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Sunday, December 14, 2014

When Christmas Comes

Two of my father’s three sisters came recently to visit with me and my l’il brother. As all out-of-town visits are bound to be, theirs was a short visit.
With my aunts and my brother at the airport
Saying farewell
Time flies when you are having fun, we all say more than frequently.
You can certainly apply that saying to reuniting with family that you haven’t seen in years.
One day you are at the airport waiting for your visitors to clear the bureaucratic processing for all arrivals and no matter how many days pass since then, it seems as it’s just been a few hours when you are again in the same place, this time saying farewell at the security checkpoint.

That’s how it was with the few days spent over the Thanksgiving holiday with Isolina and Esperanza, my father’s youngest siblings on his mother’s side — my father’s paternal sister, Luz, is also younger than him.
Those familiar with this blog will probably remember The Teacher, the post with remembrances about my mother where I recalled some of my early experiences in learning.
Only a few years older than me, my two visitors are the unnamed aunts that I reminisced about in that post.
Being, as I said, only a few years older than me and my two youngest brothers, it was kind of natural that the three of us became accustomed to think of the two of them more as sisters than aunts.
They probably thought of themselves as mothers, because of the way they fiercely protected us from harm, from the time we were born to our young adulthood.
That protection was more than remarkable. It was amazing.

I owe them, of course, more than that.
Absent the three of us, it was my two aunts that for many years, when the health of both my father and mother started on the downward slope towards demise, cared for them.
When Christmas comes most people expect presents.
My aunts visit — they were accompanied by Isolina's husband, Manuel Ricardo, and their youngest son and wife — was a gift delivered weeks in advance.

Along with the usual goodies you can expect from visitors — that certain snack or some other food you can’t find anywhere else but in a place not far from where you were born, for instance — my aunts also brought with them some of the hundreds of pictures that my mother kept in frames, albums and shoe-boxes.
Seeing two of those pictures —one with my parents and my three daughters and the other with Payito holding aloft the youngest of my three, both taken 31 years ago this December — reminded me of something I wrote before about my father, which you will read below.
Payito, Mayita and my three daughters
My ever-present Christmas: Payito, Mayita & my three daughters

In recalling the ways I was different from my father, I wrote:
While I am a total klutz with manual chores, either for home repairs or at fixing automotive engines, he was dexterous. Ambidextrous, as a matter of fact.
How skilled on using either hand? He would like there was nothing to it start working on an engine, say dislodging a stubborn spark-plug on the driver side by manipulating the wrench with his right hand, and without missing a beat and barely shifting his body transfer the wrench to his left hand and effortlessly start working on the opposing plug on the passenger side.
The dexterity had been forced upon him. Left-handed at birth, he learned the use of his right hand back at the little private school that he had been sent in as a child.
Learned, I said, but read rather he was tormented into. The owner-principal-lone-teacher sat him on a chair, tied the left arm to his side and gave him a pencil. Cruel perhaps even by the standards of the end of the 1920s, which is when all this happened.
He was matter-of-fact whenever he told this story. By the time his schooling ended he had for all practical purposes lost his left-handedness. His calligraphy [because there was such a thing to learn when he was little] was almost impeccable and unless you knew the story nothing on how he handled himself would betray the fact that he was not born right-handed.
None of us his three children inherited the left-handed gene although all my three children did.
That pleased him to no end. It’s not as boastful as it may sound. Just the fact that our children were his grandchildren was good enough for him. On those not frequent enough occasions when the telephone would bring us again together at a distance nothing was more important to him than to know what was happening with each one of them. “How’s ‘Hummingbird,’ still taking dance classes?” he would ask.
Payito with the youngest of my daughters
Holding aloft his 'hummingbird'

Distance for one, as well as my own failings conspired and there was at the end from my children’s side less than the reciprocity I would have liked.
By moving away, I sheltered them from the danger that armed strife represented. In the process, and it does not really matter how hard you try to keep the connections open, the family that nurtured you becomes a stranger to the one you are caring for.
This is neither a recrimination nor a complaint, and certainly not a grievance, just a simple fact of life. In the end is actually nothing to dwell on; unfamiliarity is after all a killer.
Any recriminations after all I would have to direct to myself. Measures, decisions I once thought to be pragmatic, convenient, smart ones, turned out to be wrong.
From Father’s Day-iii], the last in a series of four posts [the first one was posted in 2 June, 2009] remembering my father.

Thanks, again, for the visit, dear aunts. Hope you'll have a very Merry Christmas.

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