Introspective Reflections on October Melodies

There are transcendent days in one’s life, for good or for ill.  Day’s when everything changes, when new paths are trod and old ones abandoned.  The month of October for some reason has been transcendent for me.

October, in the northern hemisphere: browns and gold and oranges where green had been.  Not yet snowflakes but storms of cascading varicolored leafs accumulating in deep drifts.  Closer to the equator, the weather doesn’t change seasonally but rather, daily, and leaves tend to stay green, albeit in myriad shades, and flowers bloom all year.

October, as it shifted into November, was my son’s favorite holiday season as they preferred witches and ghouls and werewolves to robust old gentlemen dressed in red, riding in sleds pulled by eight, or sometimes none reindeer.  But they did like the gift giving aspects that followed on the heels of the winter solstice.

For me, October has had special meanings all my own.  Rites of passage seemingly.  Especially on two very different albeit perhaps complimentary occasions.

In 1952, on October 12, then Columbus Day (now a day to revile old Cristoforo and those Europeans who followed him and devastated what to them seemed like a new world), I left the beloved city of my birth to join my mother in what was to become our new home, or a collection of many new homes, all too many new sort of homes, in the United States.  First in Miami and Miami Beach in Florida; then in Charlotte, North Carolina; then back to Miami; then on to New York (in numerous places over the years including Ozone Park, Hollis, Queens Village, Flushing); then on to Charleston, South Carolina; then back to New York, for many years in the old Otto Khan palace in Cold Spring Hills, then to “the City”, then in Glen Cove; then back to Florida, Fort Lauderdale that time; then Hendersonville, North Carolina; then Florida again, various places in Marion County; and then ….

October 16, 2007, was another such day for me, although it sort of started on the afternoon after the Ides of October, a sort of 48 hour long day.  It started in Charleston, the Holy City to those closest to me.  The day before had been the end of Parents’ Day weekend at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, my alma mater.  My eldest son, Billy, had just received that ornate band of gold that made us brothers, as well as father and son.  It was his senior year, as it had been mine forty years earlier.  Our family was really together that weekend, together for one final time.  And it may be that we all sensed it.  My marriage to Billy’s mother had been over for a while although shards still prickled and stung, but I’d hoped then that something of family could be salvaged.  I was wrong.  It was a day for endings.  But the next day was a day for beginnings.  A long day that started on Monday morning at the airport in Charleston, then continued with a layover in Atlanta, then possibly one in Panama City (in Panama, not Florida), then one in Bogota, in Colombia, and finally, ended on Tuesday, in Manizales.  Manizales where I’d been born sixty-one years earlier.  Sixty-one years, two months and twenty-two days earlier.  In a sense, I was going home, but to a home that had vastly changed since I’d last lived there as a young child, as I’d changed, as had my life.

The flight was long, but not just in distance and layovers, but metaphysically long, as though I were travelling to an alternative world, perhaps one of those posited in quantum hypotheses and M Theory.  Or in the imaginings of Nikola Telsa concerning fairies and changelings, long before electric cars brought his name back from the grave.

Since that Tuesday in October when I arrived, arrived knowing virtually no one, and with no idea how long I’d remain or what I’d face, my life has changed completely, but echoes of my old life linger.  Most I savor and treasure.  I’ve not abandoned it, not really, only now, it’s lived primarily in virtual space, that strange new reality, neither inner nor outer, and all too often impossibly unreal.

Improbably for many, many reasons, my life has blossomed in Manizales.  I was welcomed by hundreds of strangers as a sort of prodigal son returned, but not an impoverished and needy prodigal son, but rather, as one who had a great deal to offer, a great deal to share and a great deal to learn.  I was on an incoming tide of returning members of the Latin American Diaspora.  One long overdue.  I spent over a decade as a university professor in Manizales, and my voice echoed all over Colombia as for some reason, the media, print, radio and television, found me interesting.  Or perhaps just strange.  Students taught me as much as I taught them, perhaps more, and I was able to perceive realties concerning the sort of foster homeland I’d left, that are not visible there, but need to be.  And I managed to make my voice heard there as well.

Life in Manizales has been a great deal better than just good.  Good and talented friends abound and hope fills the air.  Beautiful verdant mountains surround me with skies full of birds and, above them, snowcapped peaks from which flow volcano heated thermal springs.  Spring is perpetual and, half an hour away, so is summer, and an hour in the other direction, first fall and then winter await, whenever I need them.  And I’ve found family here as well.  Beautiful, intelligent and talented cousins, but also the kind of family that is formed with bonds of shared intimacy and love.  I’ve perhaps had too many intimate encounters here.  Too many which just didn’t work.  But most have mellowed into beautiful friendships.  And one has prevailed and perseveres.  Manizales is a city full of learning and culture, an oasis for students and artists and writers and actors, and a city filled with real civic awareness, with a citizenry dedicated to a future where equity and justice prevail, and where empathy trumps polarization, unlike what is happening in the beloved land I left.  Which perhaps explains why there are so many, many expats here.

Of course, it’s not perfect.  Or rather, my life in Manizales is not perfect.  My sons, now estranged (estranged as all too often happens in today’s impermanent world, one where dysfunction is the norm) are far away, in both time as well as space.  And I don’t know my grandchildren, or more accurately, I know them only from infrequent photographs.  And so many friends from my youth, brothers really, especially those with whom I shared Spartan moments that made us who we became, are only virtual images on social media, although always in my heart.  Too many of them are passing beyond the veil well before their time, or so, we their grieving survivors believe. 

I guess when one has lived and loved in so many places, as I have, no place ever seems wholly home.  More so when one has lived long and fully.  As have I.  But Manizales is as close as it can get, at least for me.  Although Charleston would not be bad, not bad at all.  Nor would Manhattan.  Nor Cold Spring Harbor.

But I’m not complaining. 

Unlike Elvis and Frank Sinatra, “regrets”, I have many.  And had I the chance, there are many, many things I’d change.  I’ve inadvertently hurt too many who deserved better, especially women who’ve loved me.  And although I tried my best, I was apparently not as good a father as I’d hoped I’d be, or as good a son as I should have been, or as good a brother.  And probably, life has been kinder to me than I deserve, for which I’m grateful.  But now I’m definitely doing my best to redress that imbalance so that when I’m no longer here, the world will be a better place than it would have been had I never been born.  And I think that time will be on my side.  My family is long lived, very long lived, at least a century is not improbable, so perhaps I have quite a while yet to not only make amends, but to leave a healthy credit balance on karma’s scales.

I wonder if more transcendent days await me? 

I hope not. 

It would be difficult for any of them to be more full of opportunity than those transcendent forty-eight hours that started right after the Ides of October, a bit less than fifteen-and-a-quarter years ago today.  On the other hand, that Columbus Day in 1952 was not so shabby either.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, February 4, 2023; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  However, he is also fascinated by mythology, religion, physics, astronomy and mathematics, especially with matters related to quanta and cosmogony.  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.

Pop, the Good Things

Leonidas (Leon) Theodore Kokkins (1916-1973), my stepfather.  I called him Pop.

Crumb buns, jelly doughnuts and Kaiser rolls on Sunday mornings along with the Sunday papers and perhaps a ride along the causeway in Miami Beach in our black Pontiac convertible, circa 1949, with the top down of course (1952 through 1954).  Then, on to Charlotte.  We had a different car, perhaps a 56 Chevy, but it was not memorable.  Charlotte, the city, on the other hand certainly was.  I became Billy Kokkins there, long story but it never stuck. We left all too soon, back to Miami Beach, briefly, then to Colombia where I was born (and my baby brother Teddy’s infamous famous hunger strike; … he missed Pop).

So, … on to New York City!  Pop’s home town.  Queens: first Ozone Park, then Hollis, then Queens Village, then Flushing, all in the space of four years.  In New York, the routine was similar but the car was a sky-blue 1959 Chevy with a sort of split trunk and a hard top.  I liked the Pontiac better.  Actually, I loved the Pontiac.

But childhood ended in New York.  In the fall of 61, boarding school, separation, college at the Citadel in Charleston, and suddenly, I was an adult on my own.

Way too soon, everything was gone and we were scattered, barely still a family.  Disfunctionality had fast become the norm and we were trend setters.

1973, Pop’s final year.  He passed away in the early spring, very young (57).  A beloved enigma, at least as far as I was concerned, but like all enigmas, a mystery.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.

Introspective Reflections of a Once Wayfaring Child

Autumns follow summers as summers follow springs and springs follow winters, cascading through rainbows and shadows amidst the echoes of a seemingly perpetual rite of passage.

Memories, ….

I was born on an early Monday morning in July, the year after the end of the second war to end all wars (as unsuccessful as the first).  It was the Chinese year of the Dog (although I’d hoped for the Dragon, or at least the Lion).  The setting, a beautiful city in the central range of the Colombian Andes, … Manizales.  Manizales del Alma.

Superficially, the world seemed hopeful, if just for an instant.  Kind of like it did much later in 1991 (when the first Cold War supposedly ended), but in 1946, in Colombia, discontent, disharmony and polarization were seething below the surface and would violently erupt about twenty-one months later when the newly organized United States Central Intelligence Agency (following in the footsteps of its predecessors) arranged for the assassination of Colombia’s most beloved leftist leader, populist presidential candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala.  That day, April 9, 1948, the day after the birth of my sister Marina, all hell broke loose.  Perhaps, after seventy-four years Colombia is finally back on the path Gaitán tried to blaze.

Because of the ensuing fratricidal violence and the dysfunctional nature of my parents’ relationship, my initial Colombian sojourn was brief.  My parents had married in secret while my father was underage (my mother was three years older) and had me almost two years later, two years after his family had disowned them and they’d been taken under the protective wings of my maternal grandmother, Juanita, a prototypical, self-made matriarch.  But she’d not exactly approved of the marriage, she’d merely accepted its reality for the time being, and at an inopportune moment, she swept in and swooped us all out, perhaps having interpreted grievances by my mother in an exaggerated fashion, complaints my mother regretted having made ever after, although she’d not been wrong.

My mother, then an aspiring actress, quickly realized that dream shared by so many Latin Americans, that strange diasporic quest, and found herself in Miami after having abandoned a flight to Chicago as a result of an in-flight fight with her friend, Mercedes (with whom she was supposed to have moved in).  Somehow or other, knowing no one but full of courage and hope, she survived in that city; in that country which has always been overtly xenophobic.  My sister and I’d remained in Colombia where, presaging future misadventures, we were moved from place to place, sometimes together, at other times apart, possibly to assure that my father would not find us.  Or at least that’s what he long claimed.  His veracity, however, did not stand the test of time.  He planted a series of different families with different women, moving on when, according to him, his altruistic intentions towards other women in need were misinterpreted by his in-laws.  Consequently, I have many half-siblings whom I barely know but with whom I’ve managed to establish and maintain loving relationships.  We all wonder if, in the future, more of us will pop up.  My father’s life, which ended on November 1, 2021, seemed a harbinger of how our world was changing with dysfunctionality becoming the norm.  I guess we were trendsetters.

In the early fall of 1952 my mother remarried and asked my grandmother to have my sister and me rejoin her in Miami Beach, a city with which she’d fallen in love.  I’d just turned six at the time and was educationally pretty advanced.  I’d learned to read, write, and even to play chess by the time I was four.  But, except for the chess, that was in Spanish.  My sister and I arrived in Miami on what was then Columbus Day (it is now a much different sort of holiday).  I had very strange expectations concerning something called television, and the size of my stepfather’s hands (I’d confused length and width with thickness), and the difference in the nature of meals.  In Colombia, lunch and dinner involved various courses, one involving soup and the other vegetables, salad, starches and a protein.  My first United States meal was a good cream of chicken soup.  Campbell’s of course.  And then, … nothing.  I was a bit surprised. 

Still, those initial confusions were superficial.  Real confusion hit the next day when I was enrolled in first grade at an elementary school in Miami Beach whose name I don’t recall (but it may have been Riverside) and where my name was abruptly changed from Guillermo to Billy.  I didn’t understand a word of English and, to top it off, we moved midyear and I was sent to another school.  Utter and complete confusion were the rule, chaos reigned, and it was no surprise that I did not earn promotion to second grade.  At least not then.

That summer my stepfather did his best to teach me English, although his methodology would probably be frowned upon today.  Errors were punished by a mild slap and correct answers rewarded with smiles and praise.  Television helped as well.  Only three channels back then and, as I recall, programming was only televised for about eighteen hours, but the patterns when programming was off the air were interesting, or at least, better than nothing.  Well, actually, pretty boring.  I recall sign-off in the evening involved playing the United States’ national anthem.  Not as pretty as Colombia’s.

By the start of my second attempt at first grade my English was much improved.  Notwithstanding his somewhat “tough-love” teaching methods, I quickly grew very fond of my stepfather, a fairly simple man who led a complex but short life.  He passed away when he was about to turn 58 and I was 26 years old.  He was a short order cook and a sometime partner in the “diners” or restaurants at which he worked, but his principle avocation seemed to involve gambling (at which he was not very good).  Damned Greek social clubs!  Still, somehow or other, he seemed to manage to make ends meet.  At least usually.  Sometimes with help from my grandmother Juanita (as I’ve noted, the family matriarch).

Perhaps thanks to his crude but effective teaching methods, I only spent part of one day repeating first grade.  At the start of the first class that year we were asked to draw something and I had a bit of inherited artistic talent (my paternal grandfather, Rafael Maria Calvo, who I was never to meet, was an accomplished sculptor and artist).  I drew a cow in a field of grass and flowers which amazed my teacher.  I can’t recall her name as our interaction was very brief, but I’ve always been very grateful for her role during that one half day.  She immediately took me to the principal’s office (not all visits to the principal are negative) and I was advanced to second grade on the spot.  I wonder what ever became of that drawing.

That year I was, at first, not a very good student.  I’d not grasped reading and writing in English, frustrating given my related abilities in Spanish, but over a one week period during the second month, things just clicked and I advanced from the poorest student in the poorest reading group to the best student in the best group.  Thank you Mrs. Mary Dunn, a teacher I’ll never forget: patient, kind, talented and loving.  Second grade proved a delight.  I remember my first crush (in the United States, … seemingly, I’d always had a crush on someone), a little girl whose name I still remember, Marianne Bass (or maybe Mary Anne).  She’d been left back too, albeit for a full year, I don’t know why, but that gave us something in common (although I never really got to know her).  She must have been older than I was, but that didn’t matter.

Then it was move again and another change in schools.  This time to Central Beach Elementary (subsequently renamed in honor of someone named Leroy D. Fienberg, not exactly anyone well known, then … or now).  The change in name saddens me.  I only attended third grade there, but I fell in love with my teacher, Ms. Zigman, albeit unrequited love as that year she became Mrs. Something-or-other.  I’d hoped she’d wait for me to grow up.  Anyway, a beautiful fellow student, Hellen Mansfield assuaged that experience, although, as in the case of Marianne, I never really got to know her either.  I was interested in girls, but a bit shy, they seemed a bit too mysterious to deal with.  That was also the year of my great goldfish disaster as, during Christmas vacation, Chanukah to Ms. Zigman and to Hellen as well, I was entrusted with the care of one of our class pets, I don’t recall its name (never was sure if it was a he or a she) and apparently overfed it to death.  I was traumatized and deeply embarrassed as I returned the body to Ms. Zigman, who proved more than just understanding.  It was only one year, but I loved it.

As happened at least once a year back then, we moved over the summer and I started fourth grade at Biscayne Elementary School, also in Miami Beach.  I liked it as well.  Mrs. Johnson (definitely a Mrs., a sort of strict but kindly more mature teacher) was my teacher and I enjoyed her class where, as I recall, she read to us from Gulliver’s Travels, or perhaps, had us each read excerpts.  We moved during the year though (what a surprise) and I finished fourth and, amazingly, fifth grade at Wesley Heights Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina.  That was among the best periods of my childhood as we lived in an actual house and I had my own room.  Previously, at least since I came to live in the United States, we’d always lived in apartments and I’d slept on either a sleeper couch in the living room or else had shared a room with my sister Marina.  I also started but didn’t really finish the sixth grade at Wesley Heights.  That was because, first, my sister and I were kept out of school because of that era’s pandemic, the Asian Flu (strange how pandemics seem to start in Asia), but then, there was some sort of a crisis where we lost everything and returned to Miami Beach (or maybe Miami).  My stepfather, however, for some reason remained behind in Charlotte to close things down.  He did not return for quite a while as he was apparently injured in a car accident on the way back, or at least that’s what my sister and I, and our little brother Teddy were told.  Since then I’ve grown a bit suspicious.

I think I returned to Biscayne Elementary then because my sister complained that her teacher there was always talking to her about when I’d been her student, something Marina disliked.  It was a bit traumatic without our stepfather.  His well-to-do sister, my aunt Mary, used to bring us groceries I remember.  My mother cried a lot of the time and I had to assume a bit more responsibility at home than I’d been used to, especially worrying about what to do at Christmas for my younger siblings, but, much to my delight and relief, my stepfather surprised us on Christmas Eve, like a real live Santa.  Although we had very little in the way of presents, it was the best Christmas ever as far as I’m concerned (although later Christmases, when my sons were little, were awesome as well).  Shortly thereafter, my mother, sister, baby brother and I were shipped back to Colombia where I’d been born.  Evidently my mother needed to recuperate from that year’s trauma and my grandmother Juanita, who owned a hotel and beautiful country home there, was, as she always had been, more than happy to help out.

I attended school in Manizales that year, at least for a while, my third school of the year.  The school, “Nuestra Señora”, still exists.  It was a great period as two of my classmates there had been early childhood friends, twins, Carlos Alberto and Luis Enrique Garcia, from a family that was as close to mine as it was possible to be without being related.  Then, 1958.  Another paradigm shift, New York City, but in Queens, in Ozone Park, in an apartment over the Circle Restaurant where my father worked.  My mother and little brother returned first, then I returned.  My sister, however, remained in Colombia for another six months, I never really understood why.

In New York, my stepfather’s whole family (the Kokkins clan) lived nearby.  I recall my step father’s Uncle Sam and Aunt Hellen, and of course, his parents, Demitra and Theodore, and his brother John and John’s three daughters.  I especially remember Athena on whom I developed an early crush; the other two sort of cousins were Deedee (who I think had been named Demitra after her grandmother), and Lynn.  Their mother’s name was Frances.

So, … in New York I first attended PS 124 for seventh grade near what was then Idlewild Airport.  I remember that we saw the first passenger jet flight take off from there.  It was a Boing 707.  It was a strange year given that I’d never really gotten to complete sixth grade but I muddled through.  I think my teacher’s name was Mrs. Steinberg or it may have been Setterberg.  Then, as had become traditional, we moved again, this time to Hollis, also in Queens, and eighth grade was at St. Gerard de Magella, a Catholic School which I loved despite the fact that the nuns kept emphasizing to my female classmates that they could only marry someone who was Catholic (I’d been baptized both Catholic and Greek Orthodox, my stepfather’s religion).  In Miami Beach, it had been Jewish men little girls were told they should marry.  Seemingly I was viewed as a multicultural threat. 

Upon graduation from St. Gerard’s (in those days elementary school ended at the eighth grade) I started high school at Jamaica High School although I’d earned admission to Bishop McClancy High, one of the most prestigious Catholic high schools in New York City at the time.  My mother had been involved in an accident and had not been able to submit my acceptance notice on time.  I didn’t care, I loved Jamaica High where some of my classmates from St. Gerard’s also attended, and girls there did not have to marry Catholic or Jewish boys.  But, of course, we moved and midyear I was transferred to Martin Van Buren High School, at which I finally rebelled, although discretely, or so I thought.  I first kept going to Jamaica High but when I was no longer admitted there, I rode the subways all day.  I was waiting for a response from DC Comics to an employment application I’d submitted, along with a proposal for a new comic book hero, Ultraman or something.  Weeks later I received a rejection letter, my first, advising that they had their own in-house artists, thank you, and wishing me luck.  Shortly thereafter my rebellion was cut short.  I’d been found out. 

Damned truant officers!

I had to start attending Van Buren High where I did terribly and had to attend counseling sessions with a psychologist.  There and then, I was finally able to express my exasperation at having to constantly move and to lose friends.  Losing friends and having to make new ones is a common experience for the children of military personnel, but even they tend to stay in the same place for several years.  In my case, I had no military support group to help me adjust, or cadre of other children with shared experiences.  It was just my sister Marina, my brother Teddy and I.  Still, in hindsight, I’d perhaps planted memories in a great many fellow children scattered over the East Coast.  I remember many of them fondly, and sometimes wonder whether any remember me as well.  It would be awesome to somehow find some of them again, perhaps through Facebook.  I especially remember one named Bobby who lived across Hillside Avenue in Queens from us, between 214th and 215th streets, when I was doing my time at Van Buren High.  He was a great friend with a wonderful family, Italians.  They even convinced me to eat roasted bovine testicles, … Once.  Yuck!

Ninth grade was the end of my wandering, at least until I became an independent adult.  It also, sadly, marked the end of my home life.  It was boarding school for me after that, and usually summers with friends.  My mother and stepfather had separated.  I didn’t focus on it that much then, but as I grew older, I came to wonder how my mother almost miraculously managed to pay for all the expenses associated with my subsequent education.  After her separation she’d borne our entire financial burden alone, as is the case with so many single mothers everywhere.  Anticipating that her marriage to my stepfather was failing, she’d attended cosmetology school and after a brief stint working for my stepfather’s parents at a large beauty salon on Northern Boulevard (in Flushing), she opened her own one woman shop, innovative in that smoking was not permitted.  It was somewhere in Flushing.  We lived nearby in a large apartment building, it may have been called Abbot Arms.  It seemed somehow mysterious, a gothic sort of building.  But I was seldom there.

So, anyway, … at fifteen I was enrolled as a boarding student at the Eastern Military Academy in Cold Spring Hills in Long Island (in the township of Huntington).  It became my home and more than a home.  My sister Marina was also enrolled in a boarding school (Sag Harbor I think it was called), as was my little brother Teddy, in St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox school, a bit upstate in New York.  Amazingly, I finished high school at Eastern, very successfully, so much so that after I graduated from the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina in Charleston (the Holy City as we thought of it, and still do), I was invited back to teach, which I did for nine years while concurrently earning a law degree and then an LL.M in international legal studies (from the graduate division of the New York University School of Law).  Unfortunately, my brother and sister did not experience as much success, perhaps because my mother elected to subsidize my education at the cost of theirs.  Something which was never expressed but which I now suspect, and which saddens me.

Anyway, my gypsy days had, at least for a while, subsided. Subsided but not ended as after my sojourn as a member of Eastern’s faculty, I’ve since lived in four different places in New York; in three places in Fort Lauderdale; in Hendersonville, North Carolina; in Belleview and Ocala, Florida, and finally, full circle, back in Manizales, the city of my birth.  Here, apparently, my wandering has ceased, at least for the present, I’ve lived here for the past decade and a half.  Still, had I the money, I’d love to spend a part of each year again in New York, and in Charleston.  Both cities I love.

My professional life?  Well it followed a somewhat similar pattern, a motley of surprising successes amidst incomprehensible polemics, but I always remained true, I think, to my beliefs, at least usually.  I’d not characterize my professional life as one but rather several, following three main tracts, academia, then law and finance, and finally civic and cultural endevors.  But that’s another story.

Complicated?  Yes.  But not all bad.  Perhaps not even mainly bad.  I’ve learned a great deal.  Less from my successes than from my failures.  Our own errors are the best of teachers.  And they’ve made me an integral human being, burning off my naiveté and replacing it with a profound sense of empathy.  It’s a process though, not a series of isolated events, and one that continues.  Thanks to Facebook (which I otherwise despise for its use as a tool to control us), I’ve kept in touch with many of my classmates, former students and colleagues from Eastern (which we refer to as EMA) despite the fact that the school has been inoperative since 1978, and with my Citadel classmates and other Citadel graduates, the best people I’ve ever met.

I lost my mom in 1990.  I lost her just before the birth of my third son, Edward.  I’d married in 1981 and had three children: in addition to Edward, my first son Billy and my second son Alex.  They all live with or near their mother, now my ex, in Marion County, Florida.  Not a terribly successful experience.  I’m now remarried to a wonderful woman who has two daughters of her own.  They live nearby with their father, preferring the rural life on a small farm, to life in a city.  I’m now semiretired but remain active in academic, civic and cultural affairs, sharing my perspectives by consistently writing and publishing articles in media spanning the length and breadth of the Americas.  Until I recently fractured my wrist, I’ve remained very active in sports as well.  Mainly tennis but at times, football (as a coach) and softball as well.

It’s not been a bad life, not a bad life at all, and while unusual, it’s always been interesting, although, admittedly, at times all too interesting (in the sense of the Chinese curse).  It’s been strange but very full.  Very full of diverse experiences, experiences through which I’ve interacted with all kinds of people, from presidents to the most humble people, the latter being those I most admire as they remind me of my mother in their struggles to provide for and educate their families.  My constant moves were difficult but have given me broad perspectives which I think gifted me with the empathy I referred to previously, a quality all too rare in our polarized world.  Indeed, in a sense, I guess I’m a sort of perpetual student, with an open mind being my greatest asset.  At least I aspire to keep it open.

Sooo, ….

I’ve met many, many people, albeit perhaps, most, all too briefly.  I’ve loved a few and appreciated many more, some of whom have become friends.  I very much hope that the good I’ve managed to do outweighs my errors.  There are many places where I’ve left pieces of my heart and of my soul, and, while too many friendships were cut short too soon, few have been forgotten.

Never forgotten.

_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.

Reflective Introspections

The central range of the Colombian Andes is beautiful, as is so much of that all too frequently tortured country.  Snow clad peaks overlook a paradise of perpetual spring which in turn overlooks a land of perpetual summer.  The weather changes seasons several times a day, sometimes dawning as a silvered wonderland, clouds blanketing verdant mountains, then a bit of rain quickly replaced by robin’s blue skies and in the evening, the sunsets that so delighted poet laurate Pablo Neruda.  Unfortunately, although nature does its best to provide an idyllic setting, as is the case in the United States and so much of the world, in Colombia we humans muck it up.

Inside a metaphorically reflective crystal mote, trapped within an imagined mirrored globe, a sentience engages in seemingly infinite introspection.  It is a bitterly sad period culminating during two days at the end of February; two days that have usually been very special.  They involve his three sons. It is his eldest son’s last day at thirty-four and first day at thirty-five.  For many years they have lived continents apart but until recently managed to bridge that gap.  The father plays with the new number noting that thirty-five is five times seven and three joined with five and that the son is the first of three, all prime numbers. He finds a strange delight in the magic he perceives in prime numbers.  The number two is special in that regard as the only even prime.  He recalls when his son was about eight and started to change, to become his own person, he recalls how proud he felt, how he believed he’d done well as a father.  Then he reflects on the present, a very different sort of reflection.

Like so many others in a bitterly polarized world, he and his firstborn are profoundly estranged.  On thirty four other occasions the father has written short missives shared with his son, celebrating the past and looking forward to the future.  This year the son has declined to receive them.  He has shut the father out, “ordering” him to refrain from any contact.  The son has judged the father’s political perspectives unacceptable.  They do not mirror his own.  The father does not despise nor deprecate those the son hates but rather seeks to understand and persuade them, and that is anathema in his son’s brave new world.  Not having succeeded through public ridicule to censor the father, the son has expelled him from his life.  His father was not “woke” enough, even though their stated goals may have coincided.  A strange new variant of “liberalism”.

That is the world of today.  But though his thoughts may not be shared this year, the father writes them anyway.  He reflects on what his son has attained, who he has become, gives him credit for his successes, such as they are, but blames himself for the faults.  In trying to make him strong he instead made him self-centered; in seeking to make him proud he planted the now-sown-seeds of hubris.  In seeking to make him love the concepts of honor and public service, he only made him politically ambitious and intolerant.  The father wonders if his son is a reflection of himself.  He thinks not, then wonders what it is his son perceives to the exclusion of so much.  The father recalls that he too was all too frequently sure of his own beliefs and that only when they had changed almost every decade did he succeed in opening his mind to the possibility of myriad verities.  Yet the father had always been open to others’ opinions, has long been aware that logic based on false premises only leads to false conclusions and that if actual results belie logic, then the premises are at fault.  But that logic, in and of itself, divorced from premises and conclusions, always seems pure and beautiful and infallible.  As infallible as Catholic Popes.

Father and son will not compromise their perspectives and while the father, being more experienced and mature can tolerate, or at least ignore the son’s, the son cannot accept that the father beliefs cannot be forced to conform to his.  A conundrum.  Perhaps to both, perhaps not.  Perhaps they will go their separate ways, the memories of each conforming to their decisions until it is too late.  That would be sad, very sad, but not uncommon, especially not today. 

Tolerance and free expression are not in vogue.  This is the age of hypocrisy, of overt manipulation, of censorship, concepts always ascendant but never as universal or blatant as they are today, except perhaps during the decade that started in the mid nineteen-thirties.  No, that’s wrong of course.  Human history and human misery encompass far more than the last century.  The problem is that history is a fiction woven by all too clever artisans so who knows anything but what one has lived, and even that seems all too flexible, memory being fallible and that fallibility artfully manipulated.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, from afar and in silence the father wishes the son a happy birthday and a happy future.  He has no idea what the son hopes and perhaps he now never will.  Then he smiles, somewhat bitterly, in the realization of how self-serving his observations are. 

But they are what they are. 

As are his son’s.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

Reminiscences on an Early Summer Day

For some reason, this morning I was recalling the Christmas season while we were at the Citadel and how our Christmas traditions impacted my whole life, and impacted it profoundly.  I recall that we sold ourselves to the “knobs” in a parody of Saturnalia in order to raise funds to share with the city’ orphans and orphanages, and I recall the visits, especially to the orphanages set aside for black children, and how grateful and warm they were, and how much more I think we appreciated the privilege of sharing with them than they welcomed our gifts.  Not that they were not appreciated!  But it was we who came out ahead I think.  It turned us into real human beings.  In my case, it evaporated any vestiges of the racism in which we were raised.  I hope the tradition prevails there but I tend to doubt it, although I’m pretty sure it is imbedded in each and every one of our hearts.  

We each recall many things about our times at our alma mater, and there are many, many things that bear recalling.  It was a very full season of years, and it certainly made us who we are.  But which of us would have thought way back then that love would be its principle legacy, love for each other and for all of our fellow alumni, love of truth as something tangible, and of honor, and of our fellow men and women, and of the world in which we live, and of tradition, and of the future we hope to bequeath to our posterity.  The world is vastly changed from what it was then, in some ways, for the better, but in too many ways for the worst.  Polarization and greed have become the rule and empathy the exception.  But to some extent, I think we are immune from that. 

Just wanted to share with those I most respect.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.

An Ode to Estranged and Forgotten Fathers

Fathers’ day is a mostly ignored holiday, a superficial holiday, one taken for granted and most good fathers understand and don’t take being mostly ignored badly.  Those that are recognized and treasured have an awesome reward.  But too many who deserve some sort of recognition are not remembered at all, or if remembered, remembered in ways that don’t do them justice.  Most great fathers don’t look for recognition or praise, they’re too busy doing.  Good and dutiful fathers who are there for their families.  But it’s a particularly difficult day for those fathers who would be there but for fate, for fathers estranged from their children, often as a result of family bitterness, manipulation and distortion.  And it’s a very difficult day for the forgotten fathers, those whose duty done, are pretty much discarded. 

I was estranged from my own father for most of my life and am now pretty much estranged from my own sons, two of whom are now fathers on their own.  And they’re great fathers I think.  I’ll be thinking of them all tomorrow, but I’ll also be thinking of estranged fathers everywhere.  

Freud once wrote something that comforts me in dark times, it went something like this: “in darker times there lived a man who thought as you do”.  For me, its meaning is that, regardless of how alone we feel in the quest for the right, if we recall that there were, are, or will be others in the same position, who also realize that there were, are, or will be others like them, a bond is formed among us and we are not really alone. 

So, to estranged and discarded fathers everywhere: “in dark times there lives a man who feels as you do, and doing so, remembers you today.”
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.

An Ode to Old Shoes

I have a pair of very old shoes, now in pretty bad shape.  

When they were young and just out of the box they were striking, top of the line, perhaps dreaming of a life on board a yacht, or at least on some sort of vessel, sailing through exotic seas.  Perhaps the sea near their birth in the Charleston that I love so much.  Then, as the years rolled by, far from any ocean, they instead started archiving memories for me.  Memories of the family I once had and of the aspirations I had for us all; memories of the aspirations I had for our country, of the ones I had for our world.   Of the ones I had for me.

The years have passed and many people, many places, many things I’ve loved are gone.  Misplaced in some cases, perhaps wondering where I’ve vanished, beyond the veil in others.  I now live on another continent, the one that saw my birth, in a beautiful city near the sky where snowcapped peaks greet me on sunny mornings, high in the central range of the Colombian Andes.  A cycle seemingly renewed but now, again, seemingly awaiting a rebirth.  But there are so many people and places I miss, parts of my heart and soul sprinkled far away in time and space.  People and things gone long before their times.   But, … is there ever a right time for things we love to leave us, … or we them?

Those shoes are old and broken down now, but I still wear them, if only in lieu of slippers at home.  My sons are grown and drifted away.  The family in which I placed so much hope has turned to mist.  Almost as if it had all merely been a midsummer night’s dream.  My aspirations are much less than merely unfulfilled, apparently further from fruition than ever.  But still, they seem to be echoing in those old shoes that are beautiful to me still. 

Misplaced is very different than lost and hope still lingers there.  Hidden amidst bruised and battered old leather with wrinkles in the shape of the myriad memories and transitions they reflect.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

An Estranged Father’s Optimistic Refrain

The concept of family is, at best, in transition, at worse, just a memory.  Its permanence is surely, in most cases, passé.  While the plight of mothers is often articulated, that of fathers, especially fathers left behind, is virtually ignored.  But some of us still manage to salvage the essence of what might have been.

My relationship with my three sons is strained at best, perhaps in some instances non-existent, but that is the present and recent past.  The more distant past is beautiful from my perspective, and remains, not only vivid, but healthy and alive:  I visit it frequently and its vibrant joy is not dissipated or diminished thereby.  It is seemingly unquenchable, a cornucopia molded through long days and arduous nights in frequently difficult times but with yields too beautiful to adequately describe. 

Living in the past is often criticized but to me that seems to be criticizing fulfillment of the fruits of one’s past sacrifices.  Streams of images of my three sons as they were growing are always nearby, images preserved when hope that everything would turn out positively was more than a mere possibility, as long as I persevered.  All I could ever want was inchoate and seemingly assured. 

It has not turned out that way, not the way I hoped and expected, at least not for me, but the impetus of those joyous times is the wind in today’s sails, echoing with fragrances and mirages of what was and what might have been.  So, rather than dwelling on what is, I revel in what was, insisting that having been real, the past is also permanent and that the love created there may be more than enough to see me through.

And that is true for so many, many, many fathers, most of whom believe that

No matter what,

It was all worthwhile.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

Confused Reflections as another Solstice Passes By

“Poignant with loss”.

The phrase resonates. 

Not in the sense of self-pity but perhaps a bit melodramatic.  Can one just as easily be poignant with joy?

Birth is the beginning of death and every gain is also the beginning of a corresponding loss.  A full life, one worth living, one where one has truly plumbed the depths and heights of feeling, one full of useful errors, is full of both loss and joy.  With vulnerability, dominion and confusion in equal measures.  With un-chainable emotions carefully balanced, control lost and regained and lost again.

For a very long time, most of my life really, the twin solstices have been poignant.  More so since I became estranged from my sons.  They are flying on their own, free to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons.  To be deceived and perhaps enlightened as well.  To make their own joys and suffer their own sorrows.  To betray and be betrayed.  To accumulate and share experiences with their own, unique families.  The permanence for which I hoped proved transitory but in my life, transition has been the only constant.

Perhaps the poignancy I feel so often but more strongly during the solstices has to do with how often I’ve moved, starting when I was around two.  Back then, the constant change of situs was not yet impactful, at least not consciously so, but as I started school at five and changed schools at least once every year until I was fifteen, the changes become more and more difficult.  Friends were made each year only to be quickly lost.  That taught me how to make friends easily but also not to count on them.  Sadly, separations became easier and easier to bear until the seemed almost inconsequential, regardless of how strong bonds had once seemed.

That changed for a while when at the age of fifteen I became a “cadet”, first at the Eastern Military Academy in Huntington, New York, and then at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.  Seven solid years of building bonds with schoolmates, ties which have persevered for decade after decade.  Then a return to Eastern as a faculty member; nine more years during which the nature of evolving bonds changed.  Bonding was no longer, for the most part, with peers, but rather, with my own pupils, young off-white tabulas almost rasas whom I sought to mentor.  Apparently I’d grown and passed through several rites of passage.  Some of those students have remained in my life, albeit at a distance, for more than half a century.

Fifteen was memorable for other reasons too.  I’d always had a crush on some girl or other but before I attained that lofty age, they rarely knew (I wonder though whether any suspected what I felt).  That changed.  I started developing intimate ties with young ladies, ties I rarely handled well.  Relationships seemed a game then.  I had so much to learn and they had so much to teach, all too frequently bittersweet.  Especially at this time of year.  Julia Iglesias (my favorite singer) singing “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” has come to have a special meaning for me, but one more often than not tinged with regrets.  Seemingly, perhaps I stayed fifteen for way too long.  I’m still in touch with some lost loves, but not many.  However, looking back, many more of them have stayed in my heart. 

As it is for all of us eventually, as time slipped by, I lost precious family members and then classmates and students and friends and perhaps former lovers as well.  The other side of the veil becomes more and more crowded so much faster now.  Losses of places and people accumulate in profound pools of nostalgia weaving melancholy tapestries in shades of gray and the colors in rainbows fade.  Melancholy becomes a place, one I visit as accumulated memories croon siren songs and I brood on things I’d change.  Things that once seemed so right but now seem as though they might have been mistakes.  Mistakes I’d correct, … if only I could.

So many people have touched my life.  So many have shared sadness and happiness, ecstasy and despair.  Others have merely crossed my path for an instant.  I recall people I should have met, people who I saw in passing without a shared word and who immediately moved on but who I’ve never forgotten and wish I’d gotten to know.  Roads not taken are always more plentiful than the paths we’ve trod and who knows where they might have led.

Hopefully I’ve grown wiser but wisdom is strange.  It’s an imperfect mirror with distorted reflections and more and more unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions.  Time alone doesn’t make one wise but perhaps it makes us more sage than we once were.  Mistakes overcome bring wisdom, and mistakes, I’ve had my share.  And not too few to mention.  My way was not always the best.

This season is not only about gift giving and festivities but more importantly, it has always also been a time for reflection and introspection.  A time to ponder how we’ve become who we are.  As we age, some of us become less egocentric and our contemplation expands to the collectives of which we’re a part, to our future as a species.  Those of us who study history professionally but by some miracle at least try to do so objectively, at some point realize that truth is more than just elusive.  We come to realize that our own memories are at best an imperfect motley, an indecipherable collage, and that our collective memory tends to be even worse.  What we call history, what we pass on to our progeny, is not only usually inaccurate but all too often cynically scored, liveried in beautiful music and soaring rhetoric designed to mold us into sated sheep and lyrical lemmings easily misled.  To our collective detriment.  Apparently, as we age, we become cynics, although the wise among us may attain that status sooner.

Things seemed so much easier to understand when I was very young, so many things seemed so clear, so obvious.  Faith made belief easy.  God was in his Heaven with Père Noel at his side taking notes.  Fantasy seemed as likely to be true as what passed for reality.  Truth and justice were tangible rather than imagined.  One once among us, a Prince of Peace, had ascended to sit at the right hand of his father and certainly would never take sides in wars where we slaughtered each other in his Holy name.  But then faith became more and more elusive and harsh “realities” slowly took its place, purported sanity replacing benevolent chaos.

Like so many others, I wonder: “do we lose cognitive capacity as we pass from the magic era of early childhood into the realm of knowledge acquired”?  Is accumulated wisdom the antithesis of infancy’s faith or are we each a unique melding of instinct and pain, knowledge and joy, deception and rejection, unable to really communicate with anyone or anything else, even with the people we were and those we’ll become?

What a depressing thought!

Can’t we be both unreservedly alone and completely connected with everyone and everything that’s ever been?  Quantically linked since before eternity was conceived, when everything was part of the primordial proto quark?  After all, once upon a time, every part of what we are was joined together at the starting gate of a Big Bang, before we became Magellanic Clouds and then stars and rays of light.  And isn’t light both an isolated particle and a collective wave?

Confused reflections as another solstice passes by.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

Marina and Teddy and Mom and Pop: a Christmas Carol of Our Own

The aroma of melancholy and nostalgia subtly scent the air and echoes faintly sing as memories flow.

I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas when it was Teddy, Marina and me (in inverse chronological order), and, of course, Mom and Pop.  “Pop” was my stepfather with whom I lived from ages six through fifteen (when he and my mother separated).  Nonetheless, he remained in our lives until he passed away suddenly when I was a few months shy of twenty-six.  He was about to turn sixty I think.

I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas especially in New York; especially during the morning watching the Macy’s Christmas Parade on our small black and white television set with Santa bringing up the rear and sometimes, if it had snowed, I remember making angels’ wings on a common lawn in our small apartment in Queens Village (overlooking Hillside Boulevard).  It was on 215th street as I recall.  I was happy there, at least for a bit; good friends quickly made, especially Bobby, the Italian kid from across the street, then all too quickly gone, as usual.  We moved a lot.  But back then there was always my sister Marina and my brother Teddy, and my Mom and Pop and me.

I remember Thanksgiving as the start of a special season, one featuring various festivals of light, a season which was, then, for me, flavored with introspection and speculation on the nature of the Prince of Peace, the one I so loved and admired way back then.  Then, when I was so blissfully innocent (at least some of the time).  And I remember optimism and hope, and a general feeling of delightful wellbeing, not realizing that we were not all that well off but feeling that we were.  We were all together then; but not for long. 

Those days, like so much else, lasted until about 1961 when the world changed.  The Pope, Pius X I think, purportedly read the last Fatima prophecy and I went off to boarding school (I don’t think the two events were connected, although, who knows), a military prep school, a wonderful place in its own light, and many new adventures began, not all happy but rarely sad.  I remember the gloomy thanksgiving in 1963, when for a second, the world was united in shock, but then, a few months later, the 1964 World’s Fair, and the 20th anniversary of D Day, and then, college, but a very different college experience than most.

And of course, the “police action in Vietnam.  Wars are bad so we didn’t have them after World War II, just like we’ve had a Defense Department rather than a Department of War since 1947.  I recall Simon and Garfunkel’s devastating version of Silent Night; actually, devastation was everywhere but so was change and optimism, even in the face of the Democratic Party’s display of fascism, American style in 1968.  Flower power, and love-ins, and miniskirts and long, long legs slowly fading into the same old us.

Months have merged into years and years into decades.  I’ve met so many people and been so many places.  Made so many mistakes but learned from most.  It’s been a very full and very complex life, one with numerous starts after barely realized ends, as though I’ve been at least five or six very different people, each living in different epochs, in different contexts with different settings and different casts.  Social changes accelerated at a dizzying pace in some aspects but not at all in others.  Some changes were essential and positive but too many now seem just illusory, ugly, even malign.  Right became wrong and then right again, and then, … who knows.  I’ve seen a country that adopted me as I did it dissolve into bickering, polarized factions with the wealthiest, even more that usually, astronomically increasing what they have at the expense of the impoverished many.  I’ve seen our bravest and most noble destroyed in useless foreign adventures and then, all too often, cast aside when some managed to return home.  I’ve seen hope replaced by resignation, but with all that and through it all, I’ve seen a beautiful People still prepared to give thanks for whatever they have.  In fact, those with the least are often the ones who most sincerely continue to believe in the magic season at the end of the year.

Today, I think of a marriage once so bright gone bad and miss Billy and Alex and Edward, now living lives of their own without me but at least together.  And I think of all the wonderful women I’ve known intimately but who just didn’t work out, and as always, I wish most of them the best.  I recall a dazzlingly beautiful young woman who once introduced herself to me as “Diana, as in the goddess, not Diane” and I remember the lyrics “all day, all night Marianne, down by the seashore, sifting sand” and I’m grateful and amazed that some of us are, from a distance, somehow still in touch and every once in a while, still speculating about might have beens.

Places as well as people have treasured places in my heart.  I think of Miami and Miami Beach and of Central Beach Elementary and Biscayne Elementary and of Hellen Mansfield and Maryanne Bass.  I think of Charlotte and Wesley Heights Elementary, an awesome place with great friends, albeit, as usual, only for a season or two.  And then I think of New York and Charleston and then, New York again; and of Fort Lauderdale and Hendersonville and Ocala.  All among the too many places I’ve called home.  I miss them all, now back in Manizales where I began, but I sometimes wonder for how long.  This holiday season marks the start of my 15th year here.

I’ve attended almost too many schools to count, usually briefly, until that fateful 1961 when I enrolled in the Eastern Military Academy college preparatory school, a fabulous castle where I’d spend almost twelve years, first as a student but eventually as a faculty member too.  And of course, the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, is emblazoned in my soul, I think of it daily and even after more than half a century, interact with beloved former classmates and friends, and fellow alumni.

Even before those halcyon days in New York though, before the good old USA, I remember how once upon a time, in another continent to the South, one I now once again call home, my grandmother and my two aunts, and an all too interesting uncle remained, at least for a while. 

What a ride life’s been and it still has such a long way to go.  A seventh version of me now cohabits with Natalia and sometimes with Dalia and Maia, her teenage daughters, and with Maria Elena her mother, and with Caro her sister and Jose Jesus her father and Edwin and Odair, her brothers, and with all my Mahe cousins and with all the friends and colleagues and students I’ve made during the past fourteen years. 

During this season I nostalgically recall Jimmy Stewart at Christmas reevaluating his values and Ingrid Bergman as a Christmas story nun, and Bing Crosby and Bob Hope on the road, and Abbot and Costello, and the Three Stooges with Officer Joe Bolton (before police officers were perceived of as swine) and I recall meeting Perry Cuomo at Eddie Kowalski’s house where his pretty cousin Bonnie, now gone, enthralled us all. 

But I come back to Marina and Teddy, and Pop and Mom. And a very young and optimistic version of me delighting in white Christmases and decorations and Christmas carols, and even in ghosts of Christmases past and present and future, and of Tiny Tim (the original one, not the one tripping through the tulips with a ukulele) wishing us a Merry Christmas,

One and all.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.