One of the things I inherited from my Daddy is my ability to talk to anybody, in pretty much any situation. So sometimes I do, and sometimes I hit paydirt.
I want to know people's lives. Their story. Their history. How'd they get here? What do they do? What do they read? What have they seen? Basically, I am nosy. But more than that, I'm interested in what people have experienced and what I can learn from that.
Well, BOY did I strike it rich during our vacation in St. Croix.
After arriving @ Cottages we soon met our "vacation neighbors" Enrique and Totty. I met Enrique swimming out in the water. He told me about the pieces of Delft pottery that wash up on the beach. (see related posts). Later he schooled me on the history of Cottages; the owners, the managers, it's somewhat tawdry past - very interesting. He told me a little about himself and his wife - that they are originally from Cuba, but fled Castro and have been in Pennsylvania since 1960. They come to Cottages every summer for 3 months, and have for 20 years. (I told Jason and I wanted to BE one of the people that went somewhere every summer for 20 years. I just think that familiarity and history with a place is so cool.)
Anyway this conversation already had my interest very piqued. The "fleeing Castro" thing seems so mysterious and secretive. But I wasn't quite sure how I was going to approach grilling this man for more info.
Later in the week, Totty invited us to Enrique's 81st birthday party. In attendance were Enrique, Totty, their granddaughter, Paul, the manager of Cottages and his parents, who are the owners of Cottages, a couple from Germany, and a few other guests. It was an eclectic group and conversation was flowing. At one point Enrique asked what I did for a living I think, and I said I was an auditor for the government, and that seemed to really start the conversation in the direction I wanted to go.
In the three and half hours of the party, that point of commonality (we were both auditors/ accountants for the government) led to stories about how Enrique played baseball against Castro in college and later they attended law school together and were part of a revolutionary group trying to improve conditions in Cuba. How he had to flee Cuba when Bastita took over (though I wasn't sure about why that was until the next day). How he came back to Cuba when Castro took over and was Castro's first appointee, in January of 1960, to Director General of Taxation and Revenue. About how he fired something like 1100 of 1130 revenue agents in the first month he was in that job because the corruption was so blatant. How by October of 1960, he and Totty had figured out that Castro was nuts, and had to flee again. How this time, there was no way they were getting approval for "safe conduct", and they had to be smuggled out of the country with their 4 young children by the Brazilian ambassador and various other helpful people. About how they felt sitting in a boat in the harbor for hours and hours because the gov't wouldn't let the boat leave, wondering if they were going to suffer the anger of a madman. How Castro grew up on a farm, was an illegitimate child of the owner of a large sugar plantation and the cook, and the whole story about how that situation had to be worked out for Castro and his brothers to be able to go to school. About the Cuban missile crisis. About the Kennedy assassinations. About whether Barack Obama was going to be allowed by the CIA to become President. About whether or not we landed on the moon.
One of the things Enrique said made me wonder. I think I was asking him if there was ever any point that Castro actually did mean well. Did want to do what was best for the Cuban people and improve conditions there? He said yes, definitely! When they were in law school and working to change the government, that was the whole point. He said something like "I was blessed by birthright and had an obligation to the people, but Castro had a passion for change." (ok those weren't the exact words but something like that.) I wasn't sure what he meant, but Paul told me the next day that Enrique's grandfather was the 3rd President of Cuba and that they owned sugar production facilities galore. That's also why they had to escape Batista - they were an "old school" government family and Batista wasn't ok with that.
The point of this story? People have lived through, fought, and endured things that I can't even fathom. To have even a 3 hour conversation with people like this is a treasure. And thanks, Dad, for the gift of gab.