Meeting

In Brazil, stop signs are a suggestion. A hint to look both ways. And so, we are driving in the dark, gliding down a hill and through stop signs. As we cross the centre of town, the large rectangles of commercial buildings give way to the smaller squares of homes. The transition is marked by a sudden jarring, the street brick transmitting itself through rubber and steal and seat leather. For a moment it is hard to talk. But we take a few more turns and the street smooths out, climbing a small hill. Our eyes strain, ingesting and filtering the darkness for the familiarity of numbers or shape of house. A parked transport bulks against the smallness of houses and cars. We swing wide around its white cab. The cleanness of it captivates me. In the spill of domestic light its large tires look spotless. We turn and retrace our route, suddenly catching Eduardo’s silhouette in an entrance. There is an unfolding of bodies and the thunk of doors and the embrace of friends. Eduardo leads us down the walkway into the house. He’s limping still, the lingering effects of 2 tons of metal and road rash upon human flesh. He’s lucky to be alive. He introduces us to his family. Cathy initiates, sweeps in with her infectious smile and defeats uncertainty with each embrace. I marvel at her ability to turn strangers into friends. And I follow in her wake, less sure but plowing ahead. Eduardo’s mother, Anna, is olive skinned, with black hair, dark eyes. Gabriela, his teenage sister is similar, her features softer and more child like. Her eyes peer out of glasses with clear plastic frames. We move outside, sit under an overhang in the backyard. Eduardo’s step-dad, Jairo, is red-haired, white skinned. He’s deep in the traditional male role: tending the churrasco. The beef, pork, and chicken is inert, stacked on skewers reminiscent of short swords. The spits lie across bricks, their tips inserted into holes. They are like shiny greasy bridges spanning the space above the coals. It smells delightful.

We sit in a semi-circle about the brick of the churrasqueira. I want to engage these people, but it is awkward. I feel the pinch of Babel. Not for the first time I regret the primeval move of God, sundering culture and language. Scattering us all to our corners of the world. But my floundering moment evaporates as Robson begins to talk. His ability to engage people is truly astounding and the awkwardness begins to seep away. He starts to describe some funny texts that he’s sent to Eduardo. And I get in a comment about Meghan’s new braces being a good thing to stop the kissing. I mime the injury to lips. Eduardo nods, taking the advice more seriously than it is given. We laugh and everyone is involved. Cathy brings out the bags with tissue paper, gives gifts all around. Anna quickly goes inside and returns with beautiful boxes, presents to Cathy and to Raquel as the “second mum”. We tour their house. It is typically Brazilian, with lovely clean rooms and family in close proximity. We stand for a moment in the kitchen admiring the old brick stove. It is a heritage piece, the type of brick and iron stove going back to the early days of the region’s settlement. The tour complete, we return outside.

Still in some discomfort, Eduardo has been texting his friend Alex to “Hurry up and get here!” Mistakenly, he’s sent the texts to Robson so we gain a few additional moments of humour before Alex arrives. The laughter gets looser and louder. Alex tells how Eduardo refused his mother’s advice to put his shirt on before going into the backyard. He didn’t realize that guests were hiding there for his surprise birthday party. And there is more of that.

Eventually, we all move inside, crowd around the table. It is a landscape of variety. The lumpy shape of potato salad is piled high, slightly yellow in its sauce. Translucent onion strips lay on the green of lettuce with the bright orange of carrots. I take some and am surprised at the coldness on my lips. The deep purple of beets passes me. They have been #1 on my “Barfing List” since childhood and I won’t try them, even in the name of hospitality. Cathy takes my share. Jairo, does not sit, but continues to tend the fires, shuttling meat to the table. “Carne” is cut and stacked, glistening in its own salty juices. It all looks irresistible. So we reach and spear and cut and taste. There are little napkins to wipe the fingers and lips. But typically, they are not big enough for the task. I could use more. Anna brings some, but I suffer behind the language barrier.

I want to engage Gabrielle in conversation, so I use a lull in the noise to signal someone to interpret. And I learn that she is in her last year of high school. She is brilliant at math and wants to be an optometrist. I have no doubt about her ability. This launches everyone into a discussion of scholarships and costs and the state’s education system. Then, Meghan comes online. Her sweet face appears on a phone with the red of our kitchen as a backdrop. Even though she is in her last week of school, she won’t get back to her studies. She can’t bear to be left out of this event. Alex props the phone up on a side table and she starts to take over the conversation. She can be so very funny. Eventually, empty plates and half filled food bowls are stacked up, gliding out to the kitchen. And the same hands return with several desserts. A lime pie is placed right in front of me. Sensing our reluctance to be first, Anna attacks the Torta de Dolacha with a giant serving spoon. She breaks into its crust, digging down to the cookies drowning in chocolate. She sweeps it into a bowl and it is like a dam has burst and we all start reaching for spoons and lifters, conveying goodness to splash down in the tiny metal bowls. Miniscule spoons begin mining the sweetness and conveying it into our mouths. A brief flurry and the activity winds down. We are stuffed. Eduardo jumps into this low spot, looking me in the eye and bravely giving a speech in English. I am moved, though a bit freaked out by the “in-law” language. In return, I tell him that we “loved him before Meghan did” because we knew him as a student and an intern. Time seems fluid, flowing easily. Somewhere in this Anna’s hand has migrated into her husband’s. My words keep coming, expressions of happiness. Then I spout the word “But…” I let it hang in the air. Everybody gives an “ohhhh!” as if I have some serious rules to dating my daughter. But after a pause, I tell him that he cannot call me “Pastor” and he cannot call me “Doctor”. He has to call me “Gordon”. Robson interprets, then repeats my words about “Pastor” and “Doctor” for himself. This elicits a great amount of laughter. He’s been trying to get Eduardo to stop calling him “Pastor” for a long time. Eventually, Robson makes a signal, a query that perhaps it is time to go. He has to do it twice, and I am surprised at how fast the time has gone. It has been good. We hug and kiss and take pictures, reversing our earlier procession from the street. And folding and door thunk, pavement and brick bounce through the dark neighborhoods. But it is all unconscious as we contemplate this first meeting.
This connection.