilson NFL regulation football to Colegio El Nogal to show it off to the few friends I had in my class and play a game of touch football at recess. It was one of the few times that I got to play with that ball before our hasty return to the States; because Mom had sold our first house in Coral Estates Park (911 SW 99th Place) circa 1967 or ’68, we had no home in South Florida to ship our stuff to, and Mom was never exactly swimming in money, so when we left Bogota, we only took what she considered to be “essential items,” especially for the flight to Miami. So I had to leave most of my things – clothes (which were more appropriate for the chilly mountain climate of Bogota anyway), toys, and books. Both my football and Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II were, sadly, among the things I left behind.
 It helps, of course, that even in 2022, the only busy thoroughfares that mark the limits of Coral Park Estates are SW 102nd Avenue (which runs north-south in front of 1001) and SW 97th Avenue. In between, though, the roads between 102nd Avenue and SW 99th Place – which was the farthest that my mom would let me travel alone until I was a bit older – bear little traffic. We kids used to play “guns” and ride bikes without worrying about being hit by a car. To this day I think kids in that neighborhood can still do that – if they want to!