Recollections of Unusual Times 1

The Smugglers:

My first memories are of Majorca.  My mother and father had retreated to this desert island off the east coast of Spain in 1952 after having coming under attack by Senator Joe McCarthy, who planned to summon him to appear before the Committee on un-American Activities. My father was no closet communist, but this hearing would have  undoubtedly exposed a brief “marriage” that occurred as a consequence of an unintended pregnancy. He resigned from the Foreign Service rather than put his mother through the ordeal of learning about this liaison during these infamous hearings.

“Charlie” as he was known to his many friends, was famous for setting up diplomatic missions in the most difficult areas of the world, such as Moscow in 1932, Kabul in 1940 and even serving “behind the lines” with Tito and his partisans in 1944. By 1952, he was about to be nominated as our first ambassador to Yugoslavia. But then McCarthy got wind of this scion of a Philadelphia family who’s diplomatic exploits made him vulnerable to accusation of complicity with the Soviets.

So it was that in 1952, my father and mother piled their belongings into an old Buick and a Jeep with a trailer and drove south from Germany, through Switzerland and France and across the Pyrenees into Spain. Majorca photo by Rolf ZimmerLooking at old photographs, we see them standing next a sad little convoy like refugees fleeing the vicissitudes of destiny so common during the war. But my parents were not fleeing invasions, pogroms or even the poverty of the dust bowl, they were fleeing to a remote Mediterranean island to escape the persecution of a vengeful state.

In Majorca they had leased a house in place called Cala San Vincente,  just north of Pollenca, the northernmost village on the island.  I don’t remember much of this house except for its white washed stone walls and the expansive terraces paved with reddish terracotta tiles.  The house overlooked a small beach, where I can remember playing in the surf.  The house had some  electricity, but no running water.  But we hadCala San Vicente 1 - Majorca a well from which we drew our water.  In addition to our two vehicles we owned a donkey called Maria Tina.  She was a patient beast, but on occasion was known to kick.  I do recall one instance, when she knocked me down with her kick. I ran crying to my father, but once consoled over my ignominious defeat, I marched back out to the courtyard and delivered my own kick to her shins. I remember her looking around in surprise  struck me and knocked me on to the select dusty driveway.  I was so incensed that I immediately picked myself up, marched over to the donkey and kicked her back.

Cala San Vincente 2 - MajorcaThis was an awful time for my mother and father.  They had just been forced into exile, because my father had been accused of being a communist sympathizer. My father had been a promising US Foreign Service Officer looking forward to his appointment as the first US Ambassador to Yugoslavia. At the age of 22, just out of West Point he had been sent to Moscow to set up the first US Embassy in the Soviet Union. It was my father that bought Spaso House, which later became the official residence of the US Ambassador. He spent 15 years in the Soviet Union helping to craft a successful relationship during the time that we were allied with the Russians. Eventually he was dropped behind enemy lines to serve as a liaison to Marshall Tito, who’s partisans were fighting the Germans in Yugoslavia. In 1942 he was sent to Afghanistan to train the Afghan Mujahadeen to fight the Persians who were expected to declare for the Axis. He was both a gifted diplomat, but also a very resourceful operator whom they used to great advantage in critically dangerous missions. Yet, with the war over, he was now being racked over the coals because of this maverick style and outspoken opinions. The Department of State  cut my father loose and left him to face McCarthy’s infamous HUAC hearings on his own.

Coming from an old and respected Philadelphia family, my father refused to subject his family to such a public  spectacle which would have deeply humiliated his mother. He had little choice but to resign his position as the Consul General for the US zone of occupied Germany. This resignation meant that he was effectively”blackballed” and unemployable in the US. With little income with which to support themselves, my mother and father needed an inexpensive place to live. They ultimately sought refuge in the remotest place on the European continent – an arid and desolate island in the western Mediterranean.

This was a hideous time when people who had served their country faithfully and under extreme conditions were rewarded by being summarily forced from public service.  And indeed they were often forced into exile for lack of domestic employment options.  I can recall from later conversations, how my father lamented the fate of other talented colleagues, one of whom had been forced to move to South America and began a new life running a sawmill in the jungles of Peru. The family pictures of my mother and father, standing alongside their pathetic little convoy and smiling determinedly, are a poignant reminder of the bitterness that was laced those postwar years.  Standing next to them.  You can see my sister band about 10 years old.  Along with us.  We brought a governess, Maria Frank, who took care of me.  My mother taught my sister using the materials developed by the Calvert School, a homeschooling system used by many of our diplomats in postings where other schooling was not available.

In addition to our governess, our family compound included a Majorcan couple that served as our maid and butler, Maria and Pepe. My fondest memories of that time are in the company of Maria and Pepe in who’s company I was usually to be found. One memory in particular stands out.  It must’ve been after my normal bedtime, because it was already dark when Pepe took me by the hand as we walked to one of the highest balconies facing the sea.  Pepe was carrying a lantern and as we stood there, he began to swing a lantern back and forth all the while peering out toward the sea. This went on for about a quarter of an hour.  Every so often Pepe would pause to scan the dark horizon, and eventually he was rewarded when out of the gloom a tiny light could be seen blinking out amongst the dark waves.  After a while he would resume waving the lantern back and forth.  But then he took me by the hand again, and we descended to the ground floor and continued out toward the beach. We stood there in the dark with the waves lapping at our feet for quite some time, or so it seemed to me. Soon I began to hear the noise of oar locks creaking rhythmically as a rowboat approached the beach.  Someone jumped out of the craft and came up the beach. Pepe went down to the shoreline to meet him exchanging greetings in the ubiquitous Majorcan dialect. He handed the man a short list whereupon the sailor quickly pushed the prow of the boat back out through the combers that were surging up the beach. In the gloom of darkness the figure jumped back aboard the craft and it was soon receding into the darkness. For a while I could hear the creaking of his oars, but then the only sound was that of the waves rushing up the stony shore.