The water ripples and twinkles in bright shades of blue. The noonday sun beats down, unrelenting. Just there in the middle, a tropical oasis. Palm trees and foreign foliage are sweet medicine.
I slip into the water, exhaling relief. On the other side of the fence, the clatter and whoosh of traffic on a street lined with bars and those parlors. But on this side of the fence, a piece of paradise.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. For a small, tired firewalker, it is all I can do. All I want to do, this breathing, this be-ing. Right now, right here in this place.
Surreal, really, the fact that we’re here, and grace on this day’s framed in palm trees, green, vibrant, and it’s edged in those sun-dappled waters. And there she comes.
She slips into the water, and she smiles. I smile back. I’d been hoping for quiet; longing for peace. Soaking in tropical beauty. But she’s speaking, this stranger, so I listen. Across the way, Mr. Schrock’s relaxing, too. He’s found another racer dad, and they’re chatting in Thai sun, water swirling. And the stranger, she’s telling a story.
“We’re from Australia.” That’s what she says. “I was born in Ireland, but we moved before we were married. We’ve been married now for (over 60) years.”
I listen in wonder.
“My parents hated my husband. They thought he was (ruining me) because we weren’t married when we left for Australia, and so we had to travel with a chaperone.”
Her Irish-Aussie brogue is thick and delightful. The sun, it beats down on the two of us girls, and my heart and my ears, they are listening.
She speaks of their travels, their compassion for the poor, and I can tell that they come from some money. She tells me of families they’ve “adopted” ‘long the way, and she tells me how they talk to their kids.
When they find folks in dire need, they go home to their kids and they say, “Kids, we need some money. These folks, they need help.” She smiles, wrinkles creasing her cheeks. And she says, “Our kids never ask. They just give it. They ah generous.” And I can see that generosity’s been modeled. Parents first.
Her husband, she tells me, was a concrete worker. “He worked very hahd.” Now three of their sons have the business. “They all work very hahd.”
Her smile, it fades when she mentions her grands. “They ah spoiled. They get everything they want. One of them told his parents, ‘I want an iPad,’ and he got an iPad. Another one got a (motorized vehicle) for Christmas that cost $3000-4000 dollahs, and I said, ‘What will you give him next yeah?’”
She’s troubled. Concern furrows her brow, and in the lines I see love. Love for the next generation. Flesh and blood.
“How many children do you have?” I say, curious now.
“We have nine; six boys and three guhls.” My jaw drops, brows raising in wonder. Nine children! She’s earned every spot, every wrinkle.
One son is a pilot. “We get the best seats. He’s my favorite,” she says, and she chuckles. I laugh, too.
Again, her smile dims. She’s a Catholic, devout, and not one of her kids are in the church. Not a one.
“My oldest son, he’s a psychologist. Theah was a scandal in the chu’ch with the priests, and he wohks with those children. He said to us, ‘You cannot defend what has happened.’”
Ah. Dear Lord. No wonder his faith has been strained. No wonder.
I can feel her hurt. My own heart’s known that pain, so I say to my story-telling companion, “What do you do? Do you pray?”
“All the time.” Not a second’s hesitation. Her answer is sure, hands raising. “I say, ‘Theah’s nothing I can do. It’s in Yoah hands now.”
I tell her, then, of my own four sons, and I tell her what’s brought us to Thailand. I show her a picture of the infamous quartet, and like that, the sun is back out, smile a-lighting. And then it’s time for goodbyes.
“What is your name?” I say to the girl wearing years, many miles.
She smiles again. “It’s Evelyn. Eve for short.”
“It’s so nice to meet you, Evelyn,” I say sincerely. “Thank you for telling me your story.”
She’s climbing up from sun-sprinkled waters, and she says to this American yet one more thing: “Pray for my children.”
I take her in, this Australian mother, and my own request slips from my lips. “Pray for mine.”
On the eve of Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of Evelyn and her 84 years, of her 9 children and her multiple grands. We’re worlds apart in so many ways, and yet where it counts, we’re alike.
We are mothers. Different skin. Different accents. Different cultures. Same hearts. Same longings. Same prayers. “Keep our children.”
And my heart, my own heart’s enlarged, skin stretching. For an elderly woman named Eve and her children.
Warmly this day,