photo: Dorkys Ramos

My siblings had traveled to the DR plenty, I hadn't visited my extended family in nine years. One of my reasons for staying away was the fact that I spent practically every childhood summer visiting the same village, seeing the same people, doing the same things. So as soon as I had a say in where I could spend my vacations and a budget to make those travel dreams happen, I flew to other places around the world. But in 2013, I relented and we were finally able to make Dad’s dreams come true.

The excitement my father felt in the weeks leading up to our summer trip was contagious and when he realized we'd be there during Dominican Father's Day, he was just beside himself. I couldn’t help but get excited along with him! Once we arrived, all those childhood memories came flooding in. I remembered all those little innocent escapades I had as a child, biking off with my cousins to climb hills and trees, poking the bats out of their holes in the trunks and knocking down fruits to eat, the smells, the tastes, visiting my godfather's farm to feed the animals. I can’t lie and say my happiness wasn’t laced with a bit of nostalgia. Being there made me realized just how much time had gone by and how much I’d missed my family.

A visit to the local cemetery also made me think about all those who’d passed on since I was there last. Despite the laughter that filled my grandmother's house as we celebrated our family reunion, I still missed seeing her toothless grin as she sat on her rocking chair motioning for us to sit with her on the front porch. I even missed my stoic grandfather, a man of few words who’d pace his yard with a pack of dogs and chickens trailing after him.

photo: Dorkys Ramos

The trip was too short, but we filled those five days with laughter and new memories that made me realize just how important it is to stay connected to family. So instead of acting as if goodbyes are just words you say casually, I listened, I made eye-contact, I didn't wipe my cheek after their wet kisses, and I said, "You mean a lot to me." Because as much as I would love to return and nurture those ties, I know things happen. Work demands your attention, life picks up speed, goals pull you in other directions, unexplored corners call your name, you run out of money, and before you know it, years have passed, children have grown up, the old have moved on. When I hugged my older aunts and uncles farewell I wanted so badly to cling to those moments because I didn't want to forget. Just a couple months after that trip, we lost one of our most beloved uncles and as devastating as it was to receive the news, I was so grateful that I got to tell him just how much I loved him one last time. I still remember that smile and that hug.

Dad thinks this trip was our gift to him and it started out as such, but, I tell him, this trip was also an unforgettable gift to his children.