Christmas 1968 – La Mancha

It was not your Yuletide season of lore. A very non-Dickensian tropical warmth filled the small candlelit alcove. Dinner for two at a cozy corner table accented with a paper cut-out of Santa. The usual permeating Christmas music was mercifully replaced by the hot/cool sounds of Brazil 66, Eddie Palmieri, Jose Feliciano and Tito Puente vibrating out of a state-of-the-art Sony open-reel tape stereo system. On the serving tray lay small dishes of exotic Puerto Rican delicacies like Carne Guisada, Arroz con habichuelas, pickled yuca stalks – all complimented with a straw covered bottle of Chianti.  For dessert, sweet tamales and some decadent little things called Pasteles and Buñuelos de viento. Sipping after-dinner espresso, I listened intently to the incomprehensible but beautiful words of Reinaldo’s latest poem Dignidad. When he finished his English explanation, I answered with an inspired impromptu English tribute to the dignity of man. Our bellies and brains now satisfied, we set to talking of home, of Christmases in Germany, Florida, Puerto Rico and New York; reminiscences of family and of childhood excesses.  Eventually we got around to the inevitable – our dreams for the future, how we would seek out and challenge so many fire-breathing windmills. This unrepentant hope was our real Christmas gift to ourselves.  After all, if the two of us could bring civilization to a life of forced austerity and atrocious force, there was no limit to the wonders we could perform once back in the real world. But before we could get back to our real world, the reality of the world came back to us. The alert siren sounded, the master switch cut off, silencing Feliciano and leaving our Navidad candle as the only illumination for the moment it took to reach over and snuff it out. I knocked all the empty San Juan cans off the foot locker to get to my helmet and flak jacket.  When I stood up to pull my M-16 off the wall, Reinaldo was gone in search of his sword and lance.