Dear Hooper, Van, & Sonny,
You lost one of your Great Grandmothers, Norma Jean (aka Nanny), on the 14th. We drove out to Arizona two days later to attend the funeral. Hooper, my sweet firstborn, you cried; water welled up behind those innocent eyes. You couldn’t stand seeing anyone hurt and saying goodbye made you sad. Van, you stayed close to me for most of the ceremony and, picking up on the emotion in the room, whispered that you loved me. And Sonny, you sat still for about 20 minutes (which truthfully is 20 minutes longer than I anticipated) until you could wave no more to the people behind you and had to be removed; the back of the church, your playground. You crawled wildly, filled with an energy only sugar could fuel. Though you had none.
We drove home through a storm, the rain falling harder than I’d venture to say you guys have seen before; a testament not solely to your limited life experience but more so to the weight of the water falling. Visibility bad enough to necessitate driving with our hazard lights on only to give way to a break in the storm. A part in the clouds. A sliver of blue skies. And a rainbow, fully visible, end to end.
May you hold tight onto memories. Of loved ones, of laughter, of storms, and, of rainbows.
I love you boys,
Dear Hooper & Van,
The photo above was taken via self-timer on the night your Papa proposed we spend the rest of our lives together. We were on our first international trip together, in the Dominican Republic. Here’s the story:
My first impression of the Dominican Republic was to be fearful. We arrived at the airport in Santo Domingo around 11:30pm. As we went through customs, we met a local who spoke English. We told him of our wandering plan of adventure: no plans, no reservations, and public transportation. He said he’d pray for us. He just may have, but if by chance he had forgotten, we certainly didn’t need it. My fear and hesitation quickly diminished.
We hooked up with another guy at the airport headed to Boca Chica and we split a cab ride there with him. With Lonely Planet in hand, we arrived at our first hotel in Boca Chica. It was around 12:30am. Prostitutes and local hoodlums were still out hanging in the streets around the two food stands that were still open selling meat that I presume had been hanging there all day long. The room was seemingly nice at first glance. Behind the bed was a hand painted mural depicting a beach scene, palm trees and birds included. Upon closer investigation, however, there were a few stains on the sheets and initially suspected blood stains on the floor (Tabasco?). Between the music playing, the dogs barking, and the pillows made literally of stuffed cotton balls, I don’t think either of us fell asleep until 5am. Unknowingly, this would be one of the first truths we’d learn- and ultimately love- about the Dominican Republic. Music is always playing. Always.
This first learned truth leads into the second- its counterpart: the people are always moving. The Dominican’s are kinetic- no two ways about it. They radiate with pazazz. Their smiles linger and seemingly stretch wider. It’s almost as if their movement is contagious and one person is always passing it to the other. They dance even when there is no music and yell to turn up the music when it’s serving merely as background noise on the public bus. It’s nice to be somewhere where there is something that unites everyone. A blessing, but also arguably a curse in America, is that there are so many cultures and different tastes that public transportation could never get away with playing anything because it could never appeal to everyone. The truth that later would be shown is that the Dominican Republic would merely be a simple Caribbean island with a few pretty beaches and several daunting all-inclusive resorts in the absence of it’s people; The people are the soul of the D.R. They aren’t only alive, they’re vibrantly alive.
From Boca Chica, we continued east, hopping from bus to bus. Four bus rides later we arrived in a small town with only a few dirt roads. Bayahibe is the town we will be speaking of with sparkles in our eyes years from now when we reminisce on this little memory of ours.
In Bayahibe we stayed in a Cabana owned by a warm and inviting family. The toilet lacked a toilet seat and the shower was bone-numbing cold, but neither took away from the experience. Each night, the entire town met in the town center and danced to bachata music (Dominican country music). Here in Bayahibe we spent lazy days on the beach, played with the children (who loved being photographed), and watched local baseball games. On the 23rd, we got drinks prior to dinner. The tables and chairs, of which there were only 3 or 4, sat outside the hut they served you from. Willy and I got into the topic of engagement and marriage. More and more the topic had been presenting itself. I told Willy that he shouldn’t feel any pressure… that when he’s ready, I’m ready and the answer would surely be yes. Looking back on it now, I had felt it coming and truthfully was eager to relieve pressure on both sides. I didn’t want him to go to extravagant lengths to tell me everything he’s already shown through something much more important- action. I didn’t need him to get down on his knee- after all it was a dirt road- only to propose what we both were already committed to. I thought it was coming on Christmas, so I felt it was my job to say all of this prior so that when it did come, it’d be simple, carefree, and natural. And in a moments notice I got everything I wanted and suspected when I least expected it. I can remember saying everything I felt I needed to say, feeling good about how I said it, and then in a celebratory moment I took a sip from my drink and a glance over at the water only to turn back and find a ring awaiting me. “Will you marry me?” he asked. “Of course”, I said. We both shed a few tears. He had been carrying the ring with him all the while, waiting for the right moment. And the right moment it was.
We spent Christmas nearly stranded as only one of the five or so restaurants were open. Spanish jingle bells blared through the streets all night long. Again, everyone celebrates Christmas so it’s only fitting that everyone celebrates together. We left Bayahibe Christmas morning.
Driving northwest we passed through the countryside and then took a shoddy form of a boat across Bahia de Samana and arrived in Samana. Here we had our first silent night. The culprit, I suppose, is that electricity didn’t run 24 hours per day. The arrival of massive cruise ships brought about our departure. After one night, we hitched a ride in the back of a pick up truck- filled with 18 people- to Las Galeras. Our room in Las Galeras was the cheapest yet and a chapuza in every sense of the word.
Chapuza- Shoddy piece of work.
The shower might as well have been a hole where someone pokes a straw through and squirts water. The painted-over wasp nest adjacent to it is as no bit complementary. But for the price, we settled for a trickle for a shower, a toilet that wouldn’t flush, and a door that wouldn’t lock. After all, the beach was gorgeous with a rustic appeal and backed by a forest of palm trees. We hooked up with another couple from Norway. As if luck flew our way, they had a rented car and when it was time to move on we hitched a ride from them. They dropped us on the side of the road at the turn off for Las Terrenas.
From there we jumped into the back of another pickup truck- one hand on our backpacks, the other on the rim of the truck bed- and a half hour later arrived in the beach town of Las Terrenas. Our room here? Well decorated with lots of paintings and the most lavish bathroom yet- showerhead included. A famous phase comes to mind- don’t judge a book by it’s cover. In this room, we weren’t alone. We accepted the cockroaches and lizard that inhabited the bathroom, but our nocturnal friend- the rat- refused to let us rest. We awoke mid-night and found him nibbling about behind one of the paintings. Eventually we watched as he crawled across the beams that lined the ceiling and exited through a hole in the roofing. Needless to say, we moved to another hotel the next morning and took a mid-day siesta to catch up on some sleep the rat stole from us. Went to a cockfight and don’t ever need to go back.
From Las Terrenas we moved south- all the way south- to Santo Domingo. After four to five hours of waiting for a bus, we left. Fifteen minutes later the bus we waited so long for broke down. After another hour waiting, the journey continued and five or so hours after getting back on the road, we were finally in Santo Domingo. We spent the few days we had left resting, recuperating, and preparing for the final journey home. Great to be gone, great to be home.
When you’re ready to settle down with the one you want to love for the rest of your life, visit an enchanted land together. And take public transportation.
P.S. Van, you’re Papa and I are over-the-moon about your decision to finally join us. Love is overflowing in our home.