Archive for March, 2011

A Visitor to Remember.

I’ll come to visit you – to tell you stories about a far way land. Your invitation said, perhaps November would be just fine; here I am. We’ll meet good people, we’ll face the issues, discuss with all our hearts; just tell your people to speak up their minds. You know, it’s kind of cold in here. Do you really think people will show up to this potluck?

Yes, I have the movie ready, let’s set up the table with some crafts, maybe they’ll buy; I promise I’ll keep an open mind; I wasn’t invited here to judge. I see some people coming – you know, I hope our politics coincide, you know me, I cannot lie.

– I say don’t worry Nina, just tell your story and take your time, they’ll understand.

I heard a question there – to what extent should we take sides? Please clarifyShe says, it’s up to you people what you’ll decide, for “right answers” are hard to find in our times. You see from where I come, most people don’t always have time to sit & chat; but then, you know that as you sleep at night, the other half is already up, trying to survive, or fighting the army to have a chance at life.

Oops! I see some people living, perhaps my comment was to harsh? My accent wasn’t right? I felt so tight, I should have joked a bit, relax; surely they must think we also forgot how to laugh!

– I say don’t worry Nina, just tell your story and take your time, they’ll understand.

So long dear friends, this tour has given me a chance to learn so much, to celebrate our hopes, to let the good within all of us become alive; I think I’ll cry … If I may, before I go, I ask you to remember the time we shared this evening, and then decide, as we keep fighting for survival on the other side.

– I said; have a safe journey back home Nina, let your story simmer in our minds for a while; we’ll understand.


© Leo Campos Aldunez

Edmonton, AB (Canada)

Healing Ghosts.

I once knew a man I called father; a towering handsome fellow with a thundering laughter and a gentle smile. Grew up becoming accustomed to his mysterious absences; lengthy spaces filled by my mother’s dual parental roles, her soft attention to my precocious mind and a relentless obsession with pulchritude.

Every time he did showed up, our home would suddenly acquired a particular reverential mystique; his presence was felt all around; occasionally he would caress my hair, hold me tight in his arms, and told a story about a ghost ship, known as “El Caleuche” travelling the pacific coast in search of the right place to anchor. Then, as fast as he came, he would be gone. As a young kid, I imagined my father travelling on that ship to faraway places; soon he’ll visit again, mom would say, and he’ll bring you the latest toys from his adventures.

In my mid teens, I learned a different story about his absences; there was another shore inhabited by another family; kids too, roughly my age. At first it was harsh to grasp the fact my father was tending a different clan; wearing different clothes, playing with strangers and that my mother was not the only object of his affections. He was philandering with class, an elder relative would confide. “After all, a successful travelling sales man must have different ports of call; new silks to seduce; soft lips to be surrendered by.”

It all made sense then. Mom tearfully wallowing through corridors of pain; her compulsion to cleaning; carrying on stoic house duties, impeccable lawn; blossoming gardens; immaculate porch. Her shortwave radio was a constant companion exploring worlds she could only imagine. She knew there were other women in his life; but, he provided her well. Mom seemed resigned herself to such fate – for a time.

When I was 5 years old, I remember one of his visits well. My father had just bought a brand new Chevrolet Impala – it’s the mid sixties, the car to have if you thought yourself an Adonis, Zeus or more accurately, Clark Gable. He arrived with some fanfare; honking on his new sedan and calling our names. I was transported to a whole new “dimension” – as if Batman was home, taking us all to his secret cave.

We went to Quinteros instead; a lovely beach on the central littoral not too far from Santiago. A picnic, I was told; bring your beach ball, any toys you’d like – it’s going to be a fun afternoon. I vividly recall seen the ocean for the first time. Felt overwhelmed by its immensity, the big foamy waves; the intense smells of the sea on which “El Caleuche” was awaiting to appear, anytime. I also remember salty waters; drowning; and Batman, rescuing me.

I was 9 years old went my parents split; we were sharing a delicious meal prepared by mom’s famous culinary talents; my father holding a glass of red wine and saying something about “unfulfilled expectations.” Mom was not amused, her face revealing the deep anguish that was to unfold. That evening my father gave me another hug, kissed on my forehead, and left. I saw him a few years later; well feed, in good shape. The bon vivant of lore and with another woman – forgiveness was not part of my lexicon; truth be told, reconciling his abandonment with the fractures he left behind was still years ahead …

Mama tried to reconstitute her shattered dreams of a solid and respectable household; from a place of despair she moved to a place of hope. Notwithstanding, happiness seemed to always elude her – perhaps misguidedly looking for it in all the wrong places.

I grew older, surrounded by the guiding loving presence of an aging and determined soul. There was a new sister who brought joys to our journey; and new women in my life. Their presence I shall always remember; be grateful for, it was a time to “reset” the clock of my family history. Unbeknownst to them, a new compass emerged.

Father and I had pending business; both personal and political. On September 11, 1973, while he celebrated the advent of General Pinochet and his bloody coup d’état – I mourned the death of democracy and a beloved Presidente. Needless to say, the looming conversation with dad was not going to be pretty nor easy, but, necessary.

It came in 1987, during my first visit to Chile after 8 years in exile. Incidentally, the Polish Pope of the time was visiting too – manoeuvring ways to give his blessings to the military dictatorship, without appearing to do so. Pinochet was after all a “good Old Catholic boy too,” if a little rough on the edges.

I was 32 then; my father was well over his sixties. He had a new family, new brother & sister for me – and a lovely partner to serve his fundamental needs. Good people; tender, hospitable. Beyond the facade, however, my father’s emotional wounds I could see; he knew. “No need to remind me my son,” he said only once.

We spent time reminiscing bygone eras; shared some wine from his vineyards and as time went by, tears started to blur my vision, and his. In a gentle embrace father and son for the first time spoke truth. It was a moment I treasured, until now. It took him much courage to say what he needed to say, and for me to receive it. His sorrowful words a painful, but honest effort by the old patriarch to come to terms with his abandoned son who spent years yearning for the warmth guidance of the father; any guidance, any warmth.

Healing fractured relationships is never easy at the best of times; it gets even more complicated with one’s parents, close relatives or friends of our choosing. I am 55 now. Did I forgive him? Of course I did; what could be possibly gained by not doing so when a father nears his final departure? Do I miss him? Of course I do.

Mostly the hugs, the big laughter; the gentle smile, the caressing hands on my youthful hair. But, what I miss the most is the storytelling of “El Caleuche.” A never-ending folktale about a ghost ship that sailed nowhere; and did not even exist.


© Leo Campos Aldunez

Edmonton, AB (Canada)