I’ve been retired from any real job for around fifteen years. It’s been a great ride in that I’ve been to places I never would have dreamed of even visiting let alone making my home in any of them. But El Refugio has treated me relatively well compared to my previous fifteen years in California. I’m enjoying my freedom, my church and community, but most of all my family. Not to take anything away from 3/4 of my previous wives or most of my girlfriends, Margarita is as close to the perfect wife as I could want. She takes such good care of me and seems to anticipate my every need and wish. Our son Luís at thirteen can be a handful. Sometimes I wonder if he’ll amount to anything for all the hours he wastes doing nothing. We’ll watch fútbol together on TV if Barcelona is playing or on my laptop when there’s no TV coverage.
Ten-year old Adriana is a miniature version of her mother. She checks me when I forget something and corrects me when I misspeak in Spanish. I’ve come to depend on her for many things. She’s been letting me help her more with her homework and that makes me very happy. She’s not only mommy’s helper but her confidante as well. I enjoy watching them do “girl things” or study the Bible together. Still, she’s got plenty of little girl to allow her to make clothes for her dolls and do their hair. She’ll kick a plastic ball with her brother and ride her bike around the yard. I do my best to spoil her.
During these years I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the world in which I’ve lived but experienced little of until the turn of the century. I’ve had to learn to live with the extreme disapproval of most of my children. I forgive them their ignorance and realize that if they can be happy without a father or a grandfather for their children, I can’t mourn their loss only pray that they don’t experience the same now that they’re middle-aged. They’ll never appreciate what they’ve lost and what they’ve cost my grandchildren. But my life is the better for needing to focus my attention on the needs of others rather than my own wants. I believe God has blessed and rewarded me in gifting me Margarita and the children. Her extended family might not fit the image that my blood relatives envision as ideal (albeit their lives have not made them role models for their kids) but people here are closer to living in God’s love than they are. My in-laws, my nephews and nieces, legitimate or not share their love with me as I share mine with them. Love and caring here go beyond family lines. Little things. It seems I’ve become a godfather to a two-year old girl, daughter of a teen-age mother who is part of Margarita’s Single Mothers’ support group sponsored by a nearby church. I saw the child’s front teeth yellowing from lack of oral hygiene. I bought her a little tooth-brush and paste. I gave the young mother some advice on the importance of caring for baby teeth to have healthier adult teeth. She has been following my advice (which sometimes is contrary to local beliefs). I’ve never seen the child with shoes. Yesterday, I bought her a pair for $3.00. She was sick and stayed home with her mom but I gave the shoes to her great-grandmother who was deeply appreciative.
Before I married Margarita I did a lot of similar things for families of my students and members of my church. Little things. Adriana is accepting my philosophy that there is more in life awaiting her than looking for a man with a steady job and having his babies. She wants to be a dance teacher. This past December during “summer” school break she began dance lessons, something she and her mother would never have considered before I entered their lives completely. She’s learned poise and public presentation because I could give her the clothes she needed to enter the Miss Chiquita contest four years ago. I do my best to encourage the kids in our community to excel at what they love to do even if it won’t earn them a dollar. It helps them to do better at what might earn them that precious dollar. It all feels so good. Little things.
On my four and five- hour bike rides I have made friends out of acquaintances and acquaintances out of strangers along my route in the nearby city of Chalchuapa. If a kid greets me in English I’ll take the time to give him a little more vocabulary. If a family hears me translate “God is love” into Spanish for a child’s understanding, I’ll get to talk about Jesus to the mother. If I see a three-year old boy sitting at a table with his mom and grandmother who sell fruit on the curb and he tells me he doesn’t have a ball to kick I’ll stop at the local store and invest 30 cents in a plastic ball for him. If the boyfriend of a long-time dear friend wants help in his English studies I invite him over and we set a schedule for him to converse with me. Little things.
It is so far removed from the U.S. life here that one has to adjust to the absence or unavailability of restaurants, movies, places of entertainment, transportation to visit relatives and friends, books, hobby and craft materials, familiar clothes, foods, and personal items, technology needs, and other items you don’t spend too much time thinking about when you need or want them. But it’s not too far from the Stelton I grew up in 70 years ago.
Unfortunately or fortunately, I was not a life-planner. How I’ve spent my life happened more at chance than by design. Therefore, after several wives and children, more jobs than I can remember before choosing an advanced educational program that led to an entirely different career, and acquiring some unearned credits in the California prison system, I should not be surprised to find the long and winding road has brought me to this unlikely destination surrounded by some of nature’s most beautiful landscapes, some of her most beautiful women, a family which loves me unconditionally, and some fantastic spiritual experiences.
I confess that as I approach the 80th anniversary of my birth, I feel the aches and pains of joint overuse. I yawn more than your cat. I can fall asleep watching an exciting or emotionally stimulating TV show. And the longer I have to wait for my wounded “good” knee to self-repair the more frustrated and depressed I will be. But when Margarita comes up to where I’m sitting and plants her soft, full lips on my soft, Anglo-thin chops I feel rejuvenated. When Adriana creeps up on me to let me watch Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Prince Royce, or Wisin and Yandel on her Android tablet, I am surely a kid again.
I have no doubt that when I’ve reached the end of the trail I won’t be alone. I’ll have a smile on my face and a beautiful, loving woman holding each of my hands. I can’t ask for more than that! Thank you, Lord.