Seven year old Pat Hickey tickles the genuine whiskers of El Jefe in the living room of Granpa Hickey's bungalow at 7535 S. Marshfield west of Ashland in the Highlands of Gresham.
Yep, I seem to recall the bearded presence of the future dictator of Red Cuba, when my uncle Bart brought him home to meet the family on November 8, 1959. I had just turned seven at 10 AM and my Dad was at one of his three jobs ( Illinois Medicals Psychiatric Center, The Beverly Theatre, or Home for the Blind) - Ike was about to part the White House, the White Sox won the American League Pennant, but the LA Dodgers the Series, I was in third grade, JFK was a Catholic running for President and Castro visited the US.in April of 1959. Castro went to zoos and ranches in NYC, DC, Texas and Canada and generally hung around with Chicago Tribune's Latin Affairs Correspondent Jules Dubois.
Dubois had been a Panama suit and hat reporter in Panama and later became an Army spook during WWII. After the war, Dubois worked to overthrow governments in Central America and also hated Cuban dictator and Mafia puppet Batista.
My Uncle Bart was the tallest of my Dad's six brothers and as Mary Garvey once said, 'That Bart is strictly MGM.' Bart had been a Master Sergeant in the Marines during the Korean War and afterward a Stationary Engineer. I am given to understand that during one of his not too infrequent visits to Mr. Kelly's that Uncle Bart pal'd up with Col Jules Dubois.
The Colonel and Bart hit it off and met up for beers periodically. After the Sox lost the World Series, the two ran into one another and met for steaks at Stockyard Inn. Dubois told Bart about the guy who had kicked the Batista and the Guineas out of Cuba in January and had charmed the britches off of the Manhattan swells and the likes of Lenny Bernstein. Castro had visited the States on his own, in full beard and Army fatigues many times.
Uncle Bart cried Bullshit.
The Colonel protested, " On the Square, Batty. Want to meet him?"
It was arranged. On November 8th 1959, Fidel Castro wiped his feet on the mud mat in the hall of the Hickey Manse on Marshfield, right here in Chicago.
All of my cousins were there but Eddie who was a freshman football player at Notre Dame and it was my birthday besides, which meant cake. The cake was from the bakery on 79th & Laflin and it was okay but for the coconut flakes, which I have hated with a generous passion - Lo these many years. Cutting off perfectly good frosting because of coconut flakes is just wrong. Most of the cousins did not seem to mind and swallowed the stuff without so much as a blink.
In walked Uncle Bart and two guys - one a geezer and the other dressed in Army clothes and beard. "Split-tails and goofs, quiet down. This is Col. Jules Dubois and he's a pal and this is his pal Fidel. Fellas, this is my brother Pat's boy -Patsheen -he's what? Sixteen?"
"Seven, Uncle Bart," I corrected.
" Did I ask you, wise guy? Close your chow hole and give your ears a chance until you're talked to . . .it's his Birthday, Chief. What did you bring for the kid?"
Into the excitement and up from the basement came FATHER - Granpa Hickey, formerly of Crinnie Hill, Castleisland County Kerry, a founder of Engineers Local 399, father of seven boys and six girls and a pioneering road rage, unfiltered vocalist. " Bateen, who's yer pals, so? I heard ye come in the front door when the back way is good enough for Monsignor McMahon. Hello, I'm Lawrence Hickey, Bart's father, like the story." A Kerryman pronounces Bart as Bayart, but said fast and says 'Like the Shhtory for no good reason. BTW - Bat is short for Bart, which is short for Bartholomew, and it's diminutive in Irish would be Bat-een, like I am Padsheen, or Patsheen.
GranPa took in a full eyeful of Fidel Castro.
"Fwhat are you doing here in my living room dressed up like Tom Barry's Flying Column?" quizzed the original Crinnie Rage-aholic.
Uncle Bart answer, " He's Castro, Father (with undiminished irony) - the guy on Time Magazine from Cuba."
"That's near Florida, so?"
It was agreed.
Hands were shook all around and Fidel Castro was seated at the dining room table next to the Chicago Pater Familias - " How's things with that crook Batista off in the jungles somewhere?"
Col. Jules Dubois translated for the English challenged revolutionist - Castro lit up like one of his virgin-thighed rolled cheroots - " Ah Bueno, Senor Hickey! Muy bien! Las personas que saquearon mi pueblo para este año madres Mañana no será bienvenido en Cuba. Al igual que los Medias Blancas y la Sra. Rigné, Ha, ha, ha! "
" So, that's the way of it."
On it went, I suppose, in this manner until the large bag was opened with my birthday present from the liberator and future dictator of Cuba. We all got beards and imitation Army caps made like those paper painter's caps. Some haul, huh?
Uncle Bart decided to put El Jefe on the spot, " That's all you got for the Kid? It's his birthday for Crissakes. Dig, Pepe, and come up with some folding money for the little guy." This was dutifully translated by Col. Dubois.
Castro feined a smile of resignation and oiled these words in his native tongue through his gums and whiskers, "What is this? A Capitalist trap? You Yankees! Very Well, here is five Gringo dollars for your homely nephew with the gapped teeth. I am out of here! Say good-bye to your foul tempered Irish father. Basta Ya!, Yanquis!"
Within a few months, Time Magazine's Boy Castro was locked in an embrace with Soviet Communism that still breathes lustily today.
I got to tickle the real whiskers of Castro and pocket a 1959 value 5-$pot from a Commie and never really caught the desire to cut sugar cane.