I met Monsignor for the first time around January 1962, although I had arrived three months earlier. It happened during a visit he made to our Jesuit Boys Residence where I lived for close to two years. He used to visit our house periodically and when we got our school bus, some times he rode with us to Belen School and chatted with the boys. But I wasn’t really close to him, just one out of 40 other boys.
Years later there was an alumni event at Belen Jesuit School and I went with my parents, and Monsignor happened to be there. So I took the opportunity to shake his hand, thank him for all he had done for us, and introduced my parents to him, all very casual. He acted as if he had known me all my life, very warm and affectionate.
Then one day, Yvonne Conde had a presentation for her newly released book, and I went there with my wife. After a while, I showed Elly Chovel a group picture taken at the Florida City Camp. Elly and I were in the picture among others boys and girls from the Jesuit Boys Residence and from the Florida City Camp. My sister was also in the picture.
Elly knew the story of the picture, and that I was the Pedro Pan driver who periodically drove the boys from our house to visit their sisters and small brothers, and to other camps as well. I had obtained a driver’s license with the knowledge of my Pedro Pan Jesuit guardians and they allowed me to drive their van. As a matter of fact, I passed my driver’s exam using Father Nuevo’s personal vehicle, a 1955 Pontiac. I was possibly the only Pedro Pan with a driver’s license. I had begun to read the Spanish version of the Florida High Way Patrol within a week or two after arriving in Camp Matecumbe, although it was poorly translated. In Cuba I drove since I was 13 years old, always within the property of the sugar mill and in the countryside, never in the public high way (that my father knew), but in Cuba I could not get a license until age 21. Here I was trilled to know I could get it at age 16, the best news I had regarding my new situation in this country.
Elly grabbed me by the arm and said, let’s go see Monsignor and show him the picture, and he can sign your book too. He was seating at a table autographing the books for those who bought it.
Elly said to him, “Monsignor, look at this picture of me, Clemente and a group in the Florida City Camp. Clemente had a driver’s license and brought the boys to see us” At this moment his face changed, turned red, looked at me and said with a loud voice “…that you had a driver’s license? It was strictly prohibited for the boys to have it, and no one should have let you drive, and you should have known, etc…” He was visibly upset; and I was very surprised at the reaction, and suddenly I said, “Monsignor, I did not know, but can you forgive me almost 40 years later?” And suddenly he looked at me again, paused, and began to laugh in that loud and contagious laugh of his, like almost falling from his chair, and grabbed my picture and signed it and then signed my book too. I have both and I keep them as a treasured possession, of the day Monsignor chewed me up and then forgave me all within a matter of a couple of minutes.
After that, I saw him once in a while when he showed up at the Versailles breakfasts and was always so happy surrounded by a group of his beloved and grateful Pedro Pan “children”.