EMBASSY KID: A MEMOIR. Episode 3: How My Mother Got Our Family Through A Revolution (1958, Caracas)

[This is a condensed version of my memoir about my childhood in the Foreign Service during the Cold War. EMBASSY KID is being evaluated for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training]

Episode 2: The Mob Comes Roving

Episode 1: The Dictator Flies Over Our House


My parents watched the procession of looters shuffled by, the sounds of their humble slippers, the Venezuelan alpargatas, mimicking the sound of prairie wheat blown by the wind. The parade disappeared into the night. In just hours, dawn would peak over the Andes, ushering in the first day of Venezuela’s freedom from tyranny.

“It’s going to be a long day,” my father said. ”Might as well get a little sleep.”

My mother lay at his side, eyes shut and mind wide open. Never in a million years had she imagined while growing up in Winona, Minnesota that she’d be a 30-year-old part-time diplomat, mother of two bilingual kids, and boss to a live-in maid, trying desperately to figure out how was she going to her household through a South American revolution.

Dad muttered something in his sleep, and Mom rested her hand on his shoulder. The baby-faced blond GI who’d wooed her at Macalester College had charmed her with his intelligence, wit, and gift of gab, and she knew that her smile, chestnut hair, and dancer’s grace made them look elegant wherever they were. He’d been looking for adventure, and boyohboy they were in it now.

The pitter-patter of little feet told Mom that I was up and in search of Fina, leaving Susie to sleep in for another hour. Slips of quiet Spanish made their way from the maid’s room beyond the kitchen. Mom roused herself to get the coffee water on, an old habit. 

Josefina and Janie, Caracas 1955
Josefina and Janie, Caracas 1955

Fina had become my world when she rescued me, wailing, from the spot between the bed and the wall I wedged myself into the day my parents and I were at the home of another Embassy family. In short order, Fina had moved in with us, and I had my first full-time playmate. Spanish was my first language. After my sister arrived, I knew I could still steal my Fina time first thing in the day. 

I danced into the kitchen in my pink robe and Venezuelan alpargatas sandals. Like baby Susie, my fair hair and blue eyes revealed my parents’ Norwegian heritage. “Buenos días, Mommy!” 

Mom scooped me up. “Good morning to you.” She kissed the top of head, remembering our first year in Caracas when my scant hair and lack of pierced ears had caused caraqueños to think I was a boy. She gave me a squeeze before depositing me onto my regular chair at the little kitchen table. 

Josefina walked in, smoothing the skirt of her cotton dress and tucking back a strand of her black hair. She had on one of the flowered dresses Mom had insisted she wear instead of the head-to-toe black outfit Fina had worn when she first came to work for us. Mom would have no mourning clothes here. To my mother’s midwestern sensibility, somber clothing was appropriate for funerals but not for the everyday wardrobe. Cheerfulness would be the order of the day.

“Fina.” Mom nodded with what she hoped was confidence. There was no need to get her going again.

The living room phone rang. Dad spoke into the receiver briefly. 

“Well, looks like we’ll make it,” Dad called out.

“That’s good,” Mom said, waiting for more.

Fina tied on her apron. “Señora.” She smiled, holding her lips tight over her bad teeth. “Yo me ocupo.” I’ll take it from here. “¿Geni, Corne Flex?” The Kellogg’s cereal was a staple in our house. She poured me a bowl.

Mom smiled to herself, remembering Fina’s first days with us, when she’d carried the box of Betty Crocker cake mix to the breakfast table thinking it was cereal. “Gracias, Fina,” she said, and joined Dad in the living room.

“Well, things are settling down,” he said, “but the communists are emerging. The Boy Scouts, in fact.”

“But that’s an American organization, isn’t it?” Mom said.

“International, but this region is headquartered in good ol’ Havana. So these kids, commie-trained maybe, have seen an opportunity to be helpful, and, damn it if they aren’t doing just that. They’re directing traffic all over town.”

“Well, the craziness of last night could hardly continue,” Mom said.

“It’s been months brewing, Nan, so, no, it’s still crazy,” Dad said. 

Fina brought in their coffee. “¿Algo más?”

No, gracias, Fina,” Mom said. 

The maid nodded and returned to the kitchen where I waited to chat away about our day’s plans. I had no idea anything was going, and Mom wanted to keep it that way. Happy and normal.

“So,” Dad continued, “Things will be more crazy as Caraqueños realize the shackles are gone. Best we stay off the streets for a while longer.”

Janie, Susie, Fina, Caracas 1958
Janie, Susie, Fina, Caracas 1958

And so our little family spent the rest of the day indoors. While Dad kept the telephone tree information flowing through the Embassy, Mom worked up a batch of Grandma Amerson’s lemon bars, and Fina oversaw Susie and me playing in the aluminum washtub next to the cement laundry sink behind the kitchen, keeping an eye out for the rats that lived in the drain. A poison-laced banana had kept the varmints away during my grandparents’ visit. 

The day limped along. Mom typed her weekly letter to her parents. Susie and I played store with Fina in Spanish, had lunch, napped, played dress-up in Mom’s old modern dance costumes and Fina’s Sunday shoes, had dinner. After our baths, we cozied into our hooded towels while Mom read us a bedtime story. If you ignored the radio, it would have been just another family day at home.

But it was my father’s job to stay tuned in. As the press attaché, Dad had developed a wide network of contacts among journalists and newspaper editors, academics, and political players. The American press included trusted contacts as well, like Tad Szulc of the New York Times, who covered the growing resistance to Pérez Jiménez. Many of the Venezuelan journalists and professors Dad first met in 1955 had become involved in clandestine work against the military dictator. Periodically, things would come to a head in their conversations, the Venezuelans questioning how America, beacon of democracy, could support the tyrant. Dad’s personal sentiments bled through his official response. 

Now that the reviled Pérez Jiménez had been overthrown, Dad would be able to celebrate the success of the revolution with his contacts.

If they survived. The radio blared the latest: shots had been fired as a mob surrounded the headquarters of the dreaded national police.1


1Pérez Jiménez’ Seguridad Nacional enforced press censorship, restricted organized labor, and banned political opposition. (Amerson, Robert. How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, The American University Press, 1995. p. 4)

EMBASSY KID: A MEMOIR. Episode 2: The Mob Comes Roving (Caracas, 1958)

[This is a condensed version of my memoir about my childhood in the Foreign Service during the Cold War. EMBASSY KID is being evaluated for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training]

Episode 1: The Dictator Flies Over Our House


Episode 2: The Mob Comes Roving

My father lifted an arm and waved at the corner of the living room ceiling as the sound of the Venezuelan president’sairplane faded away. ”Adios, el president.”

Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55
Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55

Our maid Fina let out a short cry, and my mother shot Dad a look. Wit had its time and place, and the early hours flight into exile of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez was neither. “¿Fina, café?” She said. 

The maid headed to the kitchen, mumbling rosary incantations under her breath. My mother followed to check on Susie and me. We were still curled into our sheets. The resiliency of kids. She walked back into the living room and dropped onto the edge of the couch next to Dad, her hands on her knees as if awaiting instructions.

“The telephone investment seems healthier now, eh?” Dad said. The $250 purchase and $24 a month had been prohibitive when we’d arrived in Venezuela.

“Yes,” Mom said. “Do you think we should call Mother and Dad?”

“Well, no need to alarm your folks, I think. Let them keep the Caracas of their visit.”

“I suppose.” Mom sighed. She was grateful that her parents had avoided this mess when they visited two years before. Tonight, Caracas felt like a different place from the easygoing, eternally springtime city she and Dad had fallen in love with.  

Caracas cityscape 1950s
Caracas cityscape 1950s

My father turned on Radio Caracas. Sporadic news bulletins interrupted the familiar rhythms of Venezuelan folk tunes on the nightly program, Música Criolla. Each announcement reflected a still-evolving scenario. That the completely united army had overthrown the regime. That some army rebels, along with other armed forces and civilians, were taking the credit. That there was violence downtown. Excited voices urged citizens to stay at home, to remain calm, to refrain from harming foreigners.

“So, should we be doing something?” my mother said. “What’s the plan?”

Dad turned down the radio and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “We’re to sit tight. Hard to tell what’s going to happen, but better to be here together than to get caught up by a crowd in the street.”

He wasn’t sure how much my mother had heard about the deadly chaos of rampaging mobs in the coup d’état that had brought PJ to power in 1952.  The folks at the Canadian Embassy had approached their American counterparts several months before about consolidating evacuations. That had seemed like a remote possibility, but maybe not anymore. 

Caracas neighborhood 1950s
Caracas neighborhood 1950s

The Embassy was in downtown Caracas, several miles away from Zucatarate, the tree-lined residential neighborhood on the western edge of town where we and several other Embassy families lived. It was time to touch base with one of those colleagues. 

“Let me give Russ a call.” Dad spoke quietly into the receiver as Fina arrived with the coffee. 

“¿Algo mas?” the maid said. 

My mother forced her lips into a smile.“No, gracias, Fina.” 

The maid nodded. “Pues, buenas noches.” Fina returned to her room. 

My mother nodded and took a sip of the strong brew. None of that wimpy American coffee down here. There was so much they truly loved about this place. She took another sip, allowing the liquid heat to relax her back into the sofa. 

Dad hung up the phone and turned the radio back up a bit. “Okay, so maybe there’s something,” 

My mother snapped to high alert.

“We may want to hide the car,” he said.

“Hide the car?”

“They’re looking for PJ’s head honchos. Russ just had a mob in front of their house thinking his diplomatic plates were Venezuelan issue for the regime. Lucky for them, the men headed down the block before Russ shot his gun.”

“His gun?” Mom sat up straighter. “We don’t have a gun.” She paused. “Dad’s hunting gun.” Her father had given his duck-hunting rifle to Dad.

“Well, yes, we have your father’s gun, but no, I don’t think it’s going to come to that.”

The radio crackled as an enthusiastic announcer broke in. “¡Periodistas!” Newspaper editors! He continued in Spanish. “You are finally free. Tell the public that the dictator is gone!”

“Imagine that,” my father said. “An uncensored paper. First time in ten years.”

“The car?” my mother prompted. The diplomatic plates on the Oldsmobile sitting in our driveway a few feet from the street could easily be confused with those issued for the Venezuelan government. “Do you think maybe we should put out the American flag? I mean, we’re the good guys, right?”

My father considered the suggestion. “Well, we know we’re the good guys,” he said, “but I’m not so sure everyone agrees. Better play it safe. Got some Crisco?”

My mother retrieved the blue tub from the refrigerator. Dad scooped out a handful. He opened the front door slowly, paused, and stepped out. The air was still and heavy with the scent of ripe mango. The pop-pop-pop of fireworks echoed from downtown, or was that gunfire? 

My mother huddled in the doorway as Dad took three long strides across the little yard to the Oldsmobile and crouched down to smear the license plate with grease and dirt. Satisfied, he hurried back inside. My mother shut the door and secured the lock. 

Dad turned off the radio. “Let’s try to get some sleep.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when a car careened around our corner, brakes screeching, horn blaring in defiance of Pérez Jiménez’ edict against honking. My mother froze, her eyes wide. Would the Olds’ camouflage work? Would my grandfather’s shotgun be necessary? But the driver and his euphoric passengers flew by cheering and continued toward downtown.

“Like winning the big game,” Dad said, downplaying the anxious moment with a shrug of his shoulders. Another car swept loudly past. “I think all the action’s downtown. Nothing more to do except get that rest. It’s going to be a long day.”

Caracas photo image late 1950s
Caracas photo image late 1950s

Mom looked in on us girls again. Susie and I were still fast asleep, untroubled by the noise and innocent of the drama unfolding around us. Mom wondered if she’d be up to the task of creating a routine in a city that was in chaos. My preschool would be closed, so both us kids would be home, and Mom hoped that Dad would stay home as well. She’d need to watch Fina. Susie and I would absorb her mood without understanding it. Everything needed to be normal.

She climbed back into bed.

“Everyone okay?” Dad said.

“So far.”

They lay still, eyes closed and ears open. Another few cars gunned past. In the distance, car horns bleated off-key against the staccato rhythms of gunfire. The night wore on. 

As dawn made its tentative advance, they heard a whispering from the street, like prairie grass in the summer wind. It grew steadily louder. They crept to the living room window and peered through the glass slats and metal bars. Out of the fading night emerged a parade of men and women, their passage marked by the soft whoosh-whoosh of the alpargata slippers worn by the people that lived in the shacks up the hill. It was like an Easter processional, only instead of the statue of a saint, each person carried a chair or a television or a file cabinet.

“Looters,” my father said. “They’ve broken into the police station.”

Next time from EMBASSY KID: A MEMOIR: How this young Midwestern family — a farm boy and a small town girl, and their two daughters — found themselves in Venezuela

EMBASSY KID: A MEMOIR. Episode 1: The Dictator Flies Over Our House (Caracas, 1958)

[This is a condensed version of my book about being raised in the Foreign Service during the Cold War. EMBASSY KID is being evaluated for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training]

Read the Preface: EMBASSY KID: Preface

Part I: The Dictator Flies Over Our House

They were awakened by the telephone. My father was on his feet and halfway to the living room as my mother glanced at the clock. 3AM. It must be family back home in Minnesota, a very long way from Venezuela. She reached for her robe and hurried to join my father as he spoke into the receiver.

“Bob Amerson here.”

My mother’s eyes widened as she waited. 

“Roger that.” My father hung up. “That was Harry.” Harry Casler, Dad’s boss, was covering the Embassy lines this week. 

Mom exhaled in relief as she plopped down on the sofa. It wasn’t a death in the family. Dad continued. “It’s happening — PJ is finally out.” 

“Oh,” Mom said, her voice tight. 

President Pérez Jiménez — PJ, as they called him at the Embassy — was the ruthless Venezuelan dictator who’d wielded power since before we’d arrived in Caracas.  Clandestine political movements and dissident elements within the military had risen up against the Pérez Jiménez regime, because of corruption, restrictions on civil rights, downright torture. Everybody knew of something that they could blame the Pérez Jiménez regime for. Finally, on January 23, the pressure had forced the dictator out.

Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55
Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55

“Harry said he’s flying into exile, just took off from La Carlota near the palace.” Dad spoke over his shoulder as he went to retrieve his slippers and bathrobe. “So we should hear him overhead in a couple of minutes.” 

“The girls,” my mother said, trying to keep her voice low but insistent. He was going to wake up my baby sister and three-year-old me. 

Dad rejoined her in the living room. “Okay,” he said. “We knew things were about to break loose. The Junta Patriótica strike got all that rioting going on downtown, and they’ve finally succeeded in ousting PJ.”

Dad’s network of contacts within the underground resistance had kept the Embassy abreast of what was a highly combustible situation. 

“But who’s going to stop the rioters now?” Mom said. If Pérez Jiménez was out, so was his security police. 

“That’s what makes this moment so interesting,” Dad said. 

Mom’s nostrils flared. This was not an academic exercise. Her family’s safety came first. “With Janie and Susie down the hall?” 

Dad gave her a quick hug. “The bad guy is out. The good guys are in,” he said. “There might even be a chance for democracy. And what a front-row seat. Just think, this might have happened while we were on home leave last year back in the States.”

“Yes, that would have been…” Mom’s words trailed off.  It would have been so much better to be safely in the Midwest while this crazy country figured itself out. But that wasn’t the deal they’d signed up for with Washington. The deal was adventure, and this was sure it.

“I’ll go see to the girls.” 

Mom walked down the short hallway to the second bedroom and swung open the door. Susie was soundly asleep, curled around her baby blanket. And if the telephone had awakened me, I had dropped back into toddler dreams.


My mother jumped. Josefina’s unshod feet hadn’t given her away as the maid approached from her room behind the kitchen. Like us, Fina, as we called her, was one of the many European migrants that had flooded oil-rich Venezuela seeking work. Maybe because we were all foreigners, maybe because we needed each other, or maybe because Fina simply adored us girls, she’d become part of our little family. 

Me, Fina, Susie

My mother closed the bedroom door and assumed the authoritative role that she’d grown into over the past three years. La señora de la casa, the lady of the house, couldn’t betray her nerves, even though it still felt pretty unreal to this modest Midwesterner to have a maid.

“Josefina,” Mom said quietly. “Pérez Jiménez se va.” 

The long-awaited news of the dictator’s departure alarmed the maid. “¡Ay Dios mio!” 

Cálmese,” my mother said. She put a steadying hand on Fina’s sturdy shoulder. 

Las niñas.” Fina made a move toward the bedroom door.

Mom tightened her grip. The last thing they needed right now was two kids worrying about why they were awake in the middle of the night. 

My mother looked Fina in the eye. “Cálmese,” she repeated, as if she were telling one of us girls to settle down. She could do more with a quiet tone and a look than an excitable mother could do with a yell. 

Mom steered Fina down the hall and into the living room, where Dad had settled into the soft, pheasant-print sofa, a wedding gift from his parents back on the farm in South Dakota. The contrast between the Midwestern prairie images and the bright colors and fruity smells of Caracas normally coaxed a smile, but tonight the distance felt much farther than 3,000 miles. Sitting and waiting didn’t help.

“How about some coffee?” Mom said.

My father opened his mouth to respond, then looked up to the ceiling, and he raised an index finger. “Harry said we’d hear the plane. And here it comes.”

The two women followed his gaze. A palmetto bug scurried across the ceiling toward the corner over the bookcase. The faint rumble of a propeller airplane sounded in the distance, growing louder as it approached. It built to a roar. As the airplane thundered overhead, the bug dropped to the linoleum, and the glass ashtray on the coffee table trembled. The sound slowly diminished into nothing.  

Dad half-raised a hand. “Adios, el presidente.”

Next Tuesday: Chapter One, Part II: The mob comes roving.

Venezuelan Diplomacy, Part III

Caracas, January 1958
The Venezuelan president Pérez Jiménez has fled the country overnight in the lumbering propeller plane “The Sacred Cow”. Caraqueños awaken to the chaos of freedom.

La Vaca Sagrada, in which Marcos Pérez Jiménez fled to the Dominican Republic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Venezuelan_coup_d%27état

Mom lay listening to the looters shuffle by, wondering how she had ended up in a South American revolution 3,000 miles from home. None of it made any sense. By rights, she should be waking up in Winona, ready for a day managing the family store and planning a tuna hot-dish dinner. Instead, she was a Foreign Service wife managing a household with a maid who’d made Spanish her children’s first language while their mother cut up tea sandwiches at the Ambassador’s home. Her head spun.

As Dad lay on the other side of the bed, the excitement of what was taking place made him almost twitch. Being in the middle of a country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy was exactly where he wanted to be.

He’d hit the ground running on his first day at work three years earlier: the Ambassador’s annual Fourth of July party was a command performance for all Embassy staff. Dad had informally met his Embassy colleagues, both those with USIS and those with economic, political and military portfolios. President Marcos Perez Jimenez was the latest in a series of military dictators who ruled the oil-rich country. The regime’s anti-communist agenda had won PJ the tacit support of Washington, and his second-in-command, Pedro Estrada, kept a lid on dissent with his Seguridad Nacional secret police. American oil companies were growing rich and the American expatriate community numbered over 20,000.

American Creole Petroleum Corporation (in Maracaibo) world’s number one oil producer until 1951 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_Petroleum_Corporation#/media/File:Letrero_de_Creole,_San_vicente.jpg

As the Embassy’s Press Attaché, Dad had developed personal relationships with journalists, professors and students for three years, maintaining an active presence in the Caracas newspapers and television programming with pro-American articles and programs. Journalists, along with university professors and students, had been involved in clandestine work against the military dictatorship for months. The Embassy was officially hands-off, not taking a public stand against repression, but the underground leadership looked to the American democratic experience for guidance. With PJ’s overthrow, the revolution had succeeded, and Dad would soon be able to celebrate with his contacts who knew where his personal sympathies lay.

January 23, 1958

The pitter-patter of little feet told my parents that I was up first, as usual, and had gone in search of Fina; Susie would sleep in for another hour. Slips of quiet Spanish made their way from the maid’s room beyond the kitchen. It was Mom’s cue to get moving: she’d have coffee ready and cereal out by the time Fina and I came into the kitchen, the maid in one of the flowered dresses Mom had insisted she wear instead of the head-to-toe black outfit she’d worn when they’d met. Although Fina was only a few years older than my parents, she’d already experienced the loss of family and friends in the Spanish Civil War, and she wore the traditional dark mourning clothes of an old lady. Mom would have none of it: her girls needed a happy environment, and freeing Fina from luto had allowed her to become a powerfully positive influence on us little girls.

Mom hadn’t realized quite how much our whole family had connected with Fina, and with Caracas, until we spent a month back in Minnesota the previous summer. It was what the Department of State called Home Leave: a required visit to the United States hometown every few years to reconnect Foreign Service officers and their families with America. We cycled through the obligatory gatherings of family and friends in Winona and the Twin Cities, greeted like foreign dignitaries. As good as it was to see family, Mom and Dad realized how much they, and their view of the world, had changed. After the initial thrall, the family’s attention span was reliably short. In truth, people did not really have much interest in hearing about some far off place that meant little to them.

Divorced from old home connections, we headed home to Caracas. Home, to our too small, ground-floor apartment where street noises and the occasional flying cockroach came in through the open window vents. Home to a waiting Spanish-speaking Josefina, whose “Ay, mi amor!” as she scooped up her babies was matched by immediate joyful cries of recognition. Home again, in a foreign land. It was a funny feeling.

Mom was putting the coffee water on when the phone rang. Dad pulled on his bathrobe as he walked to the living room. He picked up the phone. “Hello.” He nodded. “Yes, all fine here.”

Mom craned her head, trying to pick up the conversation.

“OK, roger that,” Dad said. He hung up and walked into the kitchen. “Well, looks like we’ll make it.” He smiled and patted Mom’s shoulder.

“That’s good,” she said, waiting for more. She poured Dad a cup of coffee.

Buenos días, Mommy!”  I danced into the kitchen, Fina’s pilot fish. 

Mom scooped me up. “Good morning to you.” She gave me a faceful of squeeze and deposited me onto my regular chair at the little kitchen table. “Fina.” Mom nodded with what she hoped was confidence. There was no need getting everyone going again, least of all the kids. 

Fina finished tying on her apron. “Señora,” Fina said. “Yo me ocupo.” I’ll take it from here. She smiled, holding her lips tight over her bad teeth. She found a saucer to go with Dad’s coffee cup and handed it to him and then turned to me. “Geni, Corne Flex?” The Kellogg’s cereal was a staple in our house. She poured me a bowl.

Mom followed Dad back to the living room, balancing her cup and saucer like the dancer she had been before getting married. She sat on the edge of the pheasant-print sofa. Dad sat by the telephone, his coffee balanced on a knee. “Well, things are settling down but the communists are emerging. The Boy Scouts, in fact.”
“But that’s an American organization, isn’t it?” Mom said.
“International, but this region is headquartered in good ol’ Havana. So these commie-trained kids have seen an opportunity to be helpful, and, damn it if they aren’t doing just that.”
“Well, the craziness of last night could hardly continue,” Mom said, sitting back on the pheasant-print sofa.
“It’s been months brewing, Nan, so, no, it’s still crazy. Probably’ll get more so as these Caraqueños realize the shackles are off. Best we stay off the street for a while longer.”

And so our little family stayed indoors the rest of the day. While Dad kept the telephone tree information flowing through the Embassy, Mom worked up a batch of lemon bars and Fina oversaw Susie and me playing in the aluminum washtub next to the cement laundry sink behind the kitchen, keeping an eye out for the rat that lived in the drain. A poison-laced banana had kept the varmint away during my grandparents’ visit. The day limped along for the adults while Susie and I chatted away in Spanish, had lunch, played some more, had dinner. After our baths, Susie and I cozied into our hooded towels while Mom read us a bedtime story. h

Meanwhile, enraged mobs surrounded the headquarters of the dreaded Seguridad Nacional. The National Guard, initially supposed to control the crowd, fired on the fortress instead when the trapped secret police began shooting at the crowd. When the police were smoked out, hundreds of political prisoners, some barely able to walk, emerged into the arms of their families and friends. A junta of military and civilians from the underground movement emerged in control, but mobs continued battling throughout the city for the next three days, causing the death of hundreds, and thousands more were wounded. Looting slowly ebbed.

A fragile democracy took shape. The secret police were no more. Venezuelan citizens had liberty for the first time since 1810.  And, for the first time in a decade, Venezuelans could read uncensored newspapers.

Clandestine revolutionaries were now in positions of leadership in the government, the media and the business community. The new political scheme gave Dad’s job new meaning. He had made many good friends among the local press and radio people in producing the television program he’d created for USIS, Venezuela Mira a Su Futuro, and now he could enjoy the new freedom of tapping into a diverse pool of journalists. The programming at the bi-national Centro Cultural expanded as well, drawing in larger and more relaxed audiences. The Embassy’s lending library saw books flying off the shelf. 

Dad had also been taken into the confidences of a number of very prominent people who were upset about their country’s conditions and wanted an understanding ear. A few days into the new Venezuela, Mom and Dad were invited to a small dinner party at the home of a newspaper editor just returned from forced exile to Bolivia. The other men at the party had been jailed by the secret police, one for six years. They asked Dad how the American government could support a suppressive government while preaching democracy. Dad’s personal feelings must have bled a little into the official answer — the Embassy practiced a policy of non-intervention — and his reputation was such that his questioners averred their friendship with him and the people of the United States.  

Dad and Mom’s cross-cultural communication responsibilities grew richer as the new democracy settled into the business of governing. USIA beefed up the cultural envoy trips: Nat King Cole, fresh from the Tropicana in Havana; Aaron Copeland; Louis Armstrong; Woody Herman. Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic flew down for a May 1 concert at Central University, where they played the Venezuelan national anthem with appropriate emotion in counterpoint to the May Day labor union march downtown. Dad got a kick out of watching Lennie work his renowned charm at a press conference, with Dad doing the interpreting. The headlines in the local newspapers the next day spoke of “international understanding.” 

Conductor Leonard Bernstein

Mom and Dad resumed evening hours’ “representation” at cocktail parties, dinners and other social obligations. Embassy staff to continued their comradely entertainment habits. I went back to preschool at Kinder Mickey. My mother resumed her visits to the Military Club swimming pool with Susie and me, holding me up by the back of my suit as Susie played on the shallower steps. 

The eternal springtime of Caracas worked its magic. All was well again.