23 agosto 2013 viernes
How quickly two months have passed since my last visit to the USA!!… Why this last visit you wonder? Well, a joyous family reunion to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. An impressive milestone to which I aspire.
Being the typical American family, we are scattered across the landscape of the USA and beyond, so it is a major effort to get all of us in one location. My siblings and families chose the jagged mountains of Estes Park, Colorado as our reunion location. And at 8,000+ ft of altitude, we enjoyed being that much closer to the sun and stars. I logged the greatest number of miles, flying in from Guatemala, but the arrival of everyone was well choreographed.
Any of you who have ever organized a family reunion truly understand the logistical challenges and important details. Through a multitude of emails we checked in: Towels provided? Yes. Food preferences? Keep it simple and don’t be too picky. Games? Of course, bring them on….for instance, Bananagrams made the final cut, providing moments of creative spelling and laughter (I highly recommend this interactive crossword game). Yep, the plans all worked out in the end.
Sometimes when I am relaxing in my cozy studio space in San Bartolo with the radio playing American songs (as I am at this very moment) I can trick myself into thinking that I don’t live so far away. But for each trek northward I am jerked back to the reality that I live in Central and not North America after suffering through multiple flights and delays. I always arrive wearily into the embraces of my two grown children, Alex and Michelle. This Christmas and New Year’s it will be their turn again to fly down to my territory of Guatemala. Several times I have spread my map across my table several times, dreamily planning our new adventures…if you checked out a recent posting, Semuc Champey with its magical blue pools and exciting spelunking will be one stop. Of course, we also have to visit Tikal, the impressive Mayan city excavated in the jungle of northern Guatemala and the beautiful Lake Atitlan. This family trip will be a great celebration of the end of my Peace Corps service!!
Switching gears back to our time in Colorado. Not surprisingly, Alex who is an avid bicyclist, prodded Michelle and me onto some loaner bikes to explore Boulder, Colorado and beyond. Borrowing Alex’s bikes required some creative riding on tiptoe even with lowered seats….our 5’5” frames are considerably smaller than his 6’3” frame, but with a little pain and willpower we managed. Downtown Boulder was bursting alive with street musicians and pedestrians; so great to see a vibrant downtown.
At our rental home in Estes Park, we spent our days filling our stomachs with delicious treats then hiking off the calories amongst blue lakes and mountain peaks.
Each family was assigned a cooking day, and I chose Guatemala dishes for our turn. Well, I can report that the breakfast was an easy success of scrambled eggs, fried plantains, corn tortillas, black beans, watermelon, and of course, the very rich hot chocolate from Guatemalan cocoa beans. After all, who doesn’t like chocolate? The evening dish of Chicken Pepian, well, that was a bit more challenging. The blender didn’t muster up to the task I required, so the ingredients of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, pumpkin and sesame seeds ended up more crunchy than intended.
We gave it a good try. If you can’t win on taste, then appeal to another of the senses…so Michelle and I were a vision of Mayan beauty, adorned with handmade aprons (by me!) out of colorful Mayan woven fabric; we at least looked the part!
Most important was just spending time together, reminiscing and creating new memories. After a lifetime of raising a family with its moments of tears, smiles and adventures, it was important for us three children to honor our father for bringing us into this world and surviving to laugh about it.
Our beloved father, Don Wright, got to reign as the wise and revered elder of the family during our time together. Placemats lovingly created with family photos were given to each family member, triggering stories about the moments they captured.
Such as, my children burying their “Poppa Don” up to his neck at a North Carolina beach…big hairdos from the 1980s (glad those are gone forever!)…dance numbers and playful wrestling. Each family has the treasure of an oral history which bears repeating for each new generation. Photos and videos can help spark the memories, but sitting at the knees of our elders and listening to their life story is a priceless reverence and respect, so it was high time for us to share those moments.
Too often we shy away from telling our deepest feelings, even with our closest family members, but I want to share with you a few of my appreciations.
Dear Dad, I thank you with all my heart for the sacrifices you and mom made as we struggled through those early years with us three children born within 4 ½ years and your career in its early steps. I remember the multiple treks across the country by train and car to keep in contact with your Kentucky roots and our extended family. The lessons you imparted are many. You taught me to value hard work carried out with care and compassion, to embrace adventure and an element of mystery, and lastly, to nurture a childlike spirit to remain forever young. ¡Te amo, Dad!
Within a week of my return to my Guatemalan little town, another elder in my life was celebrating a birthday. My neighbor, Doña Paula, a small but feisty octogenarian was celebrating her 83rd birthday! The sentiment of her family members was the same love and reverence although the celebration took on a decidedly different form. During the day, the female family members busied themselves with the preparation of chicken tamales to be served at the evening Evangelical service in her honor. Family members streamed in by car from the capital city five hours away or from Xela a mere 1 ½ hours away. A much simpler assembling of family and one that I envied. Several times a year this extended family reunites for holidays, birthdays, and our town feria. There are now seven grown children out of the original ten children to whom she gave birth. An impressive feat of physical endurance!
As the afternoon on celebration day wound down into evening, a carload of food was sent to the church only a few blocks away. Friends and relatives quietly slipped into their folding chairs after a nod in the direction of the guest of honor, and occasionally offering a hug. A male family member acted as a lay minister, leading the service with Bible readings and hymns. I have learned to follow along to feel more part of the congregation; however, my physical difference is still striking as I tower above the jet black hair of everyone, at my modest height of 5’5”. As the service came to an end, everyone lined up to present their gifts and hug the person of honor. Typical gifts are dishes, towels, and other household items which my neighbor will lovingly store in her cabinet along with many other such items.
Lastly, Doña Paula announced that she would like to sing a few hymns with her friends. So a group of tiny but indomitable elderly women lined up at the front of the church, each worn down by years and many children. Yet they still sang heartily with vigor. At 9:30pm, children and adults were hungrily ready for the hot treat of tamales and coffee. If I remember correctly, I was especially hungry and munched down a second tamale. In my defense, tamales are one of my favorite foods. Left behind was a mound of banana leaves which were the wrappers in which the tamales were steamed….Then voices of everyone sang out “buen provecho” and “gracias” and the congregation of about forty filed out into the cool night air. Another elder honored and revered.
So Happy Birthday to my dear dad and Feliz Cumpleaños to Doña Paula!! The world is certainly a much different place than when you were born 80 and 83 years ago respectively. And yet each of you have adapted and gone with the flow.
I wish you both many more years of health, family love and celebrations…and most importantly, that you keep that childlike wonder in your hearts.