Lunes, 5 de septiembre, 2011 - Jueves, 24 de noviembre, 2011
This is intended to relate how Marilyn and I dealt with the loss
of a loved one not long ago. It’s basically in diary form, so, if
it gets boring, I apologize in advance and invite you to click on
a different post.
Lunes, 5 de septiembre, 2011
We were slow getting up today because we had taken a fun, but long
and tiring trip with part of our extended Ecuadorian family
yesterday. Consequently, we didn’t get to our computers until
about 10:00 a.m. Marilyn found an email from Marcia, our
sister-in-law, that had been sent last evening. She said that
Mark, Marilyn’s brother, had been hospitalized with a “serious
brain bleed” and it didn’t look good. Marcia asked Marilyn to call
Doris because Doris, Marilyn’s mom, needed to hear Marilyn’s
We fired up Skype right away and called. Marcia answered Doris’s
phone. “How’s Mark?” “He’s gone.” “Oh, God. I’m so sorry.” He had
let go minutes before we called. Mark had just turned 59 in
We then talked to Doris for a few minutes, learning that the three
of them had been up at Alta for the Labor Day weekend. Alta is a
small community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada about an
hour from Sacramento, CA. Marilyn’s grandfather had built a house
there when he and Marilyn's grandmother retired, mostly with his
own hands. It had been inherited by Doris and recently passed to
Mark. Mark had come downstairs after a 20-minute nap loudly
complaining of a terrible headache. He’d never had anything like
it before. He lied down in the downstairs bedroom. Marcia called
9-1-1 immediately, understanding something terrible was happening,
while Doris made sure he didn’t roll off the bed. The medics
responded in 15 minutes or less, but Marcia and Doris both say
that Mark’s eyes were fixed and dilated by the time he was put in
After we hung up, we consoled each other for a while. It was a
shock to both of us. It seemed totally surreal. After all, Mark
was younger than Marilyn. We expect dying to be an orderly
process, with older siblings dying before younger ones unless
there’s an accident, not to mention parents before children.
That illusion was gone. Too soon, it was time for us to get to
I looked up bereavement fares on the Internet and found that we
needed the name of the funeral home in order to qualify. That
meant we had to call Marcia again, something neither of us
relished doing because this detail seemed so minor compared to
what she must be going through at the moment. Not surprisingly,
the funeral home had not been decided upon yet. We decided we’d go
ahead and make reservations anyhow, regardless of cost. We had to
be with Marilyn’s immediate family. Continental told us we could
send the funeral home information at a later date, so we really
hadn’t had to bother Marcia and Doris after all. We were able to
book a flight out of Quito the next morning. Our travel would take
us all the way to Sacramento instead of stopping for our normal
visit in Texas – sixteen hours, counting layovers. At least, we
proved to our family, and to ourselves, that we could return
quickly if need be.
We decided to go on with our plans for the day, with Marilyn
packing between errands. Of course, additional errands were added,
such as getting money from the bank for our trip and for Isabel to
keep the house running in our absence. We also wrote a letter
saying that Isabel could pick up a package for us that we had been
expecting any day. After a full day (which helped keep our minds
occupied), we left for Quito at 7:15 p.m.
Mark mentoring the young.
It was a beautifully clear night, something that seems rare in
this part of the world. Of course, it could seem that way because
we don’t tend to drive around much at night. We could see the
actual lights of Quito from 40 miles away when we topped a
mountain pass, not just the atmospheric glow of a large city. On
the drive, we reflected that Mark had been able to do pretty much
what he wanted in life. He’d retired early. He’d gone hunting and
fishing with numerous friends every year. He’d enjoyed riding ATVs
in Utah yearly with other friends. He used to run, as well as ride
bicycles. He found a very good wife in Marcia. He was successful
in the fire department, retiring as Assistant Chief. He returned
to work about 18 months after retiring, for CAL EMA and reached
his goal of becoming a Deputy Chief. He’d had a good life, and
that seemed to make his sudden death just a little easier to bear.
We spent the night with our friends in Quito, Luis y Blanca. After
talking about Mark and other things, we went to bed about
Martes, 6 de septiembre, 2011
Having gotten up at 3:00 a.m. and being driven to the airport by
Blanca and Luis, we flew out of Quito at 6:35 a.m. This time, we
went through Houston and Denver on our way to Sacramento. We
arrived at El Camino Gardens, Doris’s residence, about 10:30 p.m.
It was good to see Doris, and she was glad to see us. El Camino
Gardens is a retirement community. They have one, possibly two
apartments, that they set aside for out-of-town guests of the
residents to rent. We’ve stayed there quite often since Doris
moved there. Thus, we’re pretty well known amongst the residents
and staff. As soon as he heard what had happened to Mark, Robert
(the head of maintenance) put our names in the room reservations
book. That was very much appreciated because we definitely wanted
to be near Doris on this trip rather than stay in a hotel.
Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
Marilyn helped Doris with some errands, including appointments
regarding replacing Mark’s name with Marilyn’s name on some
financial documents. I helped decide what to do with various
accounts. The staff at El Camino Gardens, as well as Doris’s
friends there, were very solicitous to all of us, stopping us in
the halls, walking over to our table in the dining room, etc., to
express their condolences. It gave us yet another reason to be
thankful that Doris (with Mark and Marcia’s help) had found that
particular retirement community.
We went to see Marcia in the afternoon. She gave us more of the
details. Doris and Marcia both told us about how firefighters
swarmed the hospital Sunday night and Monday morning. Marcia had
made one call to Mark’s boss, the Chief of the Fire and Rescue
Branch at CAL EMA, and that was all it took to precipitate the
flood of firefighters. 9/11 impressed on the nation just what a
Band of Brothers firefighters are. This was proof, if we had
Mark and Marcia recently had to cut down an oak tree in their
front yard due to disease and Mark was in the process of cutting
and splitting it for firewood when he died. A firefighter saw how
much still needed to be done and told Marcia not to worry about
it. Sure enough, this morning a group of eight firefighters came
over and cut and split the wood, not to mention hauling it to the
house in Alta.
Don and Pam, with whom Mark and Marcia had become very close
friends, were helping Marcia attend to the countless things that
needed doing. It had been decided that the Memorial Service, or
Celebration of Life, would be held September 16th, three days
before we were scheduled to leave for Texas. Marcia, like Doris
and Marilyn, was holding up well.
The dogs were still pretty upset, though, and craved our
attention. They, of course, knew that something was amiss. Chase
and Spencer are both yellow labs and are, first and foremost,
companions. They have also been faithful hunting dogs for Mark.
They enjoyed our company and settled down a wee bit. It’s hard to
calm Spencer down, though. He’s the rambunctious adolescent.
Saturday, September 10th, 2011
It was difficult for all of us to see Mark's obituary in the Sacramento Bee
newspaper this morning. Fortunately, we were able to take a
break from attending to details caused by his passing. One thing
we did was go out and buy Marilyn a new Macbook Pro. Hers was
seven years old, getting slower, and getting so it couldn’t handle
Coincidentally, Marcia bought a new Macbook Pro today, too. That
surprised me because I knew she was comfortable with PCs. She
said, however, that she finally got tired of the crashes and
losing data. Macs forever!
Monday, September 12th, 2011
We went to see a lawyer about Doris’s trust. We decided we’d think
things through more and go back next Monday. Doris was not up to
making decisions today and we wanted to be careful that everything
was not our decision. We gave our opinions, but no more. She’d be
able to make good decisions after she had time to think.
We also went to South Lake Tahoe. Doris still had some things
from her deceased second husband, Al, that she wanted to give to
Al’s son, who lives there. On the way, we stopped at Lake
Jenkinson, a few miles off of Hwy 50, to eat our sandwiches at a
state park. They told us it was $10 to get into the state park, so
we ate our sandwiches in the rental car, in the parking lot,
overlooking the lake. Cost: $0. Thus fortified, we decided to stay
on Hwy 88 to Hwy 89 rather than go back to Hwy 50. However, we
were stopped cold by blasting for highway improvement, just before
Hwy 89. They said it would be a two-hour wait, so we went back to
Hwy 50 after all. At least, we had great scenery both ways.
Bob and Lelaine were glad to see Doris, but were sorry to hear
about Mark, of course. They have another cabin (house, I guess) on
the property and invited Marilyn and I to stay sometime. They’re
about a block from the shores of Lake Tahoe. It may be nice to
take them up on their offer. We’ll see.
We got back too late for dinner, so Marilyn went out and got some
lasagna and shrimp linguini from a nearby Italian restaurant. El
Camino Gardens provides three meals a day when we rent a
guestroom. At $55/night, you can’t beat the value.
Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
I wrote a letter to Mark and sent
a copy to Marcia and told her I intended to put it in the online guestbook.
I wanted to give her a chance to tell me if she
didn’t like something. Everything I wrote came from the heart.
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Micheline and Uncle Wayne came over for lunch. We ate outside and
had a really nice time talking about Mark and other things.
Micheline is always so positive.
Marilyn and I walked over to Seritella’s Restaurant and asked, 1)
if we could watch the LSU/Mississippi State game on Thursday night
and, 2) if they sold Henry Weinhardt beer. The answers were yes
and no. They would have the game on, but didn't sell that beer.
However, they agreed to get two (I'm a lightweight now) before we
got there on Thursday night. My intention was to drink a beer in
Mark's honor. He had introduced me to Henry Weinhardt when I was
in CA meeting the family before Marilyn and I got married. For a
long time, he always made sure I had Henry Weinhardt available
when I visited the family.
Thursday, September 15th, 2011
When we drove up to the restaurant tonight, we met the bartender
coming back from a beer run. He had tried three liquor stores
(when he probably should have gone to Walgreens or a grocery
store) and couldn't find Henry Weinhardt beer. So, I failed in my
mission to drink a Henry Weinhardt in honor of Mark, at least for
Marilyn had invited three of her mom's friends from El Camino
Gardens, and we both had invited Robert the maintenance man, so it
turned into a party. It was an Italian restaurant so we all had
pizza. And, even though we didn't have Henry Weinhardt, and Robert
and I were the only ones drinking beer, we toasted Mark. It was a
Friday, September 16th, 2011
Today was the Celebration of Life Service and, if such a thing can
be said, I enjoyed it. Marilyn, Doris, and I left El Camino
Gardens at 9:10 a.m., after having breakfast with Helen and Thelma.
We arrived at 9:30 a.m., an hour before the service. The hall was
already starting to fill with scads of Mark’s friends and family.
The El Camino Gardens bus took Helen, Anne, Thelma, and anyone
else who wanted to attend. That was very nice. Pat and Glenn
Miller, longtime friends of Doris’s, were allowed to drive over to
El Camino Gardens and take the bus with everyone else. That was
The service was not religious in nature, aside from a couple of
readings. The only thing that really made me cry was the slideshow
Marcia and friends had put together. Mark looked so full of life.
I enjoyed the speakers and the "Mark stories" they told. One
speaker was a 17-year-old boy Mark had befriended at the shooting
range and was mentoring. Scotty was exceptionally poised. He had
called Marcia shortly after Mark’s death and, with sobbing voice,
told her he had lost a father. It was a great tribute to the way
that Mark reached out to people (which we hadn’t known about
During the entire service we learned that Mark and Marcia were so
much more giving than we had ever dreamed. That was so uplifting.
Also, Marilyn and I had been under the impression that he and
Marcia only had a few friends - that they were kind of insular.
That notion was quickly dispelled not just by the sheer number of
people who attended, but also by the speakers. We understand that
every fire department flag in the state of California was at
When the ceremony was concluded, Marilyn and I sat with her
cousins for a barbecue lunch intended to feed everyone in
attendance. In other words, it was quite a spread. Doris sat with
the Fancy Ladies, a group of women she’s been friends with since
her high school days. Sorry to let the cat out of the bag, Doris,
but that’s more than sixty years. Marcia graciously greeted those
who had come and then sat with her family for the meal.
The cousins at our table talked about planning an annual
get-together, preferably when we were in town, maybe in June after
the teachers in the family are off from work and before everyone
scatters with their own vacation plans. No doubt, the conversation
was spurred by Mark’s sudden death. But, I think part of it was
the realization that it was our turn to step up to the plate. The
“Brown family” has had a wonderful tradition of family gatherings
each year. If that tradition is to be perpetuated, it will be up
to our generation to shoulder more, and eventually all, of the
responsibilities for making it happen.
No matter how much we celebrated Mark’s life, we all felt Mark’s
loss keenly throughout the day. One of the lightest moments of the
day for me came with Marcia’s reply to a cousin’s query. When
asked if she would still attend family gatherings, Marcia came
back with, “Just because Mark croaked doesn’t mean I’ll stop being
part of the family.”
Jueves, 24 de noviembre, 2011
We have been back in Ecuador since September 27th. After we left
California, we spent a week with family and friends in Texas
before returning to our Ecuadorian family. We especially enjoyed
camping with David and Lynn, my brother and sister-in-law. Since
our return to Ecuador, we have slowly, painfully, sometimes
grudgingly, sometimes joyfully, returned to our routines. The one
exception, of course, is that we think about Mark every day. In
fact, borrowing a page from the people of Mexico, Marilyn has put
together a small shrine to Mark. We don’t pray to him, of course,
but it is a way to remember him with love.
When Mark’s buddies went hunting in South Dakota a couple of weeks
ago, Marcia sent along a portion of his ashes so they could be
sprinkled on a land that provided him great enjoyment each year.
The rancher who owns the land set aside a certain place that Mark
loved. Obviously, he’ll be remembered by more people than just his
Today is Thanksgiving in the US. Marilyn is working today, so we
won’t have our Thanksgiving dinner until tomorrow. Marcia and
Doris are at the house Doris’s father built in the foothills of
the Sierra Nevada, another place that Mark loved. Though we’re not
celebrating until tomorrow, this day reminds us of how much we
have to be thankful for – our family, our health, our friends, our
capacity to continue learning, sharing, caring, and our God.
Today is Thanksgiving, a day I feel I can finish writing the
things I wanted to share about Mark on our blog. Thank you for
your presence in my life, Mark. And, thank you, for the things
you’ve shared with me through your physical absence.
I stayed in bed this morning while Marilyn went to get some cachos (beetles). Yesterday
Marilyn delivered the gifts we wanted to give to the workers at
Caluquí. They were Christmas decorations that Marilyn had
made, so we wanted to give them early. Lucilla, one of the workers
and the mother of Natasha, our goddaughter, told Marilyn to come
back at 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning and she would have some fresh cachos to give to her to eat.
Isabel knew how to fix them and she was pretty excited. We told
Isabel we’d try them, but made no further commitments.
Before Marilyn left, we heard Victoria call Isabel, but neither of
us thought anything about it. Victoria often cries out for
Isabel’s help. When Marilyn returned, we learned that Victoria had
fallen in the bathroom and hurt her wrist. It looked like it was
dislocated but seemed to hurt like it was broken.
Unfortunately, Marilyn had left the car at the mechanic’s, so
Isabel had to take Victoria to the public hospital in a taxi. They
said that the wrist was dislocated and not broken. Isabel said
that the medical personnel distracted Victoria, and then quickly
popped the wrist back into place. ¡Ay-yai-yai!
Victoria was still in a lot of pain by the evening, so Marilyn and
Isabel took her to a private doctor. They found out that Victoria
had indeed fractured both the ulna and radius near her wrist. We
hate to think what damage the doctors at the hospital possibly did
by “relocating” the “dislocation”. They didn’t have an X-ray
machine at the public hospital, so I'm sure they were giving it
their best guess. The private doctor, on the other hand, had
access to an X-ray machine. Victoria now has a soft cast and is
much more comfortable. We’re grateful that it wasn’t her right
wrist or, God forbid, her hip.
Sábado, 3 de diciembre,
We celebrated the November and December family birthdays at our
house tonight. Marilyn made three cakes today, all of which were
great, if a little misshapen due to the altitude. The family used
to buy the birthday cakes. However, after tasting some of
Marilyn’s cakes, they asked her to make them this time. We had 23
people here this evening and it was fun, though most people were
tired from the workday. It is usual here to work six days a week.
Isabel also prepared the cachos
today. She fried them and Glenn thought they were pretty tasty.
Marilyn ate three, with eyes closed, and left it there. She had
trouble getting past the idea of eating insects. Some guests ate
them, and some did not.
In some ways, the meat of a cacho
sort of reminded us of the meat of a crawfish, but smaller and a
little crunchy because it was fried. Isabel said that these were
smaller than normal - that they get to be the size of (Eeuuu!)
large cockroaches - so maybe the normal size yields about the same
amount of meat as a small crawfish. They must be peeled, as
crawfish are, so there is no labor saved during that process, but
that is done during preparation.
Cesar told us that these cachos
emerge from the ground once a year, and that they were a real gift
from Lucilla and Elias. He also said that they only emerge from
4:50 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. After 5:00 a.m., nada. I took that with a grain of salt until we
heard the same exact story from Lucilla and Elias the very next
Glenn looked on the Internet and couldn't find cachos, at least not relating
to bugs. He found a card game called Cacho, and something
concerning bullfights, but no matter how creative he got with his
search terms, there was nothing about an animal called cacho. We were sure it was a
Quichua word, but he thought he could find some information. Isabel
confirmed that it was a Quichua word (we're not even sure of the
spelling), and both Isabel and Victoria thought that they only
occurred in Imbabura Province. Isabel told us that once, when she
was living in Cayambe, she had an allergic reaction from eating
too many of them. She went to the doctor and, in response to
his question, told him she had been eating cachos. He had never heard of
them. Cayambe is only about 40 kilometers from here.
Domingo, 4 de diciembre, 2011
Our friend Pat Billings emailed today and said she’d like to visit
us in 2012. That’ll be fun. We’re already looking forward to a
visit from Roberta and Tom Reardon this month. They’re arriving in
Ecuador on the 19th and, after their first night in Quito, will
stay at our house until the 24th or 25th.
Then, Glenn hurriedly read an email from Julie Sanford and
mistakenly thought she was also coming to visit because she said,
“Hope to see you in March.” It looked like the prediction of
everyone deciding to visit in the same year may be coming true!
When Marilyn read it, she told him that Julie was referring to a
possible visit by Marilyn to Julie’s Intermediate Spanish Leisure
Learning Institute class in Austin in March. Oh, well. Guess
people are not exactly beating a path to our door yet.
After Marilyn got Glenn’s teeth brushed and before she got her
teeth brushed, Alfredo, Victoria's oldest son, dropped by to
visit. This is his second visit since we moved into the house in
February. He helps pay for Victoria's needs, but doesn't come over
from Ibarra very often, so this was a nice gift for Victoria.
Then, before Alfredo left, Victoria's younger sister and her
husband came over for a visit. Victoria’s sister has Alzheimer's,
but Victoria enjoys seeing both of them a lot. Victoria’s sister
fell this year and broke her hip, so she now uses a wheelchair.
They stayed through lunch. Just after they came, it was time for
Glenn’s football, so he excused himself and watched it until
lunch. He’s not very reticent when it comes to football.
We had already invited Natasha, our godchild, and Lucilla and
Elias, her parents, over for lunch. They came two hours late,
though, so we had given up waiting and had eaten by then. They
brought Rosa, Elias's sister, with them. After a little visiting,
we served them lunch also and talked with them while they ate.
Then we visited some more in the sala (living room) and looked at pictures of
(baptism). That was when we became her godparents. It was very
enjoyable. We also printed some pictures for them to take home. It
was pretty neat to see Natasha playing with Brayan, and pretty
neat that Brayan didn’t mind playing with a 3-year-old.
When everyone had left, Marilyn was certainly glad that she didn't
have any more preparation work left to do for this week’s classes.
The day had been long and a little tiring, what with all of the
visitors, both expected and unexpected, but it was also wonderful.
And Glenn was extra happy because his football teams won, the ones
he had excused himself to watch. Heaven knows, we can’t forget
some time in the US in September. On one of the last days we were
there, we drove down to Canyon Lake, TX, a 1 ½ hour drive from
Austin. David and Lynn, my brother and sister-in-law, were camping in
their RV and invited us to join them. It wasn’t the state park, as I
had assumed, but a private campground. David and Linda, his former
wife, had gotten a membership in it when they purchased a lot nearby.
When they split up, Linda got the lot and David got the membership,
which costs about $250 a year. But, for $250, he can camp there up to
14 days a month at no charge. Not too bad a deal, especially when he
has 14 days off at a stretch because he’s a helicopter pilot working in
the Gulf of Mexico.
When we met them, the first thing we did was go to the Gristmill
Restaurant in Gruene (pronounced "green"), a nearby town, for lunch. It
is an iconic restaurant in an iconic Texas town. Believe me, there’s
nothing like sitting in a cool, laid-back restaurant on a hot Texas
day. We all decided to have the baby back ribs and they were good, but
not the best I’ve ever had. (That award still goes to Houstons
Restaurant in Houston, TX.)
After we ate, we walked around town a little. The first place we went
into was an antique store and I kiddingly told Marilyn I’d hold onto
the credit card. However, it was me that we needed to worry about,
because the next place we went into was the Gruene General Store and I
ended up buying several expensive Christmas ornaments. One of them had
“ELVIS” in sequins. That’s the name of Isabel’s oldest son. We also
bought a cute book for Brayan called “I Am a Fire Truck”. He doesn’t
like to read, so we thought that a cute book might help. (It’s now
sitting on one of our display shelves in Ecuador. Oh, well.)
We went to the campground and David and Lynn got the key to the cabin
that they had rented for us. When we tried to pay them back, they
wouldn’t take it. It made me sorry we had gone Dutch with them at the
restaurant, but we appreciated it. They also put some corn out for the
deer so we could watch them feed for a while. It certainly didn’t take
long for the deer to show up. Neither did it take long for them to
gobble up the corn.
Marilyn wanted to swim in the pool, but I convinced her that now was
the time to take a drive because we were likely to see more wildlife in
the late afternoon. With David driving, we wound along the Guadalupe
River spotting animals, mostly deer. We went to Canyon Lake and found
that it was not nearly as low from the terrible Texas drought as we had
expected. David also took us by the lot that he and Linda had
purchased. It now has a very nice house on it, and a great view. I
teased David that he should offer the owners what he paid for the lot.
Who knows? Maybe they’d actually go for it in this housing market.
Marilyn got to go swimming when we got back, though it was after dark.
Lynn didn’t have a bathing suit, but Marilyn convinced her to go
swimming in a T-shirt and shorts. There was no one else around. The
evening was warm, but apparently the water was really chilly because
they both had trouble getting in. David and I enjoyed watching them
enter the pool inch by inch. Marilyn says she used to laugh at her
father when she was a kid because he did the same thing. I’m sure he’s
up there laughing at her now. As for myself, I’ve never, ever, in my 62
years, made any attempt, even an itty-bitty attempt, to tell people I
could handle cold, or even “luke-cool” water.
Later, we saw the real wildlife. Marilyn and I were talking and
snacking before going to bed in our cabin, when Marilyn saw something
out of the corner of her eye. She thought it might have been a
reflection from the frame of her glasses. Then I saw a mouse scurry
from under a table to under the couch. Then she saw it dart from under
the couch to near my feet, and back to under the couch again. Brazen
little thing. We opened the door and Marilyn stomped near where the
mouse was last seen, but I didn’t see it go out of the door from my
observation post. Marilyn asked me to confirm that rats bit people, not
mice. I figured mice wouldn’t bite unless rabid, but really didn’t
know. However, I gave Marilyn the answer she wanted to hear (“Yes, rats
bite people on occasion, but mice never bite people.”) so she would
sleep better. I withheld the suspicion that this little rodent might be
curious enough to run across our sleeping bodies - and we both slept
over to deliver Natasha’s birthday present this afternoon. We got to
Lucilla and Elias's about 5:00 p.m. They had just painted most of the
house that they built recently, and the part completed looked very
Elias wasn’t home. Lucilla told us he was in the Chota Valley buying
some blackberry plants. He’s rented some more land and intends to raise
blackberries on it in addition to the strawberries he already raises on
another piece of rented land. We hope they do well.
They were also having a concrete driveway put in, so Lucilla’s brother,
one of the workmen, had to carry me across the wet concrete. But we
didn’t have to deal with the stairs this time because they’ve made one
of the bottom floor rooms into a living room. That will definitely make
it easier for me to visit. The first time Elias hauled me and my
wheelchair up those stairs, I’ll bet he was thinking, “What have I
gotten myself into?” The stairs are fine for others, but are pretty
steep and narrow for my wheelchair. There’s also a sharp U-ey. (I don't
know the spanish word for "U-ey".)
Natasha and Playmates
Natasha was taking a bath when we got there, but Lucilla brought her
down shortly thereafter. I hadn’t been there in so long that poor
Natasha didn’t remember me at first and was a little scared of me. I
was careful not to seem too aggressive, however, and she soon started
to come around - a little.
Natasha wasn’t too impressed with the dresser we got for her birthday.
No 3-year-old would be. But we think Lucilla and Elias appreciate it.
Also, Natasha will have this for years to come, and will remember who
gave it to her. A toy would probably be broken, or lost, or forgotten,
in a few months. Her parents had wanted us to get her a piece of
furniture for her baptism, but we opted to get a child’s bible instead.
Next birthday, maybe we’ll become the stereotypical godparents who
bring the magical toys.
We had tea and crackers, and talked for a good hour before coming home.
One of the things Lucilla told Marilyn made us both glad. She told us
that she and Elias had given the old clothes Isabel had donated to some
very poor neighbors. Hearing how Isabel’s gift was used was a true gift
to us, as well as to Isabel.
We invited Oliva over for café
(a light evening meal). She is Victoria’s eldest daughter
and, for the time being, lives in Espejo. Her job is to keep an eye on
one of Alfredo’s distribution warehouses, so she lives on the property.
Alfredo is Victoria’s eldest son. However, Alfredo has given up the
operations side of the business and the new owners intend to install
surveillance cameras, so Oliva will be out of a job and moving to
José Gustavo and Glenn
Inez, Oliva’s daughter came with her and, in turn, brought her daughter
and new baby boy, José Gustavo. José is just one month
and eleven days old. A few minutes later, three more members of Oliva’s
family showed up. Yolanda, another daughter of Victoria’s, was already
here doing her laundry because her water was not working, and
Carrolito, Yolanda’s husband, also came over. Then Agusita, Luz, and
Cesar got here (but we had invited them). Then Edgar, a son of Oliva’s,
and his daughter made an appearance, though that was after café.
We had expected to host Oliva, one or two members of her family, and
Cesar’s family. Instead, it became a large gathering. We don’t mind,
but it never ceases to amaze us that we can extend an invitation to one
or two family members and have many more come along for the ride.
I sense that Oliva’s family is a little poorer than some of the rest of
Victoria’s children’s families. That’s relative, though, as all but one
of her children have trouble making ends meet. Plus, most of Oliva’s
family live in Espejo. Espejo is not that far from here, but it’s still
a different town. Thus, they have chosen not to participate in our
monthly birthday celebrations, which don’t fit their pocketbooks. That
is also the reason we decided to invite Oliva for café. We
wanted her to know that we have not forgotten about her, and we thought
it would be a nice opportunity for her to visit her mom.
I was leaving my office to join everyone in the kitchen when Isabel
brought the baby to me. Besides admiring how cute he was, the first
thing I asked was, “What’s that red spot on his nose?” Isabel explained
that the baby was always looking upwards. When that happens with babies
they often put a red spot on their noses to attract the baby’s eyes
We found out about another custom later, when Marilyn was holding
José Gustavo. She began to sit the baby up in her lap, when six
or seven adults gasped, “No!” They explained that no one sits a baby up
until they are three months old. It’s supposedly hard on their spine, I
believe. Marilyn and I don’t have much experience with babies because
we chose not to have children of our own. So, if this is also true in
the US, we’re not aware of it.
As I learn about new customs, rituals, and methods, I think more about
how we, and the people we know, do things in the United States. Often I
believe that the methods we use are better, which usually means more
efficient. In a lot of cases, I admire the way something is done here
more than the way we might do it in the States. This is usually the
case when I see a custom or method whose practice leads to greater
We have often commented to each other that, aside from cell phones, the
Internet, and a few other modern-day marvels, Ecuador reminds us of the
US in the 1950’s. That was a time when our country had more community
and a slower pace of life. Neighbors kept an eye on neighborhood kids
and reported them to their parents, not the police, if they really got
out of line. People often stopped to talk to neighbors and even
strangers on the street. Now they’re often so tired after work that
it’s all they can do each night to push a button to open the garage
door, drive a car into that garage, push another button to close the
garage door, walk to the living room couch, and veg-out in front of the
TV or a laptop for the rest of the evening. This scenario is
exaggerated for a lot of people in the US, but it illustrates a point –
there are not as many opportunities in the US to build community as
there once were.
I’ve read, and even observed in the past year and a half, that customs
and ways of doing things in Ecuador are changing. As more and more
people in Ecuador are able to afford cars to ride in instead of walking
or taking a bus, as more and more people can afford houses on the edge
of towns (like us) instead of living in bustling town centers, as more
and more people use clothes dryers instead of hanging laundry on
clothes lines where they might see and talk to neighbors, people are
running the risks of becoming more and more isolated from each other.
Yet, who would deny these conveniences to anyone, especially if the
person had only recently experienced poverty? Certainly, not me.
However, I hope the people of Ecuador will be deliberate in how they
change. It can be all too easy to replace a material poverty with a
spiritual poverty, and I hope that doesn’t happen. Ideally, Ecuador’s
people will augment their spiritual wealth with the material wealth
that progress brings.
As for showing up for café
at a friend or relative’s house
without a direct invitation, few norte
americanos now ever do such a
thing. But Ecuadorians think nothing of it most of the time. And, you
know what? We think the custom, or social more, or whatever you want to
call it, is a bonus to our lives.
The famous Yamor Festival kicked into high gear with a parade tonight.
Otavalo has been having this festival for years. Many people come from
out of town to enjoy themselves. The locals enjoy it, too, of course.
Yamor is a traditional, non-alcoholic drink made from corn. The
festival was named after the drink.
Glenn was surprised to find that yamor was a non-alcoholic drink. For a
guy raised in New Orleans, it just didn’t compute to celebrate a drink
sans alcohol. But he reasoned that there were probably other festivals
named after non-alcoholic drinks somewhere, like a Milk Festival in
Wisconsin, or a Juice Festival in California, or a Coffee Festival in,
well, somewhere in the world!
Last year, we didn't do one thing related to the festival. It's hard to
find a schedule and we didn't know you had to go to the município (city hall) to buy
one. Isabel helped us this year. It seems to be an eating, drinking,
celebrating through live bands and dancers kind of festival. Every
restaurant has a "YAMOR" sign on their door. The gardeners of the city
have been busy trimming plants and grass in the parks and along the panamericana (pan-american highway)
so they would be pretty. Police cadets spent a couple of days cleaning
off the graffiti. The curbs at corners were recently painted yellow
(not to indicate no parking, but for better visibility). The city
center has been cleaned and spruced up for hordes of visitors.
Appropriately enough, all this has created a feeling of festivity in
We claimed front row seats for the parade on a curb about a block and a
half from the reviewing stand. Yet again, Marilyn confirmed that she
was not very good at "late" night activities. The parade began around
7:30 or 8:00 p.m. (though we didn't check our watches). At 10:30 p.m.,
we headed home because Victoria, Luz, and Marilyn were pretty tired.
Luz opens her restaurant at 5:00 a.m., six days a week, and tomorrow
would be no different. We did take the camera, but didn't feel like
taking pictures (a result of Marilyn being tired and a little grouchy).
Elvis told us the next day that the parade didn’t end until 12:30 am!
Good thing for Marilyn that we left when we did.
It reminded us a little of Mardi Gras, except that there were a whole
lot more dancing groups accompanied by marching bands, and just a few
floats. Nearly all of Otavalo must have been there because there were
hundreds of folks watching on our block alone. Behind the scenes were
many folks set up in booths to sell food and beer. There were also
plenty of folks who were walking around selling stools to sit on,
cotton candy, suckers, cigarettes (you can buy just one), plastic cups
full of beer, blow up plastic toys, lighted balls and sticks, flashing
devil’s horns, etc.
There were some amazing groups in the parade. Neither of us had ever
seen a brass band mounted on horses! Well, it was more like a marching
band, because there were also non-brass instruments, but the horses did
the marching, or walking. When it was time for them to move, the band
members didn’t stop playing. They merely touched the flanks of the
horses and the horses knew where and how fast to walk. It was very
There were also at least two dancing groups composed of elderly people.
They were mostly women in period costumes. One group had parasols, and
the only elderly male dancer we saw. The other group was all women,
half of whom were dressed as men. We’re used to seeing young dancers,
and the parade certainly had its share of those, but seeing elderly
dancing groups marching in a parade was a novelty, and quite uplifting
at our age.
There were many groups who came from far outside of Otavalo. We saw
groups from the provinces of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, hours away by car
or bus. We knew Yamor was a big deal (anyone who has stayed at the
Hacienda Alli Micuy and seen all of the Yamor posters from past years
can attest to that fact), but we still thought the Yamor Festival
didn’t draw too many people from outside the surrounding area. As they
passed by, a group member would often shout, “¡Viva Otavalo!” and
we would often respond, “¡Viva!” or, “¡Viva…” wherever they
I know it seems late for a “graduation”, but in Otavalo, the pre-escolares run year round. The
reasoning is that the schools are caring for the children while their
mothers work, and their mothers work year round. So, last Friday was
the last pre-school class for the children moving up to the escuelas (elementary schools) this
At Caluquí, 10 of the 30 children were promoted. They were the
ones who probably were able to say the English words and sentences that
I had taught best.
The last 2 weeks, some of the phrases we worked on were:
• Are you ready for school?
I’m ready for school.
We also worked on “to work; “to play;” and “to eat.” It was fun in a
chant and appropriate especially for the children moving on to
Their regular teachers, Luzmila, Lucila, and Nancy, were all feeling
sad. They’ve had the students for up to 4 years and now their charges
are off to bigger and different experiences.
Angely, Mom, Dad
Dael y Jofre
Lydia in Background
A special presentation was held to mark the end of their stay in
pre-school and those moving on got large promotion certificates. Those
parents who could, came to watch and take pictures if they owned a
Of those children who are moving up, I have special memories of some:
Ariel probably has had a “crush” on me since I began teaching there a
year and a half ago. English class is the first activity after
breakfast in the morning 2 days a week, so those children who have
finished eating come outside to play before class starts. He always
runs to the gate to greet me when I come and he likes to hold my hand
as I walk across the play yard.
Lizeth y Dad
Lizeth is a little smaller than the other children her age. One time I
picked her up and turned her upside down, something I’ve done with
children in the states many times. They usually laugh in surprise as I
safely place them back on the floor. This was NOT the case with Lizeth.
I guess parents don’t play with their children this way here for she
started crying and wouldn’t stop for a while. Needless to say, I
haven’t played with any of the other children, except Brayan at the
house, since then. Lizeth kept her distance from me for quite awhile
Angely is my God Child’s cousin so I should be able to remember her
name and face. But she was one of the one’s whose name I forgot on a
pretty continual basis. I have always hoped that I’m not damaging any
egos by my inability to keep names in my brain. Fortunately, she still
seemed to like class and her English teacher.
Alegría probably tests at a “slow learner” level. I keep her in
my prayers that as she grows older she can keep up. There aren’t
usually classes available for the special needs children so those who
might benefit from such classes usually fall by the wayside.
Lydia y Alegría
President of Paroquiá (right)
Dael is pretty cute (not that the other children aren’t!!) and he’s
someone I can count on to come up with some unusual words in
appropriate phrases. Like all the boys and some of the girls, it’s hard
for him to pay attention so it can surprise me that he understands even
though he seems to not have been attentive.
Yes, I’m a bit sad, too, that the children are moving on. But they are
ready and a new group of students will take their places. I’ll have 10
new names to learn at this location, yet that’s far less than the 30 I
had when I started teaching English. And now I’m used to the pretty
original names the children have so maybe next year when promotion time
comes around, I won’t be forgetting any of their names.