After we took Maggie's picture in the pilot's seat, we headed to get our bags. I can never remember if folks can meet you before or after baggage claim, and sure enough, there was Ana, my sister, and Lilo, my first nephew. My sister-in-law's daughter, Samantha, was my first niece.
A little background: My dear ol' Dad had kids with three women--my Mom, the mother of Ana and my brother Jose (he named all his boys Jose), and another, with whom he had the other Jose. By the grace of God go I, but the apple fell just far enough from the tree--I wasn't careful either, but apparently didn't have the same number of gold-medal swimmers (Update: well, I caught up, but not until I met Carrie, with whom I will spend the rest of my life).
I knew Ana, from my two trips to El Salvador, but barely remember her. She was 2 and 6 on my visits. Jose is only 30; because he was born after the last time I saw my Dad (1978), and Dad never mentioned him, I had no idea about him and the younger Jose until re-connecting with Ana this past winter. Ana and her husband, yes, Jose, live in the Denver burbs, with their three kids, Lilo, 5, Maggie, 8, and Nicolas, a few months. Jose moved there with his wife and three-year-old, Frankie, from Maryland a few months ago, fortunately for my visit.
I was nervous, but excited, both for traveling with our Maggie, and for seeing long-lost family. I wanted to ask lots of questions about my Dad, with whom Ana and Jose lived until he died in 1988. I wanted to see pictures I hadn't seen, especially of me on my visits to El Salvador. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be in the same room with my brother and sister and a brother-in-law and sister-in-law and nephews and a niece.
Just to be clear: I have never been angry, consciously, with my Dad for not being around. I have been sad that I would never know him as an adult, to have adult conversations with him. I believe we would have had some laughs. But not angry. All you can ever do is wonder how things would have been different. I have been curious about how he died, how he lived, whether the civil war of the 1980s affected him.
It's also a little sad to show our kids his picture, when he was in his late 20s, very handsome, good picture to have, and say "That's one of your Grandpas, Daddy's Dad." Who you'll never meet. But Ana and Jose know about that, too.
Anyway, you'd expect such a reunion to be emotional, and it was....for Ana. No surprise to my wife, I choked up exactly almost once, when talking late at night with Ana. The first night of our visit, I said something about how it had been 32 years since we last saw each other, then felt one of my lips quiver. It's always a surprise. I cleared my throat and moved on.
The next day we were talking about Dad, maybe it was earlier that first night, and I did a thing Dad used to do with his hands in front of his mouth when he was revved up, like when watching a tense sports moment on TV. It's a surprisingly loud slapping of the fingers and palms together, with the thumbs hooked under the chin and the lips manuevered to change the pitch, almost like whistling. Anyway, I did it, and Ana nearly broke down being caught by surprise at such a haunting.
Her aunt (Mom's sister) had been visiting from El Salvador to help with the baby and we arrived just in time to catch her before she went home. I'm glad we did. She was another witness to Dad's life, as well as my drinking buddy. She and I had a beer before noon the day we arrived.
Maggie and Lilo were like old friends, and played almost from the moment we got to Ana and Jose's house until we left two days later. Eight-year-old Maggie was in school when we arrived and Lilo stayed home from p.m. kindergarten. Hostess Maggie took a while to warm up to visiting Maggie, but I think the gap from 4 to 8 is wide. Eventually, they were just like cousins.
Jose and his family got to the house at dinnertime, and there was nothing to do but hug and take pictures of all combinations of family members. They call him Frankie, because his middle name is Francisco, like my Dad's (and Gavin's, though his is Francis). He's all of 6-foot-3, and to me it was like being with my Dad, height- and looks-wise. He's quiet, but playful.
His wife is named Margarita, continuing a crazy name-game: Ana and Jose's mother was named Margarita, and Ana's daughter is, too, and now Jose's wife, and of course, my Maggie is officially named Margaret. Their son Frankie (another Francisco tribute, I believe) filled up any emptiness I felt not being with the twins--he's about the same size and temperment--so I lifted, tickled, flipped and teased him most enjoyably.
When we got to the house from the airport, Ana's husband Jose was there. A trucker for years, Jose surprised me by telling me that he was my designated playmate in El Salvador, probably on my second trip. The way he described it, whenever I wanted to play some soccer on the cobblestone streets, he'd get a phone call. He's three years older than me, and while I didn't remember him, I may have tried to attack him back then: I had quite a temper as a kid, and fought at the drop of a hat, and I distinctly remember going after someone I was playing ball with.
I also used to be religious; I haven't attacked anyone in years, but I'm now indifferent to religion. I believe that's a whole different blog. And I believe that because I have so much left to write on our visit to Colorado, I'll do it in two parts.
Next: our lasagna dinner and scary but fun trip to Breckenridge, as well as another reunion--with pupusas. Thanks for your interest