A Todo Lujo

My husband is from the highlands of Central Mexico. He grew up in a large family with busy, loving, subsistence farmer parents who tilled the dusty fields between agave and prickly pear cactus, planting corn and forage with a horse and plow, and hand tending the fields of bounty that they would save through the winter. His home growing up started as a dirt floor, one room home cinder block dwelling that was gradually built up to its current modest two-story, three bedroom block home with a new kitchen and appliances. The three roads in his tiny town were only recently paved. Yet he had freedom to roam, and friendly waves from the people of the town. He went to church and school, went to parties that hosted the entire town, and ate meals lovingly prepared by a mom who knew how to make something out of nothing. He helped his father and developed a strong sense of responsibility.

All that to say, my husband grew up poor in wealth, but rich in the things that matter.

Fast forward to the 80s. He immigrated to the U.S., where he worked hard, developed a stellar reputation, and earned a good position in a local company as a warehouse manager, showing skills and ambition that would dismiss anyone who thinks social status is static and that growing up poor relegates you to a dismal existence. We married and had a family. It became harder and harder to make trips to visit his parents between kids and school and work schedules, so we began the process to get them into the U.S. for a visit.

My in-laws got their visas in the 90s and were finally able to come visit us. As we took them on trips and showed them the sights, my father-in-law would repeat the phrase, “a todo lujo.” Well, my Spanish isn’t the greatest, and I misinterpreted that as ‘todo al ojo,’ and assumed it meant there was so much to see. I finally looked it up. It means posh, deluxe, luxurious. Towns with overflowing hanging baskets adorning lamp posts – a todo lujo. Entering a restaurant with a fountain – a todo lujo. Everywhere we went, there was something that piqued his interest, and he always noticed the details. Things I just took for granted were newly seen through the eyes of a weathered farmer, and I understood just how lucky I was to live in a place where we could focus on making small areas of our lives a todo lujo.

It makes me realize that a large part of the world doesn’t need gilded chairs or their names in great gold letters on the front of skyscrapers to feel the touch of luxury. Some flowers, conspicuously placed, a fountain, fresh paint, clean things, new things, all add to the feeling of luxury.

It’s all about perspective.

My father-in-law recently passed away, but he was always thrilled to explore and see the world, and he never forgot anything. My mother-in-law continues to make the trip back and forth on her own. She is in her 80s.

Almost Heaven

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Always Something There to Remind Me.”

The year was 1973. In a cedar-panel lined bedroom in a middle class Oregon suburb, I would sit on my bed, my record player blaring:

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, growin’ like a breeze

My young voice would lift with the chorus.

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

I don’t know why this song spoke to me. I’ve never been farther east than a short pass through Kansas on a long road trip.

Born in the city, I was raised in suburbs newly born, clean within the downy fuzz of farmers’ fields, an island of new split-levels and kaffeeklatsches. We roamed the safe streets in freshly washed packs of multi-age explorers, feeding horses, sneakily entering the local farmer’s field and ducking down with stifled giggles when he came out on his deck shouting at us to leave. Bikes with loose chains were our transportation, and we whizzed up and down the hilly street, racing each other, laughing, and occasionally wiping out.

We were young and invincible. And we were loved.

When the summer weekends came, my family’s blue Ford F150 took off for the mountains. The canvas tent, camp stove, propane tank, family dog, and my sister and I were all loaded in the back under the canopy. We headed to the Mt. Hood wilderness for a weekend of fishing, exploring and relaxing at our favorite campsite. During the day, the creaky rowboat and our impatient voices betrayed our presence, scaring potential dinner away from thin, yet hopeful, fishing poles. Back on land, frogs croaked their locations and were surprised to be lifted from their resting spots by inquisitive hands, though always returned, unscathed. Dusty sneakers beat down paths around the lake. Water sandals slipped and slid in the cold mountain water. At night crawdads scurried from overturned rocks and glaring flashlights, and we laughed and chased them until the glow of the campfire and the gooey goodness of s’mores drew us all together again.

The scene has changed throughout my life like a flipagram, speedy, with common backgrounds and changing humans. The fields were exchanged for more split-levels, and the wonder of childhood became the pursuit of knowledge. Even so this song has played in the background. It lingers and beckons, pointing the way to sun painted mountains and calm, clear waters. It begs to go on a journey of exploration. It never ceases to paint in my mind a picture of childhood freedom, of connection with nature, of curiosity and wonder, and of a deep desire for simplicity in life.

And it always implores – take me home, country roads.

(lyrics by John Denver)