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Adios Amigos

February 1st, 2004 · No Comments

Last fall our neighbors “M” and “K” left to spend a year on an island in Central America.

I remember when they first moved into their home. Out of our kitchen window all I saw was an old VW van painted in many colors: orange, green, yellow, pink. The van was decorated with daisies and a bright orange peace sign along with slogans about love and peace. I wondered who had moved in next door to us. This psychedelic vehicle certainly didn’t fit into our neighborhood tone of new homes, this aspiring subdivision in Seattle suburbia.

But when I learned from M that the van had gotten its paint job from his students at school – when he let kids decorate his van to use it as a part of a 60s themed dance – I changed my attitude about it. I thought it was rather amazing for a teacher to let children paint his van, make a permanent change to his personal vehicle, giving it a distinctive design. Every time I see it now I think about what a generous person he is.

What I saw about M and K, although they were different from us, made me like them more. They lived what they believed. M had a worm bin he was starting to use to recycle food scraps. And he rode his bicycle everywhere. Bike rides for M and K were not road races for recreation, but a way of transportation every day. One night at the grocery store I ran into M, wearing his helmet, after biking up hill in the dark to go shopping. The van is only used rarely. M and K are willing to change their lives and make the sacrifices for what they think is right.

That’s why they went away for a year. They believe in the organization where M will be working. K will be counseling boys at an orphanage. Again I think it’s amazing for people to give up a year of life and move to another country because they love and believe something so much.

This summer, for the annual island parade, M made a papier mache model of the island in Central America. After I spied him at work in the garage, I was too curious and went to take a peek. A native from the island was also staying with them at the time, sitting there in the garage with M as he fashioned his model. Together the two of them explained to the girls and me the various geography. M showed me the two volcanoes – one of which he had designed so it could erupt with candy during the parade – and pointed out to me where the orphanage is, where the bus goes, where coffee is grown, and where there are only dirt roads, without automobile accessibility. It was clear to me how well he knew this island, and how fond he was of its people.

One of the last times I saw M, he came over and brought us some art supplies. While cleaning out their house for the renters, he had found some things they thought we might like, leftover from his school. M gave us some colored chalk, pipe cleaners and the bottles of blue and green paint he had used to paint the parade papier mache island.

I saw him only once after that, in a quick interchange at an intersection, me in the van going out of the neighborhood and M coming in on his bike. He asked me if I could water the plants until the renters moved in. It sounded to me like he would try stop by our house again. But I guess it didn’t work out. I didn’t see M or K again before they left. I didn’t get to say Adios.

The renters living in their home are nice. We see each other outside and say hi. Our families exchanged holiday greetings.

However I find myself missing M and K. I didn’t realize how much I would miss them. I miss seeing M bike into the neighborhood at the end of the school day. I miss chatting with him about gardening, comparing notes on who had seen signs of deer nibblings. I miss seeing K come home from work and saying hi to her in the driveway. The way she would walk over to us and greet each of the girls with a smile.

The other day I went into the closet and got out some paints for the girls to use. For the first time, I took out the bottles M and K had given us.

As I poured out the green paint I thought about the land, the island where M and K were living this year, so far from this island their home. I poured out the blue, and it flowed, like the water, the miles of ocean that separate us from them, our neighbors, our friends. Amigos

Tags: island