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 email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.