Now departing

At 1 o’clock in the morning Carlos heaved the bulging black bags into the trunk. I herded the children in their hoodie jackets to the car – they walked down the sidewalk still half-asleep, bumping against each other like drunk puppies and rubbed their eyes with their fists.

Crammed into my husband’s small 4 door car, the children and Suegra pack themselves like sardines across the backseat. On a hot day this is uncomfortable at best, but because of the sudden cold weather my younger son snuggles up next to his big brother.

“Hey! Get your cabezón off me!” My older son says, shoving his little brother in Suegra’s direction.

After a last minute check to make sure she has her passport, (and returning to the house once to retrieve the flight itinerary), we’re pulling out of the driveway. “Nombre de Dios,” Suegra says, watching our house disappear out the window.

I turn on the music, hug myself to fight off the chill in the air until the car warms, as we drive into the darkness on empty roads. I’m not feeling as celebratory as I thought I would be only months ago. Suegra and I have been living in peace so I’m not as anxious for her to go as I was in years past.

“Escucha qué bonita canta esa muchacha,” I say, turning the music up a little. It’s Natalia Lafourcade singing the classic, “Amanecí Entre Tus Brazos”.

“Ooo, esa canción es vieja,” she says, and begins to sing along in her high-pitched church choir sort of voice. The kids groan. “Mommy, look what you did! You made her sing!” … My husband laughs when he sees my face. “Why did you put that on? You know how she is,” he says without sympathy.

“I didn’t know that she knows that song,” I said sighing but knowing I can’t skip the track now that she’s fully lost in serenading us.

Out the window, a moon like the ones seen in children’s nursery rhyme story books always wearing a blue nightcap, hangs low in the sky, surrounded by tiny diamond-chip stars as far as the eye can see.

“Qué cosa, verdad?” says Suegra, looking out the window, too.

The familiar swooping roof of Dulles airport comes into view. The CD mix I have playing comes to a song by Espinoza Paz. After a moment Suegra pipes up from the back seat, “Quién es ese baboso? Ni puede cantar bien!”

“Hey! She just insulted Espinoza!” I say to my husband who is unsuccessfully suppressing a satisfied smile, content that his rival has taken a hit.

“Ey, no insultes a Espinoza,” I say pleadingly, turning to face the backseat. “Ese hombre tiene una historia bien bonita,” I say, and tell her all the reasons Espinoza Paz es muy especial. “He followed his dreams because his mother encouraged him to,” I finish. She likes this part – that the mother is an important part of his success. She nods, seems impressed. Espinoza Paz has a new fan now, just because he obeys his mother.

At the curb, we heave-drag-push-shove her bags into the airport towards the TACA counter, refusing offers of help from the valet. “N’ombre – van a querer dollars,” Suegra mutters, yanking a bag over a crack in the pavement. “Cipote! Agararlo bien!” she chastises when my older son tries to help.

We wait in the high-ceilinged terminal for Carlos to park the car. Other families with similar over-stuffed bags stand around, staring openly at the gringa in line with the little old Salvadoran woman, stare harder when they hear me exclaim “Puchica!” as Suegra almost knocks me over with her bag, and harder still when Carlos arrives and takes my hand.

After the luggage is checked, we take the escalator downstairs. Here and there, Salvadoran families huddle in corners and pack more into the carry-on bags that were already approved upstairs as weighing less than 22 lbs.

We stand around for a few minutes. I pick up a complimentary copy of Washington Flyer because Soledad O’Brien is on the cover this month. (It’s a nice interview.)

Finally she decides it’s time to go. I hand her an envelope and tell her it’s just a little letter to read on the airplane, but I know she’ll read it as soon as she gets to her gate. She’ll show it to the other passengers and brag about her “American daughter-in-law who can write in Spanish.” Carlos says that sometimes she even tells people that I write better than her, but these are not compliments she ever offers in front of me. That’s the way she is. She only tells you what she doesn’t like to your face, and saves compliments as if they were the last beans in the pot in a household of 10 children.

The letter is not syrupy sweet but just tells her thank you for how much she’s helped us this past year, wishes her a good trip, and of course, saludos a la familia.

Suegra becomes stoic and gives a quick hug to each of us before rushing off towards security.

The security officers don’t appear to be in a good mood this morning, but maybe they’re always this way. You can almost read their minds, their faces express unspoken curses when they realize they’re dealing with a TACA flight. The line moves slowly as the security officers shout garbled Spanish at the passengers.

“Señor! SEÑOR! …{sigh} TAKE YOUR… NO… TAKE…{sigh} … Señor! Go back! Take your zapatos off and place them there!… No, there. SEÑOR, Zapatos THERE!”

Some of the younger generation, U.S. born English speakers, watch from the sidelines, half smiling in amusement and half feeling badly for their older relatives as they take multiple tries to make it through security as directed. (Really, a sign in Spanish at the beginning of the line, where people can read it and know what to expect, would it kill them to put one up?)

Suegra finally makes it through security, slips her shoes back on, disappears through a doorway.

“She didn’t even wave good-bye!” I say to my husband. Seconds later, as if she heard me, Suegra is back in the doorway, waving and then disappearing again, off to catch her flight home to El Salvador.


  1. It is so poignant, yes that’s the word for sure. It is nice that ALL of you piled into the car at that hour to see her off. My family would have said their goodbyes the night before and hubby would have whisked her away quietly in the night… your way is nicer.

    I am surprised that you are getting on so well, but also happy that there is some peace with her at last.

    • @ *pol – Yes, we all pile in the car to pick people up and drop them off at the airport. I think Suegra would be slightly insulted if we didn’t and it’s sort of a tradition. Plus, I love airports, (as do the boys.)

  2. Ahh the joys of airports! I love your desciption of the car ride and the reasoning behind the change of heart toward Espinoza. And the fact that you sent her off with a letter in Spanish, what a nice touch. I’m glad you are getting a much deserved vacation, though I can’t help but think that you may miss her a little this time :)

    • @ customcreative – Thanks for reading and for your comment. I will definitely enjoy my quiet time during the day, and maybe you’re right – maybe I will miss her in my own way once in awhile ;)

  3. Gorgeous writing- felt I was tehre with you

    “She only tells you what she doesn’t like to your face, and saves compliments as if they were the last beans in the pot in a household of 10 children: silly as it may sound it reminds me of the office, the boss michael says to Pam the secretary really mean about her incompetence etc, she runs off upset and then he turns to the camera and says “You know I’d never tell her this but honestly she is a great person and were so lucky to have her,” LOL the other employees were like WHY?????? Just one of those things I guess. . .

    • @ Heartinhand – “Is she coming back?” — lol. Of course she is. She ALWAYS comes back ;) She should be back next Spring.

  4. What?! Suegra has left the building? When is she coming back?
    It’s sweet that she says those things about you behind your back. You know deep down she’s so proud of you (and your esposo and hijos, of course). Plus, I’m sure she gets a lot of satisfaction bragging about you to all her amigas, just to make them jealous. ;-)

    • @ Melanie – She’ll be back late Spring of 2011. She’s back visiting her father, brothers, sisters, etc.

      LOL – and yes, I think she does like to make her friends jealous.

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