Hey Kids, Grandma Was In Gitmo!

Oh, the things you learn while enjoying a late Sunday lunch at Macaroni Grill.  It took over 50 years for mom to tell me she was once in Guantanamo Bay. While mom was unhurriedly enjoying her entrée of a Chicken Under a Brick she told me of how she, as a recent high school graduate, and three other young ladies ventured south into the Atlantic.

Colleen Townsend, Bea Correll and Virginia Graves were planning the trip to Cuba. It was to be part adventure and part visit to see Bea’s sister, Molly, whose husband was stationed at Guantanamo Bay. Mom was the younger sister of Colleen who did not want her little sis tagging along. Yet, Bea was fond of Bonnie and wanted her to be included. Colleen didn’t have much of a choice and mom transformed the adventurous trio into a foursome.

The four young ladies drove from Birmingham, Alabama to Miami where they boarded a ship bound for Havana. From there they flew to Guantanamo Bay where they spent a week visiting Molly and wandering off the base for some sightseeing.

Just as we ignore sounds like the constant hum of a refrigerator, as I child I ignored various knickknacks displayed in our home. They

Upon closer examination, the maracas are salt & pepper shakers. Carved along the top of each is "GTMO."

Upon closer examination, the maracas are salt & pepper shakers. Carved along the top of each is “GTMO.”

may have sat on top of the upright piano or stood tall on bookshelves along side family photos. One such item was a set of small brown rattles. I always thought they were some type of antique baby toy. I would occasionally pick them up and, when mom wasn’t looking, shake them to hear the rattling of whatever was inside.  I now know they are called maracas. More importantly, I now know they were a souvenir purchased on Guantanamo Bay.

I enjoyed my Mediterranean Sea Bass while mom continued her story. The most memorable portion of trip was their return home. When it was time to leave the island, bad weather forced a delay in the flight back to Havana. However, when a missionary on the island became gravely ill and needed to be evacuated, the airline decided to move forward with the flight.  The flight was a nightmare of terrible turbulence, shaking the passengers like they were dried beans in a maraca. Mom and Virginia stayed in their seats and feverishly prayed for deliverance. Mom’s prayer included a promise to God she would never fly again—a promise she kept until 35 years later when her grandson had emergency surgery in Delaware.

While the turbulence had a dramatic affect on the spiritual disciplines of mom and Virginia, Colleen and Bea apparently had other interests. They were out of their seats and at the cockpit talking to the pilots. Were they giving instructions to the pilots on how to navigate the storm? Or, were they two single young ladies unrattled by the bobbing plane in the presence of the uniformed pilots? I wish they were here to answer that question.

Whether it was God answering prayer or the pilots heeding the advice of awestruck girls, the plane made it safely back to Havana where the young ladies spent the night and where mom bought a pair of shoes she kept until very recently. Billboards in Havana also caught their eye. Politically, Cuba was on the verge of elections. Fulgencio Batista was the president, but the campaign of a guy by the name of Castro was in full swing. We all know who won that election.

The boat ride back to Miami was memorable, and not because of storms. I noticed a twinkle in mom’s eye as she told me of a Cuban man who flirted with her and Bea.

My favorite part of the story was what mom told me about their ride back home to Birmingham. They suddenly realized they were four young girls traveling alone on the long and isolated two-lane roads of Florida. The drive through the Everglades was particularly scary. Therefore, to fend off any mischievous guys who might spot them along the way, Mom and Bea, sitting in the rear seat, decided to disguise themselves to look like men. It must have worked. The four young ladies returned safely home with souvenirs and memories. …And now, 62 years after their purchase, I know the story behind those little brown rattles.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Judy on June 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Enjoyed your Mom’s interesting story! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Posted by Pam Thrasher on July 1, 2013 at 8:50 am

    What a fabulous story! Who knew what adventuresome girls these ladies were!!! I’m so glad you can document all of your mom’s wonderful memories!!


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