Rearranging life’s bouquet

Jan 4, 2020 | 9 comments

Margret hails from Texas. Her earliest memory of her father is of a kind man, self-shamed simply for being diminutive, who charged about his castle in cowboy boots, boxer shorts, clasping a long-neck Lone Star beer as if it was a talisman of the tribe. As was the custom at the time, he spent long months away from home working in the oil fields that were sprouting fountains across the loamy and clayey soil that streteched to the horizon. He provided a comfortable living for the family, even if he was almost always away and on occasion overlooked.

Now it may be that “overlooked” is a bit strong a word to use, but it is true that on many an occasion the remains of the clan would celebrate a holiday or a school recital or birthday knowing full well that it was up to them to carry on as if they were intact.

When Margret was 18, she left to attend Daddy’s alma mater, the University of Texas, Austin. Her mother sent the housekeeper, Belva, along to help her get settled — and instruct her on how to make a bed. Margret had always relied on others for “menial tasks” such as laundry, and house cleaning, so her education began the moment she arrived at her dorm. She was expected to be responsible for herself now, a situation she didn’t care for in the slightest.

However, the sheer enjoyment of learning, and the university environment inspired her. She was awestruck by the optimism, intellectual agility, and moral strength sheltered in the colossal fortresses and staid monasteries devoted to education, inspiring her in ways she had never before considered. She had entered a much larger world; she knew it, embraced it, and carefully placed her childhood behind her. She was an adult now, a college student, just as her father had been before her. She was proud and ecstatic and anxious for her new life to begin.

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She confirmed this new status as an adult in a most fitting way; her first order of business was seeing to it that her laundry was sent home via Greyhound where it would receive proper attention and be promptly returned.

As the years passed by, there were suitors and, after careful reflection, one was chosen. At first, her parents were mystified by her choice but quickly saw that the new couple loved each other dearly and that married they would be.

Tim was kind and funny and always had his guitar close at hand. It had become an extension of his voice. He would often begin a jam session, or even an afternoon conversation, by softly picking a simple twelve-bar blues tune that flowed as pure and luminous as honey; it became a soundtrack that would meander through the evening, picking up remnants of recently read books, news stories of note, tales of shows playing in town, and whether farmers should consider getting the crops in early. And, as expected, there was far too much blather about politics. But, it is from this well that Tim drew his spring of songs.

It was a magical time brimming with music and friendship.

They both loved Austin and decided to make it their home. Tim parlayed a part-time job he began as a student into a nice gig in the school library system. Margret served on the management team of a non-profit corporation charted to provide community-centered work experience for felons. They never had children but they kept busy hiking, dining out in town, and taking road trips far to the north for vacation. They enjoyed having dinner parties, attended just about every social event in town — sometimes two in a night — and they always joined in with friends. It was like those two just could not stop.

And then, Tim did. It was sudden and at work. He went down and he never got up. It was over.

There really isn’t much to say; the funeral was a blur of tears. After a number of days, those who gathered said their good-byes and were gone — each to their own homes and families. Late but persistent well-wishers started driving Margret crazy. She couldn’t read a chapter without someone dropping by, unannounced, or calling on the phone and leaving a way-too-long message.

“I know, I know,” she would say. One by one she held their hand or called them on the phone so they might feel reassured.

Margret didn’t mention that her life ended, too. Tim was her one-and-only. Everywhere she looked, she remembered a moment when he was here with her. She still spent time with friends, but it always seemed that a chair or place on a bench was empty when it shouldn’t be.

And then, at last, and though it took over ten years to realize it, the lessons she and Tim learned traveling to the far north, would serve her well traveling anywhere — even alone, even in the south.

And so, as you might have guessed, in March, after Margret had sold her house and all of her belongings, save two suitcases of her most essential items, she flew away to Cuenca, Ecuador.

But not last March; Margret has been living in Cuenca for nearly twenty years. When I asked her how she chose Cuenca, she was dreamily faint. “Well, I read a little bit about it, so I came down to visit. I liked what I saw and it rained every day, so that was nice. I loved the flowers and the clinging shadows on the mountains, too. Six months later I returned to live for good.”

We chatted on the deck of her home; a canopy of trees surrounded us like tiny woodland. The conversation drifted from favorite old haunts to large and small changes she noticed over the years and not all of them to her liking. She is obsessed about the tranvia because she lives close to the line, and can barely believe it is taking so long to begin service, but the conversation maintained an airy tone until I asked about the flood of people that washed over her, carving her life.

She spoke of how losing Tim was like passing through the end of time, but she endured it. She said the loss she has endured, even in Cuenca, is vaguely similar. She misses the many fantastic people she knew who passed through town, and through time, too quickly. She learned to embrace new relationships to the fullest, knowing that loving friendship floats on the wings of tiny birds. It is an iridescent joy that transcends all others and then it is gone in a flash, trailing a murmur of farewell.

I chatted with Margret hours longer than I intended, and without a thought of writing down another word.  But, I can safely report that Margret is a happy, engaged conversationalist, who is active, and keeps in touch with her family and friends.

As we brought our glasses to the kitchen and said our good-byes, I asked her a last question, actually, it was two. I asked if she was planning on staying, and if so, why. She answered both at once.

“I like it here,” she said.

I thanked her for her time and walked home, comforted and secure that I too will live out my days in Cuenca. Margret and I share a common understanding.

I like it here, too.

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