Kelli and the Contras

(or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Fact That My Wife was Almost the Mistress of a Counter-Revoluntionary”)

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”  Of the hundreds of commands, laws and bits of helpful advice in the Bible, this one always strikes me as particularly modern…and patently unfair. Shouldn’t mothers be included in that prohibition as well? Just because you have a uterus doesn’t mean you get an exasperate-with-abandon pass. 

Frankly, if you’re not exasperating your children as a parent, you’re probably not doing it right. Our parents did it to us. Now we pass it along to our children. It’s a dysfunctional family heirloom, passed with bile and selfishness through the generations. Mazeltov!

And it’s not as if the exasperation ever ends. All it takes is a visit from the parents to remember that.

I recall a time when my in-laws had especially exasperated my wife, Kelli, a few years ago.  She was complaining about their penchant for taking any special moment in her life and co-opting it for themselves.

“It’s just like,” she began. That simple simile transformed itself into a bombshell of absurdity against which I was not adequately shielded. “It’s just like that time they cancelled my 18th birthday party so they could host a dinner for the Contras.”

Wait. The what!?

Contras having a smoke. Photo by Tiomono. (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Time for a history lesson: for those too young or too drunk during the 80s to recall, the Contras were a band of Nicaraguan guerillas fighting to overthrow the Communist-leaning Sandinistas, who themselves had recently overthrown the ruling dictatorship.

Here in the U.S., the Contras were known primarily as the beneficiaries of a complicated scheme operated by certain intelligence agencies to sell weapons to Iran and then use those proceeds to finance the counter-revolution. There was one little problem: it was all illegal.

Here in the 21st century, where one president can invade a country based on sketchy intel and even sketchier logic – without provocation – and another can use our military to aid a civilian uprising in another – again, without provocation – outlawing the Iran-Contra Affair may seem quaint. But the 1980s were a simpler time, embracing idealistic notions like the rule of law and a functioning system of checks and balances.

History lesson over.

“The time they did what for the who?” Oh, yes. It was these moments, when I was at my most intellectual, that made her want me.

“The time they cancelled my 18th birthday party so they could have that dinner for the Contras,” she replied, her tone making clear her irritation at having to repeat herself. “I told you about that. You know, when the Comandante kept hitting on me?”

I said "guerilla," not "gorilla." Stupid editors...

My slack-jawed expression made it perfectly clear she had not, in fact, ever told me even the slightest hint of this story. So for the next hour, she unspooled the tale. Her parents scrapped her pool party at the last minute, making way for a reception for CMA, or Civilian Material Assistance. The purported function of CMA was to provide food and clothing to the victims of the Nicaraguan war. Kelli’s father was a card-carrying member, and she often tagged along out of sheer boredom.

However, CMA had previously stood for Civilian Military Assistance – that is, prior to Congress outlawing their pesky habit of sending weapons to the Contras. A change of law and a change of name didn’t necessarily equate to a change in purpose, as Kelli soon discovered. At one of their meetings, she spied CMA volunteers wrapping gun parts in donated clothing and hiding bullets in cereal boxes. (All I ever got in my Froot Loops was some stupid stickers. What a rip.)

Present at the annual CMA conference that year?  A Contra Comandante and his key lieutenants. For some reason, Kelli’s parents’ house was deemed just the place to fete them.  Why they chose the home of a rank-and-file member – neither wealthy nor influential – I don’t know.  I’m guessing the lack of FBI bugs in the house may have played a role. The leaders of CMA probably couldn’t claim the same of their own houses.

Kelli’s friends were uninvited, because, well, a bunch of teenage girls and their boyfriends could prove a security risk at a secret party for an illegal paramilitary organization. Either that, or her parents just didn’t like the kids. It’s a toss-up.

Apparently, the Contras had a thing for high-waisted jeans.

The Comandante spent his evening awkwardly wooing Kelli with the aid of a Spanish-English dictionary.  He tried to convince her to come away with him to the jungles of Nicaragua to be his mistress.  Surely his wife and children wouldn’t mind.

After spurning the Comandante’s advances, Kelli capped off a surreal party with even more surreality. In a quarry deep in the north Alabama countryside, the trunk of a large American sedan creaked open. Inside were dozens of really big guns.

A commenter on this site once defined a Real Southern Man as loving “God, guns and guts.” CMA was full of that type of Southern man. And they helped Kelli ring in her adulthood with a ceremonial firing of machine guns.

Two weeks later, Kelli left for college, and her days as an unwitting arms smuggler left with her.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been a little jealous at the thought of Kelli’s would-be Contra Affair. Though I’ve never seen a picture of the Comandante, I couldn’t get the image of him out of my mind’s eye: bandoliers loaded with ammo and grenades strapped across his bronze chest, a machine gun in one hand, a blood-soaked machete in the other, a Spanish-English dictionary in his pocket and a rose clenched between his teeth…thorns and all.

Even at my cleverest, I can’t compete with swarthy.  I can’t even tan. In fact, I think I actually give off light. Women don’t swoon over bioluminescence.

But a Real Southern Man doesn’t obsess over such things. He takes a lady at her word. And the three words I’ve heard from her repeatedly these last fifteen years will trump swarthy any day.

Finally, I should mention this happened in 1990, more than two years after the Iran-Contra hearings. Even after a man named North had taken the fall for renegade foreign policy, men of the South were still fighting the illegal fight. Of course, Southern men always were suckers for a lost cause.

(EDITORS NOTE: Kelli has since given up her uterus, but is holding on to her exasperate-with-abandon pass, thank you very much.)

7 Responses to “Kelli and the Contras”

  1. Three words: Awe. Some. SAUCE!

  2. Big deal. Hitler’s ghost appears to me each night and sexually harasses me.

  3. @ Nicklaus … that’s hilarious! BTW, do you dream in the History Channel’s HD color? … or SD B&W?

  4. HOLY CATS, someone said Awesome Sauce. @Deborah, I LOVE that you said Awesome sauce! I thought some little 3rd grade Joker in my son’s class just made it up (though he cracks me up, adore that little Joker). Who knew it was a “real” phrase????? BTW, great article 🙂

  5. I don’t even know what to say. I am speechless and that so rarely happens….


  1. Real Southern Men Bring the Funny | Real Southern Men - June 15, 2011

    […] Finally, Wayne Franklin faces his own insecurities in light of his wife’s birthday party with Nicaraguan Contras. […]

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