Recalling a wonderful high school trip to Cuba

It was right after Thanksgiving 1951. Our family was celebrating Christmas early for me because I was going on a high school student trip to Florida and Cuba over the Christmas and New Year vacation for Warren City Schools.

Two trips were scheduled. Raymond Crawford, a zoology teacher, and Harold C. Hume, a botany teacher, were the leaders. Crawford’s trip just went to Florida while Hume’s trip continued on to Cuba. Hume selected me, a junior, and four other guys (three juniors and one sophomore). None of Hume’s group was a botany student. Another student, who was with the Crawford group, was to join up with our group for the trip to Cuba.

Florida was an inspiration to us! Sunny, warm and balmy weather greeted us, and we all swam in the very cold Suwannee River on Christmas day – just to say we did it. The water was the color of Coca Cola from the cypress trees.

The student from Crawford’s group joined up with us in Key West and we flew the 90 miles to Havana in a Cuba Airlines DC-3 – after waiting more than two hours for the Cuban pilots to appear. The same thing happened on the return trip.

What a beautiful, noisy city Havana was! The first car to beep its horn at an intersection had the right of way. The architecture was Spanish colonial in various pastel hues and most sidewalks were covered with colonnades to shield pedestrians from the sun. There were many pretty, well-dressed girls walking about – but never unescorted.

Carlos Prio Socarras was president and there was apparent prosperity everywhere – although we saw makeshift shacks and signs of poverty on the outskirts of the city. Socarras would be deposed in two months by Juan Batista, and very few had even heard of Fidel Castro.

The weather was beyond belief! Soft, warm breezes would caress your cheek and the skies were totally cloudless. What a contrast to cloudy, cold and snowy Warren in late December!

The food was terrific, and I enjoyed chicken with yellow rice best of all – never mind the dead fly in the rice. Cafecito (strong coffee) in a small demitasse cup was served with every meal, and led to some nights of staring at the ceiling while the caffeine kept eyes wide open.

We went to several night clubs and gambling casinos and saw (and even embarrassingly danced with) beautiful show girls. We enjoyed jai alai games, and swam in an ocean so warm that it matched the temperature of the air. We were joined by very heavily chaperoned girls from a convent. No language barrier there!

We celebrated a Havana New Years and joined some Cuban teens who were fascinated at how tall we were. They wanted to know if we liked Knocking Goal – we later figured out they meant Nat King Cole.

Hume (what we called him) often let himself be the butt of our jokes, even though we always had tremendous respect for him. He was quite frustrated when we showed only a nodding interest in all the botanical wonders he showed to us and he joined with us less and less. We thought he was just respecting our independence.

After we returned to Warren, we found that Hume was very ill with cancer, although we had suspected something. Several of the Cuba gang went to his home to visit with him. His mom wouldn’t let us see him, but chose all six of us who went to Cuba with him to be his pall bearers when he died that fall.

Wonderful trip. Great man. He was 47.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com.