Family Ties

When I was seven years old, I went to summer camp. It was only for a week and it should have been fun. But it ended up being one of the most traumatic experiences of my life because I missed my family dearly. Desperately, I waited for each minute to pass and for the days to end so that the torturous separation would finally come to an end. My homesickness was so intense that I cried constantly – walking to the lunchroom, between activities, before going to bed – and I look back now and wonder how in the world no one took pity on me. I was in such a miserable state that they should have just packed me up and sent me home immediately. During that week-that-felt-like-a-year, the only bright spot of each day was after lunch when we’d stand around in a circle for mail delivery. My parents wrote me religiously, so I could always count on receiving a letter, and I anxiously listened out for my name to be called. And when it was, I took my precious letter and I read it and re-read it again and again before going to bed or during free time in the afternoons from the top bed of the bunk bed. And I would treasure the words contained within, for it was the only contact that I had with my parents – the only contact, that is, until my parents broke all the rules by pretending to deliver my Sunday shoes and snuck in a quick visit. The camp employees with their stringent no visitor rules were far from happy, but that 15 minute visit was my lifeline in getting me through the rest of the week.

I have happily put that painful memory deep in the recesses of my mind, but every once in a while it resurfaces – like when I left for school at the University of Michigan and started a life far away from my family in California. And like Thursday when my parents boarded a plane to return to California while I stayed behind in Altea, Spain.

And, at times like these, I feel like I’m seven all over again. Except that, this time, I’m not just away for a week. This time, I don’t have a specific date to countdown to. And this time, it’s not quite so easy for them to sneak in a visit to me because there are thousands of miles and an ocean between us.

But I can’t complain because we had a wonderful visit. And I didn’t get to see just my parents. My sister and my sister-in-law came as well, and I had the privilege of meeting Amaya, my 8-month-old niece, for the very first time. Unable to meet her during my rushed visit back to the States over Christmas, Amaya made the long journey here and even got her passport for the occasion! And when I saw how fast she was growing, I was thankful that I was able to see her before she got too big. And I relished seeing Johanna in her new role as a mom, my parents as grandparents, and I watched in amazement as my sister carried and played with Amaya. Always the adventure-seeker and too carefree to be tied down by children, I have rarely seen my sister around children, but she is a beautiful aunt. So young at heart, herself, she connects with children in a way that I can’t.

And as they all piled into our two-bedroom apartment, I was grateful that we didn’t have to worry about Paco upstairs, disapproving of so many people using his home. However, even though we didn’t have Paco to contend with, we had many other things that made this visit equally memorable. As luck would have it, our electricity was cut the day after they arrived. Apparently, the utilities bill had never been transferred to our name when we took the apartment and the four month grace period had come to an end – just when 6 of us and a baby were all dependent on it for our light and our hot water. And, adding to the chaos, major construction got underway on the apartment next door just when they arrived, filling our days with relentless drilling that was so loud that it sounded as if it was happening within our four walls. And apparently, the workers weren’t Spaniards, for they got started early and rarely even took a break for siesta.

Nevertheless, we managed to have a good visit, and I loved that my family was able to see AlteArte with their own eyes. My parents and Coral had seen it in November when it was still for sale and David and I were still deliberating, so it meant a lot that they could now see the result of our hard work. And I was thrilled that they were able to meet our customers who have become our friends and get to know the details of our life here. And I got spoiled having my sister there every night until we had closed, often waiting until 4 in the morning to head home with us. Her infectious laugh caught many people’s attention – including one older woman who, as soon as she heard it, stopped her vegetable shopping at the outdoor market and started talking to us. I tried to translate as best I could, but as the lady rattled away about her grandchildren and the village that she was from, it almost seemed like she didn’t care whether we understood or not. Coral’s laugh had made her happy and she wanted to connect with us in any way that she could.

And my mom practiced her Spanish when she found herself in the middle of conversations and my dad quickly exhausted his limited Spanish but happily talked in-depth to our English-speaking neighbors. And they became immersed in our lives here – even to the point that they attended my Spanish class with me and got to know some of my classmates who have become good friends.

And being the amazing mother that she is, my mom continued to mother me and cooked for us – leaving dinner ready for us when we came home at 4 am – and did our laundry and made sure that our household remained livable when the late nights and long hours prevented us from doing it ourselves. And we were fortunate to have her with us for two mother’s days – the Spanish one and the American one.

Meanwhile, my dad, the vegetarian, busied himself with saving small creatures in need of his assistance including a bee and a fly who had been chased down by Gizmo, our cat, and a baby bird who had somehow found his way into AlteArte but couldn’t manage to get out.

And, to top it all off and without any planning at all, David’s side of the family, including our sister-in-law and 7 month old niece who came all the way from Paris, spent an afternoon at AlteArte. Having both of our families together in Altea made for the perfect day and we couldn’t have been happier!

After my traumatic camp experience, I never could have imagined that I’d willingly choose to be far from home. However, I’ve actually spent much of my life away from my family – in Michigan, in Paris, in New York and now in Spain. I’m lucky to have a family as great as mine because even when I’m far, the connection is strong. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be physically close to feel emotionally close. But, at 7, I hadn’t yet understood that.

And that makes all the difference.

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14 responses to “Family Ties

  1. ok…now I’m sad… & happy for the memories… times like these are to be treasured! Miss you much!

    • Miss you incredibly, Coral. Thanks for making that visit happen. You’re the glue that keeps us all together – just like Gaga! Waiting for your next visit!

  2. We were particularly moved by this blog. Thanks so much for all the kind words!. We are thrilled to have had such a role in your life, and thanks for being the superb daughter you have always been!
    It was equally difficult for us to say goodbye last week, but we loved being a part of things for at least a short time. We were overwhelmed by the wonderful friends and customers you have – and grateful to have had a chance to grow close to some of them!
    Thanks mucho mucho to you and to David for all that you did!
    (I was going to add some words about that other wonderful daughter of ours, Coral, and how much she also means to us and how thankful to her we are in making this trip possible. But since she beat me once again by getting her comments in first, I have decided not to mention her at all!)

    • Thanks for being the superb parents that you are. I am truly fortunate, and I fully recognize that. Thank you.

  3. This was such a moving post, got goosebumps AND tears! I am so very happy that you all got to be together and that your family got to see AlteArte, How wonderful for all of you. Amaya is adorable!

    • It was a very special visit and one not to be forgotten! Amaya is adorable, and I’m so glad that I got to meet her before she grew too much!

  4. Sara, this reminds me of many similar experiences, except without the life saving letters or visits…thank you for writing so eloquently and sweetly about the ties that connect you to family…I remember well Coral’s infectious fabulous laugh…How lovely that she’s appreciated by strangers walking by too!

    • Sarah, months later, people are still talking about Coral’s laugh! It’s amazing what an impression she leaves on people! Thank you for being such a loyal reader, Sarah. I love your comments.

  5. This brings back great memories of a lovely trip to Spain, thank you Wilson Family for making our venture across the globe possible. We hold our Spanish memories dear!

  6. Your niece is adorable. That is awesome that she travelled all the way there and you got to spend time with her, and all your family. Your mom sounds awesome too. That rocks that she helped out around the house and they got a chance to experience how you guys live in another country.

    • Yes, it was a fantastic time spent with family. Amaya is adorable and my mom is the best mom ever. Best of all, my parents really liked it here which is very important and means a lot to me.

  7. After meeting your family I am not surprised you sometimes miss them much. Not a lot of people have such a loving and supporting family so be proud and miss them whenever you want 😉

    Special hugs for your very special sister.

    Ps. will be stopping by later so prepare!

    • Warner, I’m glad that you got to meet my family. They are definitely a special bunch. Now that my family is gone, I trust that you’ll come in more often to keep me company. 😉

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