This year’s Panama adventure begins with an overnight stop in Houston, where I’m reconnecting with a second cousin I haven’t seen since college. The memoir is proving to be an apt introduction after a hiatus of so many years. Pat has read it, and I look forward to wonderful conversation. Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father was not part of her life growing up. She was raised by her grandmother and an aunt and uncle who remained single and living at home to help with her care and support. The mother/daughter relationship can be complicated in so many different ways.
Sally and I arrive in Panama City on Friday mid-afternoon, and David and Lily will meet us, perhaps others will be there as well. Mary and Emily are arriving later that night. We’re all staying at an airport hotel, and the following morning up to 20 of the city relatives will come for breakfast. Now that Minga is older, she no longer hosts a family gathering while I’m there, so unless I make a specific effort to connect with the city contingent, I may not see them. The ones like Jari, who were not yet teens when I first started going back to Panama, are now giving birth to babies of their own. The little ones I pushed on swings at Buenaventura are now snarky adolescents, not all that sure why they have to get up early on a Saturday morning to see an American aunt who comes only once a year. But they show up; for their parents, it’s a sign of respect and allowing them to sleep in and miss the family gathering would not be tolerated. Manners, in Panama, still matter.
We’ll head out to the condo, with David driving us. I used to drive out of Panama City in a car rented at the airport; I’m less eager to drive through the city now. I feel even more strongly about the return. We have to leave the condo around 5:30am to get to Tocumen, which means driving for almost an hour down a pitch black Pan American highway with dark skinned people in dark clothes walking alongside the road on the way to work. The trip is harrowing, and dawn light doesn’t really break through until we’re near the outskirts of Panama City. I simply don’t want to do that any more. David will pick us up. I’m renting the car from a place near where we stay, and will have the use of it to go to and from the village and to restaurants and the markets in El Valle if we choose.
We have access to the condo at 1pm, and Gloria will be there to meet us, help us get settled, grocery shop with me, and prepare dinner. I must say I don’t lift a finger when Gloria is there. One of the million things I miss about not having Jerry around is that in the evenings, if he went into the kitchen to make tea for himself, he’d ask if I wanted a cup and bring it to me. I’m perfectly able to make tea for myself and do, but there’s something sweet about being cared for in that way. For the two weeks in Panama, Gloria focuses on anticipating my needs, and I welcome it.
I’m already thinking about how to pack. I have several things to bring this year: small gifts that have been sent for Minga, Gloria, and their families, and two things Lily asked me to get — a specific kind of sweatshirt for Minga to wear in the evenings, when she gets cold [yes, it’s still 85 degrees at night, but …], and a large size pill counter for her daily meds. The sweatshirt will take up 1/3 of my small suitcase. But, I have it.
The countdown has begun.