My tiny body sits squeezed behind mi tio inside of his tiny VW Beetle. We are coming on three hours outside of Montevideo, just a half mile inland off the coast of the Atlantic ocean, traveling slowly to the house that has a hold of my dreams, the house of my grandparents and their siblings and their parents before that. The road it sits on still lies unpaved and many miles from the nearest town. It winds lightly through the cattle rich countryside. As you approach the sea, the farms become scarce and give way to the candy green vegetation, vines climb every tree and create natural fences as scores of them intertwine and travel along from tree to shrub to tree always staying just a few lengths ahead of our tiny galloping German bug. Next to me is my cousin Anaclara, just a few years younger than me, who bounces with post infant glee to the childish songs sung by my mother. Sitting behind the passengers seat of this makeshift minivan/clown car, she cradles my infant cousin Emiliano as we hop along the rural gravel roads of Uruguay to meet my grandparents, Ya-ya and Ta-Ta, and a handful of other relatives at the family home.
Every year that I can remember down there, our entire family would spend whole summers together, living completely free of the distractions of the capitol city we all inhabited, away from jobs or responsibility to anyone but ourselves. The house is currently in my great aunt’s name but it is specifically for this use, she comes out with her husband as soon as the temperature reaches 70 and leaves when the very last caravan makes it’s way back to the city.
The sun-yellowed stucco of the walls opens to windows framed in maroon wood, it’s Spanish-tiled roof slants ever so slightly to allow the quick summer rains to roll from it’s ceramic armor. Half an acre is cleared of the semi-thick forest that now resides a few hundred feet behind the house, just a stones throw from the concrete horno that would send infinite trails of wispy smoke straight into the seemingly always cloudless sky that cemented my definition of blue.
Ta-ta, workhorse that he was, would spend half his summer splitting wood on a chopping block not too far from the remaining patch of woods behind the house. I would sit and play with my toys in the dirt near him so as to secretly watch his sinewy physique go through tree after tree on some hellbent mission to keep us stocked with firewood well into the next century.
After many summers conquering the splintery battles he would eventually lose the war, I was four when the last cannon sounded. We found him collapsed, axe still in hand, upon returning from a trip into town for ice cream.
To this day, I only have a few truly vivid images of my grandfather. One is of him flattening whole forests with his bare hands... another is of him chasing me around holding his sandals in those very same hands, breathlessly trying to teach me the virtues of discipline.
24 years later and it is finally beginning to sink in.
The lessons of beauty that those summers ingrained within me have left a lasting sense of the profundity of time. They will fuel every romance that fate stumbles across my path, allowing each love affair to link itself effortlessly with my childhood so that my most intimate experiences will forever retain the innocence of youth. Afternoons spent chasing butterflies and impossible to catch hummingbirds with my cousin Diego formed my definition of freedom. We would run down the gravel road blindly, wildly swinging at those hovering and darting flashes of green, yellow and orange until the gravel opened itself up to the sand just before the high grass of the dunes began. The endless rhythm of the ocean washed over my ears every time we got to this point bringing with it the idea of the beginning of the4 rest of the world that I still knew nothing about.
Ta-ta used to show me the vast blue on blue horizon whenever he took me to my swimming lessons in Montevideo telling me of the wonders on the other side of all that water. He fueled my inquisitive nature but it was my cousin’s wild dashes into the razor sharp dune grass that gave me the courage and resilience to venture past the fear of pain, or the unknown, so as to attain the trophy of the w, clear blue infinites of the world.
We would wait until our return to the house to complain of the tiny, stinging cuts given to us by the evil army of beach grasses. Tia Graciela would see to our battle scars as we coyly smiled at each other, victors in our struggle against the oppressive forces of the universe. Afterwards, she would toss both of us in the shower. One fateful trip saw me returning with more than the usual tiny marks. A few rogue jellyfish decided to venture into the shallows to die but just before they did they unloaded some venom filled tentacles on my underdeveloped legs.
To this day I’m wary of ocean creatures.
Each day that lives on in my memory of these summers seems to be filled with wonder and adventure, but to the adults of the family they were filled with tranquility and the comfort of strengthening the bonds initiated by blood and nurtured by love and relation. The back porch area of the house was where we all came after breakfast to sit under the canopy of grape vines for hours. The grown ups would sip maté, each armed with their own thermos, and discuss whatever came to mind as us little people sat on the dusty ground around their ankles pretending to be a part of their conversation, nodding every so often to each other as if we understood every opinion of every topic, sometimes trying a sip of maté only to be snickered at by the grown ups as our tiny faces would contort into prunish imitations as the bitter tea travelled past our tongues.
It still feels very natural to resurrect these sacred memories of my youth even while I sit at this metal table half a world away. The same warmth i remember feeling back then washes over me no matter the sterility of the environment forced upon my physical being.
It is because of these memories that they can never truly imprison me, never force me to unlearn all that makes burn within these arid emotional deserts of today.
I owe my life to my family who taught me how to push away the world every so often so as to live immaculately even if for just a few months at a time, who showed me what it meant to care for one another, to build experiences with one another so that neither time nor space could ever separate us from each other. They will be with me until my mind’s eye replays it’s last picture show and i am once again in front of my grandfather.
I think the first thing I’ll do is thank him for all he showed me in the very few words and experiences between us, even the dreaded sandal chases. I’ll take him to some celestial cliff overlooking the ocean of the universe and share with him all the wonders that it brought to me.