The Rose family often moved very long distances, especially for the times. I never found out why but assumed it had something to do with deaths in the family. I know my dad lived in Ensley Highlands in 1918 when two of his older brothers died and he was a teenager. He then lived in Tampa, Florida when he was still a teenager. Eventually he returned to Birmingham but the rest of his family stayed in south Florida.
When I was growing up in Birmingham we went every Christmas and every summer to visit our relatives in and around Tampa. Even during WWII my dad arranged his schedule with the Navy Department so we were in Florida during those times of the year. It was always fun, especially in the winter, to leave cold and ice and go to sunny Florida.
One of the very special treats was going by Ybor City, a Cuban district in part of Tampa. There was an all night window at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. No matter what time we arrived we could always pick up Cuban sandwiches. By then most of the Rose family had moved about seventy-five miles south of Tampa to Wauchula where I was born.
The Cuban sandwiches were wonderful and unique. Not like so-called Cuban sandwiches in other places. The bread was delicious as were all the varieties of meats and cheeses. It was indeed special to have a delicious Cuban sandwich from the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.
There were also lots of small Cuban storefront shops in Ybor City. They sold various sundries, including cigars, of course, because Tampa always had one of the largest Cuban populations in the nation, even before Castro. Cubans came to Tampa originally to take refuge from the Spanish colonialists they were fighting for freedom against. It has always been something for Cuba. But in those Cuban neighborhood shops, they also sold Cuban sandwiches they made behind the counter and displayed behind glass. They may not have been as good as the Columbia’s, and some used variations—such as adding lettuce and tomato, and even cold cuts--that would not pass muster with a purist like the anonymous reviewer. The shops and their owners were Cuban, so who is to say that their sandwiches were not?
In those days, there were lots more connections to Cuba. It was actually a favorite place for people to go spend a long weekend.
As part of the ongoing pilgrimage, many members of the Rose family moved to Key West, Florida, very close to Cuba. You could fly over to Cuba from Key West to spend the day for a very small amount of money, something like $10-$15. My dad wouldn’t let me go even though I begged. I thought it would be so exciting, but he said absolutely, “NO.” He had been, so I guess he knew what he was talking about on my account. He saw definite about it, at least.
My dad became a long distance swimmer when he was a teenager in Tampa, by accident related to the close connections to the nearby island nation, so close and yet so strange and exotic. One afternoon a group of his friends jumped on a boat in Tampa Bay and rode along. My dad joined them not knowing the plan. The boat was a banana boat headed for Cuba. When it was about 5 miles out the boys began jumping off to swim back. Thank goodness for the kindness of one of the boys, who swam along with my dad, teaching him how to pace himself and other things to swim the distance. He was only trying to survive without riding all the way to Cuba that day, but he became a long distance swimmer. He didn’t have to go to Cuba that day and I never made it to Cuba either. But who knows what happy accidents may still await us there?