the beginning of the end

On Monday, my older son flew back to Virginia.

It was hard for him to leave.

He’d poured his heart and soul into this house and now, just weeks before it’s completed, he has to leave. And at the most fun part, too! After the tedium of laying block, everything is happening in a rush: windows! ceiling! plaster! cabinets! tile! paint! Suddenly, the house is real. In a matter of weeks, Nilda will have a home.


When we first introduced the idea of coming to Puerto Rico for the summer, my older son was not pleased. In fact, he was downright dismayed. But I was going to work this summer! But I need to earn money for school! But—! But—! But—YOU CAN’T DO THIS.

He considered staying at home and we considered letting him, but the thought of going on an adventure without him made me sad. It just didn’t feel right.

Oh, come on, I pleaded. It’ll be fun. And then when that didn’t convince him, Look, this may be the last big thing we do together as a family. You might never again have the chance to work this closely with Papa. Think of all you’ll learn!

Round and round we went until finally, because I am persuasive (and right, ha!), he gave in.

photo credit: older daughter

His last Sunday at church, they presented him with a card and prayed for him. He sang a song with my younger son, and then he briefly spoke, both he and Leryann, the translator, struggling to speak through their tears. An excerpt:

…I will also remember this summer as the most rewarding summer. There’s a saying, “You only get out of life what you put into it.” And I have never worked harder in my life than I did this summer. I am proud of the house that I helped build. And what have I gotten out of it? Not money or fame. Instead, you’ve given me your trust, your laughter, and your friendship…. 

From working all day with my father, my siblings, and the volunteers, to late-night pincho parties at Chiro’s house, I wouldn’t have had this summer any other way. I will miss playing guitar on Sundays with the band, lunches on the jobsite, random people showing up for dinner, pincho parties, and this church family. 

Thank you for welcoming me. Thank you for feeding me. Thank you for laughing with me. Thank you for making this a summer to be remembered. 

Afterward, we went to Chirito and Lery’s for a lunch, just their family and ours.

Lery draped a furry blanket over his shoulder — Today you’re the king, she said — and she and Chirito presented him with a certificate.

We ate apple pie and ice cream, drank lots of coffee, and lingered long into the afternoon.


Monday morning before leaving town, we drove over to the jobsite so my son could have one last look at the house and say his goodbyes.

By the end of the summer, my husband was relying heavily on our son (the same son who, by the way, used to not be able to build diddly for squat) counting him among the “skilled labor” that all project directors covet. The last few days, my husband kept whimpering, “Don’t leave me!” and “Do you really have to go?”

I cried off and on all the way to the airport. My son’s departure signals the end of so many things: of four months of grinding physical labor and grueling heat, of family togetherness, of Thursday night pinchos, of swims in the Caribbean and bottles of sunblock and daily trips to Home Depot, of new groups of volunteers and weekly orientations and late night visits on the twinkle light-lit porch, of fresh mangoes and stray dogs-turned-pets (Penny, Lobo, Lucky) and nightly sewer smells hanging heavy in the still air, of pan de sobao and tepid showers and cheek kisses.

Now we are beginning the process of detangling ourselves from this place and saying goodbye to these dear friends who tease us and buy our kids shoes and make us steak and who tell us, in no uncertain terms whatsoever, We are family now.

This same time, years previous: bourbon and brown sugar peach pie, knowing my questions, easy French bread, a piece of heaven, lately, our life, peach cornmeal cobbler.


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