My timeline of Cuba

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Putting politics aside, you are having the opportunity to witness a bit of history this week as President Obama visits Cuba; the first visit by a sitting President in 90 years. Calvin Coolidge was the last President to visit our island neighbor to the South. I doubt many of us remember that.

My own memories of Cuba are scattered and disjointed. Like most people of my generation, it was the Missile Crisis that first made me aware of Cuba. I was in the second grade when Soviet nuclear missiles were discovered in Cuba, just 90 miles from the American coast.

That confrontation was the closest this country has ever come to a nuclear war. It is now estimated there would have been 100 Million U.S. and 100 Million Soviet casualties in a nuclear exchange.

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As a 7 year old, I was only aware of the increased tension in our home. We converted a closet in an interior hallway to a food pantry. We were trained to immediately draw a full tub of water into an interior bathroom for drinking purposes. If something happened while we were at school, we were to go straight home, luckily only a few hundred yards away.

Thankfully for the world, the crisis passed. The food closet stayed full for several more years until it was eventually removed in a subsequent remodel.

My next memories of Cuba centered on sports. As an Auburn fan, I was aware of a little known trivia fact; in 1937, Auburn and Villanova tied in the Bacardi Bowl held in Havana. It was the only time two American college teams played each other in football on foreign soil.

Baseball was also something that boys talked about during my childhood. Communists or not, Cubans were known as good baseball players. It still remains the most popular sport in Cuba, and the major leagues are dotted with very talented Cuban players.

Much later, I discovered Cuban sandwiches, which remain one of my favorites even today. I never heard of them as a kid, which may have been because of the politics of the Cold War.

I developed a love for old cars, only to discover that Cuba is much like a rolling car museum. Thanks to a ban on the import of foreign cars placed by Fidel Castro, people had to learn to make do with what they had. The result is a nation running on cars that are often older than the drivers.

Ten years ago, my uncle restored a sailboat. He suggested that we sail around Cuba. Thankfully, by that stage of my life I had more common sense than sense of adventure and I declined.

The year I graduated high school, President Nixon visited China. He was the first American President to ever visit China and it ended 25 years of isolation between those two countries. Partially because those doors opened with that visit 40 years ago, Mary Lou and I will visit China later this month.

I hope that the breaking of the isolation of Cuba by the United States, which has lasted most of my life, will result in a continued improvement of the relationship between our two countries and I will have the opportunity to check off another item off my bucket list; a visit to Cuba.

Times are changing and sometimes they change for the better.