The Best Christmas Gifts
One could argue - indeed, this is my belief - at least among Christians, that there is only one Best Christmas Gift - the Gift of The Redeemer. As has been said: "Keep Christ in Christ-Mas." But this sinner would also argue that the same Redeemer, the Essence of the Season, brings with Him, and freely hands out, many other Gifts towards which sadly, mankind sometimes appears oblivious. All too easy to fixate on that iPhone or Wii..."weep if you can't get a Wii."
But some of us, and please do not take this as Pharisee-like sanctimoniousness, do appreciate and cherish the Gifts from the God-Gift. One of them is the Gift of Friendship and Brotherhood. Speaking of which, remember this post from September 2006?
On Sunday, December 16 Anno Domini 2007, the Gift of Friendship and Brotherhood was freely shared among a certain "Band of Baldorians" - sounds like something out of Beowulf, I suppose - at the Rusty Pelican, a waterfront venue in Key Biscayne. That, should you wish to find the place, is in the Greater Miami area - and not Miami, Ohio either.
Jeez! I suppose a certain Baldorian-blogger coulda smiled a little more, given the conviviality, warmth, and good time had by all attendees. Finally, we who had found each other over the last few years were together again, celebrating our good fortune and rightly so.
This is now, and that was then, before the Grinch of Havana decreed an end to Christmas, to family, friendship, brotherhood, indeed to Love itself.
There we were...50 years earlier, during the 1956-1957 school year; the acquisition of that academic year's Yearbook was an early Christmas present to myself. Can you find us? Alright, no teasing the readership. Here's a "connect the dots" type aid, enabling you to link the faces from past and present. Refer to the "this is now" graphic...from left to right you have hmmm...Frightful, then Wilfredo or as we know him, "Willy" Hernandez, followed by Carlos Cueto, Nelson Orta, and The Other Carlos, Bidot. One of the Band unfortunately missed our fraternal reunion, Warren Chambless, although we know you were there in spirit, Warren - and will make the next one. And, to confuse you further, you will NOT find Nelson in the 1956-1957 Baldor yearbook when we began our journey through First Grade. Nelson did not come into the picture until the Fourth Grade. That, however, does not make him a Lesser Baldorian Brother, by any means.
If you examine the yearbook image and zero in on the future blog author, you will be amazed to realize he once had a fair crop of hair! What is less obvious is, then and now, he was and remains, proudly, the Shortest of The Baldorian Band. Well, good things come in small packages. So does poison.
Although Warren could not make it to our brotherly table at Rusty Pelican, he has made it to some of our sociable get-togethers since being "found" by bloggin' "Sherlock Holmes" about a year ago.
Such as, back in September, when he and Mrs. Chambless accepted our invitation to join the Quirogas for a night of partying in honor of my dad's 88th birthday. Warren sported a neat tropical-themed shirt; we certify that "a good time was had by all."
Unfortunately, do not as of this writing, have a Baldor School yearbook with Brother Nelson's face in it. The next best thing available is this quaint classroom depiction of our Seventh Grade class at Saints Peter and Paul parochial school in Miami - as in Florida.
Nelson sits with trademark smile and Elvis-ish hairdo - a "mota," Cubans would call it - in the first seat, first row on the right - and, in the very same row, the kid with closed, or closing eyes, fourth from the back of the class, is the future blogger and ex-Baldor cub. Nelson and I were the first to "reconnect" our friendship in style. We're talking 1962-1963 here. It has been a long time, brother! And yet, where did the time go? That is the scary part. The Gift of Time - now that is another precious one from the Creator.
Sister of St. Joseph Mary Anthony stands guard back in the corner. You did not want to incur her wrath...no disrespect meant, but somehow that brings to mind the opening minutes in The Blues Brothers movie. If you wanna know what I mean, rent it or buy it - the great music in it alone is worth it. Belushi's and Aykroyd's antics are a bonus. Our antics at Sts. Peter and Paul were suitably dealt with by the good nuns, somewhat as Jake and Elwood's were rewarded in the aforementioned flick.
Shoot! Just realized we found another former Baldor guy in the Sts. Peter and Paul class photo! Gabriel Rodriguez, sitting in the row next to ours, second from back of the class - he's in the Baldor yearbook First Grade group. Bidot is always after me to look our friends up, so guess Gabriel is the next subject of our sleuthing. How about that for another Christmas bonus; we may yet find another member of the Baldor Brotherhood.
Nelson and his frightful friend continued their adventures and misadventures together through our years at LaSalle High School in Miami, from where we both graduated in '68, and shared part of our college years as well. We were the first of this Band to band together, but we will certainly not be the last.
Our friend Bidot informally presided over the gathering, and said some beautiful words for the ocassion, reading them from his script, the emotion coming through loud and clear.
Don't worry - you don't need to crank up your translation software; I will translate the words for you, to the extent of my non-professional translating ability, always with the goal of translating the words as accurately as skills allow, the main goal being to capture the true spirit of the original statement.
Just some lines to express what has meant to me this re-encounter with my first friends, those I lost suddenly in an April afternoon in the 60s, when we barely were 9-10 years old. Nevertheless, their names always appeared in my mind and heart with the certain hope of finding them again and share moments such as those we are sharing today. How many anecdotes relived and yet how many not lived among us! I give thanks to God first, then to all of you for maintaining alive the flame of our friendship which began in our beloved Baldor School, who I also thank for instructing me and giving me the principles which make an honest man.
To all many thanks for making my dreams reality.
Albertico (literally-and accurately-"Little Albert"): You were the first to initiate this re-encounter, thank you brother, for this and for inspiring me to improve my spelling skills, which were not bad but not as excellent as yours.
Carlitos: dear friend and study companion, of mutual academic competitions, of friendly knowledge and escapades to eat raw oysters.
Willy: dear friend from our Vedado neighborhood, picaresque and witty, who always managed to create something different and amusing out of our times together.
Nelson: although the last to join us and subject to complications due to your social activities and, if memory does not fail, one of the most easygoing in our class, for you our welcome to our dear reconnection of "Baldoristas."
So happy you were able to speak these wonderful words without a hitch, brother Bidot; speaking for myself, would have choked up during delivery. Maudlin, sentimental, all of that it may be, but so it is and glad it is so.
We did a gift exchange, nothing fancy, but a nice touch. During said exchange, Christmas cards were also given and received. Here is what amigo Bidot wrote on the one for the Quirogas.
Again, not to worry - free translation provided; hopefully it captures the words and the feeling behind them accurately.
"Dear Little Albert:
You were the first to initiate this re-encounter. You cannot imagine how grateful I am to you, for in my mind all of you were always there. Today my dreams from childhood have become reality, but I invite you to continue finding and gathering more friends from what was then Baldor School.
Of course I remembered you, even as you had forgotten your 'hundreds (100 pts)' in spelling. Brother, a hug and once again thanks.
Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2008! The Bidot Family 12/16/07"
Well brother Bidot, truth be told, I may have scored "hundreds" in grammar and spelling, but always I envied your and Carlos Cueto's mathematical and analytical minds. Over time skill in these areas improved for yours truly. Nevertheless, am willing to swap brains - or at least part of brains - with you. The others are no slouches either. You guys "done good!" and am very proud of that. But then, that is what we expect from Baldor School students.
Back to the gift exchange for a moment. Nelson gave us all a very especial and unexpected present...
The wonderful gift is the medal on the left - an award for "Aplicacion," or Scholarship; when given by your Baldor teacher back then, it meant you were an "A" student. And "A's" were not freely given in those days. Our brother-friend scored a coup and found these almost mint condition pieces, together with their original ribbons. "I cleaned out the stock where I bought them," said our buddy, smiling broadly. Now this piece will proudly accompany the other well-loved relics of my Baldor days - the "Conducta" or Good Conduct medal acquired at the annual Cuba Nostalgia event almost two years ago, and the little lapel pin, spirited out of Cuba and once worn proudly by the writer during his Baldor years. To others, these may seem like insignificant baubles; to us, these golden objects, though not made of gold, are worth their weight in gold for both the happy and sad memories of a lost childhood and a lost time they evoke so well.
Medals and awards, worn proudly by those who earned them through hard work, scholarship, good conduct, civic duty, and love of God and country.
As did our friend and Baldor-brother Carlos Bidot, during the 1956 school year.
I am confident I speak for all when I say to you, Brother Nelson, in describing how we feel about this incredible gift: Te la comiste, hermano! That is Cuban slang, and literally translated means "You've eaten it, brother!" When a Cuban tells you "te la comiste," it means you've done something fantastic, great, incredible, first class, and all that sort of thing.
By the way, if you wish to explore the place where our most thoughtful brother-friend acquired these, take a peek - more than a peek, really...set aside some time to take it in, and head to
You will be amazed with the many interesting pieces Mr. Valdes has on display, and for sale too. A history of Cuba captured in the objects, literature, and graphics within the walls of the Cuban Historical Museum. In case you wonder, this is not an advertising pitch...it is just an invitation for you to take the opportunity to drink in some Cuban history. "Drink in" is appropriate - Mr. Valdes even displays still-filled bottles of Cuban beer from the 50s! Wouldn't recommend imbibing the contents at this point, however. Might turn you off beer.
All good and beautiful times and things must inevitably come to an end. After a few hours of fraternal camaraderie, anecdote telling, reconnecting and becoming reacquainted, the gathered Baldorian Band and their families had to say their goodbyes - for now. But there was still time for some photography to remember the event, and someday, via these images, pass on the beautiful memories to our children, and our children's children.
Well, how about that! The blogger can smile after all. How could he not, as he ponders the priceless value of the Gift of Friendship, which he thought was lost 47 years ago as he and his family celebrated their first Christmas in exile, with little but with love, in the cozy Westchester home of our beloved friend Delia Carballo and her gracious mother, who unhesitatingly took us in when we had nowhere else to go. A little guy, in the depths of sadness that Christmas, did not realize it, but besides the Gifts of Love and Friendship, he was given the Gift of Freedom. These are the ones that matter, the ones that endure and can never be taken away.
This Christmas, remember the Reason for The Season and give thanks to God for the Gifts that really matter. We have touched upon just a very few here - there are many. As for the Grinch of Havana, the one who sought to take away that which he hates because of his own self-hate - Love, Friendship, Freedom and so much more, alas, when it comes to our little group you failed miserably. When your time comes to leave this world, you will weep and gnash your teeth when you realize - too late - you rejected the Gift of Redemption.
From us to all of you out there, including but not limited to our other Baldor School friends and acquaintances, and to other dear and very close friend-brothers - "Cap'n Mario" comes to mind, but you all know who you are - A Very Merry and Blessed Christmas!