This is not long winded but it is certainly heartfelt.
When we were younger and had just moved to the USA, there were many summer vacation flights as well as "visit-grandparents" flights for me. It was a time when I was certainly torn between two countries. On one hand there were the marvels of America and Superman (Steve Reeves version) at 4:30 after school as well as the neighborhood smell of cut lawns on Saturday - while on the other hand there was the simplicity of ocean and a freedom to live in my community in a manner I now only appreciate in retrospect. In America I was amazed by the new community and on Aruba the community raised this child. Perhaps the later prepared me for the first. Who knows?
At first, there were the stops of KLM on Jamaica or Cuba, I don't remember which and it doesn't matter really. We would run off the plane and practically trip down the stairs to get the slices of fresh fruit and a fruit punch. I feel sure that the women holding the trays were stunning, but it was lost on my youth and lack of proper hormones. My attraction was the fruit, the punch and the guys playing music. My - My how it makes todays first class with fluted champagne seem overwhelmingly dull - but .. that was then and this is now and a flute of champagne is pretty cool, no matter where you drink it.
As I aged, the 'flying' became routine and I tended to drift off to sleep on both legs of the journey - except on some occasions.
It was the return flight from Aruba to Miami and it was on one of the long thin 80'S of ALM that looked more like a needle that an aircraft and I loved the smooth flight it had, however I still slept. On this particular flight, the gentleman sitting next to me smelled familiar. I let me nose work and dug into my memories and realized it was the same "4711" cologne that my grandfather used to splash on his face every morning and at lunch. The smell reminded me of him and I closed my eyes again. And then it came:
Despensa yonkuman - abo no ta Papi e nieto di Conks?
I looked up at this face and said
"Si Tami-mes Ku ken mi tin e placer?"
This translated to:
"Excuse me, aren't you "Papi" the grandson of Conks?
"Yes - I am the very one. With whom do I have the pleasure?"
The key word in that small little banter was "Conks"
As a child, my grandfather was very rotund and they called him TRONCON which means "Tree trunk" With age it changed to Con-Con and with the very intimate insiders that had shared special times with him, it became CONKS.
So, the conversation started and this man politely put away all of the papers on his small fold out table and asked me if I still drank beer. Zippo! Another inside quip. In short time, I came to realize that he was very familiar with our family. As we talked, I noticed what I foolishly thought were incongruities. He was intelligent and his conversation was capturing.
He wore a glistening gold banded watch that had to be worth a small fortune,
His Suit was one of those that stay wrinkle free beyond the meaning of the word,
The front of his shirt collar was frayed.
His face was ruddy and his beard was kempt
His nails were dirty yet not with dirt but with ink.
I was so taken by him and his conversation and the way he manipulated the words and their meanings. What a joy! We spoke endlessly and the conversation was all but boring. Gestures and emotions and explanations about all of it. Aruba, fishing, best scotches, all and I mean ALL of it.
As he spoke, I realized how for the first time in my life, I was listening to Eloquence.
As we started the landing preparations a younger man from a couple of rows in back of us came up to him and started to explain how he should get off the plane to avoid the long lines etc. And then he cemented all of it for me. he said:
Tin otro Arubiano riba e avion aki. Mi lo kana ku nan
There are other Arubians on this plane, I shall walk with them
The plane landed, and he waited for every single person to get off the plane and greeted every Arubian with a handshake and a small remark about their family or their business or something else. Nonetheless, he made the remarks and the people glowed at his recognition.
We walked together with everyone else and went through customs with everyone else. Amazing.
I now know that the papers he put aside to talk to me were the ones he had been preparing for his journey to Holland to get Aruba her independence.
I also realize that he - BETICO CROES - before being a politician or anything else, was a bonding agent. He was the fiber of thought for so many, he was fallible and had strengths and that made him touchable. And we can only trust what we can touch.
On that flight, Betico Croes offered me a simplicity I now only appreciate in retrospect. In America I was amazed by the new community and on Aruba the community raised this child. Perhaps the later prepared me for the first. Who knows? - I am sure now - I do know.