Friday, March 3, 2017

Having a Wonderful Time--Wish you were here.

Having a Wonderful Time--Wish you were here.
            For a group of classmates from Harlem, Montana, none of whom grew up with “advantages”, Harlem being not exactly the cultural center of the world, what an amazing opportunity for us. Here we are, Class of ’63, in a foreign country, soaking up life like the sponges we always have been.

What did we know but hard work and vagaries of weather? Our recreation consisted of school sports (boys’ only), a summer swim in the Milk River, ice-skating in the winter. Most of us knew a touch of poverty, even if we weren’t aware at the time. What one grows up with seems “normal”.

            Travel—Ha!—We never made it further than Havre. Our music was Hank Williams and Marty Robbins, Ricky Nelson, Elvis and The Big Bopper. Dance was the two-step and jitterbug. A symphony or ballet? Not a possibility. The radio took us to foreign places--I used to listen to opera on a station out of Regina Saturday mornings, the most beautiful music in the world, though I was more comfortable with Country-Western.

Many times during these two weeks we talked about how you would have loved the little towns perched precariously on the mountainsides, the ancient Cathedrals dominating each plaza, watching the man make floor tiles by hand from start to finish with a simple but ancient press.

            Or maybe your favorite thing would have been soaking in the sun on the beach, having a shopping party, both treasures and trash, all at your feet, while vendors display silver jewelry with semi-precious stones, Mexican blankets in riotous colors, embroidered blouses from Oaxaca, and wispy beach wraps. Certainly there is something for everyone. Highly polished animals carved from ironwood, turtles from obsidian, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, straw hats, sunglasses, sandals, “Rolex” watches made in China. Treasures and trash, yes, all delightful.

            We went from the sea to the mountains, roamed cobblestone streets of villages reminiscent of old Harlem. We marveled at the architecture, ancient alongside the incredible skyscrapers of modern Guadalajara.

We swayed and jiggled and tapped our toes to Mexican music, especially the mariachi, loved the folk dances, the traditional regalia, the art of various regions. We ate from carts on the street; we dined in fashionable restaurants.

In the tiny village of La Noria, where we happened to be on the day of their street market, I found a broom, made by hand of stiff wide bristles, perhaps bamboo, attached to the stick with wire woven through the strands. This is the kind of broom used to sweep hard-packed dirt patios. I brought it back to the tour van and announced, “New transportation.”

Our only complaint; there were not, would never be, enough days to do all we wanted. Growing up the way we did, hard as it was, I wonder if those early years conditioned us to better appreciate every adventure, even the uncomfortable.   

You know, the stories we told might have been the best part of the whole holiday. I’m not talking about the good stuff, the successes. We shared our past hurts, the real stories, the pains of growing up in difficult times (Though what times are not difficult?). We each thought we alone were awkward, bumbling, made stupid mistakes. We had struggled through rough patches in secret, without a confidant. How similar our experiences! We had known one another only on the surface.

After two weeks of increasing intimacy, our love and respect for each other has grown bonds which can never be broken. Yes, you would have loved to be with us. We missed you. See you soon with, as our guide Leo would say, a thousand-thousand pictures.

Hope you can make it next year. Hope I can make it next year.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

March 2, 2017

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