Monday, October 24, 2016

Of Cuba and Cubs: Sometimes dreams really do come true!

Pip in her Chicago Cubs shirt!
My dog Pip is a Havana silk dog: a breed that originated in Cuba.
She's also a life-long Cubs fan. Of course, being born in 2015, she has
never lived through a year when the Cubs did not make the postseason. 

On Saturday, October 22, 2016, in a single magical double play in the top of the ninth, my life was changed irrevocably. I’d spent my first 64 years and 49 weeks with the baseball team my Grandpa taught me to love while I was still a toddler never having won the World Series, or making it into the World Series. I loved the Cubs passionately despite their never winning, endured the slings and arrows of Twins and Braves fans’ ridicule for lo these many years, and then suddenly, magically, my dear Cubbies, in a decisive shut out, won the pennant. I’d spent all these years optimistically believing they would win it all during my lifetime, and my dreams for the future were at last proven to be substantive, not mere pipe dreams.

Grandpa and me
My Grandpa explained the intricacies of baseball to me when I was
very little. We loved the Cubs! The last two times they won the World
Series, he was 11 and 12. The last time they won the NL Pennant, he was 49,
and I was 6 years away from being born. 
October 2016 turned out to be a life-changing month for me in another way, too, fulfilling another life-long dream. When I was very little, one of my relatives gave my family The Illustrated Home Library Encyclopedia—I think getting a volume a week at the grocery store.

Sometime around my fourth birthday, I decided to teach myself to read with that encyclopedia. I read, or at least looked carefully at, every word in the A volumes, starting with Aardvark, and perhaps understanding one-one thousandth of one percent. Then I started the Bs, and got all the way to B-I-R-D, where I stopped cold. I read that Bird article, which was 9 or 10 pages long, over and over and over. Anyone who looked at our encyclopedia set on the shelf would know someone was fixated on the bird entry—hardly anyone in my family ever opened the encyclopedia at all, and so all the spines were in perfect shape, the gold leaf of the print shiny and newish, except for the B volume, where the gold was worn off and there was a clear crack in the spine. If you pulled the book out of the shelf, it automatically opened to Bird.

That Bird article was where I first read the word Cuba. It said the tiniest bird in the world was “the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba.” Being four years old, I had no idea that Cuba was a place, so I spent a long time searching the trees in my blue collar Chicago suburb neighborhood for that “Bee Hummingbird of Cuba.”

Bee Hummingbird
The Bee Hummingbird of Cuba

I was vaguely aware that Desi Arnaz, along with his alter ego Ricky Ricardo, was from a place called Cuba, and vaguely associated him with the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba without really understanding why. I also knew that President Kennedy sometimes smoked Cuban cigars, and though I wasn’t exactly sure what a cigar was, I aspired to own a box of Cuban cigars, again in part because I somehow associated them with the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba.

A box of Cuban cigars
A box of premium Cuban cigars! (Cubans also put warning labels on them.)

I was 9 years old in April 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and 10 in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I didn’t understand anything at all about either of those big news stories, and didn’t associate either event with the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba, maybe because the ominous voices on the news were scary—how could anything about the tiniest bird in the world be scary?

Bee Hummingbird
Bee Hummingbird: Not scary!

But somehow by then I had figured out that Cuba was a place that I wanted to go to very badly. Cuba and the Cubs—two words that are 75 percent identical, and two major lifetime dreams that I’m not sure I ever really believed would come true. And this month, after so many years, BOTH dreams came true! I saw my Bee Hummingbirds along with another long dreamed-for bird, the Cuban Tody, AND the Cubs won the NL Pennant!

Cuba: World Champions!
At least half the people who've seen my hat first read it as "Cubs"! 

So the last month that I’ll be 64 turns out to be the first month of a new chapter of my life—the month that proved that dreams do sometimes come true.

Where I went in Cuba