I’m closing up a beautiful 29-day vacation, 20 of which were spent in Mexico with my family. I flew down on 12/10 and spent a week and a half helping my mom get ready for our family reunion. On the 20th and 22nd we were joined by most of our Rupe clan and ended up with a group of 13: my parents, brother, and me; my Grandma, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Marilyn; and Uncle Brian, Aunt Lynn, Jachin, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison. We all flew back on the 29th. Never in my life have I taken a vacation like this, and I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time chronicling it. I’ve written about how going home rearranges my whole sense of self, but I have to balance that with sharing the pure joy and fun that I had during those 3 weeks. I could write about it start (I got gyped into buying an “executive” van taxi ride from the airport to the bus station in Mexico City) to finish (Cheeseburger with grilled onions from In-N-Out), but that would be boring in the extreme. So instead, here’s my top 10 list. There are a lot more than ten, but for the sake of time, space, and your sanity, I have to draw the line somewhere . . .
10. Battle of the Refrigerated Room
All the girl cousins (me, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison) got to stay up in Misa’s apartment (more on him
later). This room is fantastic except for one little problem: it’s frigid. Cement houses in Mexico tend to warm up during the day and lose heat at night. This room is built over the shed and has 4 outside walls; even though it gets steamy during the day, by 6am it’s colder inside then out. Amy and Adrienne got the bed, and Allison and I were on cots. The cots were really comfortable, except for the fact that the air under the canvas basically meant we were lying on an ice cube. But Allison and I were not to be dissuaded. The second night we rounded up every extra blanket in the house. We were warm on top, but it didn’t fix anything. And all four of our noses were still frozen in the morning. So the third night we pulled up the heated mattress pad and commandeered the gas heater. Allison took the mattress pad, and I put four blankets under my sleeping bag. We put the heater to work and voila! We slept warm and cozy for about 9 hours straight. It doesn’t sound like much when I write it out, but trust me . . . it was a significant accomplishment.
9. Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Allison drew my name in our gift exchange and got me the top priority item on my Amazon wish list: Voyage of the Dawn Treader blue ray. I was thrilled with the movie as it was, but the best part came later on Christmas evening when all four of us girl-cousins piled onto my parents’ bed to watch the movie. It was very cozy and comfy, with Amy and Allison fighting over the foot of the bed against Adrienne’s legs. I wish we had taken a picture.
8. Mexico City
On the 28th we made our pilgrimage to Mexico City. I was thrilled with the bus
ride there because it was the only time I really got to spend talking with Jachin. We ate at the Casa de Azulejos (House of Tiles), which is now a delicious restaurant called Sanborn’s. We did a little sightseeing, a little shopping, and ended the night with the “special” highlight of the week: an outdoor Folkloric ballet at the French Dictator Maximilian’s Chapultepec palace at the top of the city. I’ve been to 3 in my life, and these shows depicting the dances of Mexico are incredible. I must have been about 7 when I saw the first one, and not too long after that I was enrolled in a folkloric dance class at our local cultural center. I must have been about 8, and the 3 other girls in the class were teenagers who’d been dancing for years. My dad told me this trip that I came home from that class saying that feet were not made to move that fast! I think I lasted about a month. I was not destined to become a wonderful dancer of the zapateado, but I sure do love watching it. This show started off a little strange with the most Mary-
focused nativity pageant I’ve ever seen (and some wild onion turban-headed Persian wise men on real horses), but by the time it ended I was proud to be at least partly affiliated with the Mexican culture. Sometimes I think it’s a real shame that most Americans are transplanted. The only people in our country with such a rich unified cultural tradition are Native Americans, and we don’t give them enough credit. I suppose we have the Charleston, but it’s not really the same, is it?
A few years ago my heights-avoidant father decided that repelling would be a good team-building activity for his missionary candidates. So he took a class and, against his better judgment, performed a practical “exam” with his instructor. He’s been hooked ever since. When I met my parents in Acapulco a year ago he kept looking for places for us to repel. I turned him down on the basis that I didn’t like the idea of landing on the highway or on rocks in the ocean far from shore. But at home dad has a couple of tried and true spots to walk backwards down a rock face, so I went. He didn’t want to wait for the rest of the
family to show up, so he and I went with 3 other guys from the church during my first week there. I was a little nervous, but am pleased to say that I’m no wimp and did a great job. We went again when the rest of the family was
there, and I also went down the “intermediate” cliff. I don’t think I’m as hooked as my dad is,
but there is definitely a thrill that comes from walking down a wall of rock. And I have to admit, it’s impressive how my dad
ties all those ropes together, and I’ve rarely seen him so happy doing anything.
6. Christmas at Church
Church traditions are what I miss the most about Christmas every year. But, like I wrote about before, my memories become rose-colored shrines to all that is good in the world. Christmas is always a search for the magic we felt in childhood. Here’s the thing: this is perhaps the one situation where reality is better than the memory. I will never be so prolific a writer that I could adequately explain the amazing combination of Mexican Christmas and church. Misa was in charge of the program, and he did an amazing job. Over 200 people showed up, the worship service (including a great tambourine troupe) lasted over 30 minutes of joyful Latin church music, and the kids put on a great pageant. As if that wasn’t enough, there was food. Great food. Food that is Christmas to me. Sopes, tamales, buñuelos, apple salad, jello . . . and ponche. Wonderful ponche. A drink so delicious that all other forms of punch are named after it. You can’t get it in America because you can’t get tejocotes, guayabas, and sugar cane. It’s wonderful stuff.
The festivities culminated with piñatas. I don’t like piñatas – they’re dangerous. When done properly, they can cause serious brain damage. When I was about 6 I got kicked in the head in the middle of a piñata pile . . . and that was the last time that happened. From then on I was the smart one that walked the perimeter picking up all the stuff that the other kids pushed through their legs in their candy-hoarding zeal. I got a good haul without the potential brain injury. Now that I am clearly not a child anymore, I certainly didn’t expect that I was at risk for piñata involvement. The third one was reserved for the young adults. I’m not really one of those, either. There I was, innocently taking pictures, when all of a sudden I heard my name being chanted. Crap. The pressure of 30 people shouting my name was too much. To deny the request would look absolutely ridiculous. The greatest potential risk of piñata breakage is being the one who actually breaks it: not only does a bunch of stuff fall on your head (which could include sugar cane and pottery – both of which are quite hard), but you could be trampled when everyone else attacks the ground around you. My strategy was simple: don’t break the piñata. This is easily accomplished while blindfolded. Naturally, there was no blindfold. So . . . being able to see and being taller than everyone it would have looked really ridiculous if I didn’t get in at least a couple of good whacks. I looked beseechingly at Enrique who was driving the piñata, trying to communicate with my eyes that I didn’t want him to make it too easy. I think he got the opposite message. I managed to make it through my 10 seconds of piñata swinging with a few good swings but without actually breaking it. By the end, I had conquered an old fear . . . sort of.
One Piñata to Rule Them All
5. Family Piñata
Okay, let’s face it: American piñata hitting is just silly. The thing is fixed on a rope, blindfolds are optional, the riot is minimal, and loot collection is relatively polite. To do the thing properly, only one side of the rope is fixed – the other is held by someone standing on a roof whose job it is to make it very difficult for the hitter to connect . . . or, in some cases, a little easier. Blindfolds really should be used, even though the church piñata was lacking on this point. The riot really is orchestrated chaos, involving a combination of the “Dále Dále Dále” song and a mix of shouted instructions to the hitter that may or may not be accurate. And when the thing finally breaks . . . sweet, innocent, respectful children become nothing more than rabid animals. It’s a free-for-all, and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt or kicked or trampled in the violent race for the shower of candy and fruit. Every little break before the candy counts, too. The cones are especially important, because they serve as candy holders; there’s only a few of them, so you’re pretty cool if you score one.
So, in our efforts to encourage cultural awareness, we got the family a piñata to break on Christmas Eve. Dad took me, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison to the market to pick out and fill one. Before break time, we taught everyone the song and coached them on the importance of assertiveness and borderline violence, even (and especially) toward loved ones. Then dad perched himself precariously on the overhang and away we went, youngest to oldest. Everyone took a turn (except dad) right up to Grandma, who was allowed to break it. I think some sugar cane landed on her head, but she made it through okay. I was proud of the rush for cones, and my cousins did a pretty good job of picking up every last peanut. In all fairness, it was a full piñata for only about 10 people, so they had an easier time of more work. They fought it out, though. The funniest moment was when Jachin’s turn came. He’s about 6’4,” so dad (who had been sitting on the overhang) dangerously teetered himself to a standing position so he could cause a proper challenge and make the game last for the rest of us. Then the girls started shouting opposite directions that he believed, and he spent almost his whole turn swinging wildly in the opposite direction of the piñata. We were all crying with laughter, and my dad didn’t even move; I think in the end he made it easier, and Jachin finally got a hit in when he figured out the girls were tricking him. It was hilarious!!
4. Amy’s song
On Christmas night we all trouped over to church for a short evening service. It was pretty cool to have so many Rupes in the room. In our church the music tends to last at least half an hour, and songs are repeated lots and lots of times. I like this method, which is not usually what you see in the US, but it can get a little redundant if you don’t know the words. I was starting to feel a little anxious for my family when I glanced at Amy, who was standing next to me.
What I saw was my littlest cousin (who’s not really so little, but always will be to me), eyes closed and hands raised, worshiping God with words that she didn’t understand. My heart soared and I again marveled at a God who speaks to our hearts regardless of location, language, skin color, and any other possible barrier. I don’t think I’ll ever lose that mental picture of our sweet Amy.
3. Getting Ready for Christmas
I went 10 days before everyone else with the specific purpose of helping mom get everything ready. I wiped down every dusty branch on the Christmas tree. We cooked and baked, and made lists, and beds, and moved tvs, and went shopping . . . so much shopping. I got to climb up in the attic and pull down all our decorations that hadn’t seen the light of day in 5 years. We pulled out decorations from my childhood and found places for them in the new living room.
I pulled down a box of hundreds of pictures that I sorted during my days of smart-mouth related bedroom confinement, and had a blast sorting through them to create collages to put under the protective plastic in the living room. I put 14 Christmas CDs on an MP3 player so we could blast Christmas cheer through our
In my foray into the attic I discovered about 8 boxes of my old books, toys, and random stuff. I found my old Fisher Price tape player; my poster of Zach, Screech, and Slater (shirtless!); and my Benji dog. Best of all, I found our family Nancy Drew book collection that spans 3 generations (we thought it was sold at a garage sale by someone who didn’t care) and a collection of 6 beautiful limited edition carousel horse music box plates given to me by my Grandma Wiedling that I thought had been lost in a move. (I could mention that these were in a box labeled “Ship to Sallie” in my own handwriting, but that would imply that my parents put this box back into the attic instead of shipping it to me . . .)
Most of all, this time of preparation was just a great time to spend with my mom. I know she was disappointed that there was so much to do that I did most of the decorating without her, but I was glad I could be there to help. Christmas Eve was especially nice: neither one of us was feeling that great, so we stayed home while everyone else went sight-seeing. We spent a quiet day baking and cooking for Christmas. In the end the turkey never thawed, but we had plenty of food to go with the ham so it was all good. It was such a blessing to spend time with her.
My parents invited a neighbor to the Christmas program on Sunday the 18th. She came, so we sat with her to eat. She had to leave early because her son was home with a bad cold. Monday I started coughing. Tuesday my throat felt like one of those baskets with a snake in it that Chinese illusionists cram full of swords: scratchy as a basket, slimy as a snake, and sliced raw. Wednesday my lung capacity seemed to be about 1/3 normal, and I actually went to bed. Since I couldn’t sleep, my brother watched a movie with me. We went downstairs after the movie, and I discovered that my dad had sat on the couch and slept for about 4 hours. Neither one of us gets sick very often, and we’re not usually wussy patients.
On Thursday my dad was supposed to go to Mexico City to get the second round of family. I managed to drag myself out of bed, but he wasn’t moving. He had a fever of 101.5. I was invited to go to the doctor with him, but I turned down the opportunity – I really didn’t think I was sick enough for professional intervention. As they were leaving I went into this massive coughing fit, and Misa instructed me to get in the van. Dad and I sat for 40 minutes or so waiting for a consult at the hospital, then they practically forgot about me sitting in a cold room with a thermometer in my armpit while the doc saw him. When the nurse came back for me the thermometer was so stuck to me that we almost couldn’t find it; she took my temp again, and I had no fever; I was, however, declared to be much sicker in my lungs than my dad. Mom and Misa left that afternoon for Mexico City looking a bit peeked, while dad and I sat pathetically on the couch staring at each other and counting the minutes to our next dose of something. The drugs kicked in and, fortunately, I was feeling well enough in a few hours that I was able to set up beds for everyone who was arriving that night. Grandma and Aunt Marilyn did an amazing job taking over all the kitchen projects that mom and I had planned for that day. Thanks to a combination of delayed flights and lost luggage the group didn’t get back from Mexico City until about 2am; this was a good thing, because everyone wanted a low-key day. Which was also nice because mom was so tired and fighting a milder version of what dad and I had that she slept a good chunk of the day. A few days later, Misa (who stayed with his family in Mexico City) posted on Facebook that his throat was on fire and he had a really bad cough . . . that I’m sure he got from me. By the end of the trip we were all feeling better, although at our last meal in the airport we were passing around antivirals and benzocaine cough drops while normal people would share breath mints. My cough has gotten worse again since I’ve been back; I just got off the phone with Misa, who told me to go back to the doctor – I coughed at least 40% more than he did during our conversation.
I know it’s a strange thing to put this shared sickness on my top 10 list of favorite events, but it really was a shared experience that was a significant factor in the dynamic of the trip. We went through it together, and our greeting still involves “how are you feeling?” We shared germs at Christmas 2011, and we’ll never forget it. It sucked to not be able to talk or taste properly during most of the time I was with my family, but it all worked itself out. Fortunately, no one else was drawn into the fray.
1. A New Brother
Most of the other things on my list are really about tied for position. But the greatest blessing of the trip
really is in the top slot. It has nothing to do with the Rupes, but everything to do with family. It came completely unexpectedly, which is probably why it blessed me so greatly. In the missionary world, you have two kinds of family: the first is the family you’re related to, which is permanent but distant; the second is the family God puts in your life, which is generally fluid, but consisting of relationships that are deeply woven throughout their duration. Then there are a few relationships that span both worlds: not blood, but forever; not obligated, but deeply committed.
Enter Misael. I’ve written about him throughout this blog and mentioned him on Facebook, so people have been asking me about him. He’s my new brother. My parents first met him a few years ago during a missions class they were teaching. Misa wanted to be a missionary, and spent quite a bit of time studying in preparation for the ministry. He’s spent quite a bit of time in several countries working alongside other missionaries. Last year he began working part-time helping my parents in the administration of LAMM and promotion of Inmersión, then he started helping out with the church. Ultimately, his calling has been confirmed as a support to missionaries rather than as an actual field missionary. He left his parents’ home in Mexico City, moved into the frigid apartment over my parents’ shed, and now works with them full-time with basically only room and board as compensation. In January he’ll be going to India for 4 months to develop some first-hand understanding of what it’s like to live on the field so that he can better support the LAMM missionaries.
But that’s just what he does. He IS a pretty amazing man. After 3 hours, I felt like I had known him my whole life. He didn’t join LAMM looking for a family, but LAMM is our family so he got us anyway. And he joins in with gusto. He’s not shy about sharing anything but he gives far more than he takes with his help, support, and just by creating an environment people want to be in. He’s hilarious and willing to do just about anything for a laugh. He loses his stuff all over the place, and works tirelessly to do the best he can on any task he undertakes. He wants me to visit more often so that my mom will cook more, and was completely thrilled to discover we had an attic and owned Christmas decorations. Best of all, he loves my parents. And he understands them. He’s in on all the insider information and history of our family, and he guards it without judgment. I am no longer worried about my parents, no longer concerned that no one is making them slow down and pace themselves; I watched Misa head for the stairs to drag my dad out of bed and to the doctor. We talked, and without my asking he assured me that I could go home and trust him to assume all the “son responsibilities.” “Live with open hands,” he told me. “That way you can receive all the blessings of God without hanging on so tight that you miss out on whatever’s next.” True to that, everything he cares about in the world fits into a small suitcase and a laptop bag. Misa could use your prayers. He will be the next leader of LAMM, and that’s a daunting thing to train for. He needs financial support, he needs to learn English, and he needs favor to get a visa to the States so he can start building relationships with the LAMM leadership. He also needs a lot more heat in his room.
The greatest blessing of my trip was gaining a brother, as well as a new peace for the well-being of my parents.