Thursday, March 31, 2016

Catching Up On All Those Blessings Laura L. Valenti

First, I begin with an apology for missing the last couple of weeks of blogs. I left for El Salvador on Thursday, March 17 with an electronic tablet, thinking I would email the world from Central America, but sad to say, upon arrival I discovered for some reason, I couldn't get the thing to work. Instead, I texted folks, called a few times and let the email and blogging slide. The blessing, on the other hand, was being back in my beloved second country, one named for God's son, The Savior (El Salvador) and staying with our original Peace Corps family. Elena and Fito are now nearly 90 and 87 years of age, still living in their own home and while his health is starting to fail, we--their daughter, Carmen and I--struggle to keep up with Elena when she takes off walking fast! We went to Catholic Mass on Palm Sunday, shopped 'til we dropped at the local artesian markets (buying cool souvenirs like brightly colored towels, blouses, and painted crosses) spent a day at the beach and ate lots of fish, shrimp, rice, beans and tortillas. For me, that is una vacacion perfecta!

My husband and I were Peace Corps volunteers  there, 1973-1976 for over three years and I cannot explain the joy of being back there, except to say, it is like 'going home' to where I was raised. And I was in part, in Latin America, specifically traveling with my parents in Mexico many years in February and March in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. My father was a natural-born gypsy. Not the Romanian variety with dark curls and a ring in his ear, but a Missouri boy who literally read about Guatemala in the National Geographic in 1957 and said to my mother, 'Let's go!' and we did, year after year. We never made it as far as Guatemala, something about a border war in a place called Chiapas. (And you thought that was a new thing, right?)  Years later, our Peace Corps family was a great deal like an American family who hosts an international student here, but in our case, we all bonded in a way that has now lasted over 40 years. Carmen was 13 years old when we moved in with her family and today she has lived in Lebanon, married to a local gent, Brian McCulloch and raised two kids of her own and even has a young grandson. She and I have now made three trips back together to see her family and other friends over the last few years and before that, I made it back to El Salvador several times on my own.

Then we both came home to welcoming husbands. Both Brian and Warren showed up at the Springfield airport to collect us and seemed pretty happy to have us back. That was a big blessing in and of itself!

And then this week, my sixth novel finally arrived. The Heart of the Spring Everlasting is the fourth in my historical series on Bennett Spring. The first, The Heart of the Spring, is set in 1924 and tells how Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri's first state park, was established. The Heart of the Spring Lives On comes next and takes place in 1935. That was when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was at Bennett Spring, building the Dining Lodge and the triple-arched bridge, features we still love and enjoy 80 years later.  The Heart of the Spring Comes Home continues the story in 1946 as people come back to Bennett Spring immediately after World War II and fight to save their church. The Bennett Spring Church of God plays a central part in this fictional story that is based on the church's actual history. And now, The Heart of the Spring Everlasting picks up the narrative of the Darling and Shine families in 1967. As our nation struggled at that time with major issues such as a divergent youth population, Viet Nam, and a Cuban refugee crisis, the lives of those even in remote places like Bennett Spring were also touched by such things.

And so while I was off the blogging trail for a couple of weeks, my blessings have continued to multiple, en espanol y ingles, los dos. In my lifetime, I have been blessed to live in two of the most beautiful places in the world, a five mile stretch of pristine beach (fishing village where we worked) in El Salvador and Bennett Spring. It is good to be back at Bennett Spring, my home for nearly 40 years now, but it is also good to go 'home', and see la familia once in a while, too.

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