A few days later, Hugo provided Dad with another dilemma. His sister’s teenage daughter
wanted to come to Canada. “Can she stay for a little while Jake,” he asked?
Dad knew Hugo’s lovely black haired sister had six children. If one came, wasn’t it logical that all the others might come? And, would any of them ever leave?
We were beginning to realize that in Guatemala this was probably considered quite acceptable and usual. Since they had virtually adopted Dad, they were now all family. And when people have little, members of the family must help each other. Only by sharing can they survive.
Then Hugo’s sister was not around for a few days, so Dad asked about her. Hugo said she had gone to L.A. to be with a sister who lived there. She had not said good-bye to Dad because she had grown close to him and was afraid she would cry.
Now Dad had to deal with a cultural challenge. He, a widower, was well known and respected in his community. He had always tried to
set a standard that was above reproach. How would he explain having this woman, almost his own age, living in his house? Hugo was rarely at home anymore. It was not considered proper in his culture for a man and woman to live in the same house, outside the bonds of marriage.
For two more weeks Dad ate tortillas and tried to understand the mother’s Spanish. To avoid being in the house when she was at home, he devoted many hours to working on his yard. It was looking pretty spiffy.
One day when Hugo came home, he pulled into the driveway in a red 1979 Toyota pickup truck. It now seemed that the Old Mother would leave soon, but Hugo said, “brakes no good. My brother and I fix them when he has time from work.”
At the end of the sixth week, the truck was deemed road worthy, but Hugo’s brother couldn’t get enough time off from work yet. We were puzzled by the thought that the brother did not have time to fix the brakes, but he would have time to drive the red pickup all the way to Guatemala.
The Old Mother’s original two weeks in Canada had now stretched to almost eight weeks. It occurred to us that in Guatemala two weeks were apparently of indeterminate length. Fortunately Dad had long ago learned to appreciate and even enjoy unanticipated adventures.
Then, in the eighth week, Hugo came home from work one evening and said, “Jake, tomorrow my brother will come with the truck. He will take my mother to her village.”
At 9:00 the following morning, the brother came and began loading the red pickup. Dad was astounded at how much the Old Mother had managed to accumulate. When the brother had filled the truck box to capacity, he began jamming the remaining items into the cab of the truck. Would there be room for the Old Mother, Dad wondered. Maybe her plan was not to leave after all. Had she decided she wanted to stay in Canada? But there was a small space on the seat for her.
She came to Dad, holding a large, intricately woven Guatemalan straw hat with a bright red ribbon. Rather shyly she presented the hat to him, holding it with both hands. With tears in her eyes she said, “In my village you welcome to visit”. Then she added, “please, you take care my Hugo.”
Dad was surprised she had learned these words. He accepted the hat and placed it on his head. “Yes,” he said, “I will look after Hugo. He is like a son.”
Brushing away the tears still trickling down her cheeks, she climbed into the red Toyota and began the long trip to her village in Guatemala. She very likely believed she might never see her son again.
And so ended Dad’s Guatemalan summer.