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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - La Gringa 1985, Part 1: Plans    ( Posted April 21, 2004 )

By 1985 our business was doing well and was as healthy as I wanted it to be. The majority of our work was with NASA and JPL, and that was the way I preferred it. But the workweeks were long and stressful, now on two fronts: technical products and business relationships. I was finding out that producing technical products is much simpler than satisfying business relationships. I was exhausted by Friday afternoons and we could feel the pull of another extended excursion coming on.

Our last full summer in Baja had been in 1974, even though we spent many weeks there every year. In 1975, 1977 and 1978 we had spent between three and six months each year in Europe and the U.K. Our first son, Michael, was born in 1977 and was still under a year when we went to southern Spain to live from April until November. We rented a small house on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean on the Costa del Sol near Torremolinos, in a village named Benalmadena Pueblo. We spent six months living the James Mitchner novel The Wanderers. Our second son, Kevin, was born in 1979. They had each grown up part of their lives in Baja. By 1985 they were at a perfect age to learn the many lessons of our favorite peninsula. Kevin was six; Michael was 8.

There are a too few years in the life of a family where a father knows the absolute perfection of affection from a small son. A child's life is filled with emerging trauma. A boy in an instant outside the parent's eye is hurt and falls, full on his chest. His consciousness fades for a moment and then realizes he is alive, but breathless. He gasps, spent, sucking fulfilling lungs full of air into his tiny body and then lunges for his father and burrows into the familiar folds of clothing and flesh. He hides his face to deter the fear that he has faced. He senses the beating heart, his fathers' blood, his own, pulsing along the circuitous routes surrounding him, his fathers' arms, torso, neck. He smells the familiar odors and the roughness of cheek and salty breath that makes a dad. His dad. Father is the ultimate protector for only a brief time, during which there is no distinction between physical, emotional and intellectual to the child. There is no question of right or wrong there is just how father does it. These are the years where the man that is father lives what he has fought for in his life. It is the fathers' time to pass on to the child what he believes. He does this by example, rather than words. He is right. He is correct. The father has the need to tell his son mostly by example everything he believes; the son will bypass the intellectual processes that will encumber him in older years to accept anything acted out by father as truth.

Those years quickly pass. The father is unaware how vacant his life will be without the boy. The boy grows to become independent and self-sufficient. The father grows to become old and insufficient, dependent on the son. The father reflects on the moments of cuddling warmth with the youth, but it is gone and cannot be called back except in mind. The father fills his world with other undertakings but none can ever rival the weight of the love for and admiration of his children.

Every father dies with the knowledge that he desperately gave whatever it took to bring his boy all the love and knowledge and hope that will be required to thread the child through life's rapids. And every father, when he's gone, leaves behind in the minds of the children he has loved and nurtured the feeling that he was not appreciated. But this is not the case, because every father that has experienced the great love for and of his sons knows from the first moment of their life that they love him and will appreciate him later in their lives. The father knows that it is a mistake to want or expect words of appreciation or recognition. It will be half a lifetime before the boy begins to realize the validity of the fathers' words. But age is wisdom: the father knew before he was gone. He knew the rights of passage; that the son was not in tune with his words at the time, but that they will be of value sooner or later.

These thoughts plagued my mind as we dropped the boys at school every morning and I attended to work. Even though I was luckier than many parents because I worked at home I still didn't have the focus I wanted. Mary Ann and I both knew that these next few years would fly by and then Michael and Kevin would be grown. We wanted to stop time for a while and spend a summer with the four of us. This would be a memory to last a lifetime. And the uncluttered lifestyle of Baja would be the place.

We made plans to leave the day the boy's school got out. Mary Ann and I realized that some of the risks we had experienced on previous trips to Baja, while worthwhile, were not chances we wanted to take with young children. For one thing, the location of our first hut was less than ideal, which we had learned from the flash flood. Secondly, we needed a sturdier and better-organized hut. We also had to consider that both the boys were light blonds with fair and young skin and needed protection from the sun.

We spent hours designing and engineering the hut, analyzing dimensions and materials we would need to build our home for the summer. We would need something bigger than the original from 1974, which was roughly 10 feet square. We decided on a length of sixteen feet and a width of eight feet. This would give us 128 square feet in which to cook, eat and sleep. I measured the cook stove, kerosene lanterns, plates and other kitchen cooking and eating utensils and made scaled down drawings with proposals for the shelf space, fruit box cupboards and under-counter storage of ice chests and mouse proof food stores.

We bought stackable cots that made into bunk beds for the boys to conserve floor space. We scavenged wooden fruit crates from the back of our local supermarkets to use as bookcases and clothing storage. We collected empty five, ten and fifteen gallon bottles for water and gasoline. We knew the bay had changed since our last trip, but water and gas were still hard to come by; ice was more available though and we gave up the idea of another cumbersome gas refrigerator.

I calculated the number and sizes of wood beams we would need. I would use four by four's for the uprights and two by four's the horizontal supports. We were careful to plan an environmentally correct hut as much as possible. We would remove everything we had brought after our months on the beach. Rather than pour concrete to support the uprights, we would bury them in the sand. For the walls we needed protection from the sun and a surface that permitted as much air to flow as possible. The availability of palm fronds was limited in southern California and I didn't want to wait until we got to the Bay and scavenge, the boys would need immediate protection until their fair skin was tanned. We bought numerous rolls of split bamboo sunshades. These could be raised when not needed and lowered for the night or to avoid an early morning or late afternoon slanted sun. If we were lucky enough to get a breeze they would allow it to pass.

I cut half-inch plywood into rough shapes planned by my scaled drawings that would approximately serve as shelves and tabletops. We bought boxes of nails, hundreds of feet of several types of rope, cans of white gas for the stove and kerosene for the lanterns. We packed a portable radio/tape deck and cartons of batteries. We bought one store out of every type and SPF numbered sun lotion.

Mary Ann met with the Michael and Kevin's teachers and we made trip after trip to the bookstore, buying cases of books, educational and fun and fiction children's books for the boys and an assorted case each for Mary Ann and I. This was going to be what the doctor ordered; a lot of time to relax and let our natural lives float back to the surface.

We packed our cloths: shorts, sandals, a single long sleeved shirt for each of us, to avoid the sun during the first days, hats. The list of clothing we didn't need was longer than the items we did.

Aside from these simple items, we were beginning to realize that this trip was more complex than our last. We finely had to limit what we each took just from the standpoint of available space. The old and tired Land Cruiser of prior trips had been sadly replaced with a 1984 Cruiser wagon. Behind that, to give us shade until we had finished the hut, we would tow a small tent trailer. All the building supplies would be stored, out of sight of Mexican customs, inside the trailer.

Next: Part 2 - In Search of a Beach

Copyright 2004-2006 Mike Humfreville

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