You welcomed me as though I was one of your own even though we
had just met. You took me into your home (my taking a near-by hotel room was,
immediately, out of the question) and when you said, “make yourself at home!”
it was clearly a warm, familial statement of fact, not some worn platitude. Your
three boys retreated to their rooms, unsure about the new g¸ero downstairs
but, that is what boys do. The girls, the cousins from just down the street, greeted
me with hugs and kisses on my cheek, like a relative returning from a long and
difficult journey. “Hola, cÛmo est·s?”
That first meal was quick
in coming-comida, there was always food, always someone asking, “are you
hungry? Here, let me get you something to eat!” The clank of plates and silverware
brought the boys downstairs in a hurry. You placed bread, butter, (mantequilla,
what a beautiful word!) and cheese on the table even before we sat down. The real
treat was the mamey, that Caribbean fruit Papi brought with him from Puerto
Rico, carrying that huge block of fruit that looks like some sort of carpenter’s
tool, a thousand miles in his suitcase just for us. He knew how much we had liked
it that time in Santo Domingo. Remember Vinicio shouting, “Is that mamey?”
He had not seen it for a while himself. You made a sort of smoothie with the fruit,
mixing it with condensed milk and we all drank it down excitedly.
next evening you and TÌa Nelly, who seemed to be everyone’s aunt, made
dinner for all of us. Of course, we had to wait a while for TÌa to finish her
novela, but when the meal was ready everyone was eager to try the asopao de
camarones; such an enormous pot, overflowing with yellow rice, peas and shrimp.
Between fourteen people, it was gone almost immediately.
It was during
dinner that your husband Vinicio began describing how the youngest child, Alan,
had been born deaf, how no one knew for sure until he was nearly three years old.
He is still so quiet. He told us of all the new-age technology that the doctors
have fixed in and on the boy’s head-the magnets just under his scalp, the electrode
attached to his cochlea nerve, the tiniest green light just under his long straight,
brown hair that lets his parents and doctors know if everything is working. He
told us how, at the hospital before the surgery, you had met another couple with
a child with the same condition and they had been included in Michael Moore’s
movie, Sicko. But that child had the implant in only one ear-Alan has had
both treated. We talked about how the surgeons filmed the entire procedure because
it was such a new technology. You told us how Alan, while filling the pool with
the garden hose, had pointed to the water then pointed to his ear with his free
hand-he was hearing the splash of water for the first time! We talked about the
doctors, the expense, the insurance, how the boy will handle kindergarten, which
begins soon for him. We talked about the coincidence of timing and opportunity
that had allowed the child to receive this near cure. “Only in America” Vinicio
whispered to us, to the evening, to himself.
The morning we were preparing
to leave for the airport I think I was the only one who was surprised when TÌa
Nelly, who lives a few blocks away, let herself in the backdoor, taking a rest
from her morning walk. There was coffee, there were hugs, kisses and more coffee.
There were goodbyes spoken in a language that flows like waves.
I am home and I look forward to that time when I can return as the long-missed
relative, knowing now that time and distance are no obstacles for family.
© Byron Browne
From Over Here February
8, 2010 Column
Byron Browne can be reached at Byron.Browne@gmail.com
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