The guy in the uniform at U.S. Customs in Houston must tire of asking the same question of everyone he encounters at his kiosk.“What was the purpose of your trip?”
People who work at Customs probably build their careers around that question. But I paused a beat, trying to frame an answer.
Did he really want to know why I had been in Mexico? Did he have the time? Would the hundreds of fellow travelers in line behind me forgive me if I delay their progress by telling him the full story?
Would he even care that I had encountered saints and angels in Mexico?
What was the purpose of my trip?
I could have told him that I had been filled with dread when I arrived in Mexico five days earlier. My difficult and long-lost father, who has been living in Mexico for almost three decades, was in need of convalescent care. Lucy, the woman who cared for him in his old age, couldn’t handle him anymore.
The cliché is that stuff doesn’t work in Mexico, that every little thing can turn to chaos, that everything is more difficult than it should be. Combine that with what I already know about the impossible bureaucracy and the expense of the gloomy human warehouses that too many seniors are consigned to in the United States, and I expected an extended temple-throbbing nightmare in a foreign country.
My brother Vince and I arrived in Leon, Guanajuato, on Friday evening. We prepared for the worst.
But within thirty hours we had my father checked in at the sweetest little convalescent joint in the Western Hemisphere, a place that costs roughly one-thirteenth the cost of a similar care facility in the United States.
The house manager was there to greet him when he showed up. So was the owner. It was eight-thirty on a Saturday night.
Think about that: Management showed up on a Saturday night to meet a new client, to get him checked in and comfortable. The managers spent the next three hours introducing themselves, cooing over him. And kissing him. There seems to be a lot of kissing in this place.
I’ve never tried getting a 90-year-old who isn’t an emergency case into a convalescent care facility in the United States on a Saturday night, but I can imagine the reaction of management would be much different than what we encountered in Mexico.
I can also imagine the Human Resources nightmare an employee would face if he or she dared to kiss an aging patient.
What was the purpose of my trip?
My father turned 90 on Monday, so we threw a party for him in his new room. A random musician even showed up, and we all sang Las Mañanitas before the guitarist serenaded my father with appropriately ironic American rock standards. “Tears in Heaven” and “Dust in the Wind.”
I’m not real sure my father always knew what was going on around him. We could sense a smile or two from his old lips, now and then, and he even struggled to clap his hands after I made some maudlin speech to thank the saints and angels who had shown so much love for the guy over the years.
I’m still not sure why these people in Mexico sacrificed so much of their lives to care for my father for so long. But their devotion to him is genuine. Lucy calls him “grandfather.”
Lucy is devastated by all this. She has devoted the last five years to my father’s care, but she simply can’t do it any longer. She is heartbroken that the bedroom she and her husband built for him will now be empty. Lucy is not family, but she’s all loving care.
So the guy in the uniform at Customs asked me the purpose of my trip.
I hesitated. Did he really care, or was the question merely an official formality?
“Visiting friends,” I said.