Osvaldo Mora La Rosa
First of all, I would like to honor and pay tribute to all the Pedro Pan's parents who made the sacrifice of sending their sons and daughters to an uncertain future in a foreign country, not knowing if they would ever see each other again. I can still remember the tears in my mother's eyes as I walked out of the "pecera" to board the flight to Miami.
And to father Walsh, without whom I probably would not be writing this story today.
I am originally from beautiful Santiago de Las Vegas, in the province of Havana, Cuba.
Left Cuba on Oct 13th 1961 aboard a Pan Am flight to Miami.
I had with me a bottle of Ron Bacardi and a carton of Cuban cigarretes (Competidora Gaditana) that my parents gave me to sell in Miami in case I needed cash right away. Don't remember what happened to them since it has been such a long time.... I think I sold the Bacardi rum to "El Sordo" in Matecumbe for a dollar. (el sordo was our sports coach)
From the airport a few of us Peter Pans that were on the same flight were taken to Kendall. Since Kendall was supposed to house only girls and little boys, a week later I went to Camp Matecumbe a few miles away. Have some fun memories of Matecumbe, i.e. the swimming pool, the tree house we built in the woods, el viejo Arango, the nightly walks with a flashlight through the woods to pee at the outhouse, and who could forget our weekend trips to downtown Miami with the 2 dollars we got from Father ? at the office before we boarded the bus. With the 2 dollars we could get a sandwich and coke at Walgreens on Flagler and then walk down a couple of blocks to the Army Navy store where you could buy a shirt for 50 cents. Some of us would skip the sandwich and buy a 45 rpm record to play by the pool at night. When I got to Matecumbe, we only had one record (Run around Sue by Dion) which we played over and over at night by the pool. Today when I hear that song, I still get a little teary and emotional remembering those days.
I was first told that I was going to a foster home in Nevada. Then the day I was supposed to leave, I was informed the deal had been cancelled. Then a week later I hear that I was scheduled to go to Montana with a few other boys my age.
We left Miami for Montana in late November 1961 - the temp in Miami was 75 degrees. After a layover in Chicago, we boarded a smaller propeller plane that took us to Helena, Montana. After several stops in Minneapolis and the Dakotas, we landed in Helena, Montana at 11:30 p.m. The reason I mentioned the Miami temp when we left is because in Helena it was 25 degrees with about 10 inches of snow on the ground. Of course, I only had a very thin gabardine jacket I had brought from Cuba and no boots.
That night about 10 of us were taken to St. Joseph's Catholic orphanage in Helena. We were told that would be our staging area until we were ready to go to our respective foster homes. The next day I found out that my future foster parents had changed their mind because they were actually looking for younger children. That meant that me and a few other guys had to stay at the orphanage for another month. The food was so scarce that the nuns would wrap a chain around the refrigerator and lock the food up at night.
One night we were so hungry that around 1:00 a.m. we went down to the kitchen with a pair of bolt cutters, cut the chain and raided the freezer. Got a couple of packs of frozen hot dogs which we thawed out on top of the steam radiator and later threw them in a bathtub full of hot water to cook. To this date, everytime I eat a hot dog I remember the adventure that night.
I finally ended up in Whitefish, Montana with two other Peter Pans (Frank and Oscar). Lloyd and Doris Bernardi became our foster parents.
There were 7 members in the Bernardi family already and with the 3 of us made it 10. The house was a 3 bedroom Cape Cod with one bathroom. Oscar, Frank and I slept in what used to be their dining room. They had two beds in the room, so that meant we always argued about who would get to sleep in one of the beds by himself. I met a great family who had also taken in two other Pedro Pans. The lady's name was Winnie Brown and she was like a mother to me. She guided me through tough times and provided me with courage when I needed it the most.
My English in those days was limited to "Tom is a boy and Mary is a girl" which was all I had learned in Cuba. The Monday after we arrived in Whitefish we went to register at the local High School and my first period that day was Algebra. With my luck, the teacher had reserved a seat for me at the
front of the class and proceeded to talk to me in English.
Needless to say, I had no idea what she was talking about and wanted the earth to open up beneath me right then and there. I remember praying silently asking God for help in this awkard situation. Suddenly, this boy sitting behind me tapped on the shoulder and in broken Spanish told me that the teacher wanted me to stand in front of the class and introduce myself. (like that was going to happen) The kid said he was taking Spanish and so I told him that if he would translate for me I would do his Spanish homework. My next period was the Spanish class (where I was worshiped by the other students) and my interpreter and I became best friends thereafter.
Since I sense that you are all about bored to death about now, I will end by saying that I have some very good memories from Matecumbe and Whitefish where I met many wonderful people.
When I reached the age of 18, I was shipped back to Miami with a week layover at a different orphanage in Helena. When I arrived in Matecumbe, there were so many kids there that they now had triple bunk beds.
Shortly thereafter, my parents arrived from Cuba and we relocated to New Jersey where I began my new life. After college I worked for Siemens Corp. in the Business Adm Dept. for over 32 years. Now I am employed by Volvo Trucks N.A. in Greensboro NC.
I am married with twin daughters and two beautiful "nietas"
Good night and "que Dios los bendiga a todos"
Ozzie (Osvaldo) Mora
P.S. Would love to hear from other Peter Pans who did the tour of duty in Montana.