My recent experience visiting Sao Miguel
It all started when the plane landed and we step onto the planes ramp and as I stepped away from the plane and took a deep breath of this fresh clear air and said to myself, "enjoy
this fresh air lungs because it will be gone in about 8 days. I was afraid to leave that spot for fear that this wonderful fresh breeze would not exist after entering the terminal.
The next day we started out on one of our many road trips tru the island and I was asked if any of this was sinking in yet. That same person mentioned that I was being very quiet
as I stared out the car window trying to find something, anything that my mother often spoke of and so far nothing and yet there was so much to see but non of it connected to what
my mother spoke about. I kept looking all around and asking myself, when will it hit me, when will I understand what my mother spoke about, after all I’m at the very place where my
family spent most of their life’s, am I’m not seeing what’s in front of me? Am I so far removed from the culture that I can 't see it?
The first evening we visited Ponta Delgada (Capital of Sao Miguel) and group of us walked along the water front where there’s little shops and places to eat, the Atlantic Ocean is
to my right and the city to my left and as I looked from left to right I still did not feel anything and now I feel so very disappointed. I felt that those around me were wondering what was
going on with me. Every now and then I would walk by someone or a small crowd and I could here the people speaking in Portuguese, not English or any other language that we
might hear in the States, just Portuguese and still no connection.
The next day we went to visit with Merces family, Merces is my aunts niece and my uncles favorite. Everyone welcomed us with open arms and kisses and inviting us all in to sit, as I
sat there I looked around the room and I started to see a familiar site, this house was like most houses that belong to any Portuguese family and similar to ours in Fall River.
We all moved to the back of the house, where there would be more room for all of us to sit, eat and drink of course. Thats when we met the rest of the Merces family, Veronica 28,
tall, blue eyes, blond hair that runs an Auto Rental Agency, Beatriz, 16 just as pretty as her sister, sweet and spoke a little English, made sure that young Robbie and Vanessa had
something to eat and drink and kept them entertained. We also met their father and older brother, João, mom was at work. Back to the large family room where all the adults had
position themselves comfortably and gathered around a large table, the Portuguese conversations started with all the passion and gestures, heard this before.
Meanwhile most of the group stayed at my cousin Manny and Gloria's house in Capelas where they accommodated 12 additional visiting family members (that flew with us) the rest of
us stayed in a rented place in Sao Vincente. Gloria would typically prepare the meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner and what a feast it was, where did all this food come from?
Nevertheless it was there and right on time, each meal prepared as if Gloria was serving some dignitary from the Island. We would all sit at two large tables each table with the same
items and portions, each table had all the trimmings and wine plus soft drinks and stories began mostly from cousin Manny telling some story or joke, Cousin Joe would sit there and
later translate the story or joke in English. Something’s I could understand but certain words or slang would throw me off.
Before I continue on I must give credit to a few people that made this trip possible, first is Bob, he came up with the idea to make this trip, primarily for his daughters and grand
children so that they would be able to experience the place that their mom, grand parents and great grand parents lived and loved. With Manny and Gloria to share their
experiences and knowledge of the family and share their home much like it was with our parents and grand parents. If we would do this again I would try and arrange to rent a tour
bus with a micro phone so that Bob could give the tour to everyone, instead we traveled about the island in as many as 4 cars.
Second I want to thank Cousin Joe who finally convinced me to make this trip and bear the long flight that I was not looking forward to. For years he bugged me about getting my
passport and finally I did but not without complications because of my birth name (Marrao) I needed a number of notarized documents with my name and statements from two people
(Joe and Bob) to swear that they have known me as "Morrow" for over 40 years. Thank you Joe and Bob for doing that for me.
Joe also arranged the place for us to stay and what a place it was and transportation but more important he provided the translation and important historical bits of
information about our family, the homes they lived in, the churches they attended, got married in, baptized and so on. He had said, "that where ever you go on the island the
espresso would be perfect, temperature of the cup and coffee, the flavor would be of perfection, he was right. I think I'm hooked.
Manny and Gloria, wow what can I say about these two, if they had award for patience, cooking, entertaining, hospitality, story telling, card game instructions but most of all they
gave their heart and soul, they made you feel so very special, they made you feel like the most important person they know, Manny and Gloria made this experience for me the most
memorable of my life.
I was still missing the connection that I was searching for while in Sao Miguel and could not find it, it came all together one day thanks to Manny and Gloria, they connected the little
dots that I was trying to connect from all the sites that I witnessed, all the people I met. I realized it on our last morning at their home when I found myself feeling a large hole in my
chest that came from knowing that I would be leaving a place that meant so much to my family, a place that mother loved so much and always tried to tell me about and to tell me
about my grand parents, aunts, uncles and cousins but as young lad I never felt the importance. I suppose it was about my mothers lack of English and my lack of Portuguese got
lost in translation. Suddenly on the last day of the visit it hit me like a mountain had fallen on me. I thought to myself, I don't want to lose any of this, the place that my family loved so
much, the beauty of it all and not to have all of us together again at least not like this. At that moment I felt the pain that my mother must have felt leaving this place and her family.
Realizing how lucky I am to have all my family here with me and the ones back at home.
That hole has been filled with the memory of Sao Miguel, the sites, the people and my family but most of all it has been filled with how proud I am of my heritage, the island and my
family. Thank you Gloria and Manny some how you brought it all together for me just by being yourselves and sharing your heart and gifts with all of us.
What made this perfect and over the top was the fact that I was able share all of this with Cindy Sr, who always seems to know what to say to me at any given time and get me back
on track again and thank you for your warm words you said to me as we were leaving, Cindy jr. (that I sometimes call Christina) makes the best maggies I've ever had, always
manages to put a smile on my face, Christina (sometimes I call her Cindy) tells me the true version of a tale or two from her sisters, Vana, able to juggle many balls at the same time
while giving Tom instructions for the day. Tom, mister consistent, always around to give a hand and say something good about everyone else. Robbie, what a great young lad,
quiet, polite and likes just about every Portuguese food item, unlike me at his age. Vanessa, she was very sweet on this trip, I loved our little chats. Kevin 22 years old, boy when I
was his age I would been missing in action checking out all the hotties in town, I’m sure he was missing his girl friend. Wait, almost forgot about Virginia the youngest of the set, did
not see enough of her probably she was to busy at the Internet café Skyping and texting messages to Al. Thank you Virginia for the kind words you said to me as we were leaving
The last few steps walking tru Manny's house and seeing the faces of my family standing there, I knew I needed to leave quickly before I would wind up crying and feeling awkward but
Cindy and Virginia got a hold of me one by one and I lost it. I stepped away to get outside near the car and walk towards the driveway and I could see Mannys face and his eyes were
full of tears and thought here's a tough ol fisherman always joking it up and always the strength of his family has turned to mush as I did. I hugged him and we said our good byes
and said "love you cousin" and I walked to the car and sat, staring forward and wishing to leave before I decide not to.
Departure back to Boston, buckle in and soon we are at 35000 feet, the movie starts as I stare at the screen and I began to reminisce from day one of the trip, day to day place to
place, house to house, meal to meal. Joe gestures to me about the ear phones that I'm not wearing, what he doesn't know my movie is in my head thinking about what I had seen and
family I spoke to and spent time with, the landscape of this beautiful Island, the fresh air, the sounds of the city and the people, the houses and the way they were shaped, the walls
of lava, the green of the hill sides and craters. The roads leading to your destination, and in the horizon the amazing site of the Atlantic Ocean and all I could think about was that I
just got a small taste of how my family lived.
Back at home, back to my normal daily routine but unable to focus because I would drift back to the island, I would see the road to Manny and Gloria’s home, will the gate be open
or do I park on the street? Within minutes and depending on the time I will be offered coffee or wine, perhaps sitting in the kitchen watching Gloria prepare some kind of meal or
desert for the day, Manny just came in from cutting the banana tree branch to hang in the garage or I’m at a loal café sipping on Espresso watching the people go about their
business and I would stare at this magnificent place that surrounds me, the colors, the ocean, the soft clean breeze, the church nearby ready to welcome anyone to come in and rest
and give thanks.
I wont forget Sao Miguel, yes it has been with me all my life but I did not know what it really meant to those that lived there, as my mother would say to me, "as ilhas" the islands. It was
her home, her paradise. Now I know.
Sao Miguel not known to many but if you ever get the opportunity to visit, you will
discover a Shangri-La, a Paradise that will sink into your heart and stay with you forever.
To all of you,
Thank you and God Bless
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