Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Memory of Stan & June Leach

My (Jason's) Grandmother Leach passed away on Thursday. She had been in a nursing home for a long time with dementia. She professed her faith in Jesus Christ so we know she is now with her savior and Lord and free from the disease that really took her from us months and months ago.

The last time I saw her was Christmas of 2007. Ali and I took Braden to the nursing home to visit. She seemed to enjoy holding him, although I don't know that she knew who we were. The thing I remember about that visit was Ali setting Braden, all of 7 months old at the time, on her lap and sitting close by to be sure Grandmother didn't drop him. Well, I think she sensed that we were nervous about her dropping him and she put a death grip on his wrist that I don't think we could have pried free even if we had wanted to. I don't know what kinds of things we'll remember when we get to heaven, but I hope she is able to remember that visit with a clear mind, the way we do.

That visit is not how I will remember her, though. I think my memories will always be of Christmas in Sky Valley. I remember the sleeping bags spread out in the back of the suburban so we could sleep through the car ride that, at the time, seemed like an eternity. Each year we hoped there would be snow but were often disappointed since snow was rare in December there. And I'll of course remember turning to go up the near vertical driveway that wound through the hillside trees up to the 3-story house.

The bottom floor of the house was just one room and the garage- Stan's domain. Past the Blazer and through the garage door, we were greeted with that Grandma's house smell. Mothballs? Old worn leather? Partially chewed cigars? Probably all of the above. Since the house was on a hillside, you walked in through the garage but looked up through the bottom floor window at the ground rising up past the house. You know, one of those tiny little windows, nearly touching the ceiling, and serving no real purpose other than to fascinate little grandkids with its half-ground-half-sky view.

Up through the claustrophobic stairwell Grandmother waited for us on the main floor of the house - we always called her Grandmother, never Grandma or Gramma or Gramms or the like. The grandfather clock ticked off the minutes we spent looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows that proffered their views of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The Christmas tree was always perfectly decorated, at least in my memories, just the way you expect everything to be at your grandmother's house.

The kids usually slept on the third floor: a single small room with a couple of twin beds and Grandmother's creepy doll collection. There are a few movies I'm glad I never saw as a kid or I never could have slept in that room. There was also the pull-out bed on the ground floor, but I don't remember ever using that one. It was probably reserved for the eldest grandchild.

Ironically, I can't remember what we actually did in Sky Valley all those Christmases. There was one year when they had snow and we got to go sledding down the hill on the side of the house. After that got boring, we took the sleds down to the side of the road, a much longer run, but a brutal walk back up the hill. I remember a trip to Pigeon Forge one year and the year all the boys got the Gotcha paintball guns for Christmas. They didn't work right and eventually got returned. That's also my first memory of one of my older brothers pulling the "heads I win, tails you lose" trick on me.

Grandmother Leach always had lots of presents for us at Christmas. I know she raised two boys of her own but I sometimes wondered if she ever bought them anything growing up. Socks? Underwear? Free Willy VHS? What was I supposed to do with that stuff? But she never stopped giving when it came to her grandchildren. And maybe that kind of stuff was more for mom and dad anyways. Now that I'm a father I can appreciate not having to buy so many clothes for the little beansprout.

I could go on for several more pages, and maybe I will after we lay Grandmother to rest next weekend and we've had some time to remember as a family. Stan, her husband of thirty-some-odd years passed away just a couple months ago, rather unexpectedly. He was my dad's stepdad but the only grandfather I ever really knew. He is greatly missed also and deserves some recorded memories of his own. That will be for another day. We love and miss you both!

In memory of Stan and June Leach, LongTimeAgo - 2008/9

P.S. For any family reading this and thinking I messed up a lot of details - who cares? I'll keep my memories just the way they are, no matter how distorted they might be.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Booting Up...

We're back from Daron and Yari's wedding in Puerto Rico and I've decided to boot up a blog and give it a try. I don't like Facebook. It's nice to be able to stay in touch with old friends but I hate wading through the piles of lame requests (you got hit by a snowball, click here!), clicking on the links in my e-mails and getting taken to my wife's account, and constantly having to log out of Alison's account to sign into mine. I appreciate reading friends' blogs because they're a lot more personal. So I thought I'd try and return the favor and start keeping everyone up to date on the latest Westly happenings.

Puerto Rico was amazing! We really enjoyed meeting Yari's family, even if we couldn't communicate well with everybody. But they still made us feel like family... and oh, the food! We arrived on Sat. afternoon and after nearly losing my ID at the airport, we safely made it the condo about an hour East of San Juan in Rio Grande. After we got our bags inside and checked the place out we ventured out to la farmacia to pick up some groceries. Almost everything was in Spanish! We very slowly walked down all the aisles trying to figure out what we needed. Mostly successful, we returned home with several bags of groceries and one carton of orange juice drink -- not the same as orange juice.

Most of the family got in late Sat. night. Braden finally conked out about 10 minutes before grandma and granddad, Uncle Daron and the then soon-to-be Titi Yari, Aunt Erin and Uncle Jason, and Aunt Joy got back to the condo. On Sunday, we drove south to Arroyo to meet Yari's family and friends. They rented a small beach house and cooked dinner for us. The food was fantastic (my vote for the best we ate while we were there) and later we got to listen to them sing familiar praise songs... only en Espanol (don't know how to get the tilde yet over the n). We watched the Super Bowl in the evening and ate Pizza. We're still Americans, after all.

On Monday we drove into downtown San Juan to get fitted for our tuxes at Leonardo's. After that, we headed into Old San Jaun for lunch and a visit to El Morro. We sat down at a nice outdoor patio and ordered drinks. But after we looked at the menu for a few minutes decided it was way too expensive. So, out our $60 for drinks (mostly thanks to Ali & Joy ordering sangria), we headed to a more affordable restaurant around the corner. The food was still very good and much cheaper. So it was off to El Morro we went. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city walls and the outside of the fort. Truly spectacular. On our way back to the car, the ladies found a bead shop that made custom jewelry. Two hours later, we made it back to the cars and headed home. Uncle Doug and Aunt Becky also made it into town Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday, we drove about 15 minutes from the condo to the rain forest. Yes, our condo was 5 minutes from the beach and 15 from the rain forest. We hiked down to a waterfall (along with 50 other tourists) and just hung out for a bit. On the drive back down the mountain we stopped at the observation tower and climbed to the top. Several of the photographers in the group got all giddy while taking pictures of the family holding the moon in their hands.

Wed. was a free day. Alison, Braden, and I took the ferry out to Isla Culebra to go to playa flamenco. We had heard it was one of the best beaches in the world and it did not disappoint. There weren't many people, the water was crystal clear, and the weather was perfect. Had we known of Braden's aversion to the ocean we would have left him with grandma, but we still made the best of it. Alison and I took turns watching Braden while the other did some snorkeling. And Braden did enjoy playing in the sand. Ali dug a moat all around him and tried to fill it with water. He had a blast watching us run up and down the beach with his bucket, adding water to the moat only to watch it drain out before we could get back with the next bucket. On the ferry ride back to Fajardo we saw a couple of whales, well their fins anyways. All in all a very fun day.

Thursday was the family trip to the caves and the Arecibo Observatory. The caves were cool but I don't think it would have been worth the 5 hour round trip drive without seeing the observatory too. I had seen pictures of Arecibo before but I'm not sure they quite prepared me for seeing it in person. But I am a nerd. Upon entering the gift shop on the way out, Braden saw a book he wanted, grabbed it, and went straight to granddad. Any guesses how that turned out for him?

On Friday we went back to the tux shop to pick up the tuxes. The guys and ladies split up and the ladies went back to the bead shop to have more jewelry made. After getting the tuxes, the guys met up with Doug and Becky back at El Morro and we actually went inside. I'd say it was even more amazing on the inside.

The guys got back to the condo first on Friday afternoon and Dad, Jason, and I went exploring around the area. It was an interesting mix of nice vacation homes, empty lots, trailers, and shacks. Alison was driving our rental car with the rest of the ladies (and Braden) and got rear-ended on the way home while stuck in traffic from an earlier accident. An officer stopped but did not speak English and quickly left. There was minor damage to the rear bumper and they were able to get her information (although no insurance card).

It took the ladies 3 hours to get home from Old San Juan. We tried to forget about the car and just enjoy our dinner at Antojito's, just down the hill from the condo. It was good, but not as good as Sunday's meal. After we returned home I started calling the rental car company and my insurance company to report the accident. Hertz wouldn't even talk to me without a police report number. So Sat. morning (the wedding was at 4pm) Ali and I headed to the local police station to fill out a report. Naturally, the officer at the desk did not speak English. She got another officer on her cell phone that did speak English and we were told they wouldn't file a report until the lady that hit us also showed up. I asked the officer to call the lady and fortunately she was nice enough to come down to the station. An english speaking officer finally showed up and began writing the report. The lady was very cooperative and nice until we mentioned that Aunt Joy and mom had some soreness in their necks. Wow, I've never seen someone's demeanor change so quickly. Joy had a previous injury from another car accident so she probably just aggravated it. Mom's soreness seemed to be temporary. So after a couple of hours at a Puerto Rican police station we left with the all important report number.

The wedding was at a Hacienda about 20 minutes from the condo. It was gorgeous. We heard that the owners were Americans and raised horses there. There were also rumors that celebrities would rent the Hacienda and it had been used in movies before. I can believe it. The ceremony started outside. Yari looked amazing. Her father walked her down the aisle and the minister began the vows. Yari made it through hers and just as Daron was said "I do," the rain started. That's good luck, right? Everyone rushed "inside" (a covered pavillion, actually) to the backup area. The minister finished the ceremony under the covering.

Then the real fun began! The food was excellent, of course, and several family members made toasts. Erick's best man speech was... memorable. He made the speech in English first and then someone else read it in Spanish. I'm not sure the Spanish speakers (almost everyone there) got the humor, but the Westly clan thought it was great. I think Erin got it on video.

After dinner came the dancing. Man those latinos can dance. It's genetic... although Mike might still prove me wrong. Somewhere there is photographic evidence of Yari's cousin Yashira even getting me to "dance." I'm sure that was some kind of entertainment for them. The evening finished up with a professional Puerto Rican dance troupe doing a demonstration for everyone. What a way to finish the week.

We flew back to Texas Sunday morning. Braden did great on the plane in both directions. But the portable DVD player was well worth the money. We had a great time and can't say enough about Yajaira's family's hospitality and how they made us feel a part of their family. I can't wait to go back and it's truly a blessing to have them as part of our family now. If anyone from the Sierra-Sastre family finds our blog, muchas gracias! We love you all and will be praying for you! Please come visit us if you ever make it to Texas. You'll always have a place to stay and eat here!

- Jason, on behalf of all the Texas Westlys

"You're no Selahpup"