My dad met my mom when he went to Panama after World War II. They moved to New Orleans in 1954. My parents visited Panama when I was about 9 months old and had a great time. But from there things slid into a bad state. After my brother was born in 1963 they got divorced and began a big custody battle. My mom came apart emotionally, and for years she refused to visit Panama.
Eventually things got better and, after about 12 years she went for
a short visit to Panama with me, my brother and her second husband.
Everything was great. Supposedly. She told us she was going to go to
Panama for another short trip. It was summertime so she asked my
stepfather to send us down to Panama to be with her on her visit.
After a few weeks of ‘visiting’ she told my brother and I that she was
renting an apartment and we were staying there permanently. A few
weeks later she enrolled us in a Panamanian school where we were
expected to speak Spanish and salute the Panamanian flag every Monday
morning. My brother and I became angry.
My father was angry too, and he came to Panama for the first time in
many years. We all plotted how to escape from Panama. Things settled
down for a few years and Stuart and I accepted our fate. We both
learned Spanish and learned how to function in an unfamiliar culture.
Things were starting to get good again. But my senior year of high
school, when it became apparent that I was going to leave to go to
college in the United States, my mother started to unravel again. My
brother quickly escaped to New Orleans to live with my dad. My mother
continued to nosedive. When I left for college she came apart
completely. My grandfather sent her to a facility in Columbia for a
Eventually she returned to Panama and settled down. My brother and
his wife, who had been living in Tokyo and then Barcelona, came to
visit her and wound up staying to live there too. They had two girls
and my brother started a successful business. Then about three years
ago my dad moved down to Panama, where he is happy and well cared for.
I just got back from visiting my family in Panama
and had a great time. It’s an amazing country with a rich history and
wonderful people. There’s a lot to explore in Panama, and many
mysteries to uncover. For me, the greatest mystery is how my mother
managed to lure so many people to Panama and entice them to live there
permanently. Why am I not living there too? I guess, because I’m more
obsessed with the mysteries of New Orleans. Mysteries like those that
Chris Rose describes in his recent article about returning home.
Home is a place that we are supposed to feel comfortable in. But,
sometimes that’s not the case. Maybe home is the place where you learn
to appreciate life. Sometimes that’s a familiar and comfortable place,
and sometimes it’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place. My mother
taught me a lot of things, and so did my father. But the most
important things you learn are not really new things at all. We
already know everything we need to know, but we forget a lot.
Today, I want to remember. I want to remember the many kind words
and thoughtful moments my mother shared with me. My mother gave my
brother and me many wonderful things, not the least of which was the
precious gift of life. Her sorrows have finally melted away, but her
joy has been transplanted. I hope I remember to water those joys