Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wanderlust

The Adventure of my How My Parents Met was one of those things I was always hearing about growing up.  It was a part of the family lore, something I would pester and pester my dad to tell, even though I already knew all the words.  To his credit, he was always obliging.  In part, I think, to the memories of his younger self it would conjure.

My dad was a true hippie in every sense of the word.  In the Sixties, he left behind a large, Mormon family in Minnesota,  to set out and live on the infamous corner of  Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco.  To my father, those years were a blur of  free Jimi Hendrix concerts in Golden Gate Park, massive bell bottoms extended to ridiculous proportions with panels of velvet fabric, and a cocktail of mind-altering subtances.  During one short-lived foray into the world of gainful employment as a U.S. mailman, Janice Joplin left him a bundle of joints in her mailbox for Christmas. He still waxes nostalgic over an old school bus, painted over in psychedelic colors and hung with curtains, used solely to pick up hitchikers during impulsive road trips. So it was a great surprise to no one when, along with my 8 year-old sister, he decided to take an old, beat up truck and see how far south  it could carry him.

They made it through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras before they finally ran out of gas and money in Managua, Nicaragua. Their Spanish lexicon consisted of seven words, repeated every morning to various waitresses in humid, unfamiliar countries: "Leche, cafe negra, y heuvos rancheros, por favor." Undaunted by this ignorance of the local language, my dad decided to get a job working in the fields alongside the natives.  Being the first white man these particular Nicaraguans had ever seen, they nicknamed him "Geronimo," after a saint known for his similar fair skin and long, flowing beard. Under the impression that North America literally had streets paved with gold, these natives welcomed my father with bemusement but acceptance. The details are shady as to whom babysat my sister while my dad worked the fields. In the many tellings of the story, sometimes she is enrolled in a small, village school consisted of a thatched roof and dirt floor and sometimes she is watched over by some kind women that worked in a hotel (or, possibly, brothel).  I suppose it would be a simple matter to call her and get the details, but I prefer the mystery.

My dad ended up meeting a young girl named Maria, and the rest is history.  The marriage may or may not have involved angry brothers with shotguns and the legality of it may or may not have been called into question due to a previous, forgotten-about marriage in the States but the three of them lived happily in Nicaragua.  Well, for a little while anyways.  The tropical jungles of Central America began to be seen as less than a paradise once they began to echo with the bullets of the Sandanistas, so back to America they came and I enter the picture.

I'm leaving out a lot of the little stories I've grown up with regarding those times.  Most of them are my sister's to tell.  Of all of them, however, this one is my favorite. The very idea of taking off on a whim to some little known third-world country was something that never failed to grab me and set fire to my imagination.

I'm thinking that's why my parents were not surprised that I left home the moment I graduated high school at seventeen.  It was something they could more than empathize with.  They both left behind large, close-knit families to seek the new and unknown.  On the downside,
it also explains why I haven't seen my brother and sister in ten years or why I have never met an incredibly large percentage of my family.  We're just scattered too far and wide.  I'm preparing myself now for when Zane tells me he has decided to move to Sri Lanka, but I'd like to think I too, will understand.

1 comment:

Matt & Beth said...

Oh Terri! What a great story your family has! I'm sure it has it's sour moments too, but these are fabric upon which you're woven. I hope to hear more.