Editor's note: Jerry is a native Melrosian, retired from the Navy and now lives with his wife Kathleen in the Seattle area.
The time was late 1977 shortly after my retiring from the navy. My former wife (since deceased) and I were vacationing in Montego Bay, Jamaica, a country which I had visited on a navy port call years before and had enjoyed.
By way of background it should be pointed out that Jamaica at that time was not high on our state department's list of preferred destinations for American travelers. It may be remembered that Jamaica was then independent of Great Britain and had installed a government with socialist leanings not entirely to Washington's liking. However, it was by no means forbidden for Americans to visit there and that accounts for our presence on this Caribbean island.
Michael Manley, then Jamaica's Prime Minister, had paid a state visit to Cuba the previous year and Fidel Castro was, unknown to the us at the time, scheduled to return the visit during our stay.
We had been enjoying the lush country for several days when we began noticing signs being posted welcoming this visitor from Cuba. In fact he was to speak at a square within walking distance of our hotel. We regarded this as an opportunity to see this controversial world figure and we decided not to miss it.
Two days later we arrived early at the site for an up-front view of the event. Castro's advance party had arrived and were checking out the podium area when I began to feel a little apprehensive. As people began arriving in numbers it was apparent to me that we were about the only white faces in the gathering crowd. I further conjectured that we would probably be assumed to be Americans by the rest of the assembly.
Given Castro's capacity for inflammatory speeches, frequently directed at the Nordo Americano, I was becoming more uneasy by the minute and, mind you, Castro had yet to arrive at the podium. I was beginning to entertain visions of my wife and me being strung upside down like Mussolini and his mistress from any convenient lamp post. I conveyed these thoughts to my wife and we began to move slowly toward the rear of this rapidly enlarging non-white audience.
While I didn't think it really applied to me, I was reminded of Ambrose Bierce's definition of the word coward; "One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his feet." I prevailed on my wife to leave before we became entirely surrounded by the local population and hastened to the sanctuary of our hotel before Fidel began haranguing the locals. She reluctantly agreed.
The next morning the newspaper informed us that the event went off without incident. My wife reproached me with "See, it was all so very peaceful and we missed out on a moment in history." I replied, "Yeah, sure; that's because we weren't there."
I don't know, dear reader, what you may have done given the same circumstances but I have always believed that discretion is the better part of valor.
December 5, 2003