“You know that life has its little ups and downs Like ponies on a merry-go-round. And no one gets the brass ring every time But I don’t mind. She wears a gold ring on her finger And I’m so glad she’s mine.”
I often find myself humming or thinking those lines from the Charlie Rich song because I’ve come to the place where I can look back on my 75 years knowing that I’ve had my share of ups and downs. I have reached equilibrium and recognize I’ve always had it.
People who have followed my life or significant segments of it are aware of the high points and the depths. Some of the highs have been exceptional moments or even years for anyone’s life. Some of the lows have been tragic and path-altering. Still, I am here with some time ahead of me and a wonderful partner to share it with.
There have been people in my life who have influenced the directions I have taken and some whose good counsel I have rebuffed much to my dismay in hindsight. Some have given me much. From others I took much. Almost all had something to offer that might have helped eliminate or diminish the aforementioned lows. I am thankful for their being part of my life and I am sorry for pain I have caused them.
I am not going to compare and certainly not rate wives, girlfriends, and lovers. I have loved one continuously for my entire life. She knows who she is. But there has been no one like Margarita.
Margarita has little formal education and just a rudimentary understanding of the world outside of her limited experience here in El Salvador. But if intelligence measures success in interacting with your own environment, she’s above average. Her world is gender specific. In my world, gender equality and its subsets of (……..) liberation have caused my society to disintegrate and lose its identity in so many areas. Her role is to care for her husband and our children as did the grandmothers of my generation. My role is to provide for her and the kids. Apart from those specifics is the love that has grown from the initial respect we came to know that made us true friends. The needs and emotions common to humankind superseded our obvious and not-so-obvious differences. She needed security; I needed companionship. The children were growing up without experiencing a father; I was growing old without experiencing children other than my students. My own children were grown with children of their own, but I was not “old” despite my years. Each of us had something that the other wanted and needed. I worked for my church; she worked for hers. Yet coming to an agreement about where to congregate was so easy. We’ve both been blessed for our choice to work together.
In many ways I am the square peg needing to fit in the round hole. This is not the culture I grew up in nor the one that my culture has disintegrated into. Margarita has been gently sanding down my sharp edges, my corners, my angles in order to become the cylinder I need to be to survive and move forward. It is not always easy. Language is a problem. Conflicting thought processes are a problem. Relationship to time is a problem. Impatience, the desire and will to do things now as is the gringo way is a big problem. My work ethic as opposed to the local biblical interpretations of certain passages that to me seem to be excuses for not working or preparing or saving or being self-reliant and personally responsible have come between us. Expecting God to provide miraculously rather than recognizing that we He has given us the brains and muscle to overcome most of life’s difficulties is a big difference in the way we see the world. Our world.
We both enjoy watching the other adjust. I’ve had to accustom myself to many things I consider primitive and she to things quite advanced for a girl who’s never owned or seen some of my things. I’ve learned to eat foods I would have thought fit for animals. She’s learned how to eat packaged and canned foods that don’t exactly thrill her either. I’ve learned to shower with tepid to cold water…if there is water and to find things to do when there’s either no electricity or no Internet connection. She’s learned to use a washing machine, a micro wave oven, to cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator and to make ice cubes in the freezer. I’ve learned to bargain shop in the public market. She’s learned to enjoy some higher quality clothing, housewares, and even jewelry from department stores.
The kids have all benefitted by having more space than they’ve ever enjoyed, by living a short walk to their schools rather than the 1 1/2 mile hike they used to trek, by having books, games, bikes and real toys for the little ones and computer access for research for the adult and almost adult kids. They have friends here in town rather than living in isolation with few contacts other than family and fear when it turned dark. There are after school and “summer” programs. Luís has organized soccer. He and Adriana are both attending Vacation Bible School at the end of our block. They’re learning hygiene and sanitation, rational thinking and ordered living, how to plan for a reasonable future…and how to blow it. Being able to provide these life-changing things is my joy.
My pain is in waiting for the two little ones, nine and seven, to understand what a father’s love is all about. That it’s not just new toys, an unexpected piece of clothing, a bus ride to San Salvador and some special food treats, or a couple of hours of Nickelodeon so Adriana will sit on the recliner with me. It’s more than the doctor and dentist visits they wouldn’t have. It’s not the gifts that friends in the U.S. regale them with. Love has to be learned. It may be a little bit harder when that love didn’t begin at their birth.
So, life has its little ups and downs. Going from single status to married with four children has taken a toll on the savings with which I’d hope to buy a piece of land and build a house. So we rent and I pray that Juan will get a good-paying job and he’ll move to the old house in Casa Blanca that he’s got plans to improve. I pray that María 17 and a culturally acceptable dropout will marry her boy friend and go live with his mother. But while waiting, we’ve been living more austerely than I had imagined. We’re preparing to start raising chickens. At first for our own use. If it works, we’ll try selling them to our neighbors. Home businesses are the way to go here. Not exactly how a Rutgers, Fordham, and California Lutheran University educated man planned to live his senior years, but it’s just fine with me. I trust Margarita to know the things that Rutgers, Fordham, and California Lutheran University never taught me for life in El Refugio. And I pray that God will keep blessing us as individuals with good health and more love, and as a family.