Roberto Soler Caldas
I arrived in Miami just like any other Cuban kid who came to the US without his parents; somehwat fearful, excited, curious and with a tremendous urge to go and urinate; my brother followed me to the USA a couple of months later and we were separated right from the start by staying at different relatives' houses with the hope that the arrangements would be permanent, however all along we knew that sooner or later we would end up in either Matecumbe or Opa Locka. At that time Camp Matecumbe was called the "Infierno Verde" and most of us know why; athlete's foot and groin fungus ran rampant and some may remember the treatments with antifungal solution, they may never forget it, no amount of hygine would prevent anyone from getting that fungus sooner or later...and though I never really got it, I could really empathize with those aflicted. I think I avoided the contagion by using the right guard deodorant in spray form both North and South and in between my legs, yes it stung, but better safe than sorry. I remember when President Kennedy was shot and when we were sent home from school back to the Camp. My sorrow for what had happened to him could not in anyway compare to the emptiness I experienced daily being away from my country and my parents, and I believe that sentiment was shared by all of my campmates. I remember dancing the Waltz in a couple of "Quince Años" celebrations at Florida City, where the girls and younger boys lived. I loved the trip to rehearsals in the Guaguita driven by Rafael, an or Quartas aka "carne fresca". We all had nicknames here and there and some fit our nature and personality quite well. Who can forget "Puchucha" and "La Tillan" among others.
One afternoon after returning form school, Olegario Suarez told me that the Cura wanted to see me and my brother at the Social Worker
s office. We were then informed that we would be transferring to Opa Locka at the begining of the following week and we would be attending classes on site instead of going out to the schools in the area. After a couple of months, my brother, along with Armando Peña, Mario Chapman, El Perro and I were sent on a "Beca" to Marquette, Michigan where we would stay at the convent of the Holy Family at 600 Altamont Street. We arrived just in time for school in a couple of days, so I went to Bishop Barraga High School and my brother went to St John's. My entire time there became somewhat of a relief from life at the camps in Florida. Not only we were more sophisticated and attended better schools, but were also showered with love and affection from Father LaLiebre and Sister Cormac not to mention others who were employed at the Convent of the Holy Family like Jim, the greek cook, La Sordita who was love personified and Joe who cleaned the convent and tended the grounds. The night that Joe died, we all pushed all of our beds together in the dormitory, because we were afraid he would come back to haunt us, as we were not saintly by any means; Joe was always a mistery to us, a nice guy, but never talked or socialized with us. poor man, at least he didn't suffer. I also remember our Cuban Car Wash during the Summer and the partime job I had washing dishes at St Mary's Hospital accross the street. I also did yard work once a week during the Summer for the Selig Family who had a mansion overlooking lake Superior and had great looking grounds, I loved going there because she made the best Rogula and pink lemonade, and she once had mentioned to me that I was easy on the eyes...which I did not know what that meant at the time; It wasn't until years later that I found out the pink lemonade came frozen in a can. but to me back in those days, it tasted glorious.
Jim the greek cook, had anger issues but was able to bite the bullet and keep in under wrap, except he could not for the life of him, make good white rice like us Cubans are used to. I came to the rescue there and after much pleading by me and the other boys, he conceded and allowed me to make the rice, of course it came out perfect, I had used the wet cartucho paper and everything and used real cloves of garlic and the olive oil that although Jim was of greek descendance olive oil had gone unnoticed by him. Of course everyone ate the rice all the way to the "raspa" and that was a severe blow to his ego, so he continued to hate me even more and I never pushed my luck with him, you may say i had bad vibes, the guy looked like he could inflict some serious damage and then confess and have comunion the next day. and my friend Luis Piedra aka "Bond, James Bond" complete with fedora hat, windbraker and cigarret lit in his lips was quick to observe and point out to me that the guy had it out for me and that he and Felix Lighter (Bond and this character was imaginary to him) would keep an eye out in case of a forthcoming attack from Jim the cook against me. Luis really made me fell like I was really being watched by the Secret Service for protection against malicious greek cooks. I could never bring myself to saying good by to Luis when I left, I really enjoyed playing the Bond thing with him and it was a great way to pass time. If you read this Luis, a big hug to you my brother. and say Hi to your brother Lino as well. I also hated saying goodbye to the rest of the gang, however the joy of knowing that soon my brother and I would be with our parents, overshadowed every other emotion. So in a way, we Pedro Paneros went to several emotional separations so early in our lives, first saying good bye to our parents, grandparents, friends, pets, then again in the various Camps in Florida, the once more before reuniting with our parents and by the time we really grew up, I am willing to bet most of us were seasoned veterans emotionally by the time we all turned 21, we had more experience in that field than most of our contemporaries. Moving forward, I also remember the sock ups at School dances on friday at the Gym, The Nuns were always there and I'm sure Sister Robert Francis who taught English and was at that time about 23 or 24 yrs old at the max, was dying to bust a move, but all things considered, we all behaved like good students and not like those people in Peyton Place we used to watch on TV. I remember Rolando Rodriguez and his brother "Fofo", Israel Fernandez,(quite a basketball player and star) Eduardo Martinez aka "el conde de pogolotis", Juan Dallas, Rene Ricky Nelson,and others like Marino, may he rest in peace. If you were there and I did'n mention your name, I apologize for my ripe 62 yr old brain.
When my parents arrived, of all dates, December 25, 1965, my brother and I were in New York visiting relatives who had taken jobs there and what a Christmas gift hey? So we went back to Marquette after Xmas and when the first term was over, both my brother and I left for Tampa, Florida to reunite with Mom and Dad. I could not graduate from regular high school, I had to drop out and go to work to help support my parents and my brother, but I was able to attend Night School after work and finish to get my HS Diploma. My little brother is a Doctor and I went to Nursing School. I worked in various Hospitals in the area as well as in Los Angeles Calif. and San Antonio Tx. as a nurse in the Operating Room. I had been in the Army and went all the way in rank to Specialist 5 E5, in the Army I was trained as an OR Technologist. It was the GI bill that paid for my continued education and nursing school. I became a Citizen of the United States while I was serving my military duty and consider myself blessed by God to have had such great parents,though they are now both deceased, a wonderfull network of caring people like my aunt America, my cousins Guilly and Marilyn and friends who sustained me, and in particular Mgsr Walsh, Father Guerrero, Father Espinosa, Father Luis Piedra from Little Flower Church, and numerous brothers and sisters of the various orders that cared for us at such a tender age and during such controversial times.
I am now retired and living in Tampa, Florida with my Michigan friend Larry Burghdorf and we have been friends and living together for over 34 years. He knows about us Pedro Paneros and like all good people, he admires our resiliance, integrity and our tenacity in spite of all the odds and challenges we Pedro Paneros endured as children. My story is not finished as there are so many little nuances and bits and pieces that I may have left out due to faltering memories, but from what I remember, there was more good than bad back then, and now in our golden years, what a nice surprice to find out that some of us are still willing to share and get in touch again so we can pick up where we left off, and stay connected.
May God continue to bless us and guard us as He always have.
And please, contact me, drop me a line if you remember me and if not sure, no matter, we went through similar experiences as kids and surely we may know a few people in common. So write to me I would love to hear from you..!