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Absence of Family While Residing in a Foreign Land
Absence of Family While Residing in a Foreign Land

by Lou Christine

Recently a film grabbed my attention. It unreeled one of those heart-warming scenes. You know, where the silver-haired grandfather and grandmother are surrounded by their sons and beautiful daughters along with their happily married spouses, not forgetting the gang of spunky grandkids. As you can imagine the old folks beamed, proudly watching their clan break bread together. Good-natured ribbing and the reminiscing of stories of old filled the air. As tender as it sounds, it almost made me puke.

Real life instances such as those are a rarity, especially these days. Yet it got me to thinking: a good percentage of expatriates living in San Miguel don’t enjoy the comfort of having immediate family at hand.

Much distance and time now separates those events that used to make up peoples’ everyday and also the interplay that took place between them and nearby family.

Some who live down here in Mexico pried themselves away. Others ran for the hills. For certain people there’s nobody left alive back home. San Miguel has its share of widows and widowers or one-time couples. Many pioneered on down with the glint of promise, yet in so doing were narrowed down to just one family member, and now, after their demise, are living a sole existence.

For one reason or another, people with a certain wanderlust threw caution to the wind up in Doodah and have migrated, retired, or have just dropped out. Some came to recapture youth. Many have done so with no resources either tangible or emotional as to assuage doubt. Many are construed as misfits or escape artists by family and associates, pegged as rogues and malcontents.

I’ve overheard expatriates express how their children aren’t especially thrilled about mom or dad abandoning the old homestead, saying how they’ve abandoned the opportunity to witness smiles flashed by grandkids and how they’re sacrificing such for the lure of Mexico. That’s when children become more like parents and the runaway moms and dads are pegged as prodigal children.

Back in the real world, the death of a spouse or parent, or divorce, or even graduation day instigate newfound freedoms. Each coming is different, with a myriad of “whys” and “how comes,” yet they’ve made it all the way to San Miguel primarily because free-will still prevails. Yet there’s a lonely-ville price to pay for wanderlust, especially during down moments and such can take its toll.

Down here people do hook up, meet somebody special and even marry. Many develop new life-long friends. Still, there is a distinct absence of immediate family. Many live alone, eat alone and too many sleep alone. The fact is, without family of sort, people tend to get blue.

In most cases we can no longer visit and sorely miss that irreverent-sassy sister, who was living right down the block, who you might drop in on for no particular reason other than for a leisurely cup of coffee. Nor are we able to leap over our brother’s backyard fence to share a beer and take in a ball game. Fishing with Dad on the banks of the Tallahatchie and having tea and crumpets with Mom at Nordstrom’s have faded into distant memories. Barbecues and outings don’t have the ring of nephews and nieces running about while bonding with their kin. We’ve given up on the notion and are no longer able to sip that sweet-tasting iced tea on that ever-so-familiar back porch, a stone’s throw away from where we used to run and play. It’s difficult to bring to mind the lip-smacking flavor of Aunt Sadie’s key-lime pie. We’re no longer attending births, christenings, cousin Joey’s first little-league game, nor during the height of crisis are we able to muster familial forces and join in lock step with our brethren. Down here there aren't as many shoulders to stand on. Stuff like that is the adhesive that keeps good families strong and together.

There’s a one-of-a-kind sensation while enveloped by family. Seems those members care more, or at least, tolerate our quips and quirks with no strings attached. Normally it’s an unconditional love, not predicated on what we’ve accomplished or what we might be able to do for somebody else. There’s genuine concern by our families for our benefit, to share our aspirations and shore up our falls - not because we’re handsome, connected or charismatic, but because we’re one of them, a living-breathing extension of the jovial Johnsons, the vivacious Vaughns or the fabulous Fishmans. That’s one of the beautiful things about family existence. Amongst relatives there’s an inherent togetherness or perhaps an obligation that one feels toward the family’s name.

Certain issues crop up which are difficult to discuss or explain even with our closest friends. They may not understand the history, details and traditions that mark families for generations. Even with trust, our friends may not grasp the colloquialisms, customs or raw humor, pertaining to your kind back in Paducah, Toronto or Auckland. When back at home there comes a solid cozy feeling, as if we possess an inherent right, that we belong. We all remember what Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz…

So where does that leave us loose cannons who have made a choice and departed from the world? At times, my friends, it’s a fallen-branch existence. We’ve given up plenty. Our spirit on the most part is left stark naked - with our backs no longer feeling the warmth exuding from the family flame burning thousands of miles to the north or across the blue sea. With the advent of long-distance telephone and internet it’s easier to keep in touch, but nothing equals that riveting reassuring bear hug from your jolly Uncle Louie, nor are we able to smell the aroma of Aunt Tessie’s perfume - its essence unable to make it all the way through a fiber optic cable. The clear, bright-eyed stare back of a grandchild’s photo isn’t the same as being face to face. Your mother’s soothing touch can’t, and will never be duplicated by science or technology. Each day lost with loved ones will never be regained.

That’s why perhaps, when we sit in the Jardin and see the pride imbuing from our town folk as they introduce and show off sons and daughters, moms and dads and other relatives who have come from afar for even a brief visit, we recognize we will never catch up with the moments once shared in the long past. Maybe we can comfort ourselves at having chosen quality time over that of quantity.

And maybe when we see our Mexican hosts involve themselves in family life, a tinge of jealousy might rise, if just a little. Beause with us, who are too often tabbed as the privileged, it’s as if they have something we don’t, the contentment of having their immediate loved ones at their beck and call.

So be it, as we live here with our existential family; the Waltons we ain’t; the Waltons we’ll never be. I suppose we’re an ad hoc family of mavericks who may have sacrificed the prospect of being dealt pat hands and playing it safe. We have otherwise chosen to live out chance and draw from the essence of life all while existing in a foreign land.

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Lou Christine is a local author who has lived in San Miguel for over 20 years.
This story was first published in Atencion 1998.

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