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Tampa man's book chronicles his boyhood in Castro's Cuba

The grandmother stood holding a broom in the back yard of her Cuban home while chickens scurried about.

In the eyes of 10-year-old Eduardo "Eddy" Calcines, she looked like Goliath with a sword.

Then she asked him to do what he deemed unthinkable: kill one of the chickens with his bare hands. He pleaded with her that he wasn't ready for this ritual, a baptism into manhood in 1960s Cuba.

"Pleading did me no good," said Calcines, now a 53-year-old hair stylist and aspiring author. "After chasing the chicken for a while, I said, 'Grandma, maybe if I chase it a little longer, it'll die of a heart attack.' "

Finally, he caught the chicken, his pet. He twisted the neck as hard as he could while turning his head away.

"I threw the chicken on the ground and it tumbled 10 times, as chickens tend to do when you kill them," Calcines said wryly.

"Then it got up and ran away.''

Calcines laughs at the thought but humor is only part of the story.

Ask about his childhood struggles in the early years of the Castro regime, and he will tell you how the government shut down the family business, how his father and uncles were carted away to work camps.

He will describe how his mother baked cakes so he could help sell them on the black market, putting his own life in peril.

But he also will tell you about funny moments like "the chicken story." And how he escaped his fears by turning the roof of his grandparents' home into his private fantasy land.

"When people go through great struggles in life, like some of us there did early on, I think you develop an escape," Calcines said. "I detached myself from the horror."

Calcines is as engaging as his stories.

He has cut hair in Tampa for 30 years. In 2001, he moved his business from a Waters Avenue location into his home so he could begin concentrating on a book about his family's escape from the Castro regime.

The idea centered on chronicling the stories for his family's future generations. The inspiration came in part from a dream that made him snap out of bed at 4 a.m.

"I had been dreaming of my childhood friend Rolando, who had been the one who wanted to leave Cuba the most," Calcines said. "His brother Raul would always try to calm him down because all you needed was an accusation against you and you could be harshly treated by the Communist regime. He had to stay in Cuba and he eventually died from a lightning strike.

"I woke up with tears in my eyes."

The moment helped Calcines realize he had a responsibility to humanize the Cuban struggle and de-politicize the 50-year debate.

I find his passion captivating, and I'm not alone.

Next spring, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a major New York house, will publish Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro.

That's all I'm saying.

Tampa man's book chronicles his boyhood in Castro's Cuba 08/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 4:40pm]
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