We were last together in public as a family when the Colombian soccer team squared off against David Beckham's English squad at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. My husband, Saul, sang along to the Colombian national anthem. Good germinates in the furrows of pain, Saul whispered from his wheelchair, his formerly athletic body both shrunken and swollen, as a few tears coursed down his high cheekbones. A few days later, my beloved husband died of a rare and rapacious cancer, leaving me with our two young boys and idea how to go it alone or keep Saul alive in their memory. Saul was dedicated to his career as an administrator for the Mennite church in the United States. But he was always fiercely devoted to his homeland and his family, the majority of whom still lived on or near the family farm down in South America. After discovering a cache of letters that Saul had written about his childhood when he was first diagsed with cancer, I thought of a way to celebrate Saul's life - and to transform our own. We left our comfortable, middle-class existence in Pennsylvania to spend a year living near Saul's boyhood home in La Mesa, Colombia. I wanted my boys to understand their father better by experiencing life the way he experienced it at their age; I wanted my sons to walk in their father's footsteps. What followed was a momentous year-filled with the unexpected-during which we struggled to adapt to new schools and a new way of life. From the first days when Mario, then 10, anunced, I don't want to go back to school tomorrow, to my attempts to remain sane as I stone-washed our clothes and faced bewildering options in the local farmer's market, it was a journey that exhausted us and thrilled us and changed us forever. We learned the intricacies of managing a complicated and byzantine neighborhood water delivery system. We traced Saul's steps, some of which he carefully chronicled in his eloquent, autobiographical letters-excerpts of are included. We wound up creating our own Colombian legacy in ways that surprised us. I figured out how to make our favorite coffee blond brownies from raw sugar produced on Saul's parents' farm, and the boys sold the brownies to raise money for the barrio soccer team. We went from our gritty neighborhood on the south side of La Mesa to the wide boulevards of Bogota and to the beaches of Cartagena. Shortly after our arrival, Saul's cousin and long-time high-school soccer buddy, Miguel, took us to the main Bogota stadium to see the Colombian team play Brazil. It was amazing to hear 43,000 Colombians repeat the words Saul had whispered two years earlier: Good germinates in the furrows of pain. For the first time since Saul died, I could imagine him smiling down on us as we cheered his beloved team. A week later, I felt the same way as my children paddled a small inflatable boat down the river that borders Saul's boyhood farm. Of course the year was t easy. Mario found fifth grade at his private school to be incredibly demanding for an American 11-year-old with limited Spanish. Gabriel struggled with homesickness and appeared to have contracted dengue fever on one particularly frightening day. We returned to the United States after a year away, fluent t only in Spanish but in Colombian culture and the rms and mysteries of Saul's peasant family. We embraced Saul's legacy to us. We also learned how to say goodbye.
Rebecca Thatcher Murcia graduated from the University of Massachusetts and worked at newspapers in Northampton, Mass., Brownsville, Texas, and Austin, Texas, before moving to Pennsylvania in 2001. Her husband, Saul Murcia, grew up on a farm in Colombia and went to Goshen College in Indiana. The two met in Brownsville in 1989. Thatcher Murcia is also the author of Americo Paredes, Carl Sandburg, We Visit Colombia, The Civil Rights Movement, and 14 other books for children and young adults, all published by Mitchell Lane.